Short story: Michael and Eva (1)

By: Eva Schlink

 

Amsterdam, 1 April 2008 

 

Day 1

Holy Mother Mary Hospital

Her face is smiling. Even in her deep sleep she shows her warmth, and, both brows suddenly arched, her strength. Damn. Why did she have to give us this big scare? It seems that she feels it her task to keep on teaching us lessons. It’s her mission. Well, it seems it will be her last now.

 

My grandmother just had a stroke. Quite a severe one actually. She is not conscious. And she will not be for a while, so the doctors told me.

 

Sitting next to her hospital bed, I nervously pluck the embroidered sheets. She is the only one I have left. My father left me and my mother before I was even born, and my mother shortly thereafter died a broken heart. I have no memories of her. But the way my grandmother talks about her she must have been one hell of a woman.

 

My grandfather she never talked about. And I dare not ask anymore. Maria always seems to know how to avoid answering these questions and slowly I stopped asking.

 

The door opens and a gentleman peeks inside. Did I see him before? He’s old. A lot older than my grandmother. But he too has a smiling face. Marked by life, but smiling. He nods a greeting to me. And is clearly hesitating to come in. Now I see he pulls a dialising machine with him. He must have kidney problems. Does he know my grandmother? Or is he just looking for a quiet room to do his dialysis?

 

Day 1 Lager X

By the time the doors were opened many of us had died already. Unlike some of us I was not panicking. I was only thinking of how to keep my two small children from suffocating in this tiny compartment. The ones that screamed at first seemed to have lost the lust for that quite soon. Or maybe they just spent all their energy and where the first ones to have died. I could not tell. It was dark and, as I said, my mind was busy with other things. My children, Bram and Deborah, bless them, usually notoriously keen on manipulating me into getting whatever they wanted, sweets, toys, or visits to the playgrounds, were dead silent. Impressed by the unfamiliar sounds and smells. They had never heard grown-ups cry. They had never smelled the smell of fear. They were confused when I did not get mad at them for peeing in their pants. They were only 3 and 5. They will be in my heart forever.

 

Short tale: The Photos

[Music of Mozart’s Requiem starts]

Rows of photos. Pictures of people.

Sometimes I focus on a person. Just because he has a patch on his face. Or because the look on her face is unusually intent. Every picture is moving. Behind every picture there was a life. Behind every picture there was the same ending.

I am in a prison museum. This place once kept around 1,500 people at a time. Some 20,000 people were here. Only 7 survived.

After they were transported here, their picture was taken. Sitting on a special device, to keep their head up. A sort of pin sticking in the back of their head.
They carried a number round their neck. Sometimes you can see they had been interrogated already.

After the picture was taken, they were stripped to their shorts. And got to sleep with a 100 people in a cell , spoonwise. No permission to turn your head unless asked. For every whisper or movement there was a flogging. Then there were the interrogations. 24 hours a day. The interrogators took four hour shifts. The ones interrogated took longer shifts.

Many many pictures. Also of young children. A mother with her baby. One white guy.

None of them seemed to look scared. Didn’t they know what lay ahead of them? Or did they accept the inevitable? None of them looked angry or defiant. Were they apathic, could they not think anymore? Most of them looked relaxed, a bit sad at most.
I felt a lump inside my stomach.

What were they thinking?

That is what I think when I am sitting here. It was so long ago, and still these faces and these rooms haunt me. The torture rooms where they kept a steel bed without a mattress. In some an unfocused greyish picture of how they found the last ones, when they ‘liberated’ the place. The tiles were a warm yellow. As were the walls. The rooms were spacious. The windows looked out over packed balconies and busy alleys, you can hear people chat and children laugh. Tree branches wave in the wind. Why then this chill up your spine. Because it is clear what happened. No need for the music. No need for special effects. True teeth clenching mind blowing horror in your face. Knowing this was then, but probably happening as you are standing there somewhere in some remote or less remote part of the world.

Every 10 seconds a baby is born, every 9 seconds a person dies. How many seconds before another person takes some torturing?

The leg of the chair cuts inside my calf. I squint. I try to move my butt but my arms are too tightly wrapped around the back of the chair.

They said they would take my picture first. I wish I could get some water. And a smoke, although I do not smoke.

Sometimes a dry wind brushes my face. I feel drops of sweat run down the the back of my calves. At least they let the window, barred, open. At least I get to sit in a chair.

Oh, there they are.

I do not understand what they are saying. Their faces are not that unfriendly. A bit detached maybe. One carries a camera and points it at me.

I look straight into the lens and try to keep my chin up.

[Music fades away]

Near Taurus

By Dawn Raffel

AFTER THE RAINS HAD COME AND GONE, WE WENT down by the reservoir. No one was watching us, or so it looked to us.
The night was like to drown us.
Our voices were high – his, mine; soft, bright – and this was not the all of it (when is it ever?)
Damp palms, unauthorized, young: We would never be caught, let alone apprehended, one by the other.
He was misunderstood; that’s what the boy told me. ” Orion, over there. Only the belt. The body won’t show until later,” he said. “Arms and such.”
Me, I could not find the belt, not to save my life, I said.
Flattened with want:” There is always another time,” he said. He died, that boy. Light-years! Ages and ages. And there I am: a mother a witness, a raiser of a boy.
I could tell you his name.
I could and would not.
“Here’s where the world begins,” he’d said. I see him now – unbroken still; our naked eyes searching for legends – the dirt beneath us parched.