Mathis was a man of few words. He found few words were necessary in this fine, fine world of ours. He saw not the moon nor the stars nor the sky. Such idleness was for the fanciful dreamers. No, Mathis saw only what was ahead of him - and what was ahead of him was the gaping open mouth of hell.
Say anything and his reply was always the same.
"Hey, Mathis, how's it goin'?"
"Fuck you, asshole."
"Mathis! I want to give you ten million francs!"
"Fuck you, asshole,"
"I just saved your mother's life, Mathis!"
"Fuck you, asshole."
Repeated in the same listless monotone every time, he spoke as a man who's seen the score and knew he'd lost. News of the world was as irrelevant as the stars. Mathis never considered this to be his world. He wasn't the only coal miner like this, just the most committed.
An official handbook of the Belgium region read thusly of his life:
[They] find their work exclusively in the coal mines....The miner is a special Borinage type, for him daylight does not exist, and except on Sunday he never sees the sunshine. He works laboriously by a lamp whose light is pale and dim, in a narrow tunnel ...he works in the midst of thousands of ever-recurring dangers, but the Belgium miner has a happy disposition, he is used to that kind of life, and when he descends the shaft, carrying on his hat a little lamp that is destined to guide him in the darkness he trusts himself to God.Ah, no quicker way to hell than trusting oneself to God! Of course, Mathis' reply to any trusting of a higher power was also met with his same contempt. Though having never read the book from whence that passage came, he knew the song chapter and verse. The state must always save face. But Mathis had his own translation of the official state of disunion:
The child is exclusively beaten....The child is a special type, not needing love. His life is brutal and trapped with no say in his life, but the child is happy to be beaten, unbothered by his bruises, and when sent to the hospital on the verge of death trusts himself to his parents.
Through a wounded child's eyes Mathis saw the world in its true state. Those who lied and covered up for society - done by even many of its victims - were as living scandals to him. The few gulps of air he ever received were in the sparse words of rebellion muttered by the outlaws and malcontents. But their numbers were few and their force even less. No one dare disturb the sleep of reason to feel Her wrath.
A peculiar thorn in his side were the Apologia, lost souls who'd found their way to a comfortable life in the world after having the life crushed out of them by its merciless, grinding wheels. In their treason and fear, any answer would do so long as it kept their comfortable live alive. Their zombie eyes were emptied out and sightless. And for having committed their treasure to treason and fear, they eternally preached faith and courage to others with an unshakable conviction (having firsthand knowledge of the horror of living without).
Vegetable Lady was a high priestess in the Apologia. Her adamant exhortations were much admired in her circle and she was considered a person of high responsibility by the authorities, granting her safe passage through the world. Her ostensible crusade was to better the life of the miners, to give them good health and inner joy! This was very much appreciated by the authorities who abused the miners as it gave them license to continue the ill-treatment of their workers. After all, they were being taken care of now!
For the men the denoircissement [an "unblackening" of the skin] no longer worked. Most bore the permanent marks of scratches and grazes in the mines, the white skin of their arms and chests tattooed "like blue-veined marble." Indeed, they bore all the scars of their labor: tired, bent-over bodies (life expectancy averaged forty-five years); emaciated, weather-beaten faces; the memory of loved ones lost to the mines; and the knowledge that their children would follow them into the earth because, as Emile Zola wrote, "nobody had yet invented a way of living without food."
Vegetable Lady had all the fervor of the "saved" and enlightened preacher. She handed out recipes of healthy vegetable diets, chastising anyone who dare disengage. For her, there could be no room for compromise with this obviously correct life choice. She proffered the latest indisputable studies showing the health benefits of vegetables. "You can't eat too many of them!" It was all she could do not to physically stuff them down the miners' throats, so sure was she of her rightness.
There were many sly smiles in the room as she one day approached Mathis. On top of his usual contempt it was well known one of the few traces of pleasure in his mine of misery was the eating of grilled meat. Mathis had no use for vegetables, their consumption an exercise in strained torture, taking the air of him. And he understood why. Ever eager to gauge her effectiveness, Vegetable Lady saw nothing registering in Mathis' eyes - which infuriated her morality.
"Sir? Sir! Do you hear me? This is for your own good, not mine. I'm already saved and I'm here to bring you your salvation. Now just what do you have to say?"
The room giggled in anticipation, then roared with laughter. "Fuck you, asshole."
Gasping as if punched in the stomach, spinning around to a room full of laughing mockery, Vegetable Lady had never endured such rejection. Her careful cocoon kept her in deep praise and she had rather marveled at her bravery to go among the lost souls as Christ had. With the last quiver in her bow she struck back at "those savages."
"Do you mean to deny what I say? This is nothing to laugh at!" The room started to quiet. "These studies are irrefutable. I hear you complain of health. Well, here's your answer. Sure, life is hard. My life has been hard too. But this is the way! This is no joke. This is no game. Hear me or regret it for life!"
A stillborn silence gripped the room. All eyes - including Vegetable Lady's - zeroed in on Mathis and his response. In the delay, some sensed his defeat, forced to contemplate bowls of broccoli for breakfast. What did they know anyway? Surely, actually good souls didn't suffer as they. A preacher's strong conviction proved irresistible.
Then Mathis snorted in contempt. The room stepped back. "You fucking idiot," he addressed his nemesis. "Why the fuck would I want to live any longer than I have to? Dying is my only comfort."
Vegetable Lady peered once more into the eyes of Mathis, only this time seeing glowing flames of hate. He saw her for what she was, standing by the side of his abusers, never questioning them. Never preaching to them to give a living wage or better work conditions. No, she was a rapist, predating on the weak and the hurting, mistaking might for right; a savage.
Looking around the room at questioning eyes suddenly open to the truth, she sensed the danger and fled, never to return to "those stubborn, hopeless, godless beings." The miners continued their bad diets to exit the planet post haste and the world kept spinning in oblivious trajectory.