Ok, well, Ive never done this before, but everyone else puts disclaimers up the top of their stories so I thought Id better do that too. (Yup, Im a sheep, what can I say? Well, baaaa, probably, since Im a sheep, but er..) Heh. Yeah, well, anyway
The ladies in this little piece of fic may possibly bear some sorta, kinda resemblance to those girls we know and love. Yeah, ok, Ive read so much fanfic that I think that Im no longer capable of writing about anyone else!! Dont laugh. Really, Im serious. I didnt set out to write about this, it just came out when I was doing an assignment. Some would call that procrastination, but I choose to call it .. inspiration .. especially since the assignment was to write a short story. Success!
Whoa, Im so off track.
Theres a pretty major focus on life in and after the concentration camps of WWII and as such, some of the descriptions are not very nice. Nothing graphic or totally gruesome though, but if you think that might upset you, I would suggest looking elsewhere for your latest uber fix. There is also a vague mention of rape.
Im sorry if this offends anyone, but its really kinda integral to the story. Again, dont read it if you dont wanna. Nothing too terrible language-wise, and it probably
wouldnt get more than an M rating. Dont ask me what that is in American terminology .. NC-13 or something is it?? I dunno. And since Im chatting about nationality, Im Australian, so the spelling is Aussie-style, which is pretty much the same as the British version. So yes, I do spell colour with a u and Im not apologising for that. Cant handle it? Go way then, Ive read color with no u (among other things) lots of times and I never complained. Hang on, does that count as a complaint?? Oops. :)
Think thats it. Oh yeah, dont read this if you dont like the idea of two women in love or if that sort of thing is illegal where you live. Geez, do I really need to disclaim that? Would you really have found my story if you werent into that kind of thing? Eh, Ill do it anyway, just to be sure.
Elke is pronounced Elka (like Elsa with a k). Just so you know, if you didnt already.
Ok, Im done disclaiming! It might be nearly as long as the fic itself, but .. meh. You couldve skipped it if you wanted.
Any happy comments, or constructive criticism, then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
But hey - please dont flame me! Im a firsttimer at this writing and actually letting people read it thing.
Ta, and enjoy!
"We should come here every year .. on this day, at this time, to be together," Elke murmured softly into the curve of Rachels neck. Rachel felt Elkes lips move against her as she smiled. "No trouble remembering anniversary dates with me dragging you off to the Tiergarten every year," she teased gently. Rachel turned her head so that she was looking into the other womans face.
"Do you really think I could forget, Elly? Dont you realise that this is now officially the happiest day of my life?" she asked, tucking a wayward wisp of blonde hair behind a small ear. "November 9th, 1939 .. this is a day Ill remember forever you dont have to worry about that, darling." Elke hugged Rachel closer, darting a quick look out of the corner of her eye. There was no-one else around, so she took a risk and kissed her quickly. Rachels eyes widened, but she returned the kiss eagerly, before pulling away.
"Elly .. we cant .. not here .." Her eyes were sad, and she was more than a little surprised that Elke had been so bold.
Elke sighed so deeply that the other womans dark hair moved in the breeze. She looked down at her hands, idly scraping some lichen from the stone seat at the base of the little fountain they were leaning against.
"I know," she muttered. "Trust me, I know. Papa would have an apoplexy if he even knew I was still associating with you, let alone that we .." Her voice trailed off despondently.
Rachel reached out and placed a hand beneath her chin, tilting her face up. Still Elke wouldnt look at her, her green eyes downcast. Rachel snuck a look sideways. This part of the Tiergarten was deep in the old hunting forest created for the nobles of last century and shed never seen anyone else here. It had been a surprise when shed found the fountain, hiding in the forest one night from the Nazi patrols after curfew. After that, shed started meeting Elke here, instead of in the alley three streets behind her house. Here, there was much less chance of anyone seeing them; the SS, the Nazi patrol troops, Elkes family, someone from the synagogue .. she didnt know which would be worst. Any one of them could get them into huge amounts of trouble her particularly, as Jews werent allowed on the streets after dark, although Elke would not fare well either, if she were found with a Semite, even if they thought their relationship were only platonic. If they suspected what was now the truth .. Rachels jaw firmed. No-one would find them. No-one else ever came to the fountain. She glanced sideways again and, seeing nothing but trees and a wide-eyed squirrel, she bent her head towards Elkes and kissed her gently on the lips. Elke gasped, eyes popping open in shock. She jerked her head back.
"I know we have to be careful. But there is no-one here to see us .. this is the safest place we have to meet, and if I cant kiss you here, then theres nowhere else. And, my dear," she drawled, her lips twisting into a tiny smirk, "that, is not an option". The smirk threatened to turn into a cheeky grin.
Elkes eyebrows rose sharply, and she simply looked at her friend. Then her face creased as she broke into a quirky smile.
"Oh really? How can you be sure? Thats only the third time youve kissed me, you know," she chuckled.
"Enough times to know that it is, without a doubt, an experience to be repeated." The grin was definitely in place. They kissed again.
Elke took Rachels hands in her own and squeezed them firmly.
"I do love you, Rachel Lehmann," she whispered.
"I love you too, my Elly," Rachel husked, resting her forehead lightly against Elkes. "So much .."
Elke shuddered as the crisp November air hit her face upon reaching the end of the alleyway. She looked out onto the street. She couldnt see anyone, but the sounds of screams and breaking glass were echoing loudly from the next block. She turned back to Rachel, who was standing behind her, shivering, despite the protection the surrounding buildings provided from the wind. Her thin coat and the shawl Elke had drawn around her shoulders did little to stop the encroaching cold.
