Saints & Sinners Fiction 2015
Gingerbread – excerpt
The little girl’s voice allowed him to let his arms drop to the table. He looked up at the child, seeing past the dirt on her pallid skin and hair that turned the golden curls to hay’s dingy color. Her bangs hung down to her eyes and, from the back of her head went passed the tops of her shoulders. The dress was filthy, streaked with grime and mud, but was a size larger than she needed and she would easily grow into it.
“Come here, Greta.” Hans called to his sister. He pushed back the chair and patted his lap.
The child’s face shared a smile before she darted across the shed’s dirt floor and jumped into his arms. She threw her hands around his waist hugging him tightly.
“Where did Johan go?” Greta asked settling herself on top of his knees.
“Away,” Hans said. He didn’t know how else to reply.
“Did he go to see his Mama and Papa?”
Hans kissed the top of the girl’s head. With an automatic response he started to stroke her hair knowing it soothed her.
“I don’t know,” he tried to explain and finding himself lost for an answer. “Maybe.”
He hoped his voice was steady enough for her to believe him.
“When the pretty lady comes back,” Greta said innocently. “I hope she picks me next time. I want some candy.”
“No,” Hans said. The harsh tone of his voice surprised him and he could feel Greta’s grasp tighten around his waist. He took a quick breath and quieted his tone.
“You cannot let her look into your eyes.” His voice took on an overly exaggerated, impish tone. “She’s an evil witch and her eyes will hypnotize you. She comes here and gets children to eat her sweets. But they have a spell cast upon them.”
His fingers reached out and started to tickle the girl under her ribs.
“They will put you into an enchanted sleep,” Hans continued. Greta squealed and playfully tried to wriggle away. “Once you’re asleep, she will cast another spell and bake you in her oven until you are a gingerbread girl. You will be cursed and have to guard her house made of graham cracker walls and a gumdrop chimney. Forever! Unless…”
“Unless?” The tiny girl asked in between gasps.
Hans waited until the poppet held her breath. Her coin-shaped brown eyes grew wide in their sockets waiting with delight and wondrous anticipation.
“Unless,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “she eats you!”
Hans renewed his tickle attack. He looked up when a shadow crossed the doorway. At first sight of the uniform, Hans immediately snapped to attention. His action was so unexpected it almost threw Greta to the ground. When she saw the soldier she did her best to stand rigid and perfectly still. Both of them looked at the floor.
The Aufseherin’s assistant officer slowly entered the shed. The Oberleutnant looked around with the discomfort of a healthy man visiting a hospital’s contagious wing.
“Greta,” Hans whispered, “go outside.”
The little girl darted off without a word. She hesitated in front of the uniformed officer. He smiled at the girl, stepped aside and let her pass. He closed the door behind her.
“Are you in charge of the Kinder Care?” The officer asked. He looked around the room with a disgusted expression.
“Yes, mein Oberleutnant!”
“What is your name?” The soldier took another step closer. His eyes narrowed studying the details of Hans’ face.
“Abraham, mein Oberleutnant!”
“Not your Jew name,” the officer barked out. “What name were you born with?”
Hans remained still and silent. His arms pressed at his side, his eyes cast downward and his jaw locked closed.
The officer let a stinted smile cross his lips. He took off his hat and sat down on the edge of the table, one leg draped over the corner.
“You aren’t sure how to answer are you?” He baited. “To give a wrong name means you could be shot. Or” he paused for the right words, “on the next train for resettlement.”
Hans remained rigid. Trying to keep his breath from being heard as it whistled through his nostrils.
The guard looked at Hans with his smile broadening at the man’s discomfort.
“Ja, that’s it, isn’t it?” He said with a scrutinizing look. “Then let me do it for you. Your name is Hans, isn’t that right?” Your family lived in Leipzig and your father is a doctor.”
Silence filled the space between them.
“Yes, mein Oberleutnant,” Hans answered quickly. He bit his lip to keep it from trembling.
