Fiction: There Was No Heart Left to Eat the Dog
By Eric Smith
Change hides time. The universe is full of intelligent monsters that don’t care but can’t win. It’s two languages being learned inverse. Sadness cruelty with little justice. Only friendship in the shadows seems useful to hammer out the nails of past, for the past has forced into the present. Great historians are made this way but not great inventors. Writing as an old art, sometimes finding its speech but takes a while to find its thinking. An essay on science and poetry and religion and magic, what does it matter when there has been such death. Only mathematics can be perfected, but they have their borders too. The play of language is what makes economies hustle and bushel. Any common equation will tell you. The next birth is the last death. In other words, summations preface equations.
It began with virtuous women who wanted to help others. Rudeness and blame by petty and jealous women followed, then came the avalanche as the men became beasts. There was no need for excuse or reason, and please do not attempt to define a plot. Such things just happen, in cycles, like the wheels of a bicycle turning. Mayhem decides itself, sparked perhaps by a glance.
Felix hated losing the silence. He had finally fooled a girl.
No longer being a virgin meant little in a world where new machines of largeness intended to fool all. There was less here to brag to than one might imagine. Goosesteps sang clacking nightmares and one young man having sex for the first time is much less than even a needle in a haystack. This was business, not a relaxed, military duty station.
Felix was uptight, and his peers noticed the restlessness. He tried, on his own, understanding Gluck’s Iphigenia to futility. The kid was an odd one – a smart one, he needed distractions, or he’d become an asshole to work with. Hammel, the fixer, a senior sergeant, took up the task before co-workers beat Felix to death in the tunnel.
Shaster, one of three men in the camp Hammel could have turned to, was the most available choice. Being Polish he was supposed to know chess and music but being a Jew who went to University meant he could teach both in the classical sense. Hammel first noticed Shaster’s skill as he taught little Hans, a boy popular with the Germans in the camp, how to use rocks in the sand to play checkers. The boy, Hans, who was maybe seven, had once waved from street corners with a star pinned to his chest at tanks and other unhappy German things marching past his neighborhood.
The strong German name, Hans, helped him as much in the camp as a bird with one wing. It was his efforts at communicating German goals to Jews that got him recognition. Later Hammel overheard Shaster whistling Wagner without sarcasm. Yes, he’d be the man for the job.
For Felix, barely 19, it’s fantastic for a first job. No doubt it came with a little queasiness. The times momentous. The benefits solid, considering the strain on the economy. The work demands harsh and surprising, they really did not fit his nature. Still, the uniform and oddities of the scene inspired if overwhelmed. Growing up his father always said Felix loved the outdoors.
Felix knew to do his part. He missed church, there was no time for that, besides it was out of fashion. Other young men had more challenging assignments. Still, there was a lot of responsibility being a guard, and keeping cunning Jews from escaping took wits. Felix was a good rifle shot, a skill he used on a blue moon to down a meadowlark. As applying to camp duties, since there were Jews who broke the fence and could run fairly fast, shooting well had some value. He had not shot anyone, yet his reputation among German and Jew alike was that of a crack shot. He might have qualified for sniper, but actually, soldiering on the front line had less sophistication as compared to the human capital management required for camp order. All the killing at first bothered him, until it made sense. Even Pastor Joseph back in Brettelberg would understand that it made sense. There were too many people, and in Germany too many Jews with money.
In section 5 of the camp, not far from where Shaster lived, Hammel made the boy, Hans, freeze in his tracks by a look.
“You’re an energetic boy.” It was hard to tell if that was a curse or compliment.
“I try to be useful.”
“You know Shaster?”
“Three blocks all know Shaster. He’s clever.”
“I imagine insisting on being clever alone could make one stand out.”
“I know you like dogs.”
“Dogs. Well, you noticed something then didn’t you. I know one hides around here.”
“Quaint name. How sweet. Yes, Bruno. I have some extra snack for him.”
“As you imagine it comes with a small favor.”
At first, he himself was to ask Shaster to teach Felix, but he changed his mind and would have the boy do it, under his order.
