I feel his shadow cast itself against my bare flesh, and I know that's his specter looms in the doorway. Witnessing his wife giving herself to the conquers of the land he died for at the price of bread and cigarettes. The pain my betrayal causes me is compounded by knowing the misery it inflicts on the soul such a dutiful man. I am the demon that tortures my loved one in death.
Desperation has banished pride, and life is only survival. I have not the luxury of being Gretta, the wife, a mother, and the German. I am just a rat scurrying through twisted blood-soaked ruins. My only solace comes from the thought that maybe when he sees my flesh wither around my bones, and he sees the whiskeys twinkle in my glazed over eyes his love for me instantly dies.
The sergeant is especially aggressive tonight, but hunger again trumps dignity. It's these nights when it feels like there is more than one shadow in the doorway. I can feel the eyes of my father on me. The shame burns like fire.
After he's finished with me, he gives me what I came for. Everything I earned from the debasement, from the repeated violations barely filled the brown paper bag. It didn't look like much but for us, it was more time, it was the hope that we could be carried through despair and return to the times when life was about more than survival.
I cling the bag tightly to my chest as I walk through the ruins of my city. Famine's heavy shadow is hanging over the pockmarked streets, and I can sense the ravenous eyes peering at me from the few bombed out buildings that overlook the smoldering remains.
I move as fast as I can, around the craters, and over the mounds of rubble that hold much of our dead. To any outsider the smell of decay is overwhelming but we have gotten used to death's scent. Even though, the fighting has ceased the dying has not.
Hordes of shattered souls wander through the broken remnants. The shuffled on wobbling legs that can no longer support their skeletal frames looking for a chance at just a few more hours of life. Like animals, some look for a dark quiet hole to die in, but some simply expire where they stand.
I grip the doorknob with a trembling hand. I never know what might be waiting for me when I enter my home. It could be my mother and son, or it could be a roaming band of scavengers waiting for me. They were people twisted by the torments of deprivation that survived by feasting on those who were even weaker. I could hear the screams of their prey echoing through the halls at night. They cried out with all the futility of prayer for someone to save them, but their pleas fall on deaf ears. Every night on deaf ears.
My legs freeze, and I could feel my skin turn to bumps as it tries to pull me away. I finally overcome it and go inside. I force myself to hold onto to the door. I gather myself and finally push it open. My mother is waiting for me. She knows where I've been and for a moment I can't bare to look at her, but she calls my name through her quiet sobs. I look over. She's sitting in the flickering glow of candlelight holding my son.
His small body is hanging limply over her arms. His bloated flesh is pale and blue, and blood trickles from the corner of his mouth. I know immediately he is dead..... He is buried in a small plot of land already choked with bodies. His grave is nothing but a pit of human remains, not a memorial to him, to his life, but a memorial to atrocity. I can't bring myself to visit, but the pestilence that has galloped in famines wake leaves no time to grieve.
My mother is my sole mandate to survive now. What was left of me has been whittled away, and the pain has subsided into numbness. Sometimes I pray for her death so I can be released from my obligation. I am with the sergeant again. He has me on my back with my legs in the air. I can never look him in the face. I avert my eyes from his and see the same long shadow again. I shut my eyes for a moment and hope it will leave, but it doesn't. When I open my eyes, I see a second much smaller shadow. Standing with my husband is my son. The specters watch me as they always have, in silence.