The Water Meadow
Once Again Mark Stewart Brilliantly Captures A Moment In Time
The Water Meadow – The ramp beneath his feet was made of metal – it was always metal or concrete, never grass or hay, or even sawdust – and the ridges in the metal surface that he had to clamber over hurt his feet, knocking and jarring, adding to the numerous bruises that had already been inflicted. He was beaten with a stick as he climbed; savage blows as harsh as the shouts and curses that also fell upon him, goading him into the narrow, roofed enclosure.
There were slats in the walls he could see through, offering the narrowest of views. His world had always been thus, a place of confinement and restriction. It was hot inside the enclosure even before they shut the ramp. He knew there would be no water but he searched for it anyway, the pain in his throat a dry rasping grunt that also came from his companions, a rough asthmatic wheeze. They shuffled close together, too many for the space that had been provided. Soon the floor began to shake, a mechanical vibration that transmitted itself to his body, and there was a sense of forward motion.
He went back to one of the slats and peered out at walls made of brick and stone, barriers that rushed by one after another. Once briefly he glimpsed a field, a place so utterly different from the factory-sized shed into which he had been born and in which he’d lived his entire life. The field reminded him of a place he sometimes dreamt about, a meadow containing an ancient oak, its roots a favourite spot where he could search for food, snuffling and rummaging, while the tall boughs shaded him from the sun. And in the meadow there was a brook he could drink from so he need never be thirsty, a brook which often overflowed especially during the spring rains, turning one corner of the field into a water meadow, a kingdom of dragonflies and amphibians.
The herding began again when the forward motion stopped. Always the corralling, the hectoring, the beating sticks, the funnelling into another place, this time the final place. As soon as the ramp came down they could smell the blood and the excrement, the one offering a sharp metallic tang to his nose, the other a reminder of the place he’d come from. Even in the iron barn, with all its deprivations and casual cruelties, he had lived long enough to experience each of the seasons twice over, and he knew winter as an absence of light and warmth. He knew that this was such a place, a place of emptiness, a place where life faded away.
He ran, they all did, because it was all they could do, running towards the men in white coats and dirty boots. The men with death in their hands, men whose trade was extinction. He felt the cold muzzle of the bolt gun pressed against the top of his head but the impact, the killing concussion, was too quick to feel. For the briefest instant he remembered being born and then there was nothing. One moment he was alive, the next he simply wasn’t. There was no sense of falling asleep, no drift into unconscious, just the sudden onset of nullity.
He would never know, of course, what became of his body, that it would be dismembered – legs, head, even the tail – his bowels eviscerated, the meat carved, the bones cracked apart, the various components of what had once been a living thing auctioned and sold off, the pieces going to destinations he could never have imagined. Still less would he know that those pieces would be bought again and cut up again, cooked and ingested, with the remnants finally expelled into sewers.
Before all of that happened, his last thought was of a meadow filled with sunlight, rich with grass, where there was water to drink and others of his own kind to keep him company. A green field he might have called home, where the boughs of an ancient oak moved in a gentle breeze while he hunted for truffles between root and stem. And where the ground beneath his feet would always be soft.
Artist illustration by kind permission of David Sandrock: http://sandrockfineart.com/