The Mill on the River Drewenz

by Peter Justin Newall

3rd Prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2015

In Barczewo the gypsies are playing music today, says Kallweit. They have a master fiddler, and their women will dance. We should go and sing with them there, it does the spirit good to sing.

For Christ’s sake don’t go romanticising gypsies, says Hopp. They may play pretty music, but they will steal the shoes from under your horse’s hooves while they stand at your stirrup talking to you and their women will give you the pox.

Only if you let them, says Kallweit. And don’t take our Saviour’s name in vain.

All right, all right, says Hopp, crossing himself. Littman! Hey! Bring another bottle of vodka and some cucumbers, or cheese, or what have you.

The two men are deeply drunk, two days’ drunk, but they have measured their drinking with food and with experience, and they are still sitting at the heavy wooden table in the inn where they began, and still talking.

The mill will be busy all through autumn, says Hopp, we will have work there until winter.

If it’s still there, the mill, says Kallweit. It won’t survive another flood. Anyone can see that the stake-poles have rotted, but he does nothing to repair them. The next time the river rises it will sweep the whole thing away, all except the millstones.

It will be there and it will be busy, says Hopp. There is grain to mill for months ahead. Perhaps the priest’s prayers worked for once; you have to admit it has been a good harvest. We have nothing to worry about for a year, at least, the barns are full.

If only that were all there was to consider, says Kallweit, full or empty barns. Yes, the barns are full, the potato cellars are piled high, the cows have calved, the elder is in flower, but if you’ve got a wife who won’t stay home, there is always something to worry about.

It’s not for me to say, says Hopp, but as you speak of the matter I have to tell you, if you want to stop that kind of behaviour, you have to beat her. More than you seem to do now, anyway.

Kallweit busies himself pouring two glasses from the bottle of vodka that has been brought to their table, and cutting slices from the cheese. And then he says:

Beat her, to what purpose would I beat her, it would make no difference, she is just bad blood, and I have no stomach for beating women. Better she drowns herself in the river Drewenz.

Oh ho, says Hopp, I don’t think she should be doing that. After all, your first wife drowned herself in the Drewenz, not five years ago. And he begins to laugh, after staring a moment Kallweit laughs too, they both roar with laughter, and clink glasses, and drink them off.

 

Peter Justin Newall

The Mill on the River Drewenz won 3rd prize in the Bare Fiction Prize for Flash Fiction 2015, as chosen by Richard Skinner, and appeared in Issue 7 of Bare Fiction Magazine in May 2016.

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