"I dont see anyone. You should be alright to get inside." She took the shawl Rachel handed her, and wrapped it around herself. "Make it quick too, love, before anyone sees those," she said, gesturing towards the now exposed yellow stars sewn onto Rachels coat.
"Ill be careful. You too Elly, the streets arent safe tonight, not even for the master race," Rachel said mockingly, shooting a concerned look at her. "Maybe I should take you home just to make sure youre safe .."
"And have me turn right back around to walk you home again? I dont think so. Rachel, Ill be ok. Think who my father is, what I look like .. Im the picture perfect Aryan girl, remember? Its far more dangerous out here for you. Nothing will happen to me, dont worry". Elke pulled the other woman, who still looked very worried, into a hard hug.
"Ill be alright".
"Rachel. Ill be fine. Now go, before someone comes." Elke took a step back and looked up at her. Rachel wasnt moving.
"For goodness sake Rach, dont do anything stupid, please! I dont know whats going on, but it cant be good, and your people are more than likely the targets, so please, just go inside and stay inside and be safe. Alright? For me? Please?" Elke pleaded. Rachel looked down at her troubled face and capitulated.
"Alright. But be careful. Ill meet you tomorrow night at eight oclock".
"Alright." Elke smiled up at her.
"I love you".
"I love you too, Rachel. See you tomorrow night .. be careful," Elke said quietly. Forgetting that they were in a somewhat public place, Rachel placed her hands against Elkes cheeks, stroking her lower lip with the pads of her thumbs, and drew her in for a kiss.
"What do we have here?" A beam of light from a large flashlight fell upon them. Elke turned towards it, raising a hand to shield her eyes.
"Step forward," the man growled. They exchanged a panicked glance, and then did as they were told, Rachel taking a longer step so that she stood protectively in front of Elke. Closer now, they could see that the man was wearing the uniform of an SS officer and he could see, with a certainty now, that they were both women, and that one wore the Star of David. He had a pistol pointed at them. They heard the sound of booted feet approaching and then there were four more uniformed men standing in the shadows, removing any chance of escape.
"What the hell is going on here?"
"A couple of degenerates, I believe, Kommandant, and one seems to be a Jew outside after curfew. I found them here, kissing, up against the wall", the first officer said, straightening and saluting stiffly.
"A Jewish dyke and a lesbian Jew-lover. Huh. I dont know which is more disgusting." Elke stiffened. They couldnt see the Kommandant, but God, she thought she knew that voice. "Get over here," he barked.
Elke laid a trembling hand on the small of Rachels back as they walked closer to the men, ever aware of the gun aimed directly at them, ready to shoot if they made one wrong move. One of the men took the dark haired woman roughly by the arm and pulled her towards him. She stumbled away, exposing Elke fully.
"Elke." The sound was harsh. Elke felt shivers go down her spine. She did know that voice. The Kommandant stepped out of the shadows and glared at her menacingly.
"Papa," Elke choked, "I can explain .."
"What the hell are you doing here?"
"Stop. You snuck out of the house tonight .. to see this woman. After I forbade it. Didnt you?" His tone was like ice, colder than shed ever heard it before, and his voice was never warm. She looked at him, trying to decide what to say.
"Answer me!" he roared.
"Yes Papa," she muttered.
"You disobedient little whore," he ground out. He backhanded her across the face, hard. She stumbled back a step.
"Papa .." He grabbed her by the throat, cutting off her words.
"Let her go," Rachel growled, struggling. One of the men sank his baton into her calf. She stumbled and let out a strangled groan. The Kommandant ignored her.
"You pervert. You are not my daughter," he hissed as Elke gagged, eyes wide. "You want to behave like an animal, with an animal, then you can live like one." He shoved her backwards. She fell down, gasping and coughing.
Take this filth away. Send them to the camps. Asocials black triangles, as well as the Star of David for the Jew." He paused. "Use any means necessary."
"Papa, please .." He grimaced distastefully and spat, the gobbet of saliva landing on her cheek. She looked up at him in shock. He shook his head and turned his back on her. He walked toward the Jew and punched her hard in the belly. She exhaled in a whoosh, doubling over with a grunt of pain.
"Jewish slut," he snarled, shoving past the SS officers. "Get rid of them."
"I cant take this anymore, Rachel."
"Yes, you can, Elly." Rachels voice was quiet, so as not to disturb the other two women crowded into the bunk with them.
"No, I cant. I cant handle this place! The lice, and the hunger and the sickness and the beatings, the death, the .." Elkes throat worked as tears slid down her cheeks. "Thank God they stopped that. I guess Im not such an attractive little bundle when Im nothing but skin and bones and open sores," she said bitterly.
"Elly .." Rachel whispered.
"No Rach, Im glad that Im ugly. Im glad it stopped them wanting me. I dont think I could survive those bastards now, even if I wanted to. Which I dont." She took a breath. "Rachel, I know Ive said this before, and I know you dont like me to say it, but sometimes I really think it would just be better to die. We will anyway, theyll gas us, or shoot us or beat us to death eventually. Or well starve, or die of this damned typhoid thats always going round. Maybe it would be better to go sooner rather than later." Elkes voice trailed off, her voice too husky with unshed tears to continue. She could feel Rachel shaking behind her, sobbing quietly into her neck.
"Rachel?" Rachel rarely cried. She was always the strong one, holding them together, a pillar of support, even when things were awful .. even more awful than they were now.
