“Channer Kenyon, what is the meaning of this?Severing all ties, I’ve never heard of anything so ridiculous for a man in your position!What have you done, gone over to the other side?”
“Of course not!I’m offended that you’d even jest at such a thing!But I must do this.It’s a matter of life and death.”
“But after I’ve been so helpful to you!That piddling paper of yours would never even have gotten off of the ground if it hadn’t been for me and the information I supplied!”
“I realize that.”
His voice lowered.“Are you being blackmailed, Channer?”
“Only by my conscience, sir.”
“Have I done something?I haven’t gone to Kneelrow with anything, you are the only person – ”
“No, it’s not you.It’s me.I was clumsy.My best servant, whom I love like… like my own…She was taken and brought there.They tortured her and starved her.Do you know why?”Max shook his head.“She was suspected of knowing and being politically involved with Milton Haps.”Max’s face went pale.“I know.I tried to tell her that she didn’t know him, but I did.But she didn’t want to hear anything to do with it.And, frankly, I can’t say that I blame her.Nevertheless, I made a mistake somewhere along the lines, and I can’t let anything like it happen again.”
“What you’re telling me” said Maximmel Hyrol slowly, “is that you’re sabotaging your own political prowess for her?”
Channer’s face went red.“She nearly died because of you and me!”
“That comes with the territory.If she were really any good at this job she would know that already.”
“She does know!She understands!I couldn’t name you another soul in this world who would ever look me in the eyes again, never mind…”
“She has forgiven you?”
“Forgiven me?It never bothered her!She didn’t even want to discuss it; she just wanted to be with me again.I’m responsible for nearly killing her, and she doesn’t even care.But I won’t risk losing her a second time.”
Maximmel sighed.“I suppose I could offer my services to Kneelrow.But I have to say that his work is far less riling than yours; it’s not written as well, or set up as well, and it doesn’t make me half as angry.But I suppose a person has to do something, even if it is a very little bit compared to what they used to do.”
“I thank you for understanding.”
“I’m not entirely sure that I understand.But…I know why you’re doing it.I don’t think I ever could, but…I wouldn’t stop you.”
He knew he was right.He knew that he was doing the right thing by severing the ties he had with the man who had so many pseudonyms, one of which had almost gotten the love of his life killed.But still part of him felt as though he’d cut off one of his own limbs.Maximmel Hyrol was one of the best possible informants he could have asked for, and now he just as good as traded him off to a lesser competitor.
But he knew that he had done the right thing.Maximmel, with all his MH identities, had gotten too close and one of them had gotten Marguerite arrested!Though that scenario had never entirely made sense to him, he was willing to do anything to protect her when it was half his fault that she’d been caught in the first place.Oh God, the agony of knowing that that image of her was his doing.The way her joints nearly tore through her flesh, the way that her diminished chest rose and fell so weakly.He had done it.The guilt was overwhelming and sometimes he couldn’t sleep because he knew that if he’d waited another day she wouldn’t have been able to come home because she’d have died alone in that horrible place.
He had done the right thing!But somehow the idea wasn’t sitting properly with him, as he made his way back to his home, that he had sacrificed good work for good love.Frankly, he didn’t think that Marguerite would have approved if she knew what he’d done.Well, he just wouldn’t tell her.Besides that, he’d done it for her!He’d broken his ties with that most dangerous of revolutionaries for her benefit!Or had he?Had he done it for her, or had he really only done it because if they got close to her, then they were even closer to getting rid of him?He had to be honest; there was a possibility that it had not been a valiant and romantic sacrifice to drop Hyrol.It might have been more selfish than that.
But no!He loved Marguerite and he’d done what was right for her, what was safest and best for her sake!Yes, it was safe for her sake but it was also just as safe, if not more so, for him.What was becoming of him?Five years ago he didn’t think he’d ever have dreamed of turning such a cowardly trick, leaving behind good workers under the guise of protecting his mistress just to save his face.God!He buried his face in his hands as the cab turned the corner, shaking his head in disbelief.
