Erik traipsed along the pathway, hugging his heavy grey coat around himself. The gravel underfoot crunched loudly, the only sound in the silent early morning. Even birdsong was missing from the day’s misty dawn, the only two visible birds soaring soundlessly through the cloudless sky. Erik watched their paths intermittently overlap as they flew across his view of the rising sun. It brought a harsh light but no warmth to the cold winter day.
The moon was also visible, an impostor in the daylight sitting high above Block 11. Such a sight always stirred the same childhood memory for Erik, of him and Ruth sitting in a field.
“Why is the moon out even though it’s day?” she’d asked. But before Erik had opened his mouth to answer Ruth’s curiosity had struck again. “And if the moon and sun are out why aren’t the stars?”. Even now Erik remembered the look of concern etched across her face, as if she genuinely grieved the stars’ exclusion from the celestial family above them.
Erik couldn’t recall what he’d said in reply, he just remembered how, not saying a word, Ruth had focused her dark eyes on him, a look on her face as if she knew his every thought. He blushed at the thought of what she could have seen in his childish mind.
“Your eyes match the sky,” she’d finally said, breaking the silence. “And your hair looks like the stumps of corn.”
Uncomfortable with Ruth’s continuing stare Erik recalled replying with some comment about her own hair and eyes being the colour of mud, resulting in a several handfuls of the brown stuff being thrown as they ran through the field. Ruth was ahead of Erik and he could still picture her scarlet coat flying out behind her, its buttons done up wrong so one edge trailed longer than the other.
The coat was the only trace of her after they left; Ruth and her family. Erik remembered seeing it hanging on the wall, near the broken door, by that point old and moth-eaten. Everything else but wrecked furniture had disappeared, along with them. “Signs of a struggle” the policeman had said as Erik ran past him, away from the scene, away from Ruth’s absence, away from the words on the front door, bright red and glistening…
A sharp noise from up ahead woke Erik from his reverie. “The day’s begun then”, he thought as another bang sounded. He shuddered as he continued his walk.
Bathed in the shadow of the building the steps up to Block 11 were covered in a layer of ice, causing Erik to almost slip. Reaching the top he banged the snow off his boots before turning to face the door. He willed himself to turn the handle, walk in and get on with the day.
But, for a moment, he was stuck there, his hand hovering over the door knob. He could turn around and walk away, he thought to himself, the idea momentarily solidifying in his mind. He sighed. ‘And what would be the use in that?’ he asked himself. In his heart he knew he had no choice. So, with a familiar sense of dread, he opened the door and stepped inside, his arm slicing through the air as he returned the salute of the men inside.
“Thoele,” the voice of Erik’s commander said. “You’re here. There’s work to be done.” Erik felt a familiar sense of unease at the word “work”, so clinical, unattached. “But maybe that’s the only way to get through it”, he thought.
Outside a line of…work appeared. Head bowed the subject in front of Erik was the epitome of resignation. The sight lessened his reserve. “But what use am I to Ruth dead?” he reminded himself, “I’ll never find her then”. He knew he had to do everything to stay alive; the red and black emblem on his jacket was a stark reminder of that.
But even as he held his gun aloft the letters painted on Ruth’s door burnt brightly in his mind. “I can’t do this”, Erik thought as the words ‘Jewish Scum’ swam in front of his eyes, increasing the anger he felt as he surveyed the poor soul in front of him…
“BANG!” There was a sickening thud as the woman landed on the snowy ground. Even in death her dark eyes remained open. Erik shivered as he looked at them. They could so easily be Ruth’s.
Emma Holifield, Books Editorbookmark me