Saturday, 18 June 2022

'Seeking, 1945' by Emma Venables

I sit on the remains of a chimney and imagine we’re playing hide and seek, that I catch a glimpse of you between bombed-out walls, that the flap of a crow’s wings in the remains of the rafters might be the sound of your coat brushing brick as you assess the building’s nooks and crannies. You know I will find you, cause chaos amidst chaos: pulling doors from hinges, entering rooms long uninhabited, upturning buckets just to hear the clatter of action, of purpose.

Children laugh. I’m just another woman sat beneath a streetlight bent like an umbrella’s handle. Berlin’s riddled with us just as it’s riddled with your absence. If I step across the threshold, look up at the floor you lived on, blown open and sheltering only vermin now, will the skeleton of you and the skeleton of this building align and meld in my head, offer comfort in lieu of a body to clutch? The block warden said he saw you between two men, placid not protesting. He watched you go. You lost a shoe on your way out. He drew his finger across his throat when I asked if he’d heard anything since. Resistance, he said. I opened my mouth, feigned shock, claimed I’d barely known you, that I just wanted to return – I rummaged in my pocket and produced a pen – this. He shrugged. Best not to linger here in case they’re watching – you don’t want to be classed with the likes of her, he said. I nodded, left, didn’t come back until now.

A woman appears in the doorway, clears her throat. She calls. Helga. Helmut. I could add your name to her list – Helga, Helmut, Marta – but I know it wouldn’t draw you from the nooks and crannies.

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