She walked into the synagogue with her head high, smiling sweetly at every person she passed.There was no group she admired more than the Jews, and they knew this by sight.With hostility growing by the day and segregation spreading like wildfire, the sight of the fetching young thing who never ceased to smile at the sight of a yarmulke or prayer shawl was a stabilizer they took pride and strength in.Yes she was an atheist, but so what?That was her business and she was a nice girl.Every person she passed she greeted, and many of them she knew by name.They greeted her by name, too, and she gave a brilliant smile to the rabbi as she walked up to him; there was a piece of paper clutched in her fist.
“Guten morgn!Vi geyt es?” she greeted with a smile, extending her hand.
“Guten morgn, my child.I must say, your Yiddish gets better every time I see you,” he beamed in return, clutching her hand in both of his in a father-like gesture.Tenderly he kissed her forehead and she gave a deferential curtsey and nod, eyes closed.Both of her hands were now empty.
“How are you today, Rabbi?”Her nature had always been demonstrative and endearing, and the genuine affection she felt for him gave a natural radiance to her face.
“I am tired, Marguerite.Tired, but still toiling.It is my duty to these fine people.”
“They are fine.I’ve never seen a group withstand so much without breaking.I truly admire your strength and stamina.I – ”
“I know, my child.You have told me many times.”He was patting her hand again, smiling with the contentedness of all with strength and convictions.He sighed and put an arm around her shoulder.“So tell me of your troubles, child.How are things at home?”
“You spoke of being tired, Rabbi,” she smirked.“Every day is a new lesson in managing to stay awake.I look after the flock, and you know how much energy children are.Then at night…”
“Yes dear.That.How is the romance?”
“The romance is glorious,” she exclaimed in genuine feeling.“I have never felt anything like this.I never knew sensations like that existed.”With desperate fervor she gripped his arm and the eyes that rose up to his face were swimming in passion and he found it easy to understand how such sins came to be.“I love him, Rabbi.”He knew that voice from long years of religious service; that voice of awe and reverence.
“I know.How many times do you profess your love?Most every time I see you.I can’t imagine how often you must tell him.”
“Every chance I get.It’s important to never pass up chances like that.Especially now.”
“That’s true.Life and all the glorious parts of it are precious.Especially now.So many lives are so easily squelched by the standards of so few, it sometimes makes you think – ”
Her gentle and insistent hand grabbed his wrist, and the cool calm of the flesh translated to him.“Be happy for a while, Rabbi.After all, one of the most precious things about life is the frequent visits from me.It wouldn’t do to waste that.”
The rabbi laughed.“And who could deny it?Alright then.Let us speak of cheerier things.”
“I’m afraid there are so few cheery things to discuss anymore,” she sighed.“The only really happy things in my life are things forbidden from me.”They sat on a bench pressed against the side wall.
She hadn’t noticed, but as she’d spoken the rabbi’s face had become very stern.The bony hand that clasped her shoulder hurt, and her face turned up to his.“The things you take pleasure in you do out of love.The only reason they are forbidden is because this country now operates out of hate.You feel great passion, but that love is denied for it isn’t beneficial to the state.The work you do is out of love for the country’s days of freedom, but that work is punishable by death.”Now she understood that the work he meant was separate from the children, and she knew that they were both thinking of a German man in a purple uniform.“This world we live in is a world where no love can shine.We are isolated from the outside and all around us we are isolated from one another.Only a mushroom can grow in the dark.They thrive, bulge, and exist where it is cool, damp, and unpleasant.Many of them are poisonous.But one mustn’t lose hope, and for one reason only.”
The rabbi paused, and then continued with a devilish smirk.“Have you ever heard of the Cereus?”Marguerite shook her head, smiling some.“It’s a precious white flower from the heart of which extends a long tube; at the end of this tube it seems there are many grasping fingers, like the fireworks you see at festivals; around it is a teacup-shape blossoming, pale yellow spots on the tops of long dazzling white stems, dozens of pointed petal swirling around.It smells exquisite, very fragrant, and is up to four inches wide and eight long.It grows on cacti out in the deserts of the world.But do you know what makes it so special?”His smile was very conspiratorial.“It only blooms a night, in the darkness.The flower can live in the great heat and the great cold, the glaring light of love and the penetrating darkness of death.But not so the mushroom.So if the flower can do twice as much as the mushroom, it can therefore survive twice as much.Those flowers are strong, beautiful, life-sustaining, and the invincible opponent of all that dare defy them.They close up in the sun, content and simple, but their real beauty, their real strength, comes when they open wide at night when the light is denied them.But it’s only very briefly, you understand.Every year on one midsummer night the bud blooms then, as the first rays of light creep over the horizon, they wither and die.That’s not to say they are without purpose; they create fruit…new life from their brief ones.They provide sustenance for the animals who live near them, allowing the animals to live.But best of all they provide beauty and magic and life in the darkness and cold.I find them wholly remarkable.”He was patting her hand absently, but his eyes were boring into her with such conviction that she felt numbed.
