JUNE 9, 2014
The outcry heaved him into consciousness.
He wished the statement didn’t loiter with so much certainty, that it wasn’t so painstakingly obvious, that it meant nothing more than simply a bad dream—yet she was shrieking. She was sobbing. She was shaking. And it wasn’t something he could change for her, no matter how feverishly he tried.
James brushed the covers aside and flickered the lamp on.
“Bella,” he whispered. “Bell, love. Wake up.”
But her eyes were already open. She was already surrounded by the moment, already cradled by his arms. She was already there. Except she wasn’t. Not truly. Not then. He knew better than that.
“Wake up,” he pressed. “Come here. Come to me.”
He was searching because she was lost. Because she always has been. Because he wanted to find her. Needed to. Before she drifted too far away. But who’s to say she hadn’t already done that?
MARCH 13, 1933
Jew: a curse. Jew: a burden. Jew: a flaw.
Jew: never human. Jew: never important. Jew: never real.
I should be dead.
Yet she wasn’t; she was alive. And quivering. And crying. And listening as the German footsteps haunt their way closer and farther, closer and farther. They walk towards her mother. Towards her father. Towards her family.
The footfalls halted. She held her breath.
I’m going to die.
There was no hesitation in the statement.
JUNE 9, 2014
“Darling?” Her eyes swiped devoid. Had he lost her? Was that it? “Please—”
“James?” Barely a whisper. Barely a thread.
He clung to it. “I’m here. I’m always here.”
She tilted her head up to gaze at him and suppressed a light giggle which time had worn the edge off of.
“James,” she nodded, assuring herself of the name, flipping through her archives to retrieve it once more out of the same deteriorating manila folder she’d written it inside of yesterday. And the day before that. And that. Letters were dropping quicker now. Words were fading. Entire sentence failed.
“What happened next?”
He looked down and caresses her hand, holding it. Clutching. Touching her as if his warmth will not be the sole thing radiated off, out, and in.
How many times? He blinked down a tear. How many times until she forgets the word German? Jewish? Holocaust? Will it ever escape her? Will she ever be free?
Five years of ebbing memory, yet he doubted it. Because she could still name the towns. The cities. The names of each person she loved.
She insisted on present tense.
It ended. Pain, suffering, war, the time era still haunting her—it all finished. It was over. She was still living; he was going to remind her of that. She needed to remember.
“You’re not going to tell me where we’re going?”
The pouty edge in her voice reminded him of how young she could act when she wanted; he chuckled. “Glad we’re on the same page.”
She huffed an elongated breath at him. “Of different books.”
“You’ll discover your answer soon enough,” he assured. “You’ll like this. Relax.”
She reclined her car seat all the way down.
She had always been a wanderer. Ever since she was a toddler managing her first crawl-away, she was hooked on the concept of exploration; exploration the idea of containing the habit now seemed unspeakable. She had always been a wanderer. Ever since she was a toddler managing her first crawl-away, she was hooked on the concept of exploration; exploration the idea of containing the habit now seemed unspeakable, in hiding or not. Other people didn’t quite conform to the concept.
“We’re supposed to hide, Bella,” her father would plead to her, his strained voice compressed to a whisper. “Baby, if they catch us…”
“We’re fine,” she’d dismiss him. “We’re okay, papa. I don’t get caught. I promise.”
She’d kiss his cheek, disappearing again to explore more undiscovered crevices of cabinets and corridors and to never get caught.
She pushed up the ceiling tile and launched herself into the light above.
She’d explored everywhere. Every single hallway—she’d walked it. Each room—scrolled through each closet and kitchen cabinet. Every corner—disclosed. Every carpet—case closed. She’d explored everywhere—but not The Room. The untouchable room, people weaving in and out of it like guards. The irreplaceable room, forever ingrained into her thoughts, her heart, making a joke of every replacement that threatened. The unbearable room, because she couldn’t bear not being in it.
She would get in it. That day, right then, she’d enter. She’d just do it as if it were normal. As if it was socially expected for one to burst into heavily guarded rooms of houses that aren’t theirs and snoop around. After all, it was normal for Bella; the others just had yet to find that out.
“Hello,” she smiled, voice even as if she was talking to a pet or something unsuggestive. Father always told her the best place to hide was in plain sight, though she doubted this is what he meant. “Hello.”
The people turned to stare at her, to stop her—or perhaps to watch. She wasn’t sure whether it was because they were unaccustomed to greetings or because it was her that was issuing one.
“You aren’t supposed to go in there, miss,” she heard one of them mumble beside her, tugging lightly at her sleeve as if the contact would make her pull back and retreat.
She turned to address the comment—”I know. Thank you.”—and turned back, opening the door and stepping inside. “I’m just taking a little look around.”
Person, person, STINKING PERSON. Why is there a person?! There is not supposed to be a person!
But there was a person. And not just a person; her luck wasn’t that good. She could live with just a person. There was a German. But not a German; there was a uniform, a gleaming, shining uniform, glowing as it caught the light, drowning entirely in a lit aura.
“We’re okay, papa. I don’t get caught. I promise.” Promise broken.
She would have cried because of it. She would have cried for papa, for the promise—but she couldn’t. She wasn’t supposed to. Not when there was a German standing in front of her. Not when he would mistake tears as tears for him. He had enough already; it was wasteful to give him any more. He already had a whole war in his honor.
She said it because he was staring. Maybe a conversation would buy her some time. Ten seconds? Two?
He was surprised, no doubt, at her presence. Where were his guards? She knew he was wondering. Still, she was stunned to have received a response.
“I guess you found me; you can conclude your little ‘search’ now.”
