Death was constant in Ryan’s world. Never far from his thoughts, it had become his closest companion. Death surrounded him, swaddled him and propelled happiness of any kind away from his heart. The Ryan wing constituted his last heave of ambition in life.
He examined the thick dust that furnished his living quarters. Sparsely decorated there were only a few dark paintings of Romans at the foot of a crucifix hanging on two of the four walls.Those paintings had followed him from cell to cell throughout his adult life. Imagined Romans frozen as their gaze turned towards the hanging head of a dying man. He felt just as sure of what they were looking at as their look suggested: death. He turned away.
“Dam paintings! How many walls in how many countries have they slanted across?” His room echoed his words and threw them back. As always he was the only one present to receive them. A life of blank walls marked by religious reproductions and plastic saints stretched before and beyond him. He drained his glass and luxuriated in the dry burning sensation it left behind. His version of dying had rendered him bitter with a sharp tongue oiled by the shadow of a whiskey hangover.
Down stairs the front door closed. The far away thud of oak meeting its frame meant the school administrator was leaving, eight minutes before time. Ryan watched without moving. Through the corner of the window he saw her cut down the avenue towards another figure standing at start of the elms. Raising her arm in a wave she exposed a scrawny limb. For a moment her figure was a moving reflection of the dead trees reaching into the fog.
“That rag and bone of a secretary! Who is there to meet her now?” Just as the couple took the turn of the avenue they moved out of view. Ryan envied her effort but viewed her actions with cynical misogyny. He felt she had lived too much. Her choice of evening tipple over dinner and thick coffee over breakfast had taken their toll. The accounts rarely balanced and the flesh had fallen from her frame leaving worn twin sets hanging on angled clavicles.
He thought of the job that lay before him. The day’s digging had pulled lozenges of clay from the from sodden foundations. Weeks of rain had washed away the straight lines of the new school’s grounding. It had only taken the JCB a few angular movements to expose the skeletons from their unmarked and unmentioned graves. Ryan knew those skeletons did not belong there. Clean bones, white, straight and solid they seemed longer than any human limb could ever be.
He had sent the digger away with a story of an unbaptized children’s burial ground. It would take more than one drink to dispel the ache he now felt. Concealing the bones of lost children would deaden any life that had survived death’s tight swaddling. One more whiskey and he knew he would face his own grave. It would be worth it for the school though. It would be worth it in the end.