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The Old Woman

So sorry to post late today! I stayed over my friends’ house last night and forgot to get the picture I wanted to use with today’s piece and it’s very important I use this exact photograph. But now I’m home, so here it is! Today’s post is another piece of fiction. I’ve been busy writing papers and studying for finals which are coming up in the next couple of weeks so I haven’t had time to work on my usual memoir style pieces. I hope you enjoy!

The Old Woman

It is bedtime and I close my eyes like I’m supposed to. For a few moments, my mind is blank and I am happy to welcome the empty blackness of the inside of my eyelids. Maybe tonight it will stay this way: Lonely.

I shift against the Nursing Home’s standard-issued polyester sheets to lean against the bed rail when She enters my mind. Her nebulous figure quickly becomes distinct as if I am tuning in a television station through a poor antenna signal like when I was a little boy growing up in Germany.

Dr. Fitzgerald suggests ways to distract my mind long enough so I can fall asleep before Her arrival–counting sheep, having the nurse bring me a warm glass of milk before bed, counting backwards, breathing deeply, even wiggling my toes and rubbing my stomach–but none of it works, not even the drugs they give me to keep Her from visiting each night.

At first, Her nightly appearances scared me–terrified me even–like She was breathing Her own fear, pain and betrayal down my throat at my only time of solitude. However, when She visits now, I don’t feel much, if anything at all.

Unless I think too much.

And unfortunately, tonight is one of those nights. Jeremy Jr. forgot to come by today so the only distraction I had was watching Big Eddy try to eat his cup of applesauce by himself. The stupid kid couldn’t even hold the spoon on his own–kept fumbling, slipping through his fingers–only to slurp it up like an animal until the nurse finally came over to help him. Disgusting. So tonight when She visits, I am free to be taken back to 1939 when I saw her for the last time.

*

I am only nineteen; full of pride for my country and an eagerness to please. I have joined the Nazi Regime like many of the boys I’ve grown up with. It feels good to be part of something bigger and more important than myself and I know my family is proud of me. But lately, doubts have been rumbling around in my mind, creating a sense of panic I am only too afraid to show for fear of being considered a traitor and not only losing my ranks–but my life. So I become an actor–a great one even–wearing the mask of a dominant, merciless, intolerant leader by day, only to slowly let it fall past sunset, when I know everyone is sleeping. At night, I let my fears, my guilt, my pity, my sorrow and my self-fury tumble into my mind and explode, making it hard to breathe, as if the 800 pound woman I saw in the circus once, is sitting on my chest. I try not to let tears fall in case someone comes through the barracks but sometimes I can’t help it and they stream down the length of my nose while I develop imaginative explanations if anyone were to see me. I am lucky though, and no one ever catches me as I have become quite good at staying silent even through the most overwhelming waves of pain and anguish.

I’ve become confident in my act and believe I can keep it going under any circumstance. But I do not expect this: Civilians running through the streets only to be shot down a moment later; huddled masses shuffling by as they fall one by one to the ground; hateful men shouting orders in German while small children trying to escape scream in Polish–oh, the screams and how they echoed in my ears for years afterward.

Amidst the panic and rubble, I notice Her stumble on the cobblestone and my mask of hate slips off and I struggle to gain my composure. Only her face peers out from under the heavy fabric of the black wool shawl covering her head and shoulders. The years of Her life are etched into Her skin, revealing her age. These lines that crease Her face are like a road map, telling me where She has been and where She has still yet to go. These lines tell a story I will never hear. These lines symbolize all the things I will never learn because She will never teach them. And the lines in my face will never be as deep and as beautiful as Hers because of it. I quickly realize I don’t know anything. If I die, nothing will be lost. If She dies, the world loses knowledge, experience, patience and love. She is worthy of life.

The terror in Her eyes is a reflection of my own. I admire her courage as She holds my gaze. Her eyes do not plead for mercy but rather look upon my face with a sad recognition and then realization of the monster I have become. Once such a beautiful and smart little boy, now molded into a killing machine. And She feels pity for me. I know because Her eyes are a reflection of my own.

Her lips part slightly as She takes Her last breath. I am scrambling for my mask now as pity, sorrow, grief, and guilt collapse on my chest and suddenly I have to gasp for air.  Fighting paralysis, I raise my weapon like a dirty habit and the band on my left arm burns into my skin.

I watch her crumble to the ground, all fear from her eyes replaced by a blank stare toward the sky. I look to my right and see Sargent Reiniger lower his pistol with a sick, self-satisfied smirk splattered on his face.

I immediately replace my mask and realize that no one has noticed my hesitation. I quickly begin moving again down the street as my elementary school teacher, Frau Warszawski, sears Her face into my mind to stay with me for the next seventy years.

*

Unfortunately, tonight is one of those nights.

As my own pain begins to boil in the blood running through my body, I reach for the nurse’s alarm and press it right as my panic sets in so she can give me the strongest sedative they have to erase Her image. Just for tonight.

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