Sidney Hellman doesn’t remember who he was the last time around, if there was a last time. But how can he? None of us do.
Still, there are clues.
For instance, he starts seeing things. Images of events from another life. Terrible images.
He’ll be riding the elevated train to his office in the city, reading the paper, the windows of the old apartment buildings — some with the blurred faces and lives of their occupants — whizzing by, and this image will flash in his head for a second or two: piles of gaunt, decaying bodies with flies swarming around them and a voice going with it, saying “Excellent work, Field Marshal, excellent work.” He doesn’t see the face. Only hears the voice. And sees the brawny, pasty-faced Nazi soldier snapping his boots together and thrusting his arm forward, to the sky, in the standard Nazi salute, “Danke, Mein Fuhrer.”
Or throngs cheering, clapping, waving Nazi flags, as a deep guttural German voice speaks on and on, louder and louder. The funny thing is, he doesn’t understand the language, doesn’t even know what the words mean.
These flashes come at odd moments, totally without warning. Dozing in his chair, watching television, he’ll be brought terrifyingly back to wakefulness by a fat German face and voice, “Mein Fuhrer!,” or taking a walk with his dog, Arnold, down the street, it will sound like voices talking to him, or he’ll see the black smoking chimney stacks, even smell the sickly sweet smell of its output for a moment, only a second. Then, silence again, the odor gone, the visions vanished, as he’s back following Arnold, who sniffs a tree, paws the grass, searches for a place to do his business, the sun in orangish glow setting on the horizon, a sudden breeze cooling the sweat that has started trickling down his face, and the cars on the boulevard swish by in anonymity.
What is happening to me?, Sidney wonders, wiping the perspiration off his forehead. Is this a nervous breakdown? What did I do to deserve this?
He’s a Jew, a Jewish dentist. He’s had some problems (but who hasn’t!), some problems with his finances lately, namely the IRS, threatening to freeze his bank account for back taxes which he doesn’t think he owes, but hasn’t done anything about. And he has two grown sons who won’t even talk to him. Except when they need money. A lot of stress on him, a lot of pressure lately. He tends to like the scotch a little too much, and sometimes the horses. But, he’s fairly happy, has a fairly good life, a good marriage, a good business. He’s never committed a crime, has been an honest guy for the most part, would never screw someone over just for the hell of it, not like some of the other guys he knows. He’s a dentist, for God’s sakes, how much harm can he do? Break a tooth? Screw up a root canal? (Okay, guilty!) He devotes his life to helping other people.
So what is this all about? Is he cracking up? Where are these strange images and sounds coming from? And why now, out of the blue, after forty-nine years of life? Or are they waking nightmares from old remembrances, stories told by his relatives of those awful days when so many of his relatives, ancestors perished in that darkest of dark wars? But why, he wonders, why does he seem to get these images in this particular way, from this particular viewpoint?
He hasn’t told anyone about this, not even Amy. He’s afraid they’ll, she’ll, think he’s off his rocker. She’s always said he has an active imagination. Like the time he came home early, the day the pipe broke at the office, and she came in from shopping and her lipstick looked smeared and she was blushing and said she hadn’t expected him to be home, and gave him a light hug and he smelled an unusual odor, an unusual cologne smell that he didn’t recognize. And when he questioned her, she replied, “Where do you think I’ve been?,” holding up the Macy’s bags, “off with my Latin lover?” And a little laugh then, a little forced sounding. “You have a very active imagination, Sidney Hellman,” she said then, and laughed again and, bags in hand, exited the room.
So, it comes down to this. As the occurrences of these flashes of…what…fantasy?… guilt?… memory?… increase to the point where he can no longer function, where they start occurring ten times a day, he goes to a shrink, a former classmate, Bernie Steinberg.
He’s sitting in Steinberg’s waiting room until his name is called, then shakes his old classmate’s hand in front of the receptionist’s window.
“Sid, Sid, how’ve you been, old man? It’s been a long long time.” Then Bernie — little Bernie Steinberg is how Sid remembers him, but little no longer, bearing a bit of a paunch and a halo at the top of his skull where some of his hair used to be — ushers him down the hall into an examining room. No couch, just a straight black chair to sit in. Not what he thought. He’s never been to a shrink before.