He had asked first if Felix knew chess, “I don’t play chess, only checkers,” answered Felix, “but I’d like to learn.”
“Learn, your mother would be proud.”
“All the more reason.”
“I can try.”
“Yes, try. Let it mean something to your mother.”
“I will have Hans introduce you to a learned Jew, Shaster, he can teach you.”
A blind army rules this land for a king that cannot hear. Hammel was the type of soldier that would hide voices from a king. Unlike Felix, whose father had been a bigot, Hammel’s dad did not care for politics. Hammel was a man of reason. He saw that Felix was more of a perfectionist, though not an idealist. The young man liked games that took away convictions but did not tamper with his beliefs. Felix did not care much for time off or vacations. He needed mental stimulating. Hammel made the bribe look like a team building exercise.
Felix knew nothing and hated nothing. Still, his curly hair and dorky smile never gave up his sly main artery. Felix himself wondered if he were a coward, he questioned the idea even before the war, and wondered if his soul liked the semblance of a challenge that masqueraded as a real challenge. In other words, if he was a sore loser. Was he the kind of boy who needed a handicap? His mother made him feel that way. He came from too humble beginnings to indulge such pity, but he needed to want to better himself.
Shaster, by nature generous and kind, but by creation of the camp; devilish, and a rare form of something crueler, nearly true indifference. Amazing that Shaster and Felix did not recognize each other instantly for who they really were. Then again, a rat and mouse look alike, but have you ever seen them written in the same sentence together before, or in the same film?
After midnight simple things cannot be hid in camp. Someone is always awake. Though through the duration of Shaster and Felix’s private games things never went past ten o’clock.
At all hour’s items traded in the camp, shipments delivered, and one might think that with their faculties for communication Shaster and Felix to be primary agents in the facilitations of such trade. Yet, their only connection to trade was Felix’s covetous orders of various symphonic records. Any composer Shaster taught him he ate as ravenously as the ego of a student unrecognized in the street by the teacher they adore.
Camp dwellers rarely turned to humor for relief. It seemed grotesque. Guards used it sparingly themselves.
Masturbation of self or other occurred infrequently. Supreme though were games of chance and bland, folkish music when it could be found.
Between Blocks 3 & 4 was an interior hallway, most called it the “tunnel”. It was popular for unconventional dwellers and guards to exchange. Everybody needs something. The dwellers gave all. It was difficult to have an addiction in a concentration camp run by Nazis, but one could be used. The goal was death, but work came first.
Shaster understood the type of con Hammel desired. Actually, Shaster considered cons a true form of making a friend. In the deception one taught more than any promulgations of pedagogic truths and the intimacy was twice as intense as that of honest lovers. All the young fool Felix wanted was an education. Chess hooked him first. Shaster had been playing it since age 5 and Felix grew up knowing it was something successful people did. He quickly felt socially astute after knowing that the bishops move diagonally and the rooks vertical or horizontal. It was like teaching a baby. Classical music was not hard to instruct upon as well. The Russians were forbidden, but there was enough Mozart and Bach to go around. Everything here was about reality, as in it was such a place one cannot fool with politics, at least especially the politics of liberty and true pleasure. Music was the compromise and Felix took to the classics like a stormtrooper.
Shaster, “The concertos are satisfying?”
“Most, yes most.”
“In order to understand rhythm, one must know Bach, but anyone can a take a nap to Mozart,” said Shaster.
“That is an interesting conjecture. I think it’s a good endorsement too – of, of Mozart,” Shaster nodded, “Do you believe Beethoven to be equivalent to Mozart?” quired Felix.
“The symphonies of Beethoven are almost, well are, incomparable. With Mozart though you get the full range of human emotion.”
“Yes, we all must express our high and low emotions,” said Felix the German concentration camp guard while Shaster controlled any reflexes of justice, integrity or humor that had not been brutalized out of him as to force dismissal of the slightest ironic reaction. Not even did the very corner of his left lip curl. When times presented such vicious ambiguities Shaster’s mind wandered:
The Christians were interesting. They always thought the devil pretended and the angels cared. They had that ass backwards. They were like girls who liked to be ignored until you fuck them. No wonder Christians like flags and not nations.
