"What is that girl doin' with ye? Ought to be home." The same man whom asked me to join him for a drink last night chants until I answer, purgeing another young womans side with the spokes of my fork and dumping it in the wheelbarrow.
"Our mother." I grunt, but he doesn't give up.
"This cursed land is not helpin' at all! Taken mothers from little children, not a thing that would be of God's doin' if you ask me!" He rants on about how God himself should be punished.
"I think we ought to report him to the High Priest, what'd ya say lads?" Another man, a bit older, says loudly, joking. Even the High Preist has started killing. There is no one to stop him. People dying for what? Treason? How is freedom treason?
"Nah, he might get you just alike! Not bothering to pay your dues!" The rest of tem join in the banter. I laugh a little, but only at their ridiculous jokes. I haven't paid my weekly dues either, I'm beginning to think no one does. The High Priest demands a small fee every Sunday you attend church, says it's to pay for the wages of the Jew-Hunters. In other words, the people who hunt and kill Jews for no real reason, just someone to blame for all that's happened. For all the dead Christian lives. I haven't had the time to belong to a religion lately- or the care too do so. But Mother always said prayers, and used to go to church, until the wages became to high for her to afford, so I guess I'm Christian. I still fail to see how the Jews could have possibly started all this.
Emily is playing with a butterfly, from what I can see. She seems happy, content. I can't stand to see that smile leave her face.
The grave master hands me two silver coins. Enough to buy at least one meal for my sister and I. But I only get this much a day. We can't survive one meal a day, with the other needs that need to be filled.
"You'll be workin'?" He asks everyone this, so he can deliver the good news to another night shift worker he has the night off with some pay. The system is weird: Day shifters get two silver coins a day, night get the same. At the end of every day the grave master asks the day shifters if they want to work that night. If someone agrees, then he picks one of the night shifters, and tells them that the volunteer will be taking their job. Then the lucky person who doesn't have to work gets half the wages made by the volunteer. If I work tonight, I get one silver coin, and the person who was supposed to work gets the other.
I've never been one of those people who gets a day off.
I nod at the grave master. He ruffles my hair, grinning with no teeth. I smile at him awkwardly, and go on to collect Emily from the field. She's exhausted and red-faced from running around all day. I bet all the kids in the town would want to do this for just one day; play to their hearts content. But their mother's keep them behind closed doors every second of every day.
As we walk home Emily starts to sing a children's song.
Ring around the rosé
Pocket full of posse
We all fall down
She chants over and over again. It's a new song, based on current events- the Plague. I tap her shoulder to make her stop. If the town's mother's heard her singing that, they would throw one of their tantrums and have her executed for teaching their kids 'bad language' and 'mockery of the dead'. I think it's just a bunch of rubbish. The only reason is so they have something other to do than stay home and starve.
"Don't be sayin' those things, or singin' em." I say softly. We're entering the town now, and I don't want others staring.
"Oh, alright." She answers in a tiny voice, not a care in the world except what would happen if she twirled her hair real tight. I couldn't dare think like that for a minute, or I'd end up six feet under in one of my trenches. Speaking of trenches, it's almost time for me to start digging them.
We stop at the families house that agreed to take Emily for the night. She smiles like the child she is, but I frown. The mother of two boys Emily's age greets us, looking left and right as if she could see the Plague chasing her, waiting for her to leave the safety of her home. Her dress is a light pink under all the dirt and tattering. She smiles, lifting the bun of orange curls on top of her head. I do my best to make us seem like decent people.
"This is Emily, my sister. You're sure you can take her?" I ask politely, tilting my head and placing a hand on my sister's back, pushing her slightly toward the woman, fearing she might change her mind if I stay too long.
"Darling she is. Not sick?" I almost think she might have an ounce of charity in her until she asks about her being sick.
"No, ma'am. Healthy." I answer, rushing. It' almost dark, and I have to get back home to check on Mother before ay digging can be done. I plan on calling for doctor tomorrow. Emily walks to the woman and greets her nicely, like I'd taught her a long time ago, practicing for Father's funeral.
"Behave. And goodnight." I say my final goodbyes to Emily, thank the women again, and go back a few houses until I come to mine, and stopping at the door that may fall off if a gust of wind comes. I open it, and creep down the hall to Mother's room. I brush my dirty hands on mu even dirtier tan pants and walk through the curtain.
"Jacob, where's Emily?" Her voice has gotten worse. I swallow again and again, building up dignity inside me to answer her.
"Miss Ida's, down the street." I blurt out, not bothering to spare her feelings. She looks hurt, but doesn't say anything more except:
"I love you, take care of her." I can't say anything else. I nod and walk out, running back to the fields, my heart ripping out of my chest.
Tears fling through my face as I slowly lose my mother inside me. I shake my head to get them out, but it's useless. She's dying, and I can't do anything about it. My chest becomes tighter and tighter until I can't breathe anymore. Mother's place in my heart is starting to be replaced by a frozen stone, with nothing to offer. No replacement for my mother, my father, the life I used to know before the Plague. None of it even matters, because it's gone now. Everything I knew is gone, including the people in it. Ten years from now, everything will be different again. Emily will likely die, even wihout the Plague, starvation will get her first. I can do anything, except do one of the last things Mother will ever teach me: pray.
"Dear God, bring back my mother. I need her to stay with us. I can't help Emily on my own. I need help! I can't. If I die then she will have nothing! It's all my fault! We should have left with everyone else! I wanted to stay, not them. Please help me! You can still help her! What kind of leader are you! Leave your own children to die! Why can't we just stop suffering! I can make them do what ever it is you want! Just bring her back, please, I'm begging you! I need her, you have to help me!" More tears fall to the ground as I collapse on the dirt road. I hide my face in my hands as I cry, using what's left of my red shirt to wipe my nose. Mother is coming out of me in the form of water, bleeding at all angles. It seems like she just can't get out fast enough.