Thursday, 6 December 2012


What is most painful is knowing how vivid those final images must be for her. I sat in the field hospital beside her and watched thoughts ripple and break across her forehead. She will remember holding my hand at the market and the air raid siren howling like a woken baby and each thudding footstep tripping and stumbling over the darkness through the rose gardens where we had stopped to pick flowers and everything is smeared in a teary snot-clogged paste that catches in her throat. She will remember the swastikas watching from the windows along the Bautzner Straße as the night roared and flickered and we heard the thumping of giant’s footsteps. She has lived in the house we broke into. She has painted dust on the steps to that wine cellar and vineyards on the blood red bottles and when the bomb hit she saw the light shining off the splintered glass like rain.

When the doctors saw that her eyes were irreparable they sought to discharge her immediately but I convinced them to let her stay one night. Each hour she awoke and each hour I told her was the morning of a new day.

I began to believe myself. It was strange to see the darkness turn to grey then to know the sun could rise after the world has ended.

In the morning I led her between the rows of camp beds that lined the old warehouse. We stood outside so she could feel the February sun.

“Where are my roses?” she said.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I dropped them. But we can pick more.”

She was silent. Her head pointed at her shoes.

“A letter arrived from daddy while you were asleep,” I said.

“Really?” she said. “What did he say?”

“He said we pushed the Soviets out of Budapest. He says the Soviets are falling back like they have always done.”

She began to cry. She cried until blood appeared in her bandage. I placed my arms around her shoulders and held her head to my chest.

“I want daddy home,” she said.

“Daddy will be home soon,” I said. “You have me. We’re going home.”

“Ok,” she said.

I took her hand and we walked into the street.

“What do you see?” she said.

“I see the Bautzner Straße. I see the beer hall and it is open and there are men drinking and laughing in the street and waving flags. There are flags up and down the street. They know Germany is a strong proud country. They’ve heard about our victory in Budapest. They know the Fuhrer was right: ‘our unbreakable will and our capabilities will allow us to prevail.’ The sweet shop is closed but there are children playing hopscotch in the street. They are using debris as stones. Some houses were hit with bombs but there are Hitler Youth repairing them.”


“I’m your brother. I wouldn’t lie.”

“Tell me more.”

“And the rose gardens. The roses have bloomed. They are turning their heads to watch the sun.”

She loved to pick flowers from the rose gardens. She would wait until there was no-one around and take daddy’s scissors from her coat. She would spend hours arranging the roses into the vase on her window sill.

But she doesn’t ask to stop. She just smiles.

“Tell me more,” she says.

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