Dougal James 2013
More and more shops are closing down, I thought as I walked down the bleak street. Memories of its safe, homely feeling were conjured up as I wandered past my favourite milk bar, its once colourful façade now faded and blackened, smashed windows tinkling a sweet, sad music as the chill gale howled through. The formerly rosy, polished doors were now splintered and broken, slouching and swollen with damp, barely clinging to the rusty hinges. The wind screamed and threw the doors closed with a bang, making me jump as I plodded my way down the gleaming, snow covered footpath, each footstep softly crunching through the eerie silence of the hard winter morning. The dilapidated doors of the milk bar flew open behind me as I walked past the lonely building, like a poor beggar beckoning me back for a few coins. I wondered where the old ice cream man had gone, what had happened to him, why he had let his pride and joy, his home, his shop, go to ruin. I continued my solitary walk through the village, looking out over the city stretching out from the base of the mountain, oozing out of the shadows and into the cold winter light. The mysterious new factories spewed smoke, hidden in the woods far away from the city, just beyond the horizon. Convoys of trucks and various other horrible machinations of war crawled steadily to and fro in the distance, armies of ant-like soldiers marching through camps and outposts, “Protecting the peace”. I snorted in disgust as I trudged on. I never knew how anyone could ever feel safe with armed men parading around, harassing passers-by, invincible in their bottleneck valley. I knew my Uncle would disagree with me. I hated going to my Uncle’s house. That grey household of racism and misogyny was awful, and it had taught me all I know and hate about this society, this closed city in a cold, closed valley.
“Boy! Fetch us some more grog!” My silent reading was interrupted by a drunken holler. I sighed and heaved myself up from the shredded old couch that served as my bed, pausing at the door, trying to gauge how drunk they were by the amount of drunken noises emanating from the smoke-filled lounge room. I scurried past the room, scooted into the kitchen and snatched a basket of beers from the fridge’s freezing belly, the lead lined door screeching as it slammed shut behind me. I walked quickly into the hazy room, shoving open the door and carefully placing the beers on the table in front of the group of men slouched on the once pristine leather couch. I tried to escape that horrible, beer-soaked room, its slug-like occupants oblivious to their surroundings, lost in a swirling, fiery world of anger and alcohol. My heart rose, as I had nearly navigated my way through the sea of rubbish on the sticky, matted carpet. I reached for the doorknob, and just touched the greasy, stained handle when a thick, harsh, drugged voice tore through the heavy air, striking my ears like a physical blow. “Boy!” There was an ominous, confused pause as Uncle struggled to ensnare his wild thoughts in order to form a cohesive sentence. I tensed myself, bracing myself for the onslaught of insults that was sure to come.
“You are a good boy.” Uncle slurred. I cocked my head slightly. This is new, I thought. His companions guzzled down beer after beer, the occasional grunt slipping from their wet, sluggish lips. The basket was soon empty. It sounded as though he was finished talking, and he slumped down deep into the couch, but I knew better than to leave. He emerged from his drunken stupor as if nothing had never happened, and continued.
“You’re a good boy, but you need to learn who is friend and who is foe.” I remained silent, knowing what was about to unfold. Uncle was attempting to be subtle.
“We all know those hook-noses are up to no good.” He slurred, gesturing at his semi-unconscious comrades. “I cannot understand how you can tolerate them every day.” I gritted my teeth. Uncle continued. “At the rate that they are stealing our jobs, I’m surprised that they haven’t thieved everything but the clothes on your back!”
“I wouldn’t put that past them, either!” Snorted one of the dozing companions, reaching up to snag my shirt. I shoved his hand away, and he sprawled back onto the couch, receding back into a comatose state. It was no secret that I spent most of my time with Jewish people. I slowly turned around to face Uncle, and a dull gleam appeared in his one seeing eye as he noticed my distress. The other stared off into space, milky and dead, a deep scar running from the base of his slack jaw, through his emaciated eye socket and finishing in a ragged line just below his receding hairline. This was a physical reminder of the current war; a war of lies and manipulation, of cold death and unjust prosecution, an injury that Uncle insisted was inflicted by a “hook-nose barstard, a Christ killer, his knife as swift and wicked as his desire to destroy the German people”. I looked down on him then, a pitiful excuse for a human being. Food, grease and god knows what else caked his frayed shirt so much that its original colour would have been impossible to decipher, even if you were to thoroughly clean it. His enormous beer belly grumbled as more alcohol raked its way through his tortured digestive tract, the after effects burning like an oily fire through his dim brain, lighting up twisted remembrances of the past, filled with false rage against an innocent people.
