I remember the first time I saw her. That was before the SS was after her. Before Mama told her to hide. Before I came to this dark place where there is nothing left but to wait.
I was just ten years old and I was following the postman that night. I knew he wasn’t Aryan and I thought if I could catch him doing something wrong, the Stammführer would be proud of me. Mama wouldn’t be proud, I knew that. But she didn’t make me stand on a chair and hand out brown cloth triangles to the people coming off the train.
The Stammführer was trying to teach me something about the cleansing of Untermenchen. I thought it meant putting them in the Gypsy camp just outside town. And it did, at first.
But Patrina knew better.
I didn’t know that back then, back on that night when I followed her father to the Gypsy camp and back. I was giddy with what I had seen while sneaking around and hiding in the bushes on the hill overlooking all those sad-looking tents.
I had enough to report to the Stammführer that he would have no choice but to finally see me as the loyal Hitlerjunge I was. Or at least he would stop humiliating me in front of the rest of the boys.
That’s what I thought, anyway.
I was already preparing my report in my head. How I would stand in front of his desk and tell him everything I had seen. How the hard scowl on his face would fade as he realized who I really am.
But nothing prepared me for the first time I saw Patrina.
I followed the SS Soldat all the way back to her house. I was going to report this man to the Stammführer for abandoning his post. I was going to stand tall and tell him everything. And he was going to award me the rank of Hitlerjunge for it.
The soldat knocked on the door three times. Then it swung open to reveal Patrina. When I saw the look in her eyes, all thoughts of glory were swept away.
I didn’t understand, at that moment, exactly what was happening. I didn’t see the humiliation and guilt that I would later come to understand.
No, I saw an entirely new world. To say I was spell-bound would be inadequate. To say that she was mesmerizing would be an insult to the sheer power of her soul.
I was engulfed by the promise that lay behind those brown almond eyes. And I found myself in a place I had never been before. We ran together through endless fields where the sun always blazed brightly in an empty blue sky. We huddled next to a fire in a stone cabin while snowflakes as thick as wool drifted past the window.
I can see a dim memory of that now, sitting in this place where the only thing left is to wait. There are girls in here, some sniffling, some whimpering. I can’t see their eyes because it’s too dark. But I can hear their mothers tyring to comfort them. I know I wouldn’t see their souls if I could look in their eyes.
They’re not Patrina.
I saw that world many times after that. Each time an infinite moment where there was endless time for us to run. Time to run away from it all. Time to run towards a different world that wasn’t insane.
That’s what we should have done. Instead, she crawled in behind that hidden door.
Because to survive in an insane world, you sometimes have to kill. That’s why the SS was after her. That’s why Mama gave her a place to hide.
But the train finds them all, doesn’t it? There is no escaping its shrill whistle heralding the heavy iron locomotive crushing steel rails as it pulls along all those cattle cars determined to swallow them all up. The train knows what to do with Untermenchen.
The train can’t see the world behind Patrina’s eyes.
We all gasp now. Some let out a whimper as we hear rattling along the tin roof. They’re pouring something into a giant funnel. That’s what it sounds like. A thousand pebbles raining down to clatter along its insides.
I cover my head, expecting those pebbles to pelt me as they rain down into the room. Instead, there is a hiss. Then we all cough. We can’t cough enough. The whole room is coughing and wheezing now. I feel the people around me as they try to stand. Some of them make it, stumble a few steps and then I hear their bodies thud against the concrete floor.
I can’t breathe.
I can’t remember the world behind Patrina’s eyes. All I know is that I need to run to that infinite moment I left behind.
Patrina, look at me.
©2023 Michael J Lawrence
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