Nearby Hans, the boy, passed a younger child, and thought he detected the beginning formations of a giggle, and he slapped the child without hesitation. Older children sometimes took it upon themselves to help create specters of the youngest as not to make the guards jealous. It was like an economy or a game: Hated and wanted to be hated or hid to be hated before then dividing the hate around and this hate was the same type as why vultures care for tiny, lost kittens. Children’s sounds could be currency. Hans, a useful child to the Germans, but unpredictable because he could not help but pick interesting words to say. His words were ambiguities, and at times listeners did not know if they were praise, insult, question, or statement. Hans knew some Jews hated him. Still, he protected the younger Jewish boy. The slap was necessary, and he slipped it in without too much concern, the gypsy way.
Neither of the sets of adults, Jews nor Nazis, wanted to own the complete sadism of letting a child be innocent, or of either taking innocence away directly through some form of teaching, while all awaited the final necessity. Let them pass this off as something other than it is, whatever each one’s ragged imaginations could conjure. This was bearable cruelty and people practiced it like the kindness of The Wife of Bath, dominos, or invisible ancient and wise governments. Inside, the camp dwellers even lost their instinct to have an enemy. It was removed by harsh and constant fear, but according to the Germans it helped keep the peace.
The chess game between Shaster and Felix was continuing… and its rumor and echo began to be heard beyond the tunnel as well…
“You know God may exist or he may not, and it might be best to pretend to all, even yourself that you love him,” said Shaster.
“Do you think you can fool God?” asked Felix.
“I don’t have to fool him. I only have to convince him I am trying.”
Affronts were silent and unregistered, like improvised explosive devices. When Shaster played chess, he couldn’t help but sometime be a wise ass. An Achilles’ heel of sorts.
“The devil adores that kind of confusion you know.” reminded Felix.
Then the two men heard the squeaky wheel coming down the tunnel as Shaster moved Queen to bishop six.
“Mate, I believe.” said Shaster, knowing it was rude to call it.
The interned orderly handed Shaster a miniscule portion of cheap pudding. This weekly treat for special camp dwellers who added more than just small benefit to keeping the goals of the High Command alive. Anything that serves order was imperative and anything imperative needed some special reward, this was a deep German value.
“Your pudding, I see,” commented Felix.
“Yes – and can God know timing any better than that?”
“Right along with your checkmate. I wonder if I can ever learn that much, to be as good as you,” thought Felix.
“Maybe. It’s all like chess, a game of memory. If your memory is enough then you can.”
“Yes, maybe it is.”
It was foolish to brag about long-term memories in the camp. It didn’t matter what one did before. That was quickly learned. And short-term memory was a suspect affair for the powerless. Anything one said could be held against one. The once most powerful of camp dwellers, now captured, could not be as immoral to their peers as at times previously, so amongst the dwelling inmates this created an equality with many miserable ties. What was done before was forgotten, but what one was – was easily transparent.
The camp was like a doll house, one could make the dolls fake manners, but empathy was nearly impossible. Hammel could tell Felix to believe one thing, make Hans act it out, and Shaster do another. In a place like these camps a woman’s honesty was worth much more than that of men. A night’s cool breeze had some merit. The cat with yarn were the stories of pretend marriages, witch-like affairs, supernatural powers and ghoulish golems of personal terror their revenge trapped, packed tight into beads of sweat before being optioned off to any chopping block of whim or indecency. Disease was erotic and confusion honor. Nothing mated. This was a place where no one, guard or dweller alike, said, “be careful,” to one another.
“I want to quit!” yelled Felix.
Again, as they played.
“Relax Felix, it’s a game of patience,” assured Shaster.
“Sometimes I feel like stopping pretending!”
“That can be perilous and don’t forget you are on the winning side (of the war) as for now.”
“As of Now!?”
“I mean you are the winners.”
“We fucking are.”
“Did you like the Shubert?”
“Ah… yes, you got my mind back on track, yes, very much so. You know you almost had me fooled with Schubert. But nothing can replace Chopin.”
“That’s a good observation. But it really isn’t a competition between the composers, they all do their own thing. At times I don’t even know why I like classical music.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it’s like anything – we never know if it wants us back.”
“That’s queer thing to say.”
“You might be right, I’m not sure where my head has been lately.”
Felix made a chess move.
“Not bad. You have pinned at least a pawn or rook for capture with your knight, of course I will move the rook, but that’s the idea Felix, you are learning. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Taking just one piece gives the advantage. But keep thinking, if I had let you take the rook then I must really have had a devious plan.”
The siren was not unusual. A camp assembly in some other district of the megapolis of misery. It took practice to identify how far by intensity of sound, but both Shaster and Felix recognized it as two districts away. Their mob was not being called into action. Their chess match went on a little longer, but Felix must soon march off to other duties.
The siren did though trigger Shaster, back to a fantasy reflection he created long ago, passage to a secret ballroom, where educators run wild and free. It was an intimate hallucination, one with a magic tunnel, better than any real tunnel, that went from the lavish ballroom dialogues to the input center of Shaster’s current senses, and then somehow right back to the dulled and horrid present. I suppose he wasn’t completely indifferent. He always had wanted someone to share this place with, he was partially pretending to share it with Felix, but this made the craving all the worse. Where was his wife? At one-point thought Shaster almost… – “… to hell with it all!” He thought of Hamlet and did not.
Nearby a child was playing mock chess with differing size stones in inexact portions of the old checkerboard scrawled in the dirt.
“That is not a game.” said Felix as he walked away from the last thing he had just been doing.
“I know but it’s how Shaster said I can learn to go from checkers to chess.” said Hans.
“Did he give you the idea you should learn chess?”
“No, My mother.”
“And where is she now?”
“See. You don’t need chess here. Besides with these piece of shit rocks you could never tell the difference between a King and rook even,” Felix kicked the rocks away, “it’s best for boys to stick to checkers or no games at all.”
“It didn’t even look like you knew the difference between pawns and back row pieces.”
“You mean like guards and officers?”
“That’s the stupidest thing I have ever heard. Think of Jews and German and you are much closer.”
“I can think of something like that.”
“Ok so these two big stones, were they supposed to be the King and Queen?”
“Yes, Shaster told me the King is the important piece, but the Queen is the most powerful.”
“Hmmm.” He told me the opposite. “Anyway, give up on chess. Find some little Jew who has the mind enough to play checkers with you and be glad you are allowed that.”
The boy nodded.
As Felix walked off, he shouted back, “and you know what the officers call the King and Queen, they call them the cook and the oven.”
There was tension in the air. King and Queen told as opposite – oh the King is? Felix continued to recall the conversation in his mind as what if:
“What if like mothers and fathers,” this while the boy tried to forget the whole conversation immediately.
Any moment could make the camp could turn into a pregnant affair full of repressed religiosity and perverted grandeurs from an unconscious collective, all burning with loveless hatred for family, economy, and autonomy.
It was murder without quote.
Later, that afternoon though, deep in a game, the music remembered loudly, then silent, like Beethoven’s 5th, Felix moved closer to Shaster’s back row defense – a deft knight and bishop with pawn combination, then with sympathy said a small, kind word indicating he noticed Shaster’s loneliness.
“How did you know?” asked Shaster.
“There is a way you sit when desperate and surrounded by evil that seems calm, like you believe you are waiting on God, but do not believe he will actually come.”
“Like light and dark being the same, just switching faster rates or not to the human eye.”
“Who reflects that in music?”
“Ah, I knew even a Jew would admit him a master for something.”
“There are many masters, only few to serve.”
“You’re a riddle Shaster, let’s continue play.”
Shaster, though he didn’t particularly despise Felix, and he did not feel compelled to reward him with all wisdoms. God is calm. Still, Felix was picking up on the imaginary, invisible world around him, and that was always the real lesson in any schooling, but Shaster neither felt compelled or didn’t need or want to break an egg over the guard’s head just so he gets totally clued into reality.