“They are evil, boy. Evil to the core. Their only wish is to bring down Germany, steal our jobs and our money, the clothes on our backs.” He finished with a snicker. “Do you know what those new factories are down there on the horizon? Do you see the smoke?” I looked at him, not daring to speak. He gave me his best nonchalant smile; it only turned into a manic, disfigured snarl as he persisted. “It’s the latest thing boy. See, even in our darkest hour, we, the German people, can still provide a little humanity by putting those filthy thieves to good use, giving them jobs, free labour. Once they have exceeded their use as a workforce, however, they are… disposed of, like any good tool gone into disrepair.” Uncle gestured at the fireplace, dull and grey, weak flames clinging to the devoured, blackened, wood. It all made sense. The new factories, the lines of people tramping in and out every day, the crowds never growing, never shrinking, and the sudden disappearance of the ice cream man. Abduction. Murder. My mind screamed. To hell with humanity! I thought and I reeled, plunging toward Uncle, my eyes ablaze with fury as he stood up. I beat at him futilely, my small fists sinking into his soft flesh with no effect. He was the manifestation of that evil, that discriminate force that I had learned to hate. He pushed me away easily and I stumbled through the hall, knocking down dusty pictures of long gone relatives as I went, their blind faces giving me stern, disapproving looks. Uncle barrelled down the dark hall, glass and picture frames snapping beneath his huge weight. I scrambled for the door, wrenched it open and I burst out into the open, cold air tearing at my lungs, a shock back into the outside world. I ran and ran, enveloped in a feeling of reckless freedom. Uncles pounding footsteps began to recede, and I heard a strangled cry and a dull thump followed by a long, drawn out, coughing wheeze. I stopped and slowly turned. Looking behind me, I spotted Uncle, spread-eagled on the frosty ground. There was a deep rut where he had ploughed through the mud on his fall, and his neck was bent at an odd angle. Almost against my will, I ran towards him, and I knelt next to him, for once surveying his lined, haggard face with the deepest pity. I stood there for a moment, and I pondered why he had harboured such a grudge against the Jewish people. Was it a childhood mishap? A misunderstanding of the largest sort? His small, dark eyes, open and now both unseeing, gave away nothing. I let out a long, deep sigh, drawing in the icy air, welcoming reality. The valley remained silent, serene, but I remembered the dark secret it harboured. I let the shock of the truth sink in again, and without a word or a glance back, I ran. I ran until I lost track of time, until everything I saw was a blurry dream. I found myself huddled under an expansive tree, its many huge limbs and boughs sheltering me from the world, like a small child clutching a doting mother, waiting for a storm to abate.
“Abate” Is set in a fictional valley surrounded by mountain ranges in Nazi Germany in the end of the 30s, when the Jewish were nearing the end of a process of de-humanisation, when concentration camps and extermination camps were eventually brought into effect as a final answer to the Jewish question: How would the Germans resolve their biggest problem-The Jewish. Led by Adolf Hitler; the leader the Nazi party and the head of a totalitarian state. During this process, the Jewish people acted as a scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems, and were forced to wear the Star of David to identify themselves. All Jewish business and enterprise was banned, and the “true Germans” -the Aryan race of blonde hair and blue eyes- were encouraged to spite and pick on Jews for any reason at all. This de-humanisation got to a point where the majority of the German public really believed that the Jews were to blame for all Germany’s problems: the loss of world war one, the treaty of Versailles and Germany’s massive blow from the hyperinflation of the great depression. Eventually, Jewish people were rounded up and moved from the general public into Jewish Ghettos, where they could no longer “contaminate” all the perfect Germans. In these Ghettos, they were not allowed to move in or out, and were surrounded by barbed wire and armed guards. Food, water and other supplies were limited and rationed, and the Jewish people were practically left to fend for themselves, often squabbling over food. If they asked a guard for some food, they were usually punished to the point of death, sometimes shot instantly. This was nothing compared to the concentration camps that the Jewish people eventually had to face. The Nazi party had various propaganda campaigns attempting to portray the camps in a positive light, but these awful places required occupants to work themselves to death for the Nazis, or be gassed with an insecticide gas called Zyclone 8. This allowed the Nazis to get free labour while destroying their “greatest enemy”. Although the German public mostly hated the Jewish people, there were still people who disagreed with Hitler’s ideals, but they could not say or do anything because the Nazis would often execute them.