by Jennifer Macaire

“Of course I knew. We all knew about it. No one said anything aloud, but we knew. The smell was borne on the wind. That’s all I have to say.”

“When I was ten years old the girl down the street moved away.”

“Moved away?”

“We saw a truck and men were carrying all the furniture.”

“Men?”

“All right, they were soldiers. I was only ten years old, but it shocked me that she hadn’t told us she was leaving. Then I realized what had happened.”

Silence. The two women look down at their hands on their laps. They are very old, but as they speak, years fall from their faces and wrinkles vanish. Gold replaces silver in their hair. Their eyes lose their faded gray and turn blue.

“Afterward, they made us go to the camp. I thought I’d seen everything when I was in Stuttgart and I had to put identity tags on the bombing victims. I was twelve then, and I had to get up every morning and collect handfuls of tags from the woman in charge of our section. I was trembling inside, but I didn’t dare show it. I’d been raised from birth not to show the slightest fear.”

“Ha! You think I don’t know that? I was put in the same mold and pressed out like a little cheese. I followed orders without the slightest hesitation because I never once truly heard what was being said. I was like a dog. Does he truly know what the word “Sit!” means? Someone could train him to react to the word “Write!” and the dog would still crouch. We were trained to react, not to think.”

“Is that your excuse?”

“My heavens! How do you think that I lived all these years? I walked through the concentration camp, too. I held my hankie over my face and I refused to look. A soldier tore it out of my hands. His face was the most terrible face I’d ever seen, all black, with lightning flashing from his eyes. I was fifteen and thought that it was the devil himself.”

“I want to stop talking about it.”

“My mother fainted. I heard a thump, and I turned around to see her lying on the ground. I thought that the black devil would kill her, but he picked her up, slapped her cheek until she came around, and pushed her back into line.”

“I wish we could stop talking about this.”

Silence. The women shrink, their hair turns white and their backs hump into the stoop of old age. A voice speaks from behind them. It says, “Where you go next will depend on your answers. Did you realize what was happening to the neighbors who disappeared?”

The women look at each other.

“Of course I knew,” says one. “We all knew about it. No one said anything aloud, but we knew. The smell was borne on the wind. That’s all I have to say.”

Jennifer Macaire is an American living in France. She writes full time, is married and has three children. Her stories have appeared at The Polo PostThe Bear Deluxe Magazine, AdvocateNuketown and Anotherealm.