“Oh, but Rabbi…everything is so tight.You go to take a walk and several dozen Taggies stare after you, glaring, suspicious of you.All the time you’re watched like a criminal, suspected of badness even if you’re more pure than anyone else.”
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not after you,” the rabbi smiled.“Why do you think the Cereus grows deliberately on the cactus?It’s a spit in the face, softness against spines.Marguerite, you wouldn’t know the feeling of being suspected when you were pure.Before the conspiracy, before the relationship, you still hated Setag and his men, didn’t you?So how would you understand their idea of purity?For, to them, you never were.”
“To me purity is being yourself, to yourself, for yourself.”
“Why are you your employer’s mistress?” enquired the rabbi.
“Because I love him and want him more than air.”
“Why are you involved in revolutionary activities?”
“Because I hate not having control of the way I run my own life.”
“In that case you are pure in your own mind.And, by your own standards, that is more important than anything else.But you must remember that other people might not think so, and those people are the ones with the whips.”
“How could I ever forget?” she asked bitterly.
“Do you ever feel discouraged?”
“Often,” she admitted, and this was a truth she could admit to no one, not even herself.“But I can’t stop.I won’t stop.He tried to make me stop, months and months ago.But I refused.I have to do something or else go mad.”
His face had become solemn again, and even though his hands were wrapped over his knobby knees like claws on the round bulbs of bathtub legs, she couldn’t help but feel as if he’d caught her up in a warm embrace.“You are doing God’s work, Marguerite.You have taken it upon yourself to defend those who have been lashed upon; you have shielded the meek and protected the innocent.No penalty can obliterate that good.”
There were tears in her eyes from painful gratitude.“I’m only a simple nanny from a nothing town with no family and no station.Whatever will my fiddling amount to?”The pessimism overrode her, and she bit the inside of her lip to keep them from trembling.
“No matter the size of the action, a good deed can have fantastic effects.Never think that your work is futile or meaningless.Never think it of anything.Always put the full force of your convictions behind what you believe, even if the beliefs have changed.”
“Emerson?”The rabbi smiled.“I do live that way.That way and no other.But it just feels so difficult sometimes.”
“Are you afraid to die?”
“I’d rather not do it if I could avoid it,” she smiled, “but…I don’t think I’m afraid.”The phrase “full conviction” came back to her, and she raised her chin.“No.No I’m not.”
“Perhaps, then, it’s the loss of your lover that frightens you.”
“I think it’s the loss of my individuality.The loss of my personal freedom as an individual that I fear.I’ve been in those places they built, I know what happens in there, and it’s designed to take away more than you’re freedom, it’s designed to rob you of humanity.Although I must admit that I have never been so free as when I’m with my lover.”
“Your sentiments are a breath of fresh air.But there is a sadness, too.Fewer and fewer youths have the outlook you do.It’s only a shame there weren’t more with your ideals.”
The morbid tone of the conversation was beginning to weigh on her, and she smiled.“How are your daffodils doing this year?”
“Bright and sprightly, as they ought to be.I tend to them with a minimum of effort.They’re hearty little weeds and I would trust them to survive anything.
“Whatever did you use to keep them alive for so long?”
“For a start, I didn’t cut them and put them in a vase away from natural air and the sun.”Marguerite blushed, because it had not been she who put the flowers in a vase, yet he knew it.“But one thing that works magically and you can use in a vase is sugar water.”
“Yes.The sweetness is good for them.”
“Sweetness is good for everyone.”
“That is true.Remind me, Marguerite, how old are you?”
“Yes.Only eighteen.You have more spirit than many men I know.”The rabbi stood.“Come; you shall examine my flowers for yourself, since you’re such an expert.”
Marguerite gave a carefree laugh.“I’m no expert, I just know what’s pretty.”But she rose, too.