"Im so sorry .." Rachel choked. "Its all my fault. If it hadnt been for me you would never have been caught .. none of this would have happened to you. And if it wasnt bad enough that I got you into this place, being with me only made it worse for you an Aryan lesbian among criminals and self-righteous Jews." She sniffed.
"Rachel, honey, what .. its not your fault. I knew the risks, and youve always tried your best to protect me, to make things easier and dont think I dont appreciate that I love you. Im just having a miserable day. But its not your fault .." Elke grunted a little with effort as she slowly manoeuvred her body so that she was facing the other woman, the expenditure of energy required extreme for such minimal movement. But shed been at Sachsenhausen for just over five years now she and Rachel were some of the longest interned prisoners, and she knew she was lucky to have lasted this long.
Elke looked at the miserable face in front of her own. She gently wiped at the tears as she looked into Rachels eyes. Despite the dark, sunken hollows they were in, Rachels eyes were still that same brilliant blue theyd always been. Colour in a grey world. Now they were full of moisture, desperately unhappy, full of self-recriminations. Elke ran her palm over the black bristles that were all that was left of Rachels hair.
"What brought this on, love?" Rachel shuddered and looked away. Elke continued rubbing her head, soothingly.
"If you die," she husked, after a long time, "Im to blame. It will be my fault. I will have killed the only person I ever really loved."
There was a stunned silence. It dragged on for some time before Rachel finally broke it.
"I know its true. You dont have to say anything. I just .. you asked what brought this on, and thats .. it .."
"How long have you felt like this?" asked Elke softly, interrupting.
"A long time. Always, I guess." She paused. "I guess I really started thinking about it when the guards started .. you know .. because you were in here because of me .. a degenerate Jew-Lover, a traitor to your race, and I knew that you wouldnt have to be dealing with any of that if it werent for me." Rachel explained quietly.
"Rach, that started almost immediately after we got here!"
"Youve felt like this that you were to blame - for so long and you never said anything to me about it?" Rachel nodded. Elke was stunned. "I cant believe it. Darling, this isnt your fault .."
"Thats why I never said anything. I knew youd tell me it wasnt my fault, and it is, and I cant believe that its not, and I didnt want to fight with you about it .. but when you started talking about wanting to die .. again .. I couldnt .. I .. it would mean that I killed you .. and I couldnt hold it in anymore." Rachel bit her lower lip, hard, in an effort to contain its trembling.
"Oh Rachel .. sweetie .." Elke kissed her forehead softly. Rachel crumpled, burying her face in Elkes chest. Elke held her and rocked her gently, rubbing her back in small, soothing circles.
"Well, theres one possible solution to this little situation, since you wont accept that its not your fault - and after five years of guilt, I doubt that will happen anytime soon." Elke said. Rachel looked up at her. "Ill just have to stay alive. For as long as it takes, no matter what happens. I couldnt leave you alone with no-one to look out for you anyway, could I, love?"
"Uh huh. Keep the old ticker running. No pushing up daisies for me, no maam, not anytime soon. How do you think that sounds?" Elke asked, deliberately lightening her tone.
"Like youre trying to cheer me up." Rachel muttered wryly.
"I am." Elke chuckled, "but Im also being serious. Theres one condition though. You have to stay alive too." Rachels dark brows rose.
"Thats a tough promise to make in this sort of situation," she said, looking at the bunker around her.
"It is. But if I can make it, then so can you. Thats the deal. And it counts even if we get separated somehow, we both still make the effort to stay alive, no matter what, alright?" Elke looked at Rachel carefully. "Alright?"
"Alright. I promise." Rachel whispered hesitantly.
"Me too," husked Elke.
"Do you think we will get separated?" asked Rachel.
"I dont know. But if we do, we stay alive and stick to the plan. You remember?"
"How could I forget? Youve reminded me of it every time we have to part for any length of time," Rachel smiled weakly. "If we get separated, we meet at the little fountain in the Tiergarten at noon on the date of our anniversary November 9th. If youre not there, its because .." she stopped, choking up again.
"We will be there, both of us, so dont worry. Well make it, Rachel, no matter what." Elke smiled at her partner reassuringly, and received a grateful look in return. "Well be back at the fountain together someday."
Rachel felt her knees tremble as she made her way to the opening in the side of the box-car. She clutched at the wooden slats in the wall to steady herself, allowing the others the pass her while she took a tiny moment to catch her breath. She couldnt give up now, not when shed kept going for so long. Shed made that promise to Elly and shed be damned if she wasnt going to keep it.
Shoving off the wall, she swayed as she stumbled toward the door, sidling uncomfortably around the body of a scrawny old woman on the floor. She tried to stay upright as she stepped down to the ground outside, but the drop was too much and she was unable to stop herself from collapsing. A heavy boot connected with her stomach, just barely missing her rib cage, knocking the wind out of her. She gasped desperately for air and struggled to push herself onto her knees. Several pairs of pale, bony hands reached down to help her up. She made it to her feet and staggered forward, head spinning, trying to fight down a wave of nausea. Not that there was anything in her belly to come up, but the loss of equilibrium made her feel sick, just the same.
Rachel trudged slowly over to the group of emaciated people standing near the tracks and looked back toward the train. There were still quite a lot of people to get off, and so she allowed herself the chance to stand still and have a good cough. Hard as it may have been to breathe, Rachel knew that if she tried to cough while she was moving, she would probably keel over, so it was a good idea to clear her chest as best as she could while she had the opportunity.
