I’d had an appointment with Frau Baumann, and knowing how I loved to meander past the grain fields in the summer, I’d left early, enjoying the heat on my back and the beauty of the oats nodding to the placid breeze. My papa had owned a dairy farm when I was small. By day I’d played in the pasture, chasing crows and butterflies, coming back, once the cows had all been milked and bedded down, to trap fireflies in Mama’s canning jars. I’d loved the smell of growing things and the tassels on the hay gleaming golden in the dawn before we baled. And so, strolling down the lane that led to Elsa Baumann’s house, I was ensconced in memories of better times.
I hardly noticed the sound of the car driving slowly as if floating on its own reverie. That was careless of me, and these days German Jews, even non-religious ones, must be more watchful. The driver revved his engine up before I reached Frau Baumann’s fence and, judging by vehicle’s size and spotlessness, I knew the man behind the wheel was Gestapo.
With no alley to duck into and no door to shelter me, I clenched my teeth and, boldly striding along the packed dirt road, pretended that I had no need to fear. I planned to let the car approach, to flip a Nazi salute then walk right past the Baumann house until the car drove out of sight then double back and make my meeting as arranged. The driver didn’t buy my ruse. He aimed directly for me.
I launched myself toward the field, but the car swerved just behind, thumping me with a sickening thud. I fell face first a meter and a half into the oats. To my shock, I didn’t feel any pain. The car door slammed. The oats rustled. I scrambled to stand up but managed only to get to my knees. He grabbed my arm. I wriggled free. And then I ran with the speed reserved for athletes or for those whose fuel is terror.
Pouring every scrap of power I had into my legs, tripping, ripping out entangling plants, I swore and shoved my body forward, my breath a hot knot in my throat, sweat stinging my eyes and trickling coldly down my back. Tearing zig-zags through the oats so I’d be difficult to shoot, I almost made it to the woods before I fell. I tried to rise. He stomped me down then clomped his big boot on my leg. I heard it snap, and searing pain shot through my shin. I could not move. I could not breathe. I could not utter a sound.
He aimed his Lugar at my head. I had no time to form a thought. Pushing like a mad man with my good leg and my arms, sucking bugs with every pant, I scuttled through the undergrowth until a bear, back facing me, stood up on hind legs and roared. The Nazi froze. He simply froze, but when the bear loped to the trees, he aimed again until a hawk swooped down at him.
My world went utterly opaque, but the bear’s growl snapped me back from my black oblivion when it returned. My muscles seized, my blind hands searching for a stone I could throw.
I am incessantly astounded at how life stops in a breath, changes course, and leaves me wondering what happened. At the moment when I thought my only choice was how to die, a yellow-haloed deity rolled me over. She spoke my name, her voice as tender as June’s moonlight on a leaf. Alive or dead, I’d have been happy just to gaze on her green eyes and listen to her silver voice forevermore.
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To learn who the yellow-haloed deity is and what becomes of Klaus and of the Nazi, pick up Forest Song: Little Mother.
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