“Well, that’s more than most.Come along.”
They passed through the back rooms and store rooms, through the back door, and they exited into what Marguerite felt sure Eden would have looked like.The back garden was a place of controlled poetic chaos and she loved it here like few places on earth.Vines twirled and twisted and weeds hung overgrown everywhere except around the gate and on the solemn, curving walkway of stone. Flowers of more varieties than she knew sprouted everywhere.When she stood beside the frail old man whom she loved so much amidst his patch of daffodils she felt rejuvenated.How beautiful it was, so warm and aromatic.The transition of spring into summer provided for an atmosphere of tranquility and happiness.Her mind conjured up a wild impulse to lay herself in the flowers and never, never rise from this fragrant, sun-dappled spot.The smell of wild flora would fill her nose, soft birdcalls would fill her ears, and the vines would bind her here forever.
“Have you preferred nature to people always, Marguerite?”
“Oh, yes, just always.They’re all so beautiful,” she smiled.
“They are, aren’t they?Funny that what nature makes is more beautiful than any of our man-made conceptions.It’s a whim of fancy for nature.Of no difficulty, and what can we do?”
“We can be awed by the beauty and live our lives as full of that beauty as possible without letting it rule us.”
“Have you ever seen anything so beautiful as a flower?”
“A field full of flowers is lovely.”
“The lone petal of a flower is lovely, too.”
“But just one flower is the nicest thing of all.”
“Breathe the air deeply, Marguerite.It is unspoiled here.For me, unspoiled because of God’s presence, for you unspoiled because the nature alone is perfect.Though you’re not religious, you’re one of the most spiritual people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.”
“Breathe with me, Rabbi.Oxygen is a pleasure that should be denied to no one.”
The pair was silent for a long time, inhaling the sweet air and taking comfort from one another’s presence: the orphan, atheist, revolutionary nanny and the elderly, pious, revolutionary rabbi.But they found alikeness in one another, kindred souls at the core.For all the visits to the synagogue, she had never felt such a great swelling of tears in her throat.Another rash impulse came up, the rash impulse to fling her arms around the rabbi and hold him.Of course, this would alarm the poor man, and she laughed at the image of how his face would look, laughed loudly, throwing back her head and letting the sound ring through the clean air.He joined her and in that instant she had maybe never been so happy.Then once the laughter was finished they were silent again, watching a bird peck for worms and the insects crawl away.It was the kind of silence that belonged nowhere but in a garden.
Silence is deafening and fragile, and within moments of the second silence setting, there was hesitant shuffling from inside.The rabbi began speaking again, now about the state of his tulips and how close they were getting to the rosebushes.He glowed as he spoke of the rosebush, for this plant was his pride.It had been a family tradition to grow roses, and he maintained it avidly.While he glowed the hesitant shuffling became a loud murmur, and Marguerite’s attention was divided.The rabbit was noting it too, when a young pale man in a yarmulke poked his head out.
“Excuse me, Rabbi, but….I think we’re about to have company.”And he disappeared again.
Now the rabbi turned to his guest and he was not smiling but his eyes were twinkling with a hard, bright glitter.“Have you ever wanted to see a wolf gobble a duckling?”
Marguerite blinked.“No, Rabbi.”
“Today you shall have the chance,” he said, ignoring the response.He entered his synagogue through the back door and, after a moment of confusion she ran after him.
From over his shoulder she saw the populace of the building standing still, clinging to each other, to their prayer shawls, muttering prayers to themselves.The rabbi was motionless but stood tall and straight, a body and soul of granite.Her mind had emptied and she couldn’t understand why everyone was acting this way.But the fear on their faces was radiating to her.
Then hoarse voices cried out, but she could not believe.There was the sound of cocking rifles, but she could not believe.And as the doors were kicked open and the screaming began, as a shot exploded in the rafters and everyone fell at once as one to the floor, as the ocean of purple uniforms and shining black boots poured in through the door and seemed to fill the place, the sickening realization of what she was about to witness took her over and she almost fainted; she could believe.Her knees turned to rubber at their rough commands, her body went cold to see their uniforms, and how dry her throat felt all of a sudden.She tried to swallow, but it was only a dry, rough click.Only Marguerite, the rabbi, and the SARs were left standing now, everyone else was lying on the floor, huddled and shivering with cold dread in the late May sun.Weakly she took several steps back, the cornered animal waiting for the strike.
