READ THE BEGINNING OF AN AFTERLIFE:
Arm in arm, or hand in hand, the two of them always found a way to come closer than before. It was late summer and they whispered to each other in the darkness. Before going home to their separate rooms in the camp and the sounds of neighbors, they took their time. Night and the thick old trees masked their shadows. And there stood the Mothertower. Like a castle missing everything but its turret, it stood tall–large old stones topped by a golden cone. It was dark, and inviting, like something out of a storybook.
Whenever they walked here, the two of them felt like children in a fairytale setting off on an adventure, not running away like Hansel and Gretel from the witch and her oven. The night air was thick and soft. They found their bench, one of three in a semi-circle around a fountain. Here the river overflowed into a brook, and another and another. The sound of water was everywhere. And no one but them to hear it. There had been rain, the river was high, loud and close. Their voices were drowned out by the sound of the falls.
If their embrace was awkward who would mind? He took her onto his lap easily. She floated in his arms. They looked into each other’s eyes in the darkness and met their own wishes mirrored in the other. Kissing him, she went for his neck and collarbone, and he got lost in her hair. They were not children now. The summer night made all things possible and the ghost of the mother in the tower turned away at the sight of these two. The connection was quickly over and even they couldn’t believe what they had done. And no one to punish them. And no one but the two of them to remember this night.
Ruby stepped back, straightened her skirt, and held out her hand, taking Ilya up. Smiling to themselves, and almost shyly, to each other, they took their time through the quiet narrow streets back up the hill to their rooms in the almost never quiet alleys of the Kaserne, the DP camp. In this Bavarian city barely bigger than a village, where German army officers used to train, where an artist had built a medieval tower to honor his mother, now there were thousands of Jews. The next morning they were to see the doctor. Ilya for his lungs, and Ruby for her belly. You needed a clean bill of health to leave Germany, and everybody spent time getting one piece of paper or another signed, affidavits stamped. Everybody waited. They waited for letters from ancient relatives and distant cousins in places they could remember hearing their parents pronounce before the war: Brooklyn, Los Angeles, Milwaukee—names from long ago.