Greetings kind readers,
Here is the first scene from my upcoming novel, Unchosen, where we meet Patrina and her father, living in a small village near the Ruhr in 1942 where they have been saving money to try and escape the clutches of Porajmos.
Please check out the podcast (Episode 2 from the feed over there on the top right) where I briefly discuss the historical background of the plight of Gypsies in Nazi Germany.
In early May 1942, The postman walked quietly up the front steps of his townhouse in a small village near the Ruhr, forcing his feet to slide along casually, as if he were only tired, as if there was nothing to hide. He groped for his own front door because the porch light was still dark. He glanced at the window above the meager awning over the porch to see that she hadn’t lit the kerosene lamp for the back window just yet. The murmuring sick yellow of light that would later spill across the room and out the front window always made him feel sick. He huffed out a short breath, grateful for a quiet stomach. And then he frowned, because he worried about the money.
Out of habit, he opened the door slowly and poked his nose inside as if it weren’t his own home, because on those nights when the lamp was lit, it really wasn’t his own home and he didn’t want to startle whoever might be inside. “Patrina,” he whispered.
The gentle voice of his 12-year-old daughter sang out from the kitchen. “Here, Papa.” She stepped out from the kitchen carrying a plate with a steaming potato, sauerkraut and a slice of bread. There would be meat the next night. Except they would still eat bread and potatoes because he could sell the meat.
Her gray dress was frayed at the hem, which had crept another inch or two towards her knees in the past year. He frowned, because it had been six months now since he had planned to buy her a new one. Nothing fancy, but the demands on his meager wages had ruled out even one of the cheap field dresses the old matron across town sewed from what he still insisted was burlap. A black scarf adorned Petrina’s head, the front banding over the top of her head in a neat fold that brought out the arch in her brow. Her skin was a darker shade of olive than his own and glistened softly by the light of the lone candle on the small circular table where she set down his plate. The table had worn down to a half-painted state, dry graying shards of wood curling up from its surface.
He unshouldered his mailbag, sat down on one of two rickety wooden chairs at the table and stared at the empty fireplace. As it was late spring, they wouldn’t need a fire for several more months. By then, he hoped, Patrina would be able to go outside with him and they would be able to wander into the forest across from their back door and collect firewood together.
Patrina sat down in the other chair and smiled sheepishly. He knew she wanted to make him more for supper than bread and potatoes. And maybe some day she would.
“Get the jar,” he said, then chomped down on a forkful of steaming potato and sucked in a quick breath. “Ow, hot.”
“You do that every time, Papa. You have to wait for it to cool.” Patrina stood up and walked to the shelf standing outside the kitchen. She looked over her shoulder and then reached up to pull the jar down from the top shelf. She carried it with both hands, a chalice to some altar, and then lay it gently on the table. There were a few folded up bills, but mostly it was full of coins that covered the ring and necklace lying at the bottom of the jar. Her grandmother had given her the ring and necklace. The rest, she and her father had scrimped together for the past year.
He looked sideways at the jar, gnawing slowly on the last of his bread. He swallowed, took a breath and let his shoulders slump. “It’s not enough.”
He leaned back in the chair and stared at the ceiling. Patrina hung her head and stared at the floor. They let the silence settle between them until all they could hear was the sound of each other breathing.
“There will be more tonight,” she said.
He clenched his fists, hoping she wouldn’t notice, knowing she would. He sensed an urgency wafting through the room, as did she. They could never explain to people how they knew these things. It lived and breathed and slithered, a ghost shimmering just on the edge of their own consciousness. And it told them things that were as certain as a mathematical equation. But only to those who could feel it.
A huff of wind scattering auburn leaves along the road had told them to abandon their vardo and quietly slip into the outskirts of Munich where he got his first sedentary job in a warehouse delivering VE 301 Volksempfaenger radios to department stores so the Führer could visit every good German’s living room at will.
A brownshirt collaring a Jewish man who had eluded the party’s deportation in 1938 was his cue to again slip away, this time traveling north to a sanctuary of sorts where the vortex of war met the grim determination of those few who knew better.
By all outward appearances, it was just another village, prostrate to the will of the Führer. But they had sensed something else as they came into town one early morning. The waters of the National Socialist tirade had flowed around the village like a stone in a river, a small island of pause in an otherwise mad world. To be sure, it still had its Kripo and rules and warnings. People dutifully listened to their radios. The young boys attended their Hitlerjugand meetings religiously and beat their drums as they marched through the streets singing songs of sacrifice and glory. Two men from the Allgemeine Shutzstaffel stood guard outside the Gypsy camp that lay far enough away from town that its inhabitants were easily ignored. Because of these things, nobody could really see what lay beneath the surface. Sanity. But now they both sensed that it was a fluid thing, air swirling around itself to collapse and rise into the storm again, gone and thunderous all at once.
“We don’t have much time,” he said, still staring at the ceiling.
“I know, Papa.”
“Don’t you have a plate?” he asked.
“I’ve already eaten today.”
“You’re a growing girl, you need -“
Patrina shook her head and smiled. “You need your strength for all the walking you do.” What she didn’t tell him, but he could tell because she was still standing between him and the small kitchen and its bare pantry was that there was no more food in the house. He would have to buy some the next day. Freedom was one thing. Starving was another.
He looked at his daughter, her almond eyes glinting with a promise to always remember. Even though she was just a girl, her mouth was full and succulent in a way that could draw men to their doom. Or to eternal bliss. Or both. He nudged his plate away as he thought of all the men he knew that saw her just that way.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t be a little girl a while longer.”
“Better to grow old,” she said.
He allowed a hint of a smile. “You’re too young to be so smart.”
“And yet, here I am. Still.”
“And yet, here you are. Still.” He reached over and took her hand. Her fingers were tender and clumsy with innocence, a lie he knew she saved especially for him.
He smiled sadly. “Thank God.”
© 2019 Michael J Lawrence