One SAR pointed his gun at the rabbi.“Get down you old alter kocker,” he said, and Marguerite, who knew a few Yiddish words, simultaneously hated the Taggy for his slur and was contemptuous for not realizing he’d used the word old twice.
“I’m afraid I cannot.You see, I subscribe to a higher authority than you: God Almighty.”Marguerite loved him more than ever, for her answer would have been the same but in place of God she’d have said her own soul.
“This land has no higher authority than Onofre Setag,” shouted the man with the weapon.“You lice are marked as traitors to the state for abnormal behaviour and forbidden religion.Get in the coach.”
“I’m afraid we cannot.We do not submit to thugs.”Marguerite was almost in tears, shaking with terror lest they see her pressed into the shadowed corner.
“You’re going to pay for your treachery one way or another old man.You and all your other Heebs.Each and every one of you.”
“I’m afraid we will not.”And then the rabbi was on his knees, covering his face and then uncovering it, reciting a prayer in Yiddish.As if on cue every patron of the synagogue shifted to their knees and did the same and they chanted as one, reaching a synchronization and harmony that made her heart wrench.Marguerite didn’t know what they were saying; she knew a handful of rugged phrases in Yiddish and here they were so fast and so passionate she hadn’t a hope of knowing the specifics.But she knew the general idea and she closed her eyes, her hands over her heart, both to still the powerful beating and to show respect to their words.
“Listen you Jewish pig, we know what you do here.Look at all these children, are they all yours?Why are there more women here than men?Because you’re a pimp!”
Marguerite’s blood boiled, for the rabbi was beyond reproach and she would have told that to anyone.But she was afraid, so very afraid that if they saw her they would remember her and capture her again.Though she heard no German accent, Karl might be there and if she came face to face with him again she knew that she would die on the spot.Absolutely die.The prayers were reaching a fever pitch, loud and haunting so that the rafters reverberated and redoubled the noise.Marguerite’s hands were cold and damp and trembling over her breast and she found herself hastily mumbling in between chunks of there words, “God, please don’t let them die.Oh dear God please don’t let them die!”
“Shut up!” screamed the Taggy, hysterical at the lack of fear, indeed the insubordination before the best intimidation tactics he had.“I said shut up!”Marguerite was panicking, her fingers fumbling with themselves and trembling sobs escaped her lips once in a while.Her body felt soaked with sweat and she thought maybe she was crying.The Taggy looked around the room at the rest of his men, a guard at every corner, door, and window.Without prior warning, although perhaps their very presence was warning enough, the rabbi was shot and he slumped forward with a sickening thud, wet and final.Blood poured out of his temple and his nose and his mouth like a stream down a waterfall, only bright, glaringly festive red.The entire room was dead silent for one moment that lasted an eternity, every person’s eyes on the prostate man with the puddle around his head.
They screamed as one wounded animal and Marguerite’s hand was over her mouth and at first the scene made no sense.Then several more shots rang out and more bodies fell and there wasn’t a thought left in her mind; she grabbed the nearest person by the arm and pulled them.It was a woman with a baby.Marguerite tugged on two more.One was a very young man, the one whom she had seen earlier to alert the rabbi of the soldiers’ arrival.The other was an elderly lady.“Come with me!Hurry!Hurry!”At first they were rooted to the spot, their leader dead and the atheist instructing them.But they knew her.She was kind, the rabbi loved her and often instructed them to love and trust people like her for she was full of dignity.“Hurry, please!Follow me!”They went, finally, and she led them out through the back door again while the screaming followed on their tails.She navigated through the stacks of junk and winding passages.“This way,” she kept calling, “this way!”Eventually she found a door but it seemed locked and she pushed and kicked and her hands fumbled aimlessly with the knob.The young man stepped forward calmly and gripped the knob, twisted, then pulled instead of pushed and the gateway to the outside world was opened.She thanked him in passing and made sure she had ushered every one of them outside before she exited, too.“Come on.There’s a bush, we can lay there.”She couldn’t consciously remember what bush but her legs seemed to know for they carried her on their own, her long skirt brushing past dozens of flowers in greeting who danced after her.Then she found herself at the dark crimson rosebush and without thought she dove in a hollow spot.To her surprise there seemed a large enough space without her having to clear much, and she again herded them to safety before getting in herself.Like the soldiers she loathed she crawled on her knees and elbows, squeezing between the young man and mother.The older woman was beside the young man, breathing raggedly, still praying in a whisper.“Sshh…!”Marguerite warned them all, and the prayers were merely mouthed.The baby whined and the mother hushed it softly with a pacifier and a very low lullaby.
