Written by Jason Winn.
Content Warning: Mentions of death, brief descrption of a corpse(s), mentions of holocaust and survivors.
The wrought iron gates open with a gentle squeak. With every step I take, an eternity of bliss is remembered fondly. Zephyrs gently comb through my grey hairs as leaves on nearby trees gracefully pirouette to the ground below. Rays of sunlight pierce the tranquil clouds that cocoon the sky. Rows upon rows of headstones line the pathway, like a macabre parade of the dead waiting for a reminder that they are missed. I turn my head to look at a headstone. The words are indecipherable, eroded away by the sands of time. Some have faded pictures of families grinning from ear to ear, others have wilted flowers that weep for nourishment.
A hysterical woman sobs and moans, she turns her head and shouts to the sky for taking her young one away too quickly. At that moment everything is captured in perfect stillness, tears skate down her cheeks as soft feathers fall from the wings of angels, caressing her pallor. I continue walking on by, as her mourning tethers her child’s soul to this plane of existence. I learned that in order to truly let the dead rest in peace we need to learn to let go. Never hold their memories in vain asking yourself what could’ve been or what would’ve happened, instead cherish every fragment of their being, fondly hold them to your heart and accept what has become of them. Don’t stain their death with unwanted tears or unfulfilled wishes. I, like any other person, had to learn this the hard way after I lost you.
The woman’s cries fall behind me to the point where they are just hushed whispers of yesterday’s regrets. It’s hard to imagine walking through this field of death and not thinking of one’s own demise, but I have lived a fulfilled life. This antique heart of mine has given many years of adoration to you and this old man has been blessed with your sincere devotion. Each wrinkle upon my visage represents another journey, another moment with you that I forever indulge upon. The gold wedding band you gave me still gleams and shines with our favourite inscription: Etiam in morte, superest amor. It’s Latin for ‘In death, love survives’, ever since that phrase passed your lips I knew we would always have our hearts intertwined.
Those solemn nights by the fire are the ones I enjoyed the most, after reading the next leather-bound volume, we would sit and discuss the daily news or which flower you found most captivating. You favoured violets above all. They reminded you of your mother’s favourite necklace. A pretty amethyst encaged in fine threads of silver, which now drapes your porcelain skin in the afterlife. You often would prop your head on my shoulder as we stared into the dying flames of the fire. Ours was an old-fashioned love, we had no offspring to carry on our legacy. We just had each other.
We first laid eyes upon each other back when I was forced to fight in an army that was made to kill your people. I never fired that gun or killed anyone, killing was a gruesome sight that weighed heavy on my soul. Hundreds upon thousands of innocent lambs were being hushed into oblivion, their execution prompted by the billowing remnants of black gun powder. Children howled in synchronised sadness as their parents were swiftly put to death, they then followed suit and had their cries quashed by the pull of a trigger. My fellow soldiers had no humanity left in them, like a vampire the war drained them of what little self-respect they had left. This war was a fool’s game from the start, we were just ants bending our will to fight for psychotic madmen.
I once had to carry the body of a boy to one of the burial pits as his parents looked on with sullen dismay. He was limp, I couldn’t even begin to fathom the blow that was struck to them. His eyes were closed, never to see the illuminating light of day again. His arm fell to his side, swaying about with my movements as if to wave goodbye to his family. Every time I got closer to the pits, an eternity of sorrow ripped opened my anguish. He must have been no older than eight. Young enough to understand numbers, but not old enough to experience forever.
A parent’s worst fear is to bury their child, but what does it mean when it’s done by someone else’s hand? It never mattered; man, child or woman, no one was exempt from the mass slaughter. I had all eyes on me, some filled with frozen tears and others with eager anticipation. I was at the rim of the pit when I sunk to my knees, enveloped in momentary paralysis. I started to cry, teardrops fell onto the boy’s face, mingling with the fresh blood from the gunshot wound in his temple. My whimpers caught the attention of my commander.
He snarled at me, ‘Hurry up, we have more dogs to dispose of!’ I couldn’t move, my gaze was fixated on the boy. I heard him approach quickly, with an enraged air to his footsteps.
‘We have no room for weaklings in this army! What would the Führer say!?’ I could not give him any reply befitting his question.
He grew tired and swiftly kicked me in the back, sending me and the boy’s body into the pit. My vision was filled with an innumerable number of cadavers; a mass grave with bodies strewn about like ragdolls. Some had their limbs gruesomely twisted, while others had fragments of bone piercing through frostbit skin. For a moment I felt a tidal wave of nausea split apart my soul at this horrendous horror show. My throat barren, no words could escape, only shards of hurried dry air. As for the boy, he was awkwardly contorted next to the victims who entered the gas chambers that morning.
I couldn’t take it anymore, I had to leave, I turned and dared not to look back. That same night I ran away. As I ran I could’ve sworn I heard the wails of that boy’s parents being stifled by the familiar sound of a rifle adding more stepping stones to an empire built upon bodies. The Third Reich’s thirst was surely unquenchable.
With the night sky as my solace I imagined every single star up in the navy darkness to be a victim of that godforsaken war. They burned bright with a fiery brilliance, flickering with the passion of their newfound immortality. That’s when I found you, huddled under a tree quivering as the night air nipped at your skin. Your blue eyes stared at me like shimmering sapphires. You were evading persecutors, I was a deserter. I approached you with a kind smile and gave you my woollen jacket to wear. From then on, we were on the run, two sides of a divide that were never meant to intersect paths let alone destinies. It didn’t take us long to fall for each other. You, with your enigmatic soul, and me, always wearing my heart on my sleeve.
Today is our wedding anniversary, I hold in my hand a bouquet of dainty violets. I get to your headstone and place it down. Your soul has been cast up from death and you shine on. I swear that sometimes you tease me, like how I smell faint traces of your lilac perfume every morning and the way I see your warm silhouette next to the fire every night. We came from a broken time, but we never let it break us. Our love is as pure as the flowers I have brought you and it will never evanesce into dust. I can’t wait to see you soon again my wife, my lover, my best friend. Etiam in morte, superest amor.