Time passes. I don't know how much before I see the slot in the door open. A shaft of light spills in as another tray of food is pushed into my cell. Well, they are persistent.
I can't recall the last time I've eaten. I am beyond hungry. I have no desire to eat. I don't want anything from them.
I shuffle to the door and pick up my tray. My arms are barely strong enough to carry the tray to my bed. There is cheese, some bread, a bowl of soup and a glass of water. My willpower is defeated by my thirst and I drink the water. It is cool, incredibly refreshing, and eagerly gulped, leaving me wanting more. But I will not ask for more. I will not ask them for anything. I take some of the bread and cheese and carefully hide it under my pillow. Then, as usual, I hurl the tray at the wall, sacrificing the rest of the food.
I sit on my bed and listen as the bowl wobbles on the floor until it comes to a rest.
I do not know how long it takes, but someone finally opens the door. Another person is brought in to clean up my mess. Good. I want to talk with somebody who's sane.
I am surprised when a child, no older than eight or nine, comes into my room hauling a bucket and sponge. Dear God, not children too. The guard points the frail child to the wall. "Schnell," he barks, prompting the child to jump and go to the wall to start scrubbing. The guard smiles evilly before slamming the door shut.
I feel ill. I swallow hard as I watch the young girl vigorously scrub. She is nervous.
"Stop," I tell her softly. She doesn't seem to hear. "Stop," I repeat firmly.
She suddenly stops scrubbing and trembles as she slowly turns to me. Her eyes widen with surprise when I hold out some cheese and bread.
"Go on," I say, nodding to the offering. "You look like you could . . ."
I don't get the words out before she snatches both the cheese and bread from me. As she devours them, she looks at me with amazement.
"It's not polite to stare," I tell her gruffly. I smile at myself, the newest authority of concentration camp etiquette.
"Sorry," she says with a mouth-full.
"It's ok." I decide not to tell her it's also impolite to speak with your mouth full. Time with visitors is too precious to waste in silence.
"You're welcome." I pick up the sponge and shuffle over to the wall to finish cleaning it.
"You don't look immortal," she finally says, making herself comfortable on my bed as she munches on the hard cheese.
I turn to her, startled at the uncomfortable word.
"What's an 'immortal' supposed to look like?"
She shrugs and offers "Taller?"
I roll my eyes. I am NOT going to tell her I have pink blood.
"What's your name?"
"Miriam Feinstein. What's your name?" she asks.
"Janice Covington." I hold my hand out. She's surprised but smiles and takes it. I have to smile as I shake the small hand.
She looks at my forearm and my tattooed number. She quietly shows me hers.
"Good number," I say awkwardly as my heart aches.
Dear God, why children?
"Do you like school?" I suddenly ask, needing a lighter topic.
"Yes. I love it!" she says with enthusiasm. "I get better grades than Ida." She says proudly.
"My twin sister. Mama and Papa told us to stay together when we got separated from them at the train. But she is getting a checkup with Uncle Mengele now. I hope they aren't mad about that."
"Uh, …" I stammer, the kid actually called the head butcher 'Uncle Mengele.' Oh God. "I'm sure your parents would understand," I manage to reply, desperately wondering what to say now.
"They say we are going to see them soon. I hope tomorrow. It's our birthday," she says happily and offers "November 16."
"How old? Twenty-two, twenty-three?" I ask. She giggles. She has the sweetest giggle.
"NOOOOOooo. Seven!" she says with exasperation.
Only seven?? The camp ages everyone, including the children. "So, how old is your twin sister?" I ask with amusement. She groans.
"She's seven too!"
"You sure?" I ask with holding a grin.
"Yes!!! We're twins! We were both born on November 16, 1936," she says with authority. I do the math. It's November 15, 1943. I've been here almost … two years.
"You ok?" She asks.
Two years . . . .
"Happy birthday," I manage with a weak smile.
"Thank you. Do you think they might let us see our parents?" She asks hopefully.
"I don't know Miriam. But you never know."
"I miss them," she says sadly, looking at the ground.
I take Miriam's small hand. "You never know … " I repeat with feigned confidence. She smiles at me with hope. "You never know," she repeats.
Jingling of keys makes me jump. Oh God no.
"Don't worry. I'll come back and visit, if they let me," she says.