Now that the first moments of terror had subsided, her mind had relaxed enough to look at who she’d taken.To her far right was Delilah Tygleberg, the elderly woman who had once given her home-made cookies and complimented her youth.How cute it had been, as if her youth were in her control!Beside her was the young man, Thomas Silberman.She remembered loving him when she met him because his name was Thomas, just like the Kenyon boy.This Thomas was a kind, intelligent soul with thick glasses and a serious, handsome, and strongly Jewish face.He had respected her and she was glad for his presence.To her left lay Fanny Shylewitz, a young mother whose husband was at home with allergies.Thank goodness he hadn’t come today.Fanny didn’t know Marguerite, but if Thomas and Delilah trusted her there could be no fearing her.In her arms was her baby, a son named Mikhail who cooed in pleasure at the softness of a rose against his ribs.
The group was silent, and so could hear the noises from within.A place of worship was being desecrated, and it pained them all.Marguerite had no belief in God, this was true.But she had always felt that all people should have the right to worship as they chose; that all people had the right to be left alone and conduct their affairs in private.This act by the Taggies went against every grain of herself.As she heard the guns she could not cry as Delilah did, could not look like stone as Thomas did, could not close her eyes and block her ears as Fanny did, nor giggle contentedly as Mikhail did.All she could do was stare at one rose even darker than the blood of the rabbi and listen to the screams, feel the heat of the sun and hear the screams, smell the fresh air and hear the screams, and wonder incoherently why these things didn’t go together.
It lasted forever, there in the dirt with the warm Radara sun in the shade of an enormous tangle of rosebushes with no one in the world that knew where they were.After a while only one voice was left, a young woman.It might have been Lydia Herspol, but in such hysteria it was difficult to tell.It sounded like all the others had been shot dead, for there was no sound but Lydia’s crying out for mercy and a dozen soldiers laughing.To Marguerite it seemed impossible that what was happening now was really real, that just within those walls the sounds of the beginning of a rape were solid and real.What seemed more unbelievable was that Marguerite wasn’t helping.She justified to herself that if she entered and tried to save Lydia she would only be shot and killed, possibly raped too, without having helped her at all.But as Lydia cried out in terror and madness Marguerite buried her face in her arms and bit herself, hating herself and her cowardice.Yes she was a coward.For all that she had done and lived through, she could not muster herself for this.
They heard the phrase, dimly through the distance, “Not another, please, have mercy,” but there was no mercy to be had.God, how she hated them, the pigs!They called her “Ikey slut” and insisted that they could all have a turn.Marguerite thought that she might tear her hair out. It was too agonizingly long.But it would all be over soon, and she muttered some hasty words on Lydia’s behalf, wishing there were a god and that it would work – that God would hear.If God loved Lydia, he didn’t show it.If God loved anyone but the Taggies, he didn’t show it.If there was a God he was only a God of Wrath.If there was a God of Wrath he took too much pleasure in his job.
And then a gunshot was followed by silence, the pure silence of the dead at body and the dead at heart.Only the commander’s voice could be heard giving instructions to his men.They were silent as they worked but for huffs of air or two as men would lift lifeless bodies out of the room.Every once in a while the breeze carried the sounds of corpses landing on top of one another and carriage wheels creaking under the weight.Delilah hadn’t been crying for some time, and Thomas’ breathing was heavy with silent rage.Marguerite was amazed at how calm Mikhail had been all this time.Now he was asleep, but Fanny wished he hadn’t been so that she could focus on him rather than the sounds from within.Finally, after an age and a lifetime, the sounds lessened.“Delilah Tygleberg, Thomas Silberman, Joel, Fanny, and Mikhail Shylewitz, and Andrei and Leonard Sholberg.Were they accounted for?”
“No, sir,” replied another.