It took another half hour before everyone was off the train, and they had started walking. Dachau, shed heard the guards say. She supposed that was where they were going. Right now, she didnt really care, just as long as she could lie down, even if it was in a hard, crowded bunk, with a bunch of skinny, smelly, lice-infested wraiths that were meant to pass as human beings. If she didnt rest soon, shed be dead, literally, on her feet, and that was something she couldnt allow. Shed promised Elly.
Elly. Rachel wondered where she was right now. Still at Sachsenhausen? Or had she been moved too? She wasnt sure where the Nazis could have taken her. There werent many camps left still functioning. The kommandant at Auschwitz hadnt even let them in the gate, telling them that there was no room left, that the chambers and the ovens were working far above capacity and that the Soviets were basically on their doorstep. The long march there that shed managed to live through had been for nothing. Shed almost given up then. Almost. But then she heard Ellys voice screaming in her head, promising to survive if she would promise too.
"Dont forget, Rachel! Dont forget! Ill be there at the fountain waiting for you, I promise.. you make sure youre there to meet me too! Swear to me youll never give up! Please.. promise me that Ill see you again .. Rachel!"
And shed promised, even as shed watched them kick Elly away from her, back towards all of the non-Jewish prisoners who wouldnt be making the long march to Auschwitz that she had. Shed promised that she loved her and that theyd see each other again. That she would never give up. That she would survive. And so she had. She couldnt let Elly down, be the source of even more pain than she already had been.
When they rounded the corner, Rachel finally saw the buildings that made up the concentration camp, behind long taut strings of barbed wire. Row after row of long brick constructions, with people in tattered striped uniforms massed in the quadrangle in front of them. The stench was awful, even from the street where she was, and she could hear a strange booming in the distance. Dark trails of smoke were pouring from large chimneys at the back of the compound, and farther away she could see different smoke; huge, white clouds of it, coming from the same direction as the booming noise.
The guards at the front of the column had a heated conversation with the people at the entrance, which seemed to last for decades, before finally they began to file in. They were directed to a pathway that went up behind the main buildings to a large block, closer to the back fence. The showers, the guards said. This camp didnt need anymore lice than it already had, and so every new group of interns was showered immediately. The guards herded them inside.
Rachels fingers fumbled as she quickly tried to unbutton her ragged jacket. She hated these cramped undressing rooms. It was the second time shed been in one, the first being shortly after her arrival at Sachsenhausen five and a half years ago. Elly had been with her then, and, terrified or no, shed been unable to help sneaking a glance at her naked body as she stood beside her. Shed still had all of her hair then, one of the few blondes in the room. It had made her stand out, to the other inmates - and to the guards. Rachel had hoped that after theyd shorn it off she would be less noticeable, but it hadnt worked that way. She shuddered as she remembered what had happened to Elly because she of who she was and what she was. Her fault again. She wondered if she could ever make up for everything that Elly had gone through.
Rachel started as the kapo smacked her baton hard against the pipe on the wall, making a loud clanging noise.
"Go through that door on the right. Put your clothes in the chutes in the wall and continue up the corridor to the showers at the end. Then go in there and wait for disinfecting," the kapo yelled. Something crashed loudly outside the building. "Quickly!"
Rachel bent slowly, stiffly, and grasped her clothes, moving at a shuffle behind the other women through the doorway. She dumped them into a chute and walked slowly up the corridor. She could see a sign above the door Brausebad Shower Room. She went in and stood silently in the centre, waiting for the room to fill up, watching the others file in. The first time, theyd all looked so different, except for the fear on their faces. This time, they all looked the same bald, scrawny, apathetic women. Defeated. The only way you could tell the difference was by the numbers tattooed on their left forearms. Rachel glanced at hers. It was the same as Ellys, except for the last number. For some reason this pleased her, soothed her, gave her a sense of connection. It was like a symbol of their togetherness, even when they werent together. Like now.
The shower room was full, they were packed in like sardines. There hardly seemed a point in showering, she would barely even be able to get wet with the press of the bodies around her. Rachel sighed. It wouldnt take long, then she could lie down and rest. The heavy metal door slammed shut behind the last few stragglers and Rachel heard it lock.
It took a few moments for her to realise that the mist filling the room wasnt coming from the shower heads, and that it wasnt water. Women had already started collapsing, slumping unconscious to the floor. Rachel looked about her in a panic. Gas! They were gassing them! Theyd only been here for twenty God-damned minutes and they were already killing them off! She clapped a hand over her mouth and put her head down, trying to get to the exit, but the crush of the bodies was too much and she couldnt get past them. There were no windows, there was no other way out. Rachel struggled to breathe shallowly, but she could feel herself getting weaker. There werent many others still standing now. She stumbled over to another woman, only to have her, and then another, crumple down on top of her. She shoved at them desperately, they were on her face, she couldnt breathe! Then she remembered that she wouldnt be able to breathe even if they werent on top of her. She couldnt move them anyway. Things were getting darker. She could hear her pulse throbbing slowly in her head, louder and louder. She was going to die here. She felt a tear roll sideways down her face, trickling onto her ear. She tried to think of Elly, to picture her face in her mind one last time. Then everything went black.
Light. It was glaring into her eyes. Why was everything so bright? She blinked and tried to rub her eyes, but she couldnt move her hand. It was stuck under something. A person. A naked woman. The parts of the woman that she could see were bloody, the rest covered in rubble. The was a gaping hole in the wall, pieces were crumbling away. She could see smoke; hear screaming. Were there bombs? What was going on?