“So,” Bernie says, rubbing his hands together, “What brings you in today, Sid? What’s going on?” He smiles a little as he says this, looking deeply into Sid’s eyes without blinking.
Sid doesn’t know what to say, where to begin. He turns his head for a moment, feels like fleeing for the door. Then he sighs, looks back at little Bernie (why does he keep thinking of him that way, the only way he’s ever known him, and thinks, “Well, maybe that will help.”)
“It’s like this, Bernie. I’ve started having these…well…visions…I don’t know what else to call them. Hallucinations? Visions? Messages from a past life? I don’t know for sure.” He stops talking, looks at this man who was a boy he knew but is now a man, a therapist he doesn’t know and wonders what he’s thinking. Not a trace of it is on his face.
A pause then, a thick silence until Bernie Steinberg makes an open-palmed gesture and says, “Go on, Sid. I’m listening.”
Sid can feel the sweat trickling down his forehead, dripping down to his cheek. “Well, well…” He laughs, self-conscious. “I know it sounds crazy, Bernie, but….”
Bernie makes a small wave and smiles again – “No judgments here, Sid, I assure you. It’s part of my job description.”
“Okay, well, it’s like this: I’ll be sitting on the train, working on a patient, sitting in my chair watching television—I never know when it’s going to happen—and all of a sudden I’ll hear something, a voice, see an image—not for more than a moment or so—just like a flash of sorts, and then it’s gone. It’s like it comes out of nowhere, out of somewhere, I don’t know…I don’t know where from. People, voices, scenes, and then, just like that, I’m back in the world like it never happened, like … I don’t know what just happened.”
Bernie looks at him with concern, puts his palms together as if in Christian prayer and and asks, “Have you ever heard voices inside your head before?”
“No, never.” Bernie is jotting things down on a pad of paper.
“And has there ever been this kind of thing that you know of in your family history? People hearing voices? Your mother, father, grandparents, brother, cousins. . . .”
“No,” he says too quickly, not wanting to tell the therapist how when he was young, very young, his mother told him and his brother that sometimes she heard angels, nor about when their father explained their mother’s extended absence from home once as time his mother was spending in a hospital to “take a much needed rest.” But after that, when she came back, nothing seemed different. Occasionally he saw her taking pills in the morning, which she said were to prevent migraines.
“And what exactly are these voices, these scenes, Sid? Are they of people or places you know?” “No, no, that’s the weird thing about them. They’re strangers all of them, strange places, and the
weirdest thing of all…now you’re really going to think I’m crazy….”
Bernie smiles again, wags his finger and says, “Unn unn uhhh, here we don’t use that word, it does nothing to help the problem, so….”
“Okay, okay. The point is, the answer is no, I don’t know these people. In fact, sometimes they don’t even speak a language I understand. They’re German, Bernie, do you understand? They address me as…how do I say this?…Mein Fuhrer!….I can’t believe I’m telling you this! And the images…I see the atrocities of the Holocaust…I see terrible terrible things. And not in my dreams, at night, but in the
middle of the day, in the daylight! I see the gas chambers, I see the piled bodies, it’s horrible, horrible! I feel like I’m losing my mind!”
Bernie is looking at Sid, not saying a word, a look of disbelief, a flush of color coming across his face for an instant, as if this professional adviser of souls, this dispassionate therapist has, for a moment, for just one moment, lost his cool. But he rebounds quickly, says “So, Sid, what do you think this means? Where do you think this is coming from?”
And this time it’s Sid who’s about to lose his cool. And he does: “Damn it, Bernie, that’s why I’m here, that’s why I came to see you! I have no damned idea where it’s coming from, what it’s about, if I’m just going off the deep edge or what! It is crazy, I don’t care what you say!”
“Now, Sid, Sid. Listen, calm down. These feelings, these images are coming from somewhere.
Somewhere inside of you I surmise. Maybe we should look into that. Tell me what’s going on in your life right now. What would cause such distressing images to be coming to your mind like this all of a sudden? Has some trauma occurred to you recently, something that you think might be setting this off?”