“Lazy swine haven’t even got any faith.”Thomas shifted as if to rise and Marguerite put a cool hand on his wrist.“Alright, then.We can get them later.These 5 and 2s don’t have long to wait anymore anyway.Right men, let’s haul out.”
“But what about the – ?”
“We’ll do that tomorrow.”
The group listened to the men getting back into the wagon, listened to the wheels churning away.In an urgent desire to be sure it was over, Marguerite scrambled backwards out of the brambles of the bush as Thomas scolded her for doing so, trying to pull her back.She stood ankle deep in cyclamen, her eyes filled with tears and her breathing shaky.They could not all be dead!They were such beautiful people, how could it be that they’d been there with her one moment and dead without her the next?It wasn’t possible.No, it couldn’t be.But she saw the olive green coach wobbling away down the road, slowly and wearily.Her breath caught in her lungs as she realized that perhaps all the times the green coaches had passed before there hadn’t always been living people in their depths.It was like a nightmare come true only worse.At least you woke up from nightmares.
Remembering the people in her care, she turned back to the bush of dark crimson roses.“You may come out, now.It’s al…no, it’s not.But they’re gone.All of them.Everyone.I’ll…I’ll go look inside.”Her footsteps were cautious and when she bumped into a bucket her heart clanged with it, sure a Taggy would come from nowhere to grab her and the people she’d tried to protect.But no one came.She entered the main room but left it again an instant later.She could not remain in that space.Blood was one thing, but this was something she could never have prepared herself for.She backed up and bumped into the wall and she screamed in blind fear, nearly collapsing.All that did happen was that she slid down and sat on the floor, her hand over her chest.From outside came three pairs of running feet and from a corner to her right emerged a head.Marguerite recognized it as belonging to Mr. Sholberg the local butcher.Seeing the others coming, he hurriedly ushered them back out.“Best not to look, really; I’d rather you didn’t see.Best to be in the sunshine, yes, yes.”Then he turned back to Marguerite, who was staring up at him stupidly.“My dear, whatever are you doing here?”
“Oh, Mr. Sholberg…I came to deliver a message to the rabbi.But…then…”She was not crying and she was not distraught, she was only in mild, astonished surprise.
“Those people, Delilah, Fanny, Thomas, Mikhail, Joel, and my brother, Len…Did you save them all?”
She came back to herself some at the awe in his voice.“No.Only Fanny, Thomas, and Delilah.Fanny had Mikhail with her.I haven’t seen Leonard and Joel.”
Mr. Sholberg was looking at her solidly.“You have saved lives, Marguerite.You have done something beyond goodness.This society and all the people in it owe a debt to you.”
“I didn’t do anything.I only…acted, I wasn’t thinking.”
“You have saved more than four lives today.What of their children, and their children’s children?And if they save more people?Besides, one life is enough to have saved.You must understand the good you’ve done here for us today.”
“I want to go home,” she found herself saying.And it was true.She longed for plush red carpets and grandly sweeping staircases, warm rooms with comfortable furniture and the serene sensation of being lived in.She felt very weak and groggy, and that the smell of blood was overpowering and there was a lingering suspicion that she might faint.
“Yes, Miss Kassirer.Did you walk here?”
“Do you think you can walk back?”
Marguerite thrust her chin out.“Yes.”
Mr. Sholberg smiled fondly.“You’re a good little soldier, Miss Kassirer.You know this.The man who sends you to us knows this.”
“How do you know if it’s a man that sends me?Do you know him?”
“No.I only know that he exists and that, if he trusts you with these errands, he must know how special you are.That’s all I know.”
“Perhaps it’s better that way,” Marguerite smiled.
There was a sigh and another smile.“You did well little girl.Come now.We must get you out of here.The remnants of a battlefield are no place for a still-breathing soldier.”Mr. Sholberg helped her up and assisted her through the back door.But she didn’t want to leave yet.
“Let me go and say goodbye to them.Let me do that and I promise I won’t come back and bother here ever again.”
“Perhaps it’s better that way.”Marguerite looked at him sharply for a moment, but then she understood.
She was heading towards the group when Fanny saw her.Breaking into tears, she ran to Marguerite and clutched her tightly.“You saved my baby.You angel, you saved my baby!”Fanny collapsed in tears and gripped her, weeping into her neck.
“I…I assure you, I did nothing.I did nothing.”