Rachel tried to get up but she was so woozy. She couldnt see very well and it was hard to breathe. Pulling her arm out from under the dead woman, Rachel managed to haul herself, on her belly, over the piles of bodies and out of the gap in the wall. She stopped once she was outside, gasping for air. It was a little easier to breathe out here, but she was still having difficulty sucking the oxygen into her lungs. They felt like they were on fire. Her body ached and there were strange lights dancing in front of her eyes. She squinted in the direction of the camp. Everything was in chaos, people running and yelling. She looked the other way, beyond the fences. She could see fire, and some kind of vehicle, men running, and she could hear those strange loud noises, shouts, and above it all, the crack of gunfire.
Digging her fingers into the moist dirt, Rachel pulled herself a little further away from the shower room. The gravel on the ground scraped the front of her body, embedding itself in her chest and thighs. She ignored it. She was so confused. What was going on? There was only one thing Rachel knew for certain. Somehow, she was alive, and now she just had to get away, survive, find Elly. Maybe these people who were attacking the camp could help her. Ones enemys enemy is ones friend and all of that sort of thing. She tried to crawl toward the fence. Something crashed down onto the ground in flames a few yards away, spewing up the soil. She shrank away, cowering into the ground, her arms held protectively over her head. There was another loud noise and part of the building shed left behind collapsed, burying the shower room with broken bricks and tiles. More bombs fell, and the building exploded, chunks of rubble flying everywhere. Something hit Rachel in the back of the head. She felt a sharp pain, and then she descended into oblivion.
"Alright Roger, Im ready to go. Is the auto out the front?" Elke jogged lightly down the battered staircase.
"It is. And may I say my dear, how very lovely you look today? That shade of blue is most becoming," Roger complimented, holding his hand out to the young woman, and helping her down the last few stairs.
"Thank you Roger," Elke said distractedly. "Do you think Rachel will like it?" Roger shifted uncomfortably.
"I think anyone with eyes would think that you look beautiful today." Elke frowned and gave him a penetrating look.
"You dont think shell be there."
"I hope she is, for your sake, my dear, but .. no, I dont think shell be there. I didnt think she would be there last year either." He sighed. "I just .. how long is this going to go on, Elke? The war has been over for four and a half years now. You tracked her down." He paused and took a deep breath. "Shes dead. She died at Dachau. I know it pains you but I really feel that you need to accept that and move on with your life. For your own sake. Shes gone." Roger shut his mouth abruptly, as if afraid to say anything more. Elkes lips compressed into a thin line, and her green eyes became suspiciously moist, although she held her jaw firm and her voice was steady.
"She promised me that we would see each other again. Rachel would never break her word. Not to me." Elke turned her back stubbornly on the man who had carried her, nearly dead, out of Sachsenhausen. He had been nothing but a help to her, so kind and attentive, and one of the few people who continued to treat her with respect after finding out why shed been interned, but he had never believed Rachel was alive. He had never wanted to believe, not really. He probably even hoped she was not, since he wanted ..
"Im sure that she didnt intend to break her vow, Elke, but one didnt have much control over life and death in the camps, remember?" Roger took a step closer. Elke whirled about to face him.
"How dare you presume to tell me about life in the camps? Me!? I think I know better than anyone what kind of control one had in there!" Elke clenched her teeth, trying to calm her breathing. She was always on edge on this day, hoping against hope that today would be the day that she would see her Rachel again, only to be disappointed. Please God, let her be there today ..
"Im sorry Elly, Im sorry," Roger said pleadingly, taking another step forward.
"Dont call me that."
"Sorry. Elke. Im sorry." Roger looked distraught. Elke sighed.
"Its not your fault, Roger. I just .. Im a bit .."
"Its alright, I know, my dear. And I dont want to pressure you or make you upset, please understand that. I care about you. I just dont want you to waste all of your life searching for a lost dream, for someone who can never come back to you. Not when I am here, and all I want is to spend the rest of my life making you happy .." Roger was very close to her now. He took her hands in his. He had large hands; too large, too rough. They had calluses where they should have been smooth and soft. They were not the right hands. Elke closed her eyes and tried to will herself to stay calm. She didnt want to get the way she had been last year, completely out of control, sobbing and screaming on the entrance floor of the boarding house. She knew that Roger, with his stoic British nature, had been very embarrassed by that, for all of his unwavering support.
"I think we should go now," Elke said quietly, but firmly. "I dont want to be late." Roger frowned. She would be a good half hour early, at least, but he said nothing.
Elke sat quietly in the front passenger seat of the car. It was cramped, and smelled foul, but cars werent exactly easy to come by in post-war Berlin, despite Rogers ex-army status, and her strength was such that she wasnt able to walk all the way to the Tiergarten as she had years before. She still hadnt fully recovered from her time in Sachsenhausen. It was enough that she would have to walk all the way to the fountain when she got there. Roger would help her, of course, if she let him, but she wanted to go alone.
She probably should marry him, she supposed. He asked her every year. And he was the closest thing to family she had. Everyone else was dead, her father only the year before, courtesy of the war crimes tribunal. She knew Roger wouldnt wait forever, and if he left, just got fed up and left, then shed be alone, with nothing but her memories. Because he was right, of course, she could admit in her head what she could never say aloud that after four and a half years with no word, Rachel probably was dead. Shed seen her name on the list of internees that had been the last entrants to the Dachau camp. Shed spoken to some bitch kapo that remembered her in the undressing room right before shed entered the gas chambers. She said shed never seen eyes so blue, in someone with such dark hair. Even if the hair had only been half an inch long. Elke had punched her as hard as she could and then promptly collapsed. If, somehow, Rachel had survived the gas, she was probably dead anyway, killed in the collapse of the chambers that had occurred as the Americans shelled the camp. Shed hoped that they were wrong, that shed escaped somehow, that she just couldnt make it to Berlin, that she was sick, detained, something, anything .. But after four and a half years with not even a single line on a scrap of paper .. If it were anyone else, she may have held out hope, but Rachel would have known how worried shed be. She would have gotten word to her even if she couldnt get to the fountain herself. Unless she couldnt get word. Unless she were dead.