And there’s his childhood, Sid thinks. He can always ask me if I was beaten and abused as a
So he says it, dares to say it: “What if, Bernie, it’s not that at all? What if it’s something outside of me, outside of my problems? What if it is, damn it, what if it is what it appears to be, voices from a prior life?”
Bernie, not little Bernie, but Bernie the therapist, smiles at him again. Is it condescension now, or does he think, this one, this one really is…you know…that word that we don’t use? CRAZY!
“Now, Sid, I have an open mind, but I’ve been doing this for quite a few years now, and it’s been my experience at least that there is usually a good, rational reason, an internal source for these kinds of occurrences. Traumas, buried conflicts never resolved, childhood events…those kinds of things. These are the kinds of things I would like to examine with you before we jump to … unlikely conclusions.”
So Sid talks about his childhood, his parents—they were good parents, his childhood was fairly good, living in a middle class existence, neither he nor his brother Stu were deprived or beaten as boys,
nor did they have more than the usual sibling rivalry–it was truly a good, loving family, overall, he thinks, his current home life–nothing out of the ordinary there with him and Amy, just the usual suburban life, he guesses, the children – Richie and Mitchell, both adopted, Amy couldn’t, they never could, have children, how they hadn’t talked to him in over a year, he isn’t even sure why, his job, the tax problems, etc., until the clock ticks down and Bernie says “This was good, a good start. We should continue more along this line next time. (Next time? Who said there was going to be a next time?) In any case, our time is up now, I’m afraid. Talk to Marilyn at the front desk about scheduling our next session in a week or so. What do you think?”
What does he think? What he thinks is Why did I even come here in the first place? What did I think this was going to resolve? A prior life, that is not an idea a psychiatrist could pretend to entertain. It’s beyond his training and skill sets. Maybe I should go to a psychic, a fortune teller, or something like that instead. But aren’t they all hacks, scam artists?
Taking the train home that evening he’s lost in his own thoughts. What if it is what he suspects it is? That he is the reincarnation of Hitler? But that’s absurd! How could that be? He never thought of himself as a bad person. Wouldn’t he, if he had Hitler’s soul, by definition have to be a bad person? And would his reincarnation as a Jew with knowledge of his past life make for Hitler’s (his??) ultimate punishment or lesson? That he has now become one of those he demonized and mercilessly murdered in a prior life on this planet? It’s insane, mind-boggling, too much to think about.
In the next few weeks, though, as the images, the flashes of the past, become more frequent and longer, he can’t get these questions, these thoughts out of his head. He has himself convinced that he’s either losing it or, yes, he is that monster reincarnated. What else could explain these things? Many of his ancestors, it’s true, did perish in the Holocaust, but what would explain the references in the flashes to him as “Mein Fuhrer” and the strange viewpoints he sees – standing on a stage as if he is looking at his admirers, a sea of Nazi-saluting people, many of them in brown shirts and many more waving the red and
white Nazi flag? He is even now, as he goes through his daily humdrum chores seeing flashes of and hearing Eva – he assumes it’s Eva Braun – talking to him, whispering in his ear. And the German he starts to understand even though he has never had a German lesson in his life!
What started as mere flashes become five minute, ten minute sessions now where he is in another world, another mind, a mind he does not want to be in, that he would give anything not to be in. But what can he do? Where can he turn? The psychiatrist would for sure think he’s losing his mind. Maybe even commit him, who knows? (Of course it would be for his own good, to get some rest, until he could sort thinks out, Sid is sure Bernie would tell him with that fucking comforting, sympathetic psychiatrist smile on his face at the time (all part of the job description!)
So it is, he’s sitting across the dinner from Amy one night, picking at the corners of his steak.
Amy is sipping her wine, looking across the table at him. She doesn’t say anything for a second, then gets it out: “What is it, Sid, what’s going on with you lately?”
“What, huh? What do you mean?” He looks at her for a moment, then down at his plate again, rubbing his forehead, feeling something like a monumental headache coming on.