I nod uneasily. The stocky guard comes in and tells her to collect the tray and bowl. I feel helpless as I watch her walk out of my cell. I look at the stocky guard with the thick fingers. The bastard smiles at me and kicks frail Miriam in the back, causing her to fall hard on the ground.
Rage fills me. The guard wants me to fight? I will fight. I will KILL him! I find strength neither of us expects and barrel into him. We tumble into the hallway. I head butt him and let my fists pommel repeatedly into his yielding flesh. He is dazed as I continue to hit him with all that I have.
I curse him, his mother, his Fucking Superior race. He is unable to stop me as I wrap my hands around his thick neck and squeeze the life out of him. He jerks and twitches and my fingers clamp down tighter, just as he had done to me.
An eye for an eye, isn't that right GOD!?! This feels so right.
He stops twitching. I carefully look at him as I struggle to catch my breath. He won't move again, I conclude and release him. I look at my hands. They are shaking with rage.
I look up and find Miriam's eyes wide.
Dear God, what have I done? What must she think of me?
A nurse sees me. She gasps with fear and quickly flees, yelling for the guards. I look at Miriam with panic.
"Run!" She yells, surprising the hell out of me. "Run!!"
"What about you??"
"I'm a twin, they protect us," she says anxiously. "RUN!"
I am confused but listen.
My bare feet slap heavily against the cold tile floor as I sprint down the corridor of the butcher shop. Adrenaline pumps through me, along with my goddamn pink blood. I'm out of my cell! The breeze against my face as I run feels wonderful!
I turn into a hallway. I almost fall as I slide to a stop, seeing two guards running towards me.
I quickly choose another corridor and run. An oblivious doctor and guard emerge from a room and into my path. I shove the doctor into the guard and they fall into a rolling cart, causing the bloody tools to scatter onto the floor. I stumble from the momentum but catch myself.
I finally see a door and dash towards it. I am outside!
My bare feet crunch down the fresh snow as I sprint towards the cover of nearby buildings. My unused muscles strain as my lungs gulp the cold air. The overwhelming smell suddenly hits me like a ton of bricks. I try to muffle my coughing. What the hell is that god-awful stench?
I look skyward, over what looks like factories. An eerie red hue covers the dusk sky above the buildings as they expel thick plumes of red smoke from their stacks. The memory of the Cathedral burning in Coventry and that gut-wrenching stench of flesh floods back.
Oh dear GOD…
Sirens and floodlights startle me into action. I duck out of a beam by flattening myself against the closest barracks. I know this is insane. I know I have no hope of getting out of here. But I don't care. I see a group of guards running towards me. I dive beneath the building. My bare knees scrape against the frozen ground as I crawl to the other side. As I look out from the crawl space for a possible escape route, I hear … singing?
In the distance, I see a camp of tents and a small group of guards. But they don't see me. They are preoccupied . . . listening to the men, women, and children singing songs and dancing around a campfire. Now I know I am insane - a Gypsy camp in the middle of hell.
I carefully emerge from beneath the barracks and gingerly move along the wall towards the front of the building. I hear gasps and look up. There were children also watching the Gypsies out their window. I squint. I must be seeing double. Four kids with two faces are looking down at me. I blink a few times. Two sets of twins? Two more curious heads pop out of the windows above.
A barracks of twins? A camp of singing gypsies? Large crematoriums?
This is one doozy of a nightmare. I hope to God it's a nightmare.
I see a fence. A big fucking fence with barbed wire at the top. I should be able to climb it. I look down at my ill-fitting, flimsy smock. Ok, they'll get a nice view of my ass, which they can kiss, as I climb it. How poetic, I think with a smirk as I run to the fence and jump up on it.
Oh GOD! My body convulses as electricity courses through it. Goddamn you fucking BAST…!
"Janice! Hurry up! Dinner is getting cold." Mel calls to me.
"I'm coming," I say to my sweetheart.
I enter the kitchen and find people sitting at the table. Mel is sitting at her usual seat at one end of the table and a man is sitting in my chair at the other end. They are flanked by six rambunctious kids sitting on either side.
"Who are they?" I ask uneasily, pointing weakly at them.
"My family, Janice," Mel says, sitting at the other end of the table. There is no seat for me.
"A cousin and your nieces and nephews?" I venture hopefully. The kids' giggling is irritating.
"No silly, my husband and children!" She says looking at the man with a warm smile.
"Pass the butter, sweetheart?" he says with a grin.
Nobody but ME calls her that! "Now wait a GODDAMN minute!" I blurt with anger and panic.
"Janice, please. The children…" she scolds me as my arms are suddenly grabbed and I am hauled backwards out the door by two concentration camp guards.
"MEL!" I kick and scream.
"I'm sorry Janice but we're eating dinner now. You were late you know…." Mel says sadly.
I wake again.
My body still trembles from the shock. But I'll heal. I always do.
I sense I am not alone. My eyes flutter open and I focus on the dark forms hovering over me. SHIT!
I am hoisted out of my bed by two guards. I don't know why, but I scream for help. A large hand tries to cover my mouth. Idiot. I bite down hard, drawing blood and a scream from the owner of the hand. I am punched repeatedly. My ribs crack. They push me to the floor and start to kick me. They call me a murderer. I want to laugh but I am busy getting the shit beat out of me.
They want to kill me. Fine. If only they could get it right…
I've been beaten in fights before but never like this. My body is riddled with large welts and throbs in pain. My right arm and most of my ribs are broken. My left eye is swollen and my right barely opens. When it does, I wish I hadn't bothered.
One guard begins to unbutton his pants.
My mother is crying. Please don't cry mom. I'm sorry. I'll be good.
She is standing in the door of my hospital room, yelling at Dad.
"It's not right to drag a family all over God's creation on these stupid digs of yours!! I've told you! But you are too damn obsessed with these scrolls to care about what happens to your family! She is only fourteen, for God's sake!" She snaps in her angry brogue and sobs. My father reaches out to her and she slaps his hand away.
No, mom. Please don't be angry with Dad again. It's my fault….
"Honey…" He says uneasily.
"NO!" She snaps. "That's it, Harry. No more."
No. Please, don't argue….
The doctor interrupts them. "Please Mr. and Mrs. Covington, she's awake," he says, making my parents quickly come to my side.
"I'm sorry," I say. "Please don't fight."
"Honey, you have nothing to be sorry about. You did nothing wrong, you hear me?" My mother says with conviction and caresses my puffy face. She looks at my father with great anger.
"It's not Dad's fault, mom. I shouldn't have left camp and…"
"You did nothing wrong, Jan," Dad says softly. "Ok, sport?"
I nod weakly. But I know I should have stopped it…somehow. Somehow.
"How are you feeling?" Mom asks, her lilting voice is incredibly soothing when it's free of anger.
My whole body trembles. My eyes start to water as I recall my helplessness.
"I …I want to take a bath." I say still feeling that man's filth on me, wondering if I'll ever get clean.
"I know, honey," Mom says and wipes the tears from my cheek. "We'll get you a nice warm bath. How does that sound?"
"Mom?" My voice cracks with hope.
I blink my good eye open. I don't see Mom. I see butcher Snider.
There is another woman doctor with her. I haven't seen her before.
"Janice, I am going to treat your wounds. The cloth will feel cold," she says softly, explaining everything she will do, before she does it.
She uses my name. I wonder why I now rate being a person again.
"We all want you healthy, Janice. We're having important visitors coming soon."
Visitors? I numbly look at her hands as she wipes the dried blood and seamen caked on my inner thighs. She is right. The cloth is cold.
"Miriam?" I remember and manage to gasp.
"Who?" Snider asks.
The other woman doctor quickly chimes in. "She's all right and back with her sister at the twins barracks," she offers.
Twins barracks? I wasn't dreaming. Oh God. The singing Gypsies … and the crematoriums . . . were real too?
"Would you like to see her?" Snider asks unexpectedly.
"Not like this," I croak, wondering if this was a trick.
She nods with uncomfortable understanding. "The guards have been …disciplined by Dr. Mengele. He has always had strict instructions that no one but doctors will touch you."
Apparently, not all the guards got those instructions.
"You are important to Berlin, to all of us, Janice. This won't happen again," she says uneasily.
It's almost as if she thinks what the doctors have been doing to me the past two years has been somehow different than what the guards have done. It isn't.
A rape can take many forms.
She continues to gently wash my wounds. I wonder why she bothers. I will heal. I always do.
"Who is visiting?" My voice croaks as I stare at the wall, not expecting an answer.
"Dr. Morrell," Greta says uncomfortably. "The Fuhrer's personal physician."