Shaster made a destructive move that made mute Felix’s earlier inspired attack.
“Gambits or position Felix, now is the time to keep thinking as you were, don’t switch strategies unless you are certain the game is a wash for some reason.”
“Then it doesn’t matter what you try.”
“Continue pawn attacks.”
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.
“That’s from the Bible.”
“Yes, think of your pawns as a wall to send forth, then one or two as tricky sappers lurking to assassinate some higher authority, if done well maybe a knight or bishop, if done excellently a rook, or even the Queen.”
“Little killer ambassadors.”
“Rebels against the authoritarians.”
“You can’t turn chess into religion or philosophy, it’s a game of capture.”
“Again, then Germans should be best at it.”
“Chess is a vulgarity to the core. By the way, do you think there is a way to help my aunt?”
“I told you she is not doing well.”
“I will try as I can.”
“Understanding, now that’s a sensitivity I can protect, ” mimed Felix.
A small crowd of two or three would convene at times during the pair’s games, sometimes wanting to gamble on the game, but either Shaster or Felix shooed them off vociferously and quickly, things like sound and speed having distinct meaning in a place that flamed fried flesh of man, woman, and child.
Shaster and Felix knew money was used in the camp to promote jealousy. Hoarding it gave hope to the fools who saw liberation coming faster than possible. And only old dirty guards always wanted it, and Jews, despite or because of stereotype or grace, had it hidden all over camp. Shaster nor Felix, unlike Hammel, was beguiled by money. They had no need for bets. Each truly wanted their mind stimulated. Besides, the game had gotten so secret everyone in the camp wanted a piece of the action. It had a use that spread beyond any bet setters watching the games directly. This has always been a thing in prisons, the guards, all things being equal, could handle the inmates, but bets and foolish idle minds were the best friend to overseers need for discipline. Yes, both Shaster and Felix should profit from these games somehow.
“How can you evaluate the Italian Game?” asked Felix.
“Not by their tanks.” Said Shaster.
“Well. Seriously it begins with Puccini and ends with Pirandello.”
“Isn’t he plays?”
“The Italian chess opening, and game wants to show you the mind through the feelings. It’s very clever.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel something?”
“Could be. The best idea is pushing emotion out of oneself and into the beautiful universe of chess, but with calculations based on facts and intuitions and not mere feelings.”
A child walked by the men playing a game. One thing to know about camps, the sight of seeing a live child immediately after the mass burial of mothers, fathers, and their children had differing effect on differing temperaments. Maybe the only real difference between Shaster and Felix was Shaster had learned his lines to this grotesque play. Still, Felix could improvise, Shaster noticed that in chess, fumbling, but improvisation.
A little later, Sergeant Hammel found Shaster working below on what passed for a promenade for the few officer’s wives’ who lived in camp housing.
“How is it going with Felix?”
“He’s an apt pupil.”
“Anything special you want to know.”
“The young man just needs a little culture. I expect you will do your job.”
Disquiet, judgement and idling…. Which prolonged life?
again later at their game…“Well that is the debate, is a bishop less valuable than a knight? Most generally believe so, but a few swear by the bishop. Though it can only stay on the same color square throughout the game.” said Shaster.
“It kills from much farther away than a knight on a horse.” commented Felix.
“But the knight can go in any direction on the board.”
“Yes, but it has to leap over more than it lands on.”
“Technically the knight can go 8! places in the board but the bishop can go 28 if nothing stops its path. It could be relative. Well that’s what the debate is, that is - is a bishop less valuable than a knight. Most generally believe so, but a few swear by the bishop. Even though it can only stay on the same color square throughout the game.”
Guards desired it, the exchange for desire, the desire of those about to die simply for who they were, nothing more than that and some money, it creates an ambrosia that intoxicates demons like licorice to the right sweet-toothed child and the dwellers exchanged it for catastrophes. It was the essence of the soul in inversion. A few in the camp still thought it cheap, so many getting excited about chess matches between guard and inmate.
Chess was for the stupid and the vanquished, anyone with real money or power knew that. Robberies even knew that. A few could still think like that, still delude themselves that a game here was irrelevant to any.