Elke clenched her teeth harder and scrunched her eyes tightly shut. She would not break down here, not in front of Roger. But at that moment, she decided that if Rachel wasnt here this year, the fifth time that shed gone to the fountain to wait for her, then she would stop waiting. She would accept the evidence, believe what everyone had told her that she was dead. She had to. If she didnt, that last tiny thread with which she was holding onto her sanity might snap, and she would probably go crazy.
"Were here," Roger said quietly, pulling the little car to a grinding halt outside the park. "Ill come back for you .. when?" Elke sat up a little straighter and opened the door.
"Two oclock please."
"Will you be alright to walk there?" Roger asked.
"Yes, thank you."
"You dont need any help?" Elkes hand tightened convulsively around the door handle.
"No thank you, Roger. Ill see you at two." She stepped out of the car and shut the door. Roger leaned across the seat so his face was near the open window.
"Yes, Roger." Elke turned back to face him.
"If shes not there .. think about what I asked you last year. And the year before that. The offer still stands. I would love nothing more than to .."
"Ill think about it," Elke interrupted hurriedly, not wanting to hear what he had to say. She turned quickly and walked up the path. Roger sighed, sat up behind the wheel, and drove away.
The nurse walked quickly into the room and swished the curtains open. Broad rays of sunshine spilled past the trees outside and into the room, falling onto the well made bed, with its neat hospital corners, and also onto the beds occupant. The woman stirred a little. The nurse looked on, unperturbed. The woman did that sometimes. The first time, shed gone running for the doctor, convinced the woman was waking up, but now she was so used to it that she barely even noticed.
The womans head moved restlessly on her pillow, her face very pale against her black hair. She mumbled something, made a little noise. The nurse took a step closer. That was new, she didnt usually make noises. She mumbled again. The nurse bent over her patient, trying to understand what she was saying. If she could make out something, maybe they could figure out who the woman was. No-one had any idea. The only possible form of identification had been the serial number on her left forearm, and that had been marred, the final number obliterated by a burn shed received during the explosion at Dachau that had injured her. The only thing the first group of numbers had been able to tell them was that the woman had received her tattoo at Sachsenhausen, in the late 30s or in 1940. That narrowed it down considerably, but not enough to figure out exactly who she was.
The nurse was shocked out of her musing by the sight of two very blue eyes looking up at her. She yelped and took a abrupt step back. The eyes blinked and looked uncertainly around. They returned to her and looked at her, confused. The woman opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a husky rasping noise. Her eyes widened in distress.
"Oh, here, have some water!" The nurse hurriedly filled a tumbler with water from the tap near the window and helped the woman into a semi-upright position so that she could drink. She sipped at it until it was gone, and then spent some time coughing and making odd sounds until she was able to speak.
"Where am I?" she asked, in a thick German accent, her speech slow.
"In the Sisters of Mercy hospital in Dijon, mademoiselle," the nurse replied excitedly. "I am so glad you are awake! We thought you would never wake up!"
"Dijon!? What am I doing here? How did I get to France?"
"When the Americans liberated Dachau you were injured and treated at their field hospital. When they couldnt wake you, you were brought here - eventually. You have been here ever since. I must go and tell the doctor you are awake," said the nurse, moving toward the door.
"No! Wait," the woman husked. "How long have I been here? How long have I been asleep?" The nurse looked decidedly uncomfortable.
"I really do think I should get the doctor."
"No. Tell, please, how long?" the woman asked, her French, obviously not her native language, failing her a bit in her increasing anxiousness.
"I dont think.." the nurse faltered.
"Tell me, dammit," the woman growled. The nurses eyes widened and she took a step back at the fierce look on the womans face.
"Eleven years, mamselle," she squeaked. "I must go and get the doctor now," she said, almost running out of the door. The womans face drained of what little colour it had and her mouth dropped open in shock.
"Eleven years?" she croaked. "Eleven years! Oh God .. oh God .. oh .. my Elly .."
Rachel slid out of the drivers seat and slammed the door shut behind her. She would just look. She wouldnt knock at the door, wouldnt go inside, no-one would even know she was there. But she had to look. She didnt think she could live without seeing her again, just one more time.
Rachel walked slowly up the country road, pleased that the weather was sunny for once, and not that perpetual rain that the English seemed so strangely proud of. Elkes house was the one on the corner, she knew, and if she went around, she could peek through the hedge into the garden. If she knew anything about Elly, shed be out there sometime, amongst the green. She just had to wait. Something she knew for a fact she was good at.
It had been four years since shed woken from the coma in that hospital in France. It had taken some time before shed been well enough to leave, and then even longer as she waited for passports and visas back to Germany. The Iron Curtain was coming down, and it had been very difficult to get in. But she had made it eventually, just in time for their anniversary, and she had gone straight to the fountain, but Elly hadnt come. It had taken her a while to get over that. She supposed she never really had. She still went there, every year, even though she knew shed be alone, that Elly wouldnt come. Rachel sighed. After that first year, she had spent the next couple of years searching for her, and going through her own records. She discovered that some people (in particular a rather vile woman who had once been a kapo at Dachau) remembered Elly. She had, apparently, searched for Rachel herself, and had gone away with the impression that she was dead. No wonder she hadnt gone back.