“And that was Greta?” The officer glanced at the closed door as if the child was still there.
“Yes,” Hans whispered, quickly adding, “mein Oberleutnant.”
The officer stood from his reclining position and walked around Hans studying him as if he were some rediscovered, ancient Teutonic treasure.
“I remember your father. He had a kind smile, and was always playing Bach in his study.” The officer completed his circumnavigation and stood directly in front of Hans. He looked him in the eye while Hans kept his vision locked on the dirt floor. “His office was at the West end of your house, and your mother was always in the kitchen.”
He closed his eyes to further access the memory, loudly inhaling the phantom scents. “I can remember the smells, such wonderful smells always filling the air.” He opened his eyes returning to the present. “And Greta. The last time I saw her she was still in diapers.”
The Oberleutnant paused in his narrative. The cold blue eyes twinkled from behind a tight pair of glasses. A half-smile lingered on his lips showing the edges of straight teeth.
“I’m surprised you don’t recognize me. Have I changed that much in four years?”
Hans subtly raised his eyes knowing the risks of looking directly at a German officer. He tried to be brief in searching the rounded face for anything resembling a memory, but failed to see passed the central insignia on the cold, gray hat lying on the table.
“It’s me, Rudolf” the officer jovially replied. He clasped Hans on the shoulder causing him to flinch. “Where are your parents? Are they here?”
Hans’ eyes briefly closed summoning the last vision of his parents. ‘Take care of Greta.’ His father commanded. He pushed the small package into his hand. ‘When there’s nothing left’.
Hans took a breath before opening his eyes and looking into the pale blue of the officer’s.
“They were resettled.” The euphemism tasted bitter to his lips. He immediately let his head drop.
Rudolf nodded. The grin turned impish and he lowered his voice. “You were always playing football,” he continued as if not hearing. “I’m a year older, but your body was better developed. You had hair on your chest before me, and so many more muscles than I.”
Hans kept his eyes blankly locked on the ground. The vision in his head swirling, bringing forth forgotten pleasures the two neighbor boys found in each other. Their lips accidentally met – hesitantly lingering and anxiously learning to explore each other’s mouths and bodies. The innocent touches and awkward caresses that became more experienced with frequency. And the bitter taste of ashes left when Rudolf’s mother refused to let her son be friends with Juden.
The Oberleutnant crept around behind Hans. He could feel Rudolf’s breathe on the back of his neck. It seductively tormented him as the warmth triggered each hair to stand on end. Strong hands crept around Hans’ thin waist and a pair of wet lips pressed to his nape.
“Does this help you remember?” Rudolf whispered. He randomly kissed the tender flesh between speaking. “I remember sneaking away to your room. I was so scared of you. Each time you touched me I’d tremble with fear and delight.”
Fleshy hands moved over his concave stomach to the edges of his protruding hipbone. The soft lips preceding their advance on his neck like a conquering regiment and, Hans trying to silently resist the seduction, not succumbing to the one remaining human emotion awakened within him.
“Things have changed now, haven’t they?” The Oberleutnant whispered in Hans’ ear, abruptly halting his physical pursuit. “It’s my touch that makes you tremble now. Ja, but for different reasons I think. I wonder – is it out of delight or fear?”
Rudolf walked around and faced Hans directly. His smile maliciously broadened and his pale blue eyes narrowed with malevolent pleasure at Hans, trying to keep his stare vacuous to the ground. The Oberleutnant turned, retrieved his hat and slowly strode to the door. He looked over his shoulder at Hans, leaving one hand on the doorknob.
“I’ll see you soon,” Rudolf said. The blue eyes sensually gleaming, and the half-smile remaining on thin lips. His free hand reached up and wiped the edges of his mouth. He snickered at the grime on his fingertips.
“You’re neck is filthy,” he sneered.
The Oberleutnant pulled on the door with a single tug. He walked through leaving it open.