Playing in the Flames
Short Story by: Fan Fan
Thick, rich melody fell upon my ears as the fire hissed and illuminated every movement of my fingers. The keys flashed and shone like pearls. White, black, white, black; my favorite colors were reflected under my very fingers and in the sheets of music that fell at my feet. This piece was inscribed into my memory. My hands were in fervor. They pounded the keys and glided up and down the length of the piano. The flames in the fire place and on each candle of the menorah blazed. All the while, my fingers danced and danced. This was where I was happy.
My eyes flew open. It was a dream, after all; only a dream, and always a dream. Outside, the darkness of night was still unbroken. All the other women and children in the cramped, dusty room were still wrapped in slumber. Some slept fitfully, beset with evil dreams, but most slept sprawled wearily upon the filthy cots. The cruel and heavy labors of the day had wasted them. Soon, I knew, all would be brutally awakened.
In the sky, the moon was just beginning to retire. As its edges faded into the blue of the heavens, my strength seemed to fade as well. Inside my legs and arms, thousands of needles were pricking me. I could see by the misty air others exhaled that bitter weather was in store for today. Yet, my body was burning. I longed for something to cool my fiery skin.
My mother beside me was stirring. When I turned to look at her, her face held a troubled look. She placed one hand on my forehead, and the other on hers.
“Abbie,” she said, “It seems you have a fever.” Her words turned my heart as cold as the frost on the ground. I could not work when I had a fever! What would the German soldiers say? Even worse, what would they do to me? My whole being filled with foreboding as I recollected the rumors of the murdering of sick Jews. Mother seemed to read my expression.
“Do not worry, Abbie. I will figure something out.” Then, all too soon, a tall, blonde German woman barged into the room, signaling all the Jews to rise for the day. One by one, each eye upon every pallid face blinked open and gazed warily at the German as she barked orders. Everyday commenced like this one. Even upon awakening, commands stuffed the ears of each Jew. How I wished to fill them with something else, something so much sweeter. Suddenly, my own Mother’s voice broke through my thoughts.
“My daughter…She does not feel well today. I beg permission for her to do lighter labor.” The German officer cast a look of disgust upon Mother’s face. Then, she smiled. It was not a heartwarming, loving, happy smile. Instead, all of these much appreciated qualities were substituted with hatred and loathing. A sneer crept into her face and antipathy accented her every feature.
“How much do you love your daughter?” she asked Mother after taking a glance at me. Mother was taken aback.
“W-well,” she stuttered. “I would do anything for her.” I could sense the bewilderment of the others in the room at Mother’s courage. I was proud, but more than anything, I was scared. I had lost everyone else. She was all I had left.
All of a sudden, the German slapped Mother upon the face and struck her frail, bony back. Nothing had ever hurt me so much as that.
“I’ll grant you permission if you’re willing to take more of that,” laughed the officer. So this was what she had in mind, what she hinted with her malicious grin. I tried to speak out, to shake my head, but my whole body was numb, and my throat so dry. Silently, I begged Mother not to do something like this. Silently, I cursed the German officer. Nothing worked, for Mother silently nodded her head. I felt as if darkness enveloped me. I turned away my watery eyes from the sight, but my pitch-perfected musician’s ears still heard the slap of blow. It twisted my mind in agony and sent tears silently running down my cheeks. Silently, yet again. The officer ceased striking Mother, and suddenly, my already burning body boiled with anger. I was mad at the officer, but I was furious with myself, and with every other Jew. Why were we always silent, never standing up for anything as Mother had done? Mother looked upon me with her pale, weary face and smiled; a real smile. I felt absolutely wretched.
Because of Mother’s sacrifice, I was sent to wait upon German military officials in a gloomy restaurant that overlooked our concentration camp. As I was alone, I recalled my dream earlier. This one particular dream had recurred over and over again while I was at the camp, but last night was the most vivid it had ever been. This dream of my music both blessed and plagued me at the same time because it wasn’t just a night time reverie. It was the truth; it was a memory. That night had been the last night of Hanukkah, the last night of my life. I had been playing the piano before a small audience made up of my family when there came a harsh knocking upon our door. Father went to unbolt the door and see who would visit at such a late hour. Burly German men had stomped in with their heavy dirt-covered boots. They had taken Father and my little sister Elsa away. What happened to them I know not, and sometimes I think it may be better that I don’t know. What I do know, though, is that I would do anything to be a family again. The dream, it blesses me by providing a small ray of happiness every night through sweet reminiscence. It plagues me by making me dare not to sleep again, for fear of witnessing another time the ripping apart of my family. It harasses me and distresses my mind, for I know that the laughing, shining expressions beside the menorah are no longer real, and that this bleak torture I persevere through everyday is.
As if accompanying my thoughts, the swift notes of a piano floated through the air. I followed my ears to the instrument. Sitting at the piano bench was a girl maybe just a little bit younger than me. As she hit each note, her blonde curls bounced up and down. She played well, but with no emotion. Her notes were dull and unmoving as her blue eyes stared at the music. I’m scared, but the piano is my greatest temptation. My fingers were itching to touch the cool, wooden keys. My feet were jumping to touch the metal pedals. I could stand it no longer, so I took a seat next to the German girl. She was startled and looked frightened but I hardly paid any notice. Instead, all my attention was diverted to my fingers, to my ears, to my music. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the girl leave, but I didn’t stop playing. Minutes later, I perceived that people were leaving the building. I did not know why, but it was not my business to know either. Then, the reason hit me as flames sprouted up all around the room. They licked the wooden tables and chairs, and dashed across the wooden floor. There was no way out, but I didn’t mind so much. I had my piano. My fingers had access to all eighty-two keys and my feet could touch all three pedals.
Thick, rich melody fell upon my ears as the fire hissed and illuminated every movement of my fingers. The keys flashed and shone like pearls. White, black, white, black; my favorite colors were reflected under my very fingers and in the sheet of music that burned at my feet. My hands were in fervor. They pounded the keys and glided up and down the length of the piano. While flames devoured, my fingers danced and danced.
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