“Come on, Sid. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know when something’s going on with you. It’s been going on for a while now, and I don’t know what it is. Something, something…I don’t know. You’re just not your old self. Sometimes I see you, it looks like you’re not even here anymore, that you’re off far far away somewhere.”
He doesn’t say anything, doesn’t know what to say. How can he tell her: It’s true. She doesn’t know how true.
“Hello? Earth to Sid, are you in there, Sid?” Then she gets up, grabs the plate from in front of him, even though he has barely touched his meal.
“If that’s how you’re going to be, that’s how you’re going to be.”
Her voice trails off as she heads toward the kitchen. “It’s something to do with that new receptionist, I bet, Martha, Marsha, what’s her name again?”
Shit, he thinks, here we go. He gets up slowly, pushes the chair back with a creak and follows her into the kitchen. She’s dumped the contents of his dinner – his entire steak, pretty much – into the trash, and is rinsing the plates off in the sink.
He stands behind her, within touching distance and says, softly, “No, Amy, it’s nothing like that.
Nothing to do with that.”
She reaches over, pulls the dishwasher open and puts the plates in their proper places.
“It’s just…it’s just that I haven’t been feeling well lately. It’s been a while now. I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you about it. It’s a little…a little hard to explain, really.”
She rinses the glasses, the silverware, and puts them all in the dishwasher, then closes it. She grabs the kitchen towel from the counter, wipes her hands, and turns to face him, the question on her face. “So, what, what is it, exactly, Sid? What’s so hard to explain to your wife of twenty-nine years? What is it that’s so hard to tell to me?”
His head has started throbbing now and, for once, just this once, he almost wishes that one of those surreal moments would come to him right now to help him escape this scene, this moment with his beloved wife in the kitchen, the light glaring above him, the pain pulsing in his frontal lobe, the demanding look on Amy’s face. But, of course, it doesn’t come—it isn’t something that can be called up—and he’s on his own with this.
He says it softly, looking her right in the eyes: “Amy, I think I’m losing my mind.”
She squeaks out a laugh. Then says, “What, this is some kind of joke, right? What’re you talkin’
He suggests they sit down in the living room. Amy starts to look concerned, like she’s going to cry. “Oh my God, Sid, what is it? You’re not dying, it’s not cancer…what, Sid, what?” She’s standing there, still holding the dish towel in her hands, staring at him.
He takes her by the hand and leads her to the couch.
“Sit,” he says. She just stands there, hands at her sides for a moment, then sits.
Sid starts pacing back and forth across the carpet in front of big screen TV which is usually on in the evening. He doesn’t know where to start.
“Stop, Sid, stop! Just tell me!”
He stops then and faces her, hands in front of his face.
He takes a deep breath and tells her, standing right in front of her. He tells her about the visions, all of them. The voices, the smells. How they seem to be getting longer and more frequent. How he’s being addressed as “Mein Fuhrer.” And he tells her about the trip to the psychiatrist. How he doesn’t know what’s happening to him, and then, softly in carefully measured words, tells her that maybe, just maybe he’s not going crazy, and there is a reason for what’s going on to him, that maybe he just might be who he thinks he is, or was, in a past life, it was all very confusing.
Amy looks at him with a blank stare. He doesn’t know what she’s thinking. Then it’s her turn to speak slowly and carefully, like he’s slow or hard of hearing: “Listen to me, Sid. You. Need. Help.
He moves toward her to embrace her, but she moves away from him, says, “Don’t. Please don’t.
You scare me. I don’t know who you are.” Then she gets up and leaves the room.
That night she sleeps in the guest room, closing the door behind her.
Sid lies in bed that night, staring at the ceiling when a voice comes out of the darkness and says to him “Adolf, Adolf, ich liebe dich. Hast du mich gerne?” She loves me (him), do I love her? He hears another voice – his own, in the deep guttural German. It’s an evasive answer. He puts his hands over his ears, wants to shout. He can’t take much more of this. It’s like he’s a character in a play he doesn’t want
to be in. Who is he, and why is this happening to him?
