Photo by André Kertész
It was a starlit dark night and one that should be written about and remembered for all time. All the windows in our street were smashed and such a sharp and broken music that no one slept. And voices there were, raised in anger, all the words spat and punching, and the drumbeat of fist against flesh and boot against bone. And everywhere the cries of men in pain, the brave and the timid, and all making the sounds of a dog that has been cruelly whipped and whipped to within an inch of its life and maybe whipped again; and the women, all the women, and they were keening and moaning, and pleading for mercy and pleading in vain.
I was a child then and I was made to hide in the cupboard under the stairs, curled up in the spider dark with cobweb cloth to cover me. And mutti said I was to press my fingers in my ears and not a sound made or heard, not even the sound of my own small breath. But I heard and I heard it all. I heard my vater’s last words and they were curses against the men who were once his neighbours. He left those words hanging in the air and if I listen, sharp as listening ever can be, I think I hear his words still.
Mutti and Anna lived through that night and fright and suffering was ever afterwards in their faces. The shop was looted, all that vater had worked for, everything taken; and nothing of value was left in all the house. Even the knives and the forks and the teaspoons they took and everything else spilled out onto the street. But it was what was taken from my mother and my sister and what they took in taking vater from us, that was what we wept for.
The next day Opa came and he cried and he held mutti and Anna and me and we all cried. The whole street was in tears, and I wondered how the sun could climb the sky as if nothing had happened; and I wondered at the sound of birdsong and the sight of flowers beginning to raise their yellow heads again after such a trampling.
And outside the shop, on the street, I saw Opa bend to pick something up. It was a book, a small black leatherbound journal that had belonged to my vater. Opa opened the book at the last entry and he wept again and he showed mutti what vater had been writing before the windows fell in: ‘I can see the stars in the sky, as clear as I have ever seen them: crystal clear…’ Then nothing, just a space in the book, and something that can only be heard if I listen hard enough.
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The Temple of Air
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