Our dormitory smells of death. The shells of great men sit on soiled, dirty mattresses with their once sharp minds engulfed by desperation. My bunkmate wheezes uncontrollably, his bony, sunken chest heaving under a thin dress shirt covered in his own bile. Talk circles about salvation and hope, rumors started in desperate hours by lost souls.
I pull my wool blanket tight around my shoulders. The bread in the pocket of my pants is hard. The crust crumbles slightly to my touch. I lick my fingers to gather as many of them as I can. I feel guilty for the few crumbs that rest on my tongue unable to quench the ceaseless burning in my stomach. Other bodies need these morsels more than mine do. Reluctantly, I pat the bread through the worn material of my trousers and turn toward the door.
Outside, a crowd has begun to form facing the guard’s dorm. The smell of roasted meat filters through the open door into the salivating crowd. I hang behind to allow the others to build a wall between the guards and I. The bread impatiently taps my thigh.
She comes through the door of the women’s dorm. She’s holding her dirty brown blanket with one hand close to her neck, allowing it to fall away like the capes of the aristocrats that used to walk the streets of our city back before the camps and ghettos. Back when we were still human.
She holds my gaze as she walks around to the back. Her hand lingers over her midsection for a moment, pushing the threadbare dress inward to meet her body. Her swell is growing despite her severe lack of nutrients. He will be a fighter. He will bring pride to the Jewish people, rising out of our darkest hour to see us to freedom.
Releasing her dress, she brings her fingers to her lips. My hand immediately shoots to the bread. I drop my head and slip the morsel into her waiting hand. Our fingers linger for a moment, giving expression to words that cannot be released.
He fills the doorway, a cacophony of voices and laughter pushing him down the stairs. His face hardens into hatred as he turns to face his waiting public. Everyone is standing still, straight, proud. He begins to yell intelligibly. I stare at the sweat lines on the neck of the man in front of me, listening intently for my name.
Familiar numbers with unfamiliar emphasis begin to pepper the crowd. The owner of the series ducks and runs to the dorm. Another guard confirms their identity. They are allowed to pass into the room to sleep for the night.
My wife is called and slips out of my peripheral vision into the darkness. More ghosts slip away into the dark holes that keep them until sun rises. I listen intently for my number. My concentration is met with the metallic lick of a revolver being cocked.
The gunshot tore the silence of the night into shards of laughter and heckling in German. His body made a slow, twisting fall to the ground. His face stared into the night sky with the wonder of a child. A woman is wailing, screaming, pleading. Without looking up the fleeing life of the man, the woman is silenced instantly with another deafening blow.
My son will come whether they let me live or not. He is strong. They can’t touch the strong.
The stars appear before I hear the sound. They’re spinning and dancing like a mobile above my head. The moon smiles like a fat man with a secret. I close my eyes and pray for good dreams.