Burrowing Blind by Tania Hershman

Thursday, December 8, 2011

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The first one they blinded bumped and banged her way through the burrow, emerging bruised, blinking. Bad one, they said. The blinding’s off, we need to try again. They sent the first one to the cafeteria, feeling her way along walls, crawling down stairs, dipping fingers in other people’s coffee, and there she sat and wept, the large cheque sitting, stained, on the table.

The second one was better, sensing sounds without background burbling and backbiting. Look at her, they said, she’s properly moling, and they proudly watched and proudly grinned and when she was sent downstairs after, she was prouder too, although feeling her way along walls, hearing cups crash and coffee gurgle.

Five more later they had blinding down to a tee, no more calibration fuck-ups. We’ve our moles, they smirked and slapped backs and called bosses and alerted newsmen and newswomen, and the moles were aligned and photographed, blinking and feeling the air.

The three-mole labour force dispatched did engage and retrieve but this was only minimal retrieval and though successful was not enough for bosses frowning and demanding, and so the larger pack was given the toughest of all and sent far, far underground. Despite extended and extensive silence training one mole could not but cough and sneeze until her nearest colleague shut her down with a swift shot. No time for remorse, regret, they burrowed on, one mole short but still equipped enough.

For years the moling squad did burrow beneath and bring back treasures of one sort or another, sometimes breathing ones, thwarting thugs and terrorists, and sometimes painted ones, great works of art that had wandered, and sometimes items they couldn’t name at all, even when one mole shook it and the others, deep deep underground, strained to hear. There was little they could not tackle, but when they surfaced they were never sure what day or time it was or where the door might be and they bumbled, fumbled, happy only when below.

When it came time to retire, the moles were again aligned and photographed, blinking and feeling the air, and then carried off to the countryside where they were dumped in dusty chairs and in their dreams relived the great retrievals. One night when summoned no moles arrived for supper, and carers checked their rooms to find the holes through which the squad had bashed back down to where they belonged.

No-one saw the moles again, but every few years there is a photo, on television, the Internet and newspapers, of the old mole squad, proudly medalled, blinking. Blind as bats, as toads, as dark-eyed sloths, they saved the day.

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Tania Hershman’s first short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, is now available from Salt Modern Fiction and was commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers.

Hershman’s short and very short stories, plays and film scripts, have won or been shortlisted for various prizes, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, been published in print and online, broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and performed. She blogs about writing at TaniaWrites.

A writer-in-residence in Bristol University’s Science Faculty, Hershman is also the founder and editor of The Short Review dedicated to reviewing short story collections and anthologies and showcasing short story authors.

© 2011, Metazen.

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