When Memories Dawn
by Bertil Falk
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
She leaned her face towards the table and saw the magazine. What if she took a look at it? But no! An eagle dived steeply and she was back in the past, when the city was attacked from the air and from the ground.
Together with her mother she left the burning place. They stood on a height outside the city and saw it burning in the night. It was a scene that was branded upon her memory. They walked away in the night, slept under a tree.
They were in the intermediate zone between the retreating Germans and the attacking Russians. If they had been lucky, they would have reached the seashore and fled on a fishing boat to Gotland, but they did not make it before the Russians had taken the whole area.
And then it happened again. Her mother, her beloved mother walked away to find food. She stood waving her hands and her mother waved back and then she went into a milk-white fog.
That night the sound of singing rails under heavy freight trains disappeared eastwards. And that night she had no dinner. Her mother did not come back. She never returned.
The following days were awful. With the assistance of some friendly people, she found her way back to her maternal grandmother, who still milked her cows on the southern frontier. Oh, mother, she thought. Why did you leave me like that? Like Sara and my brother.
* * *
Unintentionally the young man grimaced. It was perhaps the sudden eye contact he made with the sun that caused this involuntary reaction. He had taken a step forward onto the terrace, but now he took a step backwards. The Russian professor did not seem to have noticed his young colleague’s movements. He looked at the wheelchair and he bit his lip.
“I think so,” he repeated. “It’s a classic case of repression.”
“You’re a Freudian?”
“In this case, yes.”
“And what has she repressed?”
Like a clairvoyant, the old man looked into the air. “The truth, she couldn’t take the truth and considering the truth, who can blame her?”
“I think I see what you mean. Shall we go over to her?”
“Yes, let’s do that.”
* * *
The wind was stronger now and turned over the pages of the magazine on the table. Once more she glanced at it, but her thoughts as always sailed back to the days of the past, right now to the days when she was at her grandmother’s place.
When her grandmother’s insignificant plot was made part of the collective farm, their general condition actually improved, which was somewhat strange, because most other people in the same awkward predicament experienced a steep decline when it came to standard of living.
And she grew up to be a girl whom the boys liked very much, for she was a nice girl and good-looking. One of the boys whom she liked very much became her boyfriend, and she felt happy and safe in his strong arms. Yes, she loved him; and to begin with the memories of Sara, her brother and her mother faded only to return to hit her with an enormous power, for one day her fiancé went to the city.
She was at the railway station and she waved at him and he waved back and the train disappeared in a sky of smoke from the steam engine. And that was it. Her husband-to-be never came back. He too had gone up in smoke.
Her life was studded with that experience. They tried to tell her what had happened to him, but she was not open to explanations. She moved aside, drew herself back and pondered upon her fate, asking Laima and her sisters, but in vain, in vain.
* * *
Slowly, they walked towards the wheelchair on the terrace, where they discerned her left arm resting on the elbow-rest. Hers was a slender-limbed hand. How old could she be? The Russian disclosed that she was not more than 75.
What had they done to treat her? Not much could be done. Therapy had proved useless. They had tried to tell her what had happened, but she listened to them and looked at them as if she did not understand. Or rather, as if she did not want to understand.
How long had she been there? For about fifteen years. When the country become independent again and the days of the collectives were over, she had been brought to the hospital. Compared to many other patients she was not in such a bad state. It was more a question of weakness due to old age.
She was not crazy. On the contrary, like so many other people she had instinctively made something in order to handle her traumatic experiences and protect herself in order not to go crazy, said the Russian doctor, who was held in great esteem and said to be very competent. Then they saw her right hand reaching out, grasping the magazine on the table. And they both stopped.
* * *
She stretched out her hand to stop the magazine from turning over its leaves, but as she got hold of it, she could not resist drawing it towards her. It fell down in her lap and she let it lie there while her thoughts turned to that final day, when all was completed. Over the months after her fiancé’s disappearance, she grew, and one day she gave birth. It was not difficult at all. It was an easy delivery.
She discerned that it was a boy. Then the experienced midwife lifted the bloodstained body up in the air. And the midwife slapped his bottom but there was no cry; and they cut the umbilical cord, and he disappeared in a haze of all that blood, and she never saw him again. When she woke up he was gone. He had vanished like all the others, snatched away out of the hands of the midwife, dematerialized into that strange realm of limbo everyone she loved seemed to prefer to her.
And she asked, Laima, where are you, why don’t you protect me the way you protected my grandmother when she delivered my mother? But neither Laima nor her sisters said anything. And she knew the truth. Laima was responsible for all kinds of fate: good or bad.
* * *
“How are you today?” the professor asked.
“I’m very well, thank you.”
Her Russian was good.
“Anything we can do for you?” the young man asked in her language.
“Not at all,” she replied. “I’m happy to be left alone for myself. I’m enjoying the sun. Who are you? I don’t think I’ve seen you before?”
“I can see that,” the old lady said. “Welcome. I hope you’ll feel at home here.”
“I think I will,” the young man said and he could not avoid bowing to her. She looked so frail and at the same time she seemed to be strong.
When they left her she lowered her eyes. The picture she saw in the magazine forced its way into her brain with a painful force, and after so many years she knew why Sara had left her and as a consequence of this distressing knowledge she realized what else she could read in her journal:
That her brother had been killed at the front.
That her mother had been deported to Siberia on a train.
That her fiancé had lost his life in a traffic accident.
That their son had been stillborn.
What she saw was an old picture of the church where she had played together with Sara that day when it all began, that very day when men in black walked from house to house. The day when people from her city, including Sara, were forced to dig long trenches in the forest outside the city before they were ordered to make a formation in line and were shot to death like dogs by the men in black.
In that picture, in front of the church, was a signboard with a one-word slogan: JUDENFREI.
Slowly, a single tear ran down her left cheek and hit the picture in her lap.
Copyright © 2009 by Bertil Falk