It wasnt long after that that Rachel had found out that Elly was married, to the English fellow who had accompanied her everywhere during those first few years after the war. Shed married him in 1950, and, after some serious detective work, Rachel had discovered where they lived, where he worked, how many children they had .. Rachel wondered what the children were like. She and Elly had talked about children while they were in Sachsenhausen, in an abstract sort of way. Elly would be one of those very devoted kinds of mothers, she thought. Nothing like Rachels mother, what little of her she could remember. Rachel had always been a little terrified of the idea of children. What if she turned out like her own family? But Elly had always been optimistic, despite her background.
Rachel reached the corner of the street and turned around it. There was the hedge. She could hear voices coming from behind it. Carefully, she crouched down beside a bush and pulled apart a few of the hedge leaves. She leaned forward and peeked through the gap.
Three giggling little boys ran madly about the garden. The two older ones (Robert, eight, and William, five, her mind supplied, remembering the research shed done) were playing a riotous game of tag, while their little brother, Paul, only three, trailed exhaustedly behind in an attempt to join in and be one of the lads.
"Cant catch me Willie!" squealed Robert as he dashed right by her hiding place. "Ha ha ha, cant catch me!"
"I can too!" puffed Willie desperately, as he struggled to catch up.
"Bobby, Willie, wait for me .." moaned Paul from far behind.
"Youre too little to play Paul, go over there and sit with Mama," said Bobby. Rachels ears pricked up. Mama? Elly. Where was she? She craned her neck, trying to see around the leaves without disturbing too many and making her presence known. As if Elly hadnt suffered enough without her making things worse. From what Rachel could gather, her life after the war had been only marginally better than her life during. Certainly, she wasnt in danger of starving to death anymore, but her home was gone, all of her family and most of her friends were dead, and those that were not, ostracised and victimised her for her captivity and her life with Rachel. As an asocial convicted of lesbianism, she had been unable to claim repatriation. She was glad that this Roger fellow had been able to look past the typical social biases, and offer her a second chance. Hadnt she wondered, hundreds of times, how she could ever make it up to Elly for all of the things that shed suffered because of her? Well, maybe this was her opportunity. She was not going to mess up this new life that Elly had made for herself.
"Ill help you play with the big boys Paulie," said a voice. A mans voice. Rachel couldnt help the rush of jealousy that flooded through her as she heard it. Roger. It had to be Roger.
"Yay Papa! Will you be my horsey and run really fast so I can catch them?" Paulie asked with great excitement.
"Oh ho ho, I certainly will! Those boys wont be able to escape from us!" Rachel watched, seething, despite her efforts to suppress the emotion, as the man gathered up Ellys youngest son and proceeded to join in the game, galloping around the yard after the older boys, before they all fell down onto the grass in a heap, worn out.
"Mama, come over here and sit with us!" called Bobby, waving in the direction of the house. Rachel supposed there must be a patio or something attached to the back of it, where Elly was sitting.
"Yes Elke, come over and be part of the family, bring the baby," said Roger. Rachel started in surprise. The baby? What baby? Elly had had another child? Then Rachels brain stopped thinking and she just felt, as the woman shed last seen almost sixteen years ago entered her line of sight. She was beautiful, her body had filled out and was curvy again. Her hair had grown back and was hanging loosely past her shoulders. Rachel drank in the sight of her. She was holding a small baby, only a few months old, with a cap of blonde hair like its mothers. She knelt down on the grass beside them.
"An excellent game of tag, my darlings," she said, looking at her sons fondly. "You look very tired though." Her voice was different. Something about it, not something you would notice unless youd known her well; the tone more serious than it once had been, even in the camps, although her words were happy. Her eyes had lost their sparkle as well, even though she was smiling. The war had left its mark on everyone, and it seemed that Elly was no exception. Rachel longed to go in and hold her, comfort her, but she forced herself to stay where she was. She wouldnt be a help to her. She would just wreck the life that shed rebuilt, and cause her pain. For all she knew, Elly might have even forgotten about her.
"Mama, can I hold little Rachel?" Rachels head snapped up. Her jaw dropped.
"Of course you can, Willie," said Elke, smiling. "Just come a little closer. Now remember what I said about holding her head .."
Rachels head was spinning. Theyd named the baby Rachel. Shed named her after Rachel. Her! Apparently, Elly had not forgotten her after all. Her vision swam as she fought the urge to cry. Dammit, this just made it harder, knowing that Elly did remember her. But the things that had happened in the past, the awful, terrible things that Elly had had to suffer, had been because of her. How could she even consider daring to destroy the happiness Elly now had? Her family? Her marriage? Her life? And for what; an illicit relationship that would be condemned by society? Shed have to give up the children, no-one would ever give a lesbian custody of her children, lest she pervert them. Elly would lose everything. And that was provided she even wanted to be with Rachel. She might not. Elly might not even love her anymore. Rachel would probably just be stirring up trouble and end up rejected anyway. No. She would not, not, not reveal herself.
