We come upon a town in the midst of a frenzy. Gaunt men, hands gnarled from a lifetime of labor, swing their scythes at smoke rising from a tyrannical fire in the town square. A handsome square, finely cobbled with troughs to carry waste to the outskirts. Women kneel at these channels as if they were pews, hands clasped around the gathering filth. They collect it in their smocks and convey it to the fire so they may fling handful after handful at the flames. Their children are nowhere to be found, replaced by dogs that bark savagely at the conflagration.
The fire feeds on the skeleton of a stage, out of which three stakes pierce skywards, their offerings charred. The fire needs no tinder, but the men stoke it all the same, forking heaps of bedeviled grain, giving the smoke its woaden complexion. It rises in decadent folds up to the balconies overlooking the square. The homes of merchants and usurers, out to enjoy the afternoon’s entertainment. These patriarchs waft the smoke towards expectant faces, their nostrils luxuriating in it as if were from one of their resins imported from Anatolia. They indulge until their eyes flutter white, their daemons silenced while their wives and daughters are incensed by the odor. They claw at one another, ripping lacework and corsetry. A bodice peels away like armor, revealing the chastened buds of a middle daughter. The father, his peruke askew, leans over to lap at this milk while the mothers call for more, more.Continue reading