4. An Old Man Dies

4. An Old Man Dies

A Chapter by Peter Rogerson



Paradise Hell is a vast cavern hewn out of the planet we live in by unbelievable and, fortunately, unknown forces in the long ago of time. That much we all know. And, dear Diary, that very day as we set out to follow a mechanical being away from home and hovel hearth and our Paradise Hell we could see it’s pathetic stillness and shadows where the lights barely shone and our solemn group of we wretches muttered to each other, barely audibly.

What is a hearth?

It’s not so easy to write on your pages when a girl is walking, but I’m managing it without making too many mistakes. Yet it annoys Timmy because he wants to hold my hand and when I’m writing away that is plainly impossible.

You look ridiculous and people are laughing at you,” he told me, and maybe they were. They were laughing at something and maybe that something was me, but if it made them happy, who am I to complain? I need to write my diary: I’m beginning to think it’s what keeps me sane when others are gibbering like morons. Or am I being unkind?

In the end Timmy detached himself from me, donned a sulky expression, and started walking with another lass. He did it in an obvious way as if to tell me that I’m not the only girl in the world and he can take his pick of many others, seeing as he’s good looking and with hair to die for. But it doesn’t affect me one jot: if he thinks I’m shallow enough to subjugate my everything to being hand in hand with him then he can think again.

The cavern is shrinking as we walk slowly along in a higgledy-piggledy group ranging from toddlers just learning to walk to old men in their thirties, bent of back and coughing their lugs up. I just looked around me, and it saddened me, this group of human beings of which I am one. All clad in identical grey smocks, though some of the older folks have garments that have seen better days and are showing the grease and scrapes of wear, they’re still grey smocks, which strips all of us of personal identity. I’ve never seen it like that before, but it’s true.

There are women like me, still young enough to be fresh-faced and even pretty, but then, when the world’s such a monotonous place it’s easy to look pretty. I even think I do, and that’s not me indulging in self-praise. Not far behind me is Martha, my neighbour and I can hear her husky breathing as she slowly moved up to be next to me.

What are you doing, dear?” she asks me

Writing,” I reply to her, “a diary,” I added as explanation..

What’s writing?” she asks and it shocks me that she doesn’t know. After all, the school room’s always been there, hasn’t it? The place where I spent a great deal of my childhood, mastering this skill that I am using today. Then I feel a huge sadness when I realise that very few children got to that schoolroom. Sometimes, I recall, I had been alone with the smiling teacher. There’s no compulsion to go, no-one to chivvy the children towards an education, and Martha, like most, probably never went.

It’s where snooty tarts like you go when you want to show off,” hissed an old man with a hooked nose and grey hair that has thinned so much that it hangs down his back like clumps of wet string. I glanced at him and decided to respect his grey age.

Pardon me?” I say, sharply.

You heard!” he snarled back at me, “learning’s playing into the hands of our lords and masters! Learning’s the tool they subjugate us with, that they use to keep their mechanical thumbs on us and press us into the mud.”

And the shame of it is I know what he means because, in a way, that’s what life has been like all the days that I’ve been alive, but what he didn’t know was my education, something I’d craved for even when I was knee-high to a scurrying maggot, had done nothing to set me free except inside my own head where I guess I’m luckier than most, and that had nothing to do with him.

I’m under the same control as you,” I told him, and I could see how long it took him to work out what I meant. But it set my mind off in a new direction.

Were we oppressed and controlled? And if so, was that machine scraping its way along the tool used by the controllers? Was it that machine that ordered the punishments and was it a handful of bully boys that acquiesced and carried it out, bruising and cutting fair skin and even rendering dead some of their victims? Were we all in some way insects going about our daily lives for the amusement of our masters? And who were those masters?

Who are the masters then|?” I asked him.

There’s no need to talk to him! He’s as mad as a very mad thing,” said Martha, “and old as me, he is, so he don’t know nothing.”

That means he does know something I thought to myself.

You keep your thick old mouth shut!” shouted the old man at Martha, and the effort he put into that vitriolic order meant that he staggered to one side before collapsing to the ground and lying as still, suddenly, as only the dead can lie.

See,” said Martha, and I looked back and could see. The old man lay just as still as the trail of people passed him by, some kicking him either deliberately or accidentally as they toiled past where he lay.

He’s dead,” muttered Martha, “it’s what happens when old men are insolent to pretty young things like you. They drop down dead.”

What do you mean?” I asked, horrified because everything I thought of the kindness and generosity of my fellow humans was melting away before my every eyes as a dead man was treated like so much rubbish.

You know,” replied Martha. And I would have challenged her to be kinder in her thoughts but the line of us grubbing along came to a sudden halt and I collided with Timmy, who was sliding one hand up a young woman’s smock, and she was giggling.

Sorry,” I said, and tucked my diary into my smock pocket.

We are resting,” said the mechanical voice, “one old man has died and his remains must be cast aside.”

See,” said Martha, “what value is education when this is the end for us? Cast aside like so much rubbish? Living our lives with never a thought for anything but the grey of life?”

And when she said that I was so overcome with a wave of sadness that I vowed never to write another word in my diary.

© Peter Rogerson, 16.02.21


© 2021 Peter Rogerson

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This had me intrigued
Who were this group in their grey smocks

Oh I have heard the argument against learning to put you in the hands of the masters

Then the was a movement (Metodists I think) who taught people enough so that they could read the bible
Unions had classes in reading so that the people would have the knowledge to fight back at the masters

Hope yon lass is going to write more

Posted 3 Months Ago

Peter Rogerson

3 Months Ago

I think some of your questions are answered in parts 1-3 of the story. Part 5 is yet to be written a.. read more
Wild Rose

3 Months Ago

Thanks > I haven't read those

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Added on February 16, 2021
Last Updated on February 16, 2021
Tags: march, machines, age, death


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Forest Town, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 77 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..