a flash fiction piece by Michaela
It seems funny when you think about the irony of wheels. There was once a time when the sounds of crushing gravel would send a chill down your spine. Now it brings a message of freedom, but it doesn’t seem to have the same ring to it.
Can you stand to view the putrid truck bed? The mothball scented seats? No, you couldn’t. How could you? It’s a difficult sight to withstand.
My dear girl, look up as you enter your carriage of hope. You are Cinderella, being saved by your Fairy Godmother. An American boy lifts you up onto the truck as your legs give out from under you. Your hair in golden curls, a cobalt tiara accessorizing your eyes. Tugging on your burnt, lank strands, you yank out a rusted barrette and toss it to the ground, and discern the numbers on your arm identifying you, 140603. Your dress a silver gown, supported by three aluminum hoops, puffing out to beyond your wingspan. Don’t feel ashamed of your shreds of a sack, it represents the hell you’ve stomached. Look up, Aurelia, as you should in this situation. Whatever you do, don’t look down.
Look up and see the tears of a woman, not much older than your mother was, clutching a blanket, in fact it almost looks like your blanket, inscribed with “ARTUR.” Within her tears you see a boy, the same age as your sister, lying on the ground face down, his hands behind his head, the silhouette of a Gefreiter shadowing over him, his hands steady with a rusted pistol. Artur almost made it. He almost did, she swears. His bleached-out patches of crimson tell you otherwise.
“No,” she says, and you look down.
Look down at the scratched-out swastika. Look down and feel the fear inside you bubble up, feel it paralyze your body from your toes to your earlobes, feel the sudden inclination that it isn’t over. Look down, away from the pain, your pain.
Look up. Look up towards the olive colored roof, the streaks of light bursting through the decrepit roof, shining over the dusty laments of lonely hearts like yours, calming the masses with the touch of an angel’s wings. The touch of an angel. It could be Papa… or Mama… or Babula or Dziadzia or Alicja… It could be any of your guardians.
You wonder what Papa would do if he was given the chance at redemption. What about Mama? Babula? Dziadzia? Alicja? Seeing your father, the vision of health, suspenders tight and his pinstripes tighter, black hair swept back with some chicken grease, jawline and lip cleanshaven with the scent of ivory soap, he tells you to survive and prosper. Keep your head up.
Keep your head up.
Your babula, however, her cheeks drooping with the weight of her tears, flyaway hairs escaping her silver bun, crystal clear eyes peering over her wise wireframes, her soft hands shaking, yet still steady with her calm touch, tells you otherwise. She tells you to become unnoticeable, a mere shadow in a land of masks. Accept it with silence.
Accept it with silence.
But you can’t.
Babula didn’t get to know how bad the camp was. Babula never knew the harsh looks of the officers, of the doctors- the cooks-the other inmates. Babula never knew how hard the work was. Babula never knew the cries of mothers as their sons were taken to the gas chambers. Babula never knew the pain of being in that situation yourself. Babula never knew. Papa never knew either, you still remember his empty eyes with tears stuck in them after the second week. Neither did Dziadzia, who left with Babula when they first came with the trucks. Mama knew, you recall her broken smile when she tucked you and your sister in. Your sister, Alicja. She knew it all. Her body knew, strung among other children, a meer tear among a tantrum.
But Mama and Alicja don’t know about how difficult it was to step on the truck. To leave their past image behind and begin anew. They never saw the juniper uniforms of American men, medals shining as bright as their eyes. Mama and Alicja didn’t survive.
You made it.
Michaela will be a sophomore. Ms. Frey encouraged her to submit this piece.