The bricks of the blood-stained streets glistened like roasting hams, but all the glazier could smell was the rotten fruit of unpicked orchards and lonesome vineyards. He hobbled through the twisting concrete corridors with the six-paned window riding across his back, his last partition of glass, riding across his back. The leaded edge of the glass developed a slippery gloss in his hands, but he knew this was better than the smell of gun oil, the heft of the steel barrel. Months ago, when the sounds of war were still far off, his son had demonstrated how to hold his new rifle, how to pull back the bolt, how to line up the sights. His son, like most of the able-bodied men of this generation, was lost to the idolatry of war — injured, imprisoned or lost in the lust of vengeance. And now the glazier vowed to find him.
While no one asked specifically for the glass, this was all the glazier had to trade for information, for hope. He called out, voice echoing like the somber sound of an out of tune piano. The few people brave enough to stick out their heads shouted at him, gesturing to the crumbling foundations and fractured glass refracting the dawn sunlight. Bring us water, bring us bread, they demanded before moling back into their burrows.
The glazier walked on, the tips of his boots soaking, until he came across a few knots of people. Women weeping openly, men’s faces shadowed, their voices a dark tangle of despair. They offered nothing more than the rumors of injured soldiers that kept his legs scuffling forward.
A cut-glass memory of his son at eight, dancing in the rain, tongue lizarding out for a taste of the crying sky. The glazier’s work never-ending. In those days, the boy stood in the haze of the fire, restless, but attentive to the shapes of blown glass. Those fires gone, the glazier was left with the cold sweat of his journey.
In the town center, the church long abandoned, the storied stained glass, fractured kaleidoscopes, scattered across the yellowing grass. The crudely painted letters of liberation bristled across the blackened stone walls. He stopped, the muscles in the back of his knees arched, a bridge poorly constructed. He wanted a moment to rest, to consider, but if even the angels were against the church, the glazier would find somewhere else to rest.
The concussive sound of mortar fire echoed across the pavers, leading him out of the city and toward enemy lines. At the last facade, he gave in to the demands of the weighted glass. A crab abandoning its shell, he leaned the glass against the dusty concrete. The sun flared against its leaded edge. The glazier resigned himself to this post—a human balustrade waiting for the men to return. Surely, something — the scent of bread, the ghost of a voice, a flash of dappled light catching — would guide them home. His son’s delicate hands, fit for the piano or the scalpel, thrust firmly in the pocket of his jacket until the squint of recognition brought his hands skyward, waving.