Thomas came over and embraced her as well, followed closely by Delilah.Marguerite cried into their crushed shoulders, giving way to her trembling and wiping the back of her hand across her nose.She was so tired, she wished she could just lay down here where she stood in the bed of mixed zinnias.Mr. Sholberg cleared his throat and announced gently, “Marguerite must get back to work now.It will not do for any of us to dally here.”
Marguerite disentangled herself from their grasps and her eyes caught the tousled bush of dark crimson roses where so many lifetimes had been lost.Hastily she plucked five and gave one to each of the people around her.“For you.So you don’t forget…to live.”
“You must take one, too, Miss Kassirer,” insisted Delilah, “so that you, too, don’t forget.”Marguerite did so and she left without saying goodbye.A firm hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Perhaps you ought not to go out the front door.The long way round is better.”
“Yes.Thank you.”She wandered through the flowerbeds clutching a dark crimson rose to her breast, sighing deeply now and again, not even noticing people’s startled looks as she passed them.Her legs felt heavy, too heavy to go on, but the Kenyon house couldn’t be far now.Of course she could make it.Of course she could.After all, it was only walking and the flower smelled so sweetly.
“Marguerite, what on earth happened to you?” Channer cried, raising his eyes from the dog at his feet.
She looked around dully.Funny how, in her exhaustion, her mind always wandered away from her and her legs moved on their own.Channer was staring in surprise and fear.She had no colour in her flesh and the seawater eyes were muted.All over, from head to toe, she was covered in dirt, tears, and little bleeding cuts.Though she didn’t seem to notice or mind; it seemed her only conscious efforts were to remain standing and to continue clutching in her fist the darkest rose he had ever seen.
“I went to the synagogue like you said.I gave the – ”
“Hush.”His eyes shifted hastily around.Outside was not the place to discuss this which implicated so many.“Let us go inside.You must get cleaned up.”He steered her in and immediately brought her to the washroom.He sat her on the toilet and dabbed at all the little red scrapes on her face and hands.They weren’t bad, and with a few dabs of his wife’s makeup every day no one would know they were there.“You’ll have to sew this dress up on your own later.Now tell me what happened – leave nothing out.”
“I went to the synagogue, like you said.I gave the note to the rabbi, and we talked.I do love that man so.He showed me the flowers.The SARs came and…and…”She did not cry.In fact she couldn’t cry, not just now, but her voice snapped.“I…I managed to save four of them.There was one who saved himself.Two did not show up.But the rest – the rest they massacred, right there, inside the synagogue.”Maybe those were tears she felt in her eyes.Her nerves had shut down and it was so hard to tell.
Channer moaned as his face fell into her lap.“It’s all my fault.”
This shocked Marguerite out of her stupor.“Your fault?How could it be your fault?”
“I was supposed to tell you to have the rabbi read the note as soon as you handed it to him.I was in such a rush that I forgot.Usually my notes to the rabbi come a few days ahead of time.I only found out this morning.I should have gone myself, but it would have been too risky.Why did I risk you instead?Yes my faith was justified and yes you did better than I could have, but…How did you get so cut up?Those Taggies didn’t – !”
“No.I took three of them and a baby out back to the garden.We hid in the rosebushes.That’s where…yes.”She flexed her fingers with a wry smile.“I didn’t do anything, you know.”
“You saved four lives.That doesn’t sound like nothing to me.”
“But it doesn’t feel like anything.I only grabbed the people closest to me, I didn’t…I couldn’t get at them all.I didn’t do anything.”
“You of all people, Marguerite Kassirer, ought to understand the importance of saving one individual life.”
She sat up a little.She hadn’t thought of it that way.Of course Channer was right; even to have saved one was enough.Her face contorted.“The rabbi…”
“If he isn’t already dead he’ll soon wish he were.”
“He is dead.They shot him.Right in front of my face.He was praying.”
“I should have gone myself.I shouldn’t have made you.I should have paid better attention.It’s all my fault.”
“Nonsense, Channer Kenyon, and I won’t listen.If it hadn’t been for you those four wouldn’t have lived, either.I did nothing.You saved the lives.”
“And ended them, too.”
Together they were silent in reverent mourning for those who were lost to them.
© Copyright 2016 Lina Leigh. All rights reserved.