Oradour sur Glane by Shelley Day Sclater

In the wall there’s a hole and you can’t see through it and you can’t see past it and if you look into it all you see is dark and it’s hardly the size of an eye.

They were huddled in small groups, huddled together, even though there was plenty of room. Some had backed up and stood pressed against the wall. Thirty feet up, June sunlight slid through stained glass windows and settled in coloured slices where mothers hugged small heads into their skirts. Children breathed the power of the mothers, felt the strength that stiffens a mother’s arm.

The mothers could be wearing aprons; they have interrupted their work, and it’s into those white aprons that the faces of the children are now pressed. Women’s callused fingers mingle with children’s hair, policing what comes and goes.

But there are some things a mother cannot stop, some things even she cannot hold. Some things those children among the knowing holding women, the careful holding women whose starched white aprons absorb the fresh damp breathing, some things those children who stand held still and clinging, there are some things they will never know.

In the still, a small hand reaches into the deep pocket of an apron, a small hand whose fingers find a thin metal object and clasp it till it hurts; a paring knife, fresh from cutting vegetables, warmed by the mother’s body. The child’s body. The mother’s body. The warm metal in the pocket of the starched white apron. The hot metal that flies, that makes holes in the wall.

I walk alone on a silent street. Already the dark of evening is closing in. Among the rubble, some ordinary things that survived the furnace; a sewing machine, the frame of a bed, some pots and pans. Ordinary things that, sixty years later, make history stop, make memory clamp shut, make nonsense of words.

This road is as straight as they come. An icy wind blasts along it uninterrupted, like the roar of fire. A thick black cloud must have thrust itself into the air; flame crumbling stone, twisting metal, boiling blood. Who breathed the smell of burning?

The man who lit the first match, did he have a wife, children, a mother. Was he ordinary, like we tourists who now tread on history, house after gaping house of it, then go home to sleep.

In the wall of the church there’s a hole. You can’t see through it and you can’t see past it and if you look into it all you see is dark and it’s hardly the size of an eye.

Artwork by Jo Turner

Want more? Read What Lies Beneath

Nah, time for Poetry

Go back to Issue 2

A tip of the hat to Gulper Eel, who also have the joy of showcasing this story

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