Houses Live and Die
By arrangement, Pavel with the others left before the fire had been set. Only Arvid, Mildred, and Elsa’s parents remained. Thick gray smoke belched into the evening sky. In the background, flames licked at the sooty smog. Sirens disrupted Berlin’s late summer quietude. The curious and macabre gathered while the fire engine maneuvered to its final position. Marshalled by training, the men jumped off their vehicle and went about their work according to a well-oiled military standard. Police cordoned off the people. Once hoses were attached to hydrants, the ladders were raised to carry gushes of water to the heart of the inferno. Bits of slivered paper whirled in the fire-wind, before it rained down like flakes of snow.
Arvid glanced back. The heat against his face was scorching. He gestured to his group to move further away. Still he hesitated, unable to avert his eyes from the building. He and his wife had managed to save some items, including some photos. I wonder if anything will survive. As quickly as the thought arrived, he dismissed it. A tug at his sleeve redirected his attention. Elsa’s father smiled up at him.
“I of all people understand what you must feel, Arvid.” He peered around and whispered, “Once I owned, now I can’t even get a loan. What can I say? I’m a Jew on the run.” He nodded in the direction of the others. “Too hot to stay here. You’re already roasting. Walk with me.”
“You’re right. No time for regrets. Pavel was right. We had no other choice. The evidence had to be thoroughly expunged.”
“Now you’ve got it. Today is today and tomorrow, well, tomorrow is where all our hopes and dreams lie.” Elsa’s father picked up his pace.
“Your wife?” Arvid reached out to slow him down.
He stopped and turned to face Arvid. “I can’t say I’m not worried. This world without her would be empty. But I must say, my impulse to pray is overwhelming.”
Arvid grabbed both of his arms. “No! You can’t do that! You must know you can’t.”
Elsa’s father’s eyebrows knitted together. “I’m not a stupid man, Arvid. Of course, I know.”
Arvid peered around him to see if he had attracted attention. Like a magnet the fire had garnered the crowd’s concentration. He glanced at his watch. “The ambulance should be here soon.”
The Kleiner Ariernachwe...