“Doesn’t it bother you that so much is gone,” queried Shaster.
“What do you mean?” said Felix.
“I mean so much has changed.”
“You mean your people being here. No, you don’t mean just that. What else?”
“They used to play the Russians in Berlin.”
Felix was quiet.
“What do you recommend?” asked Felix staring at the gameboard.
“Well you can’t go backwards.” said Shaster.
“Yes, that’s decided, Knight to bishop 6.” said Felix.
Not a bad move thought Shaster, still not enough hate in it.
“Who could have cleared the tunnel Shaster?”
“The tunnel, you think I am only here to play games?”
“I don’t know anything about the tunnel.”
“I’d just thought I’d ask.”
“I know hardly anything really. I’m a clever Jew, not a revered one.”
Could Felix be guessing of the imaginary tunnel, the ballroom of secret, great minds that was seeping into his consciousness, but so much mere presence with a greatly skilled man like Shaster? No, it must be the other tunnel, or mostly called a lane, that was a clear path for bishops, and rooks, and the Queen, to have long lines of tactical coverage and ease of movement from across the board without one’s own or one’s opponents blocking that path. For instance, one may use a tunnel to move the bishop to take a key pawn and trap a rook. Or was it this tunnel they played in, the nickname for the place of exchange. No, it must be chess as for not making tunnels, using tunnels to cut of the board off from the opponent, or to hiss across the spaces for a kill, those that didn’t often make tunnels were complicated players, perhaps looking to bait or sacrifice higher level pieces. Such a move stuck in Shaster’s mind; he never should have let it happen. It would have been better for him to go to the tunnels, digging deep in the dirt, to escape underneath the wiring of a concentration camp intent on murdering him someday. No, it was a day that he needed to let Felix almost win, but he couldn’t resist the trap, the clever absence of tunnels, and Felix grimaced when he realized the trick.
“I’m glad you don’t take it easy on me Shaster. This is how I will learn.”
Stop swallowing your tongue about it. Everyone cheats. I mean everything breaks their own rules, I mean you had to beat him fast at least one game today or he would have gotten suspicious, though him being young gives you no clue as either way he would go.
There were no gentlemen in the camp, but all acted so. How else could any function to do their job, until the brute was required. This place created athletes of the soul-mind, that’s what Felix thought of all who lived within the wire. Felix had an internal dialogue too. He sometimes wrote passable poetry about it.
“I thought we could stall this,” pleaded Shaster.
“It wasn’t like I resented your knight, queen checkmate, and not because of Scriabin either. It was just your sense of timing Shaster.”
Felix decided to order the execution of the Jew known as Shaster for the safety and betterment of the Reich.
Nazis were made by denial, creative lies, abject distortions, wretched falsehoods, moral turpitudes, political distancing, and customary restrictions. They had it all. Running villainously over the most modest, and indiscernible declarations of independence vomited up on some insubstantial street corner café by a pack of hooligan rebels. Then one loud man called it an environmental crisis and sold the whole nation’s free will. The disgust was tolerated by too many vacations for the rich, and too many howls from the prowling poor.
As the two marched to the ovens, Hans had seen it. His mother taught him what it was. This death was coming. It had gotten Han’s mother quickly. Shaster, his last words heard as by the boy:
“I never understood the game.” Then distortion before hearing.
“Some people never get over the past, we can…”
As Felix marched Shaster by gunpoint into the little red brick ovens. They looked like a place one would die in. Or perhaps, where one would send a cow for slaughter.
“Some people never get over the past, we can…” repeating firmly Captain Wilhelm who was eavesdropping.
“What! Oh, sir!?’” Felix turned around and saw Captain Wilhelm standing there. It affected his mood.
“I overheard that Jew Shaster tell you something like that before you baked him, didn’t I?”
“And you gave him his lottery ticket?”
“Excuse me, sir? Listen , pardon me please, but excuses aside this Shaster had to go. I mean don’t they know in Berlin what’s going on around here, the imprisoned are the clever around here.”