When the voices end, he is shaking. He gets out of bed, throws on his clothes, his jeans and a flannel shirt, then pulls on his sneakers. He steps into the hallway, standing silent for a minute, listening to Amy’s snores from behind the guest room door. Then he goes to the kitchen and, he doesn’t know why, pulls a small kitchen knife out of the silverware drawer. Even though this is the suburbs, this is the middle of the night, one o’clock in the morning. You don’t know what kind of crazies are out there now.
(Crazies, he’s thinking, ha! Imagine what someone who come across him with a kitchen knife shoved in his front pocket in the middle of the night would think!)
When he gets out the front door the cold air hits him. It feels good, breathing it in and out, watching the cold white cloud hitting the air.
He walks for he doesn’t know how long, expecting strange apparitions to appear in the night to attack him. But there’s nothing but quiet for the moment, and a sky full of shining stars. He walks for blocks, past Humphries closed liquor store, past the Corner Drug Store, the laundromat, and on and on, an ocean of quiet darkened houses on residential streets, until he turns around, a voice whispering in his head, a dribble of German words, and he hums softly at first, then louder to drown it out, faces of unknown men appearing, as he sits down on a stoop for a moment, tries to regain his balance, regain his mind. And then it’s gone. He gets up, walks back home, to his building, to his place in this, his current life.
In the morning he gets up, goes through his normal routine. A cup of coffee, a bowl of shredded wheat, and a look on his lap top at the latest news and at the list of horses running at the track this afternoon. No sign of Amy. She usually sleeps late. But he doesn’t hear a sound from the other bedroom. He takes a shower, dresses, and grabs his briefcase quietly, listening by the guest room door, but still there are no sounds. He makes his way out the door, and heads for work.
When he gets home that night after the usual day – his work, lunch, and six or seven surreal flashes later – he finds no sign of Amy. Instead what he finds is a note on the kitchen counter. He picks it up, stares at her neat penmanship and reads: She’s in love with another man, has been for quite a while, but didn’t know how to tell him. He hasn’t been there for her for a long time, he must know that. And now with this new “development” she couldn’t take it anymore. It’s too late for the two of them. There’s nothing he can do that will change her mind. She, or her lawyer, will contact him in a few days. He shouldn’t worry about her, she writes. She’ll be fine. She signs it simply “Amy.”
He stares, just stares at the note, not understanding the words, what this is all about. How could he have been so dumb? He didn’t even know anything was wrong with their marriage. He’s been too absorbed with this other thing to even notice. He remembers when the two of them first met, in the park that day. He was sitting on a bench, feeding the birds. It was a warm spring day and she was walking by, then sat down beside him and gave him a great big smile. And that was it. He was done for. Six months later they were married.
Why is his life going this way?, he wonders. Well, maybe he knows why. It’s his punishment. But how can he be punished for someone else’s sins, even if they were his? … it makes no sense, none of this makes any sense at all.
Who can he talk to, a rabbi? No, he isn’t that kind of Jew. Not the religious kind. His brother? No, they haven’t spoken for some time now. Something Sid said about Lou’s German wife and the fact that he had pretty much gone along with Greta and become a Christian. How long has it been, two years now? And his father and mother were gone. An accident several years ago on the highway. A drunken driver – an elderly Holocaust survivor – driving the wrong way, had hit them head on. Somehow the driver had managed to survive, again. His parents hadn’t been so lucky. He missed them both, the long talks with his mother, and the one line witticisms and truths served up regularly by his father between innings of whatever ballgame he was watching. Yeah, that had been tough. His sons? No, he can’t put this kind of thing on them. And, in any case, he’s already on their shit lists for some reason or other.
Maybe it was refusing the “loans” the last time they asked. One wanted to open his own bookstore (who buys books in a store, anymore, in the age of Amazon, he’d glibly responded, with a laugh) and the other had settled in California and wanted money to start his own medical marijuana “business” – more like to buy him some weed was what Sid had thought at the time). Anyway, it made clear what his value is to them. He’s a damned ATM to both of those little shits. That’s his value. In their twenties, what do they know about anything, about the world, about shit?
So, he takes off work, tells his receptionist, Mary, to reschedule the day’s appointments, and goes to see his lifelong friend, Davie. The one who always has his back, although he doesn’t see him all that often. He has a jewelry store on the east side of town.