I would guess about two weeks. Dr. Greta Snider and Dr. Gisella Perl have been the only doctors in to see me.
I've learned that Dr. Perl is Jewish. I don't understand how she can possibly work with the enemy. Perhaps it is as simple as wanting to survive this. Personally, I think life is overrated.
Dr. Perl has an excellent bedside manner, which is rare around here. And she knows much more about the prisoners than Dr. Snider, telling me about them when she can. Perhaps this is the only way she has to help them. Treat them with some dignity before they die. I wonder how she stays sane.
They have both treated me well. Almost like a real patient in a real hospital. I suspect it's because of their special visitor. I also suspect it will not last once the visitor is gone. But I will just take each day as it comes.
I am eating often now, having succumbed to my hunger. But even eating regularly, I am still ravenous. Food is not plentiful for anyone. I do feel much stronger though. The strongest since I've been here. I'm not sure if it's the fact I'm eating or that I have not been poisoned, hacked, or drained of blood during the past weeks.
After eating a bit and saving a bit, I still toss my tray against the wall, sacrificing a small portion of the meal. I know I'm now a fraud for this act of defiance. I am simply desperate for visitors now. I think they know that but for some reason, I am still allowed the privilege.
I've met eleven people now. It is funny what they have heard about me through the grapevine. Like the one where I was an American spy who was here to free everyone. How I wish that were so. But I am no hero, only unable to die.
I look to the door as the lock is turned. Dr. Snider comes in with a tray of food and a guard. All the guards before my beating are gone and the new ones have not laid a finger on me. Just like she promised.
She eyes me. "Should I save you the trouble and throw it for you?"
Was that a joke? I do not answer. I will not be friends with these butchers.
"I'd like to get some vital signs before your meal," she says, placing the tray down on the examining table. She motions to the guard, who hands her a blood pressure cuff and leaves.
"Do you think that is such a good idea?" I ask, looking at the door close then her menacingly. I could easily snap her neck.
She ignores my question and sits on my bed. She places the cuff on me as if she were my family doctor. I do not know why, but I do not resist and watch her put the stethoscope in her ears and pump up the cuff.
"You're curious too, aren't you?" She says softly.
I look at her silently. "How you recover," she continues and lets the air out of the cuff and listens to the pulse.
"I know how," I mention bitterly as she takes the stethoscope from her ears.
"I'm not talking about taking ambrosia. I'm talking about how the ambrosia works."
"After two years, you still don't know?" I ask, hoping they never find out.
She looks uncomfortable. "They were not seriously looking at how it worked, only what it would do," she says cautiously. "But I think we could learn, given the proper working conditions and your help."
I look at her with contempt. Her eyes drop and she clears her throat. "I didn't think so."
When she stands up and starts to leave, I stop her with a question. "How's Rebecca Weintraub?"
She stiffens. I continue. "Eric Goldman? Miriam Feinstein, Paul Salsberry? Maury Steinway? Maude Ishel? Hanna…"
She turns to me and snaps. "What do you want me to say!?!"
"What happened to them?"
"I . . . " she says with frustration. "They are likely dead!" She blurts.
I nod weakly, knowing that must be true. I knew these people for only a few precious minutes yet I feel great loss. But what other outcome could there be, here in this place of death? Well, except for me, that is.
"Why do you do this?" I finally ask. She is an intelligent woman. She seems to have a soul. She has shown me some kindness. I don't understand, but I want to.
"I wasn't the one who killed them," she says defensively.
"You are a doctor. Didn't you take a Hippocratic oath to preserve life? Why didn't you help them?"
"We . . . we are helping man. We are," she says in a rush. "If a body has a gangrenous limb, we remove it to save the body. The racially inferior are just like the gangrenous part to the body of mankind. We are removing the racially impure to save . . ."
"You really don't believe that, do you?" I ask simply. Her already weak resolve crumbles.
"We have to. We don't have a choice," she says with pain and leaves the cell.
"We always have a choice, Greta," I call out as the door shuts.
What would I do, if I were in her shoes? Or Dr. Perl's? Would I risk death and resist or would I go along in silence to live? Is it that cut and dry?
I sigh and get up. I go to my tray and drink the water. I break the cheese and bread in thirds. I eat a third, save a third and sacrifice a third. Like before.
I launch the tray and it hits the wall. I sit and wait.
