PART I: Discovery
Michaela's petite feet, aching from the three-inch black pumps encasing them, created eddies of dust and left perfectly formed imprints on the attic floor, evidence of the room's declining use since her mother had played here as a young child some forty plus years ago. Sticky, pasty white cobwebs and a settled layer of fine powder covered every surface and filled every crevice of the room. It seemed impossible to reconcile this dirt and disorder with the rest of her grandparents' house. The lower interior of the house her grandmother had cleaned weekly with the verve of a spring-cleaning. Every surface was pristine, every bed made with military precision, every filthy foot wiped thoroughly before being allowed admittance. She had reigned over the interior of her domicile like a warrior-queen protecting a fortress. Even now, five years after Michaela's grandmother's death, her presence seemed to supervise the now ritualized weekly cleaning, habit from years of practice. As for the extremities of the house - the yard, the attic, the garage, they were none of her concern, and therefore lacked the pristine sterility of the central living regions. As the faint sound of chattering and silverware clinking on china drifted up through the wooden floorboards reminding Michaela of why she had sought refuge in the warmth of this forgotten mess, her thoughts turned to the satire in play below. Unable to bear the crocodile tears and insincere condolences of the assembled mourners a moment longer, she had fled to the attic. She didn't know how her mother could smile at and offer polite platitudes to all of those people who basically had been bribed to come to the funeral. They were down there right now with fake smiles speaking fondly of Franklin V. Spencer, Jr., Cappy, her grandfather, the man the whole town loved to hate.
As a child, her grandfather had been her pal, her buddy. Michaela, or Mikee as she had been nicknamed by Cappy himself after the little boy in the Life cereal commercials, had loved to come and stay with her grandparents. On those hot summer afternoons, she and Cappy would putter around the yard. They had developed a secret language about squirrels, pecan trees and bumblebees, which only they knew. On cleaning day, grumbling together, the two huddled on the porch staying out of the way of Grandmother's purifying campaign against filth. Cappy had been the one who first threw Mikee in the company swimming pool and taught her how to swim. It had seemed that in those early years she could do no wrong. She looked forward to spending the summers with Grandmother and Grandpa Cappy. They were definitely fond memories.
Yet just as she couldn't reconcile the interior and exterior of her grandparent's house, Mikee's own memories of her grandfather were contradictory. For with each positive recollection that she held, there seemed to be a dark secret, another taboo language which had sounded like evil incantations to a young girl, hidden in the musty recesses of her memory. Running through her head, in Grandpa Cappy's voice were the words: nigger, kike, wop, filthy mick. When she was still young and frightened by the sound of the words as much as the tone with which they were invoked, her mother had tried to explain that her grandfather had come from a different time. This explanation did not satisfy Mikee, nothing would satisfy her, except for her beloved Cappy to change. Then one afternoon, she must have been around ten or eleven years old, Mikee took a stand. It was a hot July day, sometime after the Fourth, and Michaela wiped sweat from her brow as she hopped back and forth from one bare foot to the other on the hot cement outside of the post office. Cappy had just picked her up from a swimming lesson, and they had stopped at the post office to buy stamps for Grandmother before going home. As Cappy inserted the key into the lock of the car, a young, black mail carrier pushed his cart down the sidewalk and headed for the back of the building. The words seemed to grumble on the undercurrent of the wind - Damn niggers takin' over the whole government. Mikee whipped her head around and, with one eye squinted to block out the glare of the sun, stared at her grandfather. Suddenly it was if she had landed in a vacuum and lost control of the pathway that connected her thoughts to her mouth.
"Cappy, please don't use that word around me anymore," her young voice rang strained but deliberate. And then there was silence, except for the almost deafening sound of the key turning in the lock.
"What word would that be?" grumbled Cappy.
"The "n" word, Cappy. Please don't use that word around me anymore," it was less strained this time. And then, they had driven home in silence, which rang louder in Mikee's ears than any words ever could have. Her grandfather never used those words in her presence again.
Michaela rubbed her nose which had started to run. She chose to attribute it to the dustiness of the attic and allergies. Now that her eyes had become accustomed to the dimness, she looked around at what lay abandoned in the attic. Stacks of moldy books lay piled under the grimy window. Broken lawn chairs and an old dining room table sat right in the middle of the floor. The table might actually be nice once it was cleaned up. Perhaps her mother would let her take it for her own apartment. She sauntered through the old rubbish picking up an item here and tossing one aside there. She stopped for a moment at a stack of musty Nancy Drew hardbacks, an old past time of her mother's long since replaced by the more complex Miss Marple and Poirot. She picked up one of the books disturbing a small spider that scuttled down the stack and into the dimness. She flipped through the pages absentmindedly then tossed the book back on the pile. As she picked her way through the neatly arranged yet disorganized relics of a past life, her eyes fell on an old armoire pushed up against the back wall. A large oak wardrobe with grooves and ornate designs cut along the top and around the doors opened easily to her touch. Within old World War II army uniforms had been arranged pristinely. Michaela stared at the uniforms and ran her fingers over the material. Her grandfather had been a gun surveyor. He had been right on the front line, sometimes even across the enemy line, perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs in a war, and yet her grandfather had survived. Not surprising, Cappy had been one of the most stubborn men she'd ever known. She closed the doors and sat down on the floor to pull out the drawer at the bottom. Possibly not realizing her own strength, or perhaps the wood had shrunk, the drawer came flying out and fell on the ground with a thud scattering its contents.
One by one, she began to pick up the trinkets and parcels that had fallen - a stack of letters tied together with packing string, military bars, a medal and numerous old buttons, probably from his uniforms. Placing the drawer back on its tracks, a flash of silver caught her eye underneath the armoire. She lay down on her stomach and reached for the object, pulling it out along with a few dust balls. It was a key. She lay there staring at it. Then looking more intently under the armoire along the back wall, she noticed the outline of what appeared to be a door, a door to another room hidden behind the bulky piece of furniture. Michaela pocketed the key in her blazer and rose to her feet dusting herself off. She began to push on the armoire. She heaved her shoulder against it and moved it just a bit. After about five minutes of pushