The pool was the main reason Sy had moved into the building. Dr. Schwartz prescribed daily exercise, and what was better than swimming? Get the heart racing without punishing the old bones. Best of all, the time to unwind and think.
Only it wasn’t like that. The pool was always full of these strapping young goys who swam laps as though masturbating in public.
The only time Sy knew with certainty the pool would be empty was Friday night at nine when they were out engaging in mating rituals.
Sy tried to keep Shabbat by praying, but sometimes he forgot.
The coyote assured them there would be water stations set in the desert by kindly Americanos, but the only one they’d come across in a hundred kilometers of walking was hacked into ruin, the tank shot full of holes and dry as a bone.
Gustavo felt his tongue swelling in his mouth, the sun heavy as a blanket on his neck and shoulders.
He shook the remaining gallon jug of water, mostly gone. The children had long since stopped crying, trudging in silence, one weary foot in front of the other.
The mountains swayed in the heat, never getting closer.
I came here in 1946. I was lucky.
Uncle Abram had some pull with the State Department. He had a job for me and a place to live. After a couple years, I got my own apartment on Amsterdam next door to Orwasher Bakery where I worked.
In those days, you’d often see the Nazi tattoos given us at the camps. Some were ashamed and tried to hide them in long sleeves, but I didn’t care. I saw mine as a scar, the same as if I’d survived a fire.
These days you seldom see one at all. People are forgetting.
War, the demon, rolls across the land, killing and maiming all it touches, sowing misery and pain. The old men who wage it sit in their castles and congratulate one another.
Yet in this place, the war has never truly ended. Only last week a child ran along the beach laughing with delight as the surf kissed her ankles, only to disappear in a plume of shattered sand when she trod on one of their land-mines. Indeed, the village has at least a dozen children who lost their limbs or their eyesight rather than their lives, the so-called “lucky ones.”
“Best we get there early,” says Jakes. “This snow’ll fill the place proper.”
“Damn me,” I says. “More water in the soup, and probably a longer sermon.”
“That soup’s still’s hot, ain’t it?” he retorts. “Besides, the coffee’s decent.”
“I got about a quart of wine here,” I says. “Maybe I’ll stay out.”
“Use your head, Togs,” he says. “You drink that now, what’ll you do later? You’ll freeze, is what. Come with me to the mission. We’ll get some soup and sawdust bread, listen to the sky-pilot’s Jesus Jaw. Afterward, we’ll find a warm spot and drink that wine.”
We’re all subject to luck, and luck had me draw the short straw.
It could have been any of us.
We said our goodbyes, no tears shed.
I sit now looking around at this room, cleaner than any place I’ve ever been.
The broker talked endlessly about how all this was to be painless, but I’m still frightened.
I try to imagine all that this money will buy, but my mind is drifting.
All those pieces of me, how they’ll live on in these people.
My lungs, my heart, even my eyes.
What will these strangers see through my eyes?
The whir of the machine, then the silence as the nurse switches it off. I peer up at the circle of faces around my bed, concern and grief and, in one case, repulsion.
I feel myself floating, entirely aware. My individuality seems intact, though I can tell even now it is beginning to dissolve at the edges.
This is not what I’d thought it would be. There is no tunnel of light, no line of predecessors waiting to greet me. But neither is there an emptiness. The world is still there, going on without me while I look on, detached.