On the drive the voices are in his head, smokestacks appear, and he hears the crack of pistols. He keeps his hands firmly on the wheel, concentrating, keeping between the lines – it’s all he can do. It’s getting harder and harder to act normal, to live in this life with these constant bits of what seem like a movie playing in his head, before his eyes.
When he walks in the door, the bell tied to the handle jingles, and Davie steps out from behind the counter. “Oy Gutt, Sid, what gives? You look like hell!” He smiles and puts his hand on Sid’s shoulder. He ushers Sid into the backroom, getting a “Hi Sid” from Davie’s wife, Lorraine, who guards the counter as they go.
And in the back room, sitting in a folding chair in front of Davie’s desk piled with folders and papers and bills next to his ancient computer, Sid tells about it all. About the visions, about his fears, about Amy’s reaction and the bombshell she dumped on him.
“She left you? For another guy? Who the hell would leave my buddy Sid for some shtick drek?
Sid looks at his friend and the dam just bursts and suddenly he’s sobbing. Full on sobbing. Davie gets up from his chair and puts his big bear arms around Sid. Sid keeps crying for another five minutes or so, then gently pushes his friend off him, starts to pull himself together. He takes a deep breath and sighs, looking down at his hands. “What about that other thing?” he asks, looking up at Davie.
“What? That’s nothing!” Davie is laughing now. “That’s nuts. You’re just going through a tough time right now, Sid, a rough patch. But who can blame you with all this shit with your wife, your kids, the IRS. It’s just that Sid. You’re making too much of it. You Adolf freakin’ Hitler? Come on, you gotta be kiddin’ me! You’re my loveable but slightly screwed up buddy Sid! I mean, come on, Sid, we’ve known each other since what…third grade?”
“Second, I think. Second, yeah. Back at Midland Grade School.”
“I stand corrected, my friend,” he says and smiles. “Maybe what you really need is a little rest.
Have you thought about taking a little time off, maybe take a little trip? Find some warm beach somewhere and just relax? Take in the warm air, wade in the ocean. Listen to the waves beating on the beach. Have a nice drink, a margarita or somethin’, take a load off, that’s what I think you need to do, Sid. Give yourself a little break from all this bullshit. Whattaya’ think?”
“I don’t know, Davie. I just don’t know. I haven’t even had time to let the Amy thing sink in yet, with all this other stuff . . . I just don’t know.”
“Just think about it, Bubbee.” “All right. I’ll think about it.”
“Okay, that’s my Sid.” He escorts Sid out of the store, Lorraine, with a look of concern, giving a slight wave.
So, in a week he finds himself headed for Cocoa Beach, by way of Orlando. Sitting on a 747 looking out the window, a German soldier with a swastika armband on his sleeve giving Sid a Nazi salute, with the clouds in the background. This time, thank God, Sid can’t hear what he’s saying. Sid stares at the man, hoping he might, by some chance, fall off the damned wing. But, of course, he won’t, Sid reminds himself, because that Nazi bastard isn’t really there. But the entire trip this tall, wide son of a bitch is standing there on the wing, holding his Mauser in front of him.
And all the way through the airport this crazy Nazi walks beside him. Nobody else, apparently, can see him. The soldier’s deference is obvious. “Mein Fuhrer,” he says, opening the door for Sid, walking slightly behind Sid the entire way.
And in the rental car, the soldier sits right next to Sid, watching carefully out the window for any signs of insurrection or attack. The perfect bodyguard. But, hell does he stink.
He can’t escape this guy, tries to at a gas station where he stops to take a whiz. The soldier follows Sid into the station, and Sid goes to the restroom, tells Franz – yes that’s his name, Sid is not sure how he knows, but he knows – that he’ll be right back, that Franz should go into the store and pick
something out. Then, opening the door of the stench-filled john, Sid stands there for a minute, watches Franz enter the store, then runs to his rental car. But before he can get there the soldier is sitting beside Sid in the passenger seat, chewing on a piece of beef jerky.