Bullet. That should have earned a bullet—but it didn’t. Why didn’t it? She was practically screaming “Kill me!” at this point. Why wasn’t he doing so? It was almost as if he wanted her to live at this point—no. No, he had a uniform on. Nazi. Death. She would die.
“I’m not on a search,” he replied as if the line were casual. “Not the kind you’re expecting.”
She stepped back. Okay. There. Now he would kill her. She was just buying time; now it would come. “I-I can’t.”
“I can’t. I came here to…” She let the word drift, searching for anything that would sound better than the truth. “I came here to creepily stalk the crevices of your house” somehow didn’t fit very well. “I came here to dance.”
What? What, what, what? Why did there have to be a picture of people dancing above the mantle? Just why?
She didn’t know. It didn’t matter anyways. She was there to dance.
His voice held all the uncertainty she felt.
“To dance, she assured him. I came to learn. With the—um—gramophone.”
The word came out just as she saw the machine. Thoughtless, but it worked; that was all she needed.
“Well.” One syllable. Even. Smooth. What did it mean?
He crossed over to the gramophone. He placed the needle down. The lyrics to “Fraulein” softly spiraled into the air. “Let’s dance.”
She looked towards his extended hand, fully expecting for him to stop this joke. For him to slap her. For the music to drain out with her blood—but no. It didn’t. She took his hand and simply danced.
JUNE 9, 2014
“We met here.” Three words: infinite meaning.
He felt it. All the words they said here. All the touches. All the kisses. All the firsts…
She felt it too. “I know.”
He stared at her. She examined the remodeled carpet floors, the repainted golden walls, the replaced antique-looking furniture, the house’s entire being.
“I feel it,” she insisted. “I sense it in the air.”
She was right; they were still there. The smell of 70 years back still lingered potent, the undying perfume of love everlasting. There. Right there. They were forever engraved into the spectacle.
He tugged at her arm and guided her to the living room, to the record player in the middle of it. She traced her fingers over it, around the grooves of the disk already set to play, upon the letters plastered onto that: “Fraulein.”
She pressed the needle down. Just like before.
And they danced.
MAY 8, 1944
Lines. Lines everywhere. Lines of Jews. Voices. Loud voices. Commanding Jews.
“Left! Right! Left! Right! Right!”
She slumped forward, almost dead from the bullet in her side. Almost. So close; too far. Why wasn’t she dead? She should be—no. No, she had to stop. She had to stop and live. For papa.
“Left! Right! Right! Right!”
Bullet. Bullet. Bullet. She knew what happened to the ones pointed right.
But who didn’t? Everyone knew. It was no secret; one smell and it was there: dead people. Cremation. Ashes. Dirt. She was probably stepping on someone right now, and someday, someone would step on her; that was just how the cycle went.
She was next—”Stay.”
“Stay here. Wait until the line is finished.”
No. No, this isn’t supposed to happen. Left. You’re supposed to say “left.” Say it.
But he didn’t. People filed out, and he turned to her, looking, speechless.
“Yes?” She chimed, knowing better of the action. But it didn’t matter; she’d die anyways. What, after all, were a few words worth? “What do you wa—”
“Quiet!” he commanded. “Quiet. What do you think this is? A playground? You’re so…”
He didn’t know what she was though. She just was. She hadn’t stopped being herself for the pleasure of others. She was headstrong, loud, and as opinionated as ever. She wasn’t a drone. And he liked it—but no one could see that. Secrets.
“Just be silent, he whispered. “Don’t you want to live?”
She stepped back away from him. He had scared her. She took a minute to swallow her surprise. Then: “Yes.”
DECEMBER 2, 1945
She moved her lips to the lyrics of the music playing from her earbuds, unconsciously making hand gestures and dancing along to the beat. It was a habit she found herself unable to contain, and she didn’t bother to try; she liked dancing. And music. And she wasn’t about to conserve herself for fear of other people’s opinions. She danced on.
She turned around—what? What was he doing here? He wasn’t supposed to be here; she wasn’t ready to see him right now. She wasn’t ready for him to see her. What was he doing, walking in here like this?
She dropped her headphones to her neck, focusing on him. He moved down the aisle of library books, shuffling through the pages of a few then placing them back on the shelf. He gravitated closer to her, and she picked at her shirt: nervous. But why was she nervous? She had nothing to be nervous about; it wasn’t as if he would actually speak to he—
“Best book ever.” He motioned to the book she was holding.
She went to speak, but nothing would spill out except a girlish giggle she wished would’ve stayed in. He smiled—probably fake—and took a seat.
Great. I’ve ruined it. One giggle, and he’s gone. He needs to come back. Just. Great.
And he didn’t come back. He just sat down—and started dancing.
What? She blinked several times in disbelief. What? He just what?!
Yes. Yes, he was. And she was too. And that was all that mattered.
“Hi, Bella. I missed you.”
JUNE 10, 2014
She missed him too; the ages that they’d been separated had taken their toll on her. But she didn’t have to worry about that now. Now that he was beside her. Now that years had whisked away. Now that she was safe in his arms, warm, comforted, there. It was okay. Everything was okay. Because she was with him, still listening to music through earbuds. Still dancing. Still loving every second. Still loving him.
“You saved me.”
MAY 8, 1944
No. No, this wasn’t right. No. No, this… This was special. She was special. He knew that even if he didn’t know her. He loved her.He loved her even if they only met in a second. That second was enough. Enough and plenty more. Left? Right? They both led to death—and he couldn’t do that. Not to her.
“Come with me,” he whispered. “Get your family. Come with me. Come to safety.”
JUNE 10, 2014
Yes, he saved her. In more ways than she could ever imagine.