“Yes, I see your reasoning. Thinking like an officer, nice work Felix. Good work.”
Captain Wilhelm, perhaps an odd duck, liked to be near the gasses and fires, as he felt like the devil allowed him to suck in the souls of powerful dead Jews for his own increase.
Shaster’s last quote, heard only in part by Wilhelm, or the boy Hans, would have been pitiful, but were it for not the way the whole thing went:
“I never understood the game. Some people never get over the past, we Jews are like that, but you Germans maybe are inventing something new, and that is - not being able to get over the future.”
God, chess, music, the unspoken Russian composer, even crediting Wagner, what had irked Felix so greatly, or in combination eluded Shaster who thought the boy was coming along, it was impossible enough to bear his own death, but not knowing exactly why hurt. Shaster had been correct, there are few to serve, someone else would be there for the rest of Felix’s life to teach him chess and music, but the Jew Shaster would be dead very soon. No one would know Felix when he was a rookie anymore. As Shaster burned, Felix reflected on one of their past conversations:
“The lazy who know how to argue their ethics are the saints.”
“Goethe?” asked Felix.
“No, my mother.” said Shaster.
“She might as well have been Jesus Christ’s mother.”
Felix, in his mind, said it, Jesus, with convention and convictions of all known sarcasms up to modern times. The homeless White is a hard role to play. Every German boy who joined the Army knew that.
An old conversation:
“She was the first to lie to me.”
“That’s unusual if she had taken your virginity.”
“Why would you say! Why!!” screamed Felix.
Shaster, “I meant nothing.”
Felix was successful, so he told her in his secret fantasy of wanting and it had impressed her sufficiently, at least during this wartime. In the battles between the fake and the real the one with the most energy wins out and pride goes out the window. That was how he first got laid, and the dollars spent. That was how tunnels were stolen. Rebirth differs from metamorphosis in that it has controlled and temporary affect. Resurrection differs from reincarnation as much as it matters if the Fuhrer liked chocolate or vanilla ice cream. In the last minute Shaster had not asked but Felix was cruel enough by now to offer an answer before Shaster walked into the death chamber:
“It was just your timing, your sense of it, more even than the chess and the music. It was the pudding. You knew too much about the pudding, how precisely when it would come, no one should be that certain, to be that right on time with anything of in a place and time like this.” announced Felix.
It was no comfort hearing reason. Its combined energies and manipulations like sand on the pyramids. Moms and parades, when the Third Reich let loose then manipulation was on overdrive and teachers, as well as muses, observed and assumed with insecurity, walk the plank Shaster matee…!
“And which is more powerful the King or Queen?” asked Felix.
“The Queen didn’t even exist as a piece until it was invented in the Middle Ages.”
Shampoo first gave the German inside the brick house to the Jew. The women had to have it. Would have been the last thing on Felix’s mind. Yet, it placated the women, made them more docile as they marched into what they knew was a gas chamber, but with the soapy dab in their palm could, some few or enough for general calm, could make-believe were communal showers.
Sergeant Hammel knew Felix was driven by envy, the conclusion once introducing a Jew well versed in chess and classical music to an ignorant German boy was a good bet. Felix was just learning to flex his power in the camp.
After the death occurred, Hammel appeared to be meandering alone in an obscure corner of the camp, but he knew this was the commandant’s path for this time of day, he’d be coming back from a woman he made an example of in essence.
Hammel turned just in time to face the commandant like a hawk to a large escaped gerbil in an open field with no holes. The Commandant was flattered believing the subordinate had sensed some magnitude of his authority invisibly and turned.
Commandant, “Can I get Shaster finally for the commissary accounting.”
“Sir, I apologize, but Shaster was sent to liquidation.”
“I know. I know. Young Felix made an error perhaps, but Shaster, you know that type has trouble so mox nix.”
“True enough Hammel. I guess your man Shantz will have to do.”
“Oh no worries sir, Shantz is a clever Jew for numbers no doubt, no worries sir.”
Eric Smith was born in Rhode Island but now resides in Texas. Recently a story of his was selected for Best Prose of 2022 by Sonder Press.
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