The Angelus Bell
By Ruth Calder Murphy (Arciemme)
It was the time of the Angelus bell. The boy curled into his mother’s side and listened to the distant ringing that rolled on the curved back of the breeze, through the open window and into his bedroom. His mother began to read and soon the boy became the other boy - the boy in the story, walking with other boys, sun kissed and earth spattered, brown as nuts in the rustling, gold-dappled green of the summer warmed wood.
Beyond the wood, the Angelus bell began to sound and in his head, the boy heard the monks begin their Hail Marys. The other boys whooped and called and began to run, twigs cracking under carefree feet and the boy stood a moment - a moment’s luxurious hesitation before he too, like a rabbit, took to his heels and made after his playmates.
It was with a movement quick as lightning that a birch tree, graceful and gentle as all the stories say, stooped and scooped the boy into her arms, raising him high above the dusty ground, waving him with her branches and then leaning forwards a second time, opened her arms, revealing only leaves and a tangle of twigs. This she brushed apart and the boy tumbled out, unscathed yet somehow slower. He stood, watching the play of light on the trunks of trees, on the far off leaves, on the woodland floor, on his own retina. The Angelus bell continued to roll and he wondered at how long it took today for the monks to pray.
The shadows lengthened and the air grew chill. the boy stirred himself. He thought he would go now, back to his mother who, he had an idea, was reading to him in his bedroom. He turned to leave but every step he took brought him to a hostile bar. Fallen trees, living trees, all combined to hem him in, closer and closer until he found that he could move no further but crouched in the most comfortable position he could adopt, wood behind and before and all around and then, from the trees, the other boys fell, their faces hard and their actions harsh. They pushed behind him and though they could not displace him they pushed and shoved and muttered sharp words. He tried to be still and count his blessings. He was at the front and so had more space. A shove from behind and someone tumbled in front of him. He could see out, beyond the wood. He could see home. Another shove and a great trunk grew before his eyes, blotting out the last of the light and all evidence of the outside world.
“Angelus Domini nuntiavit Maria. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.” The Angelus bell rolled around and around.
The story was of trees, of revenge, of an eternity spent rooted and exiled, cold and cut off... The boy’s mother stopped reading, uncertain as the story changed. She looked down at her child, curled into her side, listening silently...
The mother’s cry filled the sky, the earth, drowned out the Angelus bell and still it cried to carry the boy’s coffin on its curved back. He was lowered into the earth and the mother was consoled a little in the knowledge that he would be watched over by the birch - the gentle, graceful tree at whose gnarled foot he was laid. As the mother said her final farewell and turned away, the Angelus bell rang out.