A lot of time passes. I wonder if I have lost the privilege of visitors. I suppose I should not have tried to annoy her. Perhaps I should have been silent, but then, I'd be like them. And I am NOT like them.
God, I hope not.
I hear a jingling of the keys and wait with anticipation for the next visitor. The new guard looks at me then the wall. He rolls his eyes. He motions for the prisoner in the hallway to come in. My eyes widen as a man taller than any I have ever seen in my life hunches down to walk through the puny cell door. He was well over seven feet tall.
I bet Miriam wouldn't have trouble believing HE was immortal. I wonder if he has ever played basketball.
The tall man is quiet and won't look me in the eye. He smiles nervously as he cleans the wall. Is he afraid of me?
"I have food, if you want it," I say awkwardly, showing the meager offering. His uneasy smile grows as his large hand accepts the small amount of food.
"Thank you," he says, his voice rich and deep. It suits his size well.
"Were you in that camp by the twins barracks?" I ask, noticing his Gypsy clothing.
"Yes," he says, not looking at me, as he finishes off the bread.
"Were you singing with them?"
"Yes," he says as he finishes off the cheese and still stares at the floor. I roll my eyes.
"So you're mother told you not to talk to strangers?" I ask with irritation.
"Please, I do not mean to offend you …muló" he says uneasily. "It would be bad luck."
"Muló? Is that Gypsy for immortal?" I ask.
"I am Romani, I do not steal," he said with irritation. "I am a blacksmith…or was," he said with a sigh.
He cringes at my apology. "No, I am sorry. I do not wish to upset you or any muló," he says uneasily to the cell and looks at me with a weak smile.
Ok, he's insane. "Who are you talking to?" I ask nonchalantly with a weak smile, looking around my cell.
"Other living dead. We all saw you die on the electric fence. We have heard rumors that you've died before," he explains, looking at me uneasily.
"Yeah well, if at first you don't succeed," I say with disgust. He looks at me curiously.
"You have not come back to seek revenge among the living? You are not muló?"
"Well, if I am, I'm lousy at it. Why would I come back just to keep dying? And how the HELL can I seek revenge as a prisoner?"
The very tall man looked at me thoughtfully for a moment digesting the information. "What is your name?"
"Janice Covington," I hold my hand out. He smiles at the gesture and his large hand engulfs mine as he shakes it.
"I am Ivan. So what did you do before coming here?" He asks as he sits carefully down on the edge of the bed. His weight causes the frame to groan and me to almost slide into him. "Sorry," he says awkwardly, starting to get up.
"No, no. Sit. Please," I quickly respond, shifting my weight on the bed and continue. "I'm an archeologist. I used to dig up my ancestor's scrolls with my part…ner." I say, feeling a pang of sadness suddenly spring up and attack me. Damn it.
"You miss your partner?"
"You always so nosey?" I say with a bit of irritation. He chuckles deeply.
"When I get a chance. It is not often I find someone who will talk with me. Even with my own people. Many think I'm dumb or they are frightened because I am big."
"They are idiots." I blurt with irritation. People are so fucking screwed up!
He smiles shyly. "You don't find me scary, do you?" He asks with interest.
"Trust me, Ivan, I find the people in those white coats and SS uniforms much scarier," I declare honestly.
"Yes. They are scary. They find my size fascinating," he says with a sigh, showing the nasty rash beneath his long sleeve, next to the blue number tattooed on his right forearm. I cringe, familiar with the pain that accompanies the inflamed skin.
"They are interested in studying all abnormal people," he says with a heavy sigh.
"Jesus Christ, Ivan! You are far more normal then they are. Remember that," I say with conviction, not knowing this large man from Adam. But I know it to be the truth.
"I will," he smiles. Good.
The jingling of the keys makes us both look at the door. It is amazing how the sound can be so welcome one moment, and so dreaded in another.
"I will tell the camp not to be frightened of you, muló," he says with a grin and stands to his full height as I stand to mine. Jesus Christ, he's tall.
"Don't be so quick, Ivan. You haven't seen me in a bad mood," I say, looking up, way up, into his eyes attempting to appear intimidating. It is rather pathetic. But I am not 'Mad Dog' Covington for nothing.
"I hope not to," he says sincerely.
"Come on," the guard barks impatiently.
"Good luck, muló," he adds.
"Good luck, Ivan."
Back | Next