And at the hotel the soldier is right beside him the entire way. At the front desk as Sid checks in, as he walks to the room, unlocks the door. The soldier even brings the bags in for Sid, says quietly, in German, of course, “Where shall I place them, Mein Fuhrer?” Sid, distracted, annoyed, points, without words to the space beside the dresser in the front of the room.
In the days that follow, Franz follows Sid everywhere — to the beach, sitting upright in the sand as Sid lies on a towel, reading a self-help paperback that caught his eye at the airport entitled Create Your Future, Forget the Past!; to the hotel restaurant where Sid drinks coffee and tries to read the newspaper, while the soldier sits beside him at attention, scouting the restaurant’s patrons for troublemakers; to the ATM, which tells Sid he has no money left in his bank accounts (thanks to Amy or the IRS, who the fuck even cares anymore! He’s tired, so tired) — and Sid says nothing, tries to ignore this specter, this vision, whatever he is.
Sid takes to downing whiskey (charged to the room) in large quantities, trying to shake the guy, but, whether Sid is drunk or not, the bastard is always still there. There’s no escape. This soldier from the past is, it seems, now a permanent part of Sid’s life.
But whose life is it anyway?, Sid wonders.
It’s the third night of the trip and Sid has hit a dead end, a wall, a deep pit that he can’t get out of.
What is left for him? Nothing, he’s got nothing at all. He can’t escape his future and, it seems, he can’t escape the past.
Sid drinks from the bottle as Franz sleeps, snores in the other bed. The TV is playing some old sitcom, the laugh track playing as witness to Sid’s own life. And he is weeping, remembering things from the past that are irretrievable. His marriage. His children. The happiness he once thought he had. His sanity. Slurping from the bottle, the scotch trickling from the corners of his mouth as he drinks, he is
getting sloppy. He is somewhat drunk right now, but also, he thinks, feeling particularly clear-headed. No visions from a prior life of horror bothering him at the moment. And he knows what he must do.
So, on this particular night, while Franz is asleep, Sid gets up, and leaves the room, closing the door as quietly as he can behind him.
He moves to the elevator and pushes the button to the lobby. As he descends, his mind is a whirling cloud of smokestacks, Nazi soldiers marching, German voices and gunshots. He is no longer in control of his life, this life, anymore. He sees the piles of naked bodies, the tanks, the explosions, and the starving children behind barbed wire. He sees a man shot in the head and placed in an underground bunker, sees himself standing by a ship’s railing, watching the European shoreline fading behind him, and finally, stepping out, with shaky legs, onto the shores of a new, foreign land. With the chance for a new life, an old, discarded life, he thinks. And then he sees Amy on the park bench smiling at him, the two of them cutting the cake at their wedding, he sees Amy holding Mitchell in his blanket on the day they got him, he sees Richie taking his first steps.
Now Sid can barely move, can barely function, as he walks slowly out of the elevator and out the hotel door, heading toward the darkened beach, where he steps gingerly, his bare feet sinking into the cool sand. He walks on, not looking behind him, knowing what he must do, moving steadily, tears running down his cheeks, the water calling to him, as he continues on, his feet touching the lapping water’s edge, as he hears a scream from behind him: “Mein Fuhrer, nein, nein!” But Sid continues to walk, feeling the coldness of the water enveloping him, walking until the water is past his knees, past his waist, the crazy bastard’s voice getting closer and closer, but the phantom, the soldier, whatever he is, is too late, as the water is up to Sid’s neck, past his lips, his eyes, as he dives into the darkness, opens his mouth, and swallows it all, the cloud of madness following him in, and he closes his eyes and waits for it all to end.
Mitchell Waldman’s fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous publications, including Alien Buddha Press, The MacGuffin, Fictive Dream, The Waterhouse Review, Crack the Spine, The Houston Literary Review, The Faircloth Review, Epiphany, Wilderness House Literary Magazine, The Battered Suitcase, and many other magazines and anthologies. He is also the author of the novel, A Face in the Moon, and the story collection, Petty Offenses and Crimes of the Heart, and serves as Fiction Editor for Blue Lake Review. A new story collection, Brothers, Fathers, and Other Strangers, is due out from Adelaide Books soon. (For more info, see his website at http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com).