by Aerin Rose
The barren branches of the tree split the grey sky into a million shattered pieces.
In sixty years we have never missed the anniversary. Yearly we carve the word into our flesh, reopening the scars or creating new ones. You can only open scars so many times before the tissue is too hard to penetrate.
I have learned to bring gauze, to prevent infection. He brings a bottle, to smash, to use as our knife. I hold out my arm, and trace the first letter. It’s best to do one at a time and let the blood clot a little, so we take turns. K on my arm, K on his.
Sixty years of sharp silence. I am tracing T when, with strength that belies his age, he rams a broken piece into the tree, digging deep to the moistness of the sleeping trunk.
“Der Baum trägt keine Schuld,” I say.
The tree bears no guilt.
“Neither did she!” he says colorlessly.
I haven’t forgotten...how the thin layer of muscle beneath her soft skin heaved under my fist-fall...how he fumbled with her underthings to desecrate her...the yellow star pinned to her coat...the way her eyes, like shards of glass, flashed defiantly.
We stare at the cuts oozing red on our wrinkled pale skin. Her silence echoes in the tree branches.
They, the Nazis, our superiors, coined the word immediately, in ridicule. We live with its hardness every day.
[Author's Note: Dr. R.J. Busse, danke.]