Almost blinded by her tears, Rachel forced herself to her feet. Much as she wanted to stay and watch, she knew that if she didnt leave soon, she may lose what little control she had over her emotions and her decision to stay out of Ellys life would become moot. Trembling from head to foot, Rachel walked slowly away from the hedge. She rounded the corner and dragged her feet down the street to the car. She stumbled into it and leaned against the door, groping for the handle, needing to get inside before she collapsed completely. She fell into the drivers seat and shut the door, slumping against the wheel, her head buried in her arms. She let out a muffled cry of anguish, and then her body was wracked with sobs. She sat there for a long time, until finally she lifted her head up and wiped her nose with a handkerchief. The light from the setting sun glinted on the tears drizzling down her cheeks to her chin and she coughed. Then, with a final look at the house on the corner, she started up the engine, and drove away.
Elke fumbled with the door handle of the taxi but was only just able to get a grip before the energetic driver swung the door open and helped her out.
"Thank you, young man," she said, smiling.
"No problem lady," he said. "You have a good day now." He steadied her as she stepped up the gutter onto the footpath, and then handed her her cane. "See ya."
"Goodbye," she murmured, her thoughts already miles away as she gazed at the entrance of the Tiergarten before her. It had been years since shed been here; that last time shed waited for Rachel, the day shed accepted Rogers proposal. Roger was dead now, he had been for the last nine years, dying of simple old age in his sleep. A good way to go. She should know, shed seen plenty of death in her life. She shuddered, and pushed the camps out of her memory.
Elke began to walk toward the entrance, sparing a moment to glance up at the red and yellow banners slung overhead. They were advertising the parade that would be on tonight, through the streets of Berlin, ending up here in the Tiergarten. It was to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Kristallnacht. That was a night she remembered well it had been her last night of freedom, the last free night she would ever have with Rachel. Their anniversary. The night was imprinted indelibly on her memory. She didnt need a parade to help her remember. She didnt want a parade to help her remember. It was why shed organised her flight to leave before it started, at four in the afternoon. She had come to the meetings, and gone to the conference, but, as shed suspected she would have, shed reached her limit. She would definitely not be going to the parade.
She was chicken really, she thought wryly. She was just too damn scared to remember that night. That was the real reason she wasnt going. That was the real reason she was standing outside the Tiergarten, staring like some kind of zombie instead of going inside as shed intended. It was probably the last time shed ever be in Berlin, she was almost eighty now, and so, shed decided, this was as good a time as any to try to lay some ghosts to rest. Hence her trip to the Tiergarten. To the fountain, if she ever made it inside. She checked her watch. 11:42am. She had eighteen minutes to make it to the fountain. She wanted to be there by noon, the way shed promised all those years ago .. even if she was going to be alone.
Elke limped uncomfortably down the central pathway, using her cane to support herself. Her right leg, the one the guards had broken when shed tried to go with Rachel, that last time shed seen her, had given her problems ever since. By now, the occasional ache had turned into painful arthritis that no amount of drugs could help. Shed learned to cope with it. You could, Elke had discovered some time ago, learn to cope with almost anything. She grimaced as she stepped down off the main path, careful not to twist her ankle. Her bones werent really in fabulous condition either, osteoporosis kicking in with a vengeance some years back. Everyone shed met at the conferences whod been in the camps was the same, even the men. Not a great surprise really, considering the sort of nutrition theyd received there. At least Rachel didnt have to experience all of these horrible post-concentration camp conditions. Elke chuckled softly to herself. She had always been such a whiner about things like that to Elke at least. To anyone else, she was ever stoic, unbending, unflinching. Elke smiled wistfully. Shed been the only one Rachel had ever let in behind that façade.
Elkes steps slowed as she approached the end of the path. After that, there was a walk of only a few yards, beyond those trees, and then shed be there. She was shaking, she realised. Her throat felt constricted. It was hard to breathe. She concentrated on taking long, slow breaths as she moved unsteadily over the forest floor.
Elke emerged nervously from behind the last clump of trees. Finally, there it was .. someone was there! Someone sitting on her seat, at her fountain, picking at her lichen, dammit! This was her fountain. Hers and Rachels. Seeing someone else there wasnt right. Her eyebrows drew downward, closer together and she exhaled sharply, a hand on her hip. Certainly, shed come here for this, a sort of cathartic experience, but there was no point if she wasnt going to be able to relax. Perhaps she should just be on her way.
Then the person at the fountain looked up. It was an elderly woman. She was stooped, and had iron grey hair, and very wrinkled skin. Elke was sure she had never seen her before, but there was something about her, something about the way shed lifted her head .. She took a step closer before she knew what she was doing, then she stopped, surprised with herself. The other woman was looking at her strangely, probably not unlike the way that Elke was looking at her. Damn, she probably thought she was insane, stopping and starting toward her like this. Elke heard the church bells ringing in midday, and made up her mind. She would go over and sit down at the fountain as if that had been her purpose all along. And it had been, anyway, so that was fair enough. She tottered toward the fountain and the grey-haired woman on unsteady feet, tripping at the last moment and sprawling headlong into the other womans lap.
Oh .. damn .. had she ever felt so stupid? She took a moment to collect herself, surprised and relieved that she couldnt feel any broken bones, and lifted herself up, scrambling as delicately as possible off the other woman. She hoped she hadnt crushed her. A pair of surprisingly strong hands helped her onto the seat, and finally, Elke got her blush under control and lifted her head to thank the woman beside her for her help. The blue eyes looking back at her were so achingly familiar that at first she thought she was hallucinating. Then, when the tears filling them spilled over onto the withered cheeks below, and a hand reached out to tuck a wisp of now white hair behind her ear, Elke knew.
"Rachel .." she whispered, wonderingly.
"Oh Elly .. my Elly .."
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