by Katie Chen
Art by Sunny Lu
Issue: Solivagant (Winter 2018)
The waxing morning sun breaks over greens and yellows, but a mother does not hear her song. She knows only shadows that dance feebly across the walls of her room, her safety, her prison. The dying candle in the corner flickers, and her child stirs, begins to mumble. The mother places a thin hand over his mouth, telling him that he is safe because the ghosts cannot find them here. But he hears the noises, he whines, he hears them at night, they have long since ceased to stop. They won’t find us here, she whispers again, as she hears the boots crushing the gravel outside. The walls are thin- they are safe, they are safe. There is nothing to do but wait, wait as they have done for days so long they have become weeks, weeks that have melted into months, months that have given way to a year- has it been a year? The mother sighs and rests her pounding head against the wall. She strains to remember familiarity, the welcome arms of her small home in Poland and her neighbors who sang Hebrew songs to high heaven. She begins to sing, a wavering thread struggling to break the heavy air that presses her down, down, down. They are safe. We are safe. I am safe.
The burning ball of fire shines fiery and golden; the sky is not happy with such a disruption. The boy wakes at the heat, feels it shaking the ground a story beneath his feet. It is hot, hot, hot. His mother kneels, breathes words of blue. The child sees the purple rise to her lips as she speaks but says nothing. He is listening to the shouts that seem louder than the din of quiet that has rung in his ears for seconds, minutes, hours- no, centuries. The mother has stopped speaking, she holds a tangled thread in her open palms. Safe, it says, safe, but she cannot hear it, for her ears are bound by the heat, and it vanishes from her white-knuckled fingers. Burning now, there is a pounding. Sparks of red and orange fly from the empty wooden door, land at her feet. The ghosts have found us, she cries, the ghosts have found us. The mother gathers her forlorn child in her arms, his eyes the deep black of a night sky. But it is all wrong, it is all wrong, all wrong- the rainwater falls into the night sky, a world turned upside-down. She wails as the ghosts break through the walls, falls to her knees spinning a spool of thread with her tongue; the purple spills from her lips and stains the thread, but they are oblivious, they are indifferent, they are unconscious. The room begins to swirl with flames that spark and hiss and sting they are snakes, they are grasping fingers, they are heat, heat, heat, but the mother sees only one thing, an insignia: SS.
The angel has calmed now, though angel or devil he herself does not know. Below her a black spider crawls among the humble cobblestone streets that open their arms wide, yet it crawls by. Inside the mother cradles her child, invisible burns covering their bodies as their faces contort into an incomprehensible pain. The ghosts have surrounded them; it is a game, she tells the child, it is a game. He nods in understanding, a night sky holding onto its stars for dear life. It is hide and seek, she says to him, like you used to play. He smiles as they come to a stop, it’s an adventure. The cruel boots have begun their drumming on the unwilling ground; the sound of dirt beneath harsh feet is perceptible. Again, the angel watches; she watches as the mother and child are floated aimlessly down the path to stone buildings. The child becomes restless. We must wait our turn, the mother chides him as she wipes the rain streaking her face, we must wait. He points
to barbed wires shining red in the sun, looks at his mother questioningly. So we do not get lost, she replies to the silent question in the wide stars; her answer hangs in the troubled breeze for but a minute before disappearing, and the clouds clear from his eyes.
The evening sun has travelled far, she flickers colorlessly in her place; sleep will not be long. But she must stay awake, she must hold on, she must… The child quivers in his place, awaiting the final match. He holds his mother’s hand loosely, but his she clutches tightly. He does not know why, does not wonder why- his excitement is electric blue. Slowly they advance, whether forward or backward it is not certain. It is the beginning of an end, but it is not the end of the beginning. It is a means to an end, but there is no end to the means.
The body of light slips over a distant mountain, withdrawing herself and disappearing for perhaps a long time. The ghosts take her away, watch as there is nowhere to hide. It is my turn, she breathes to her son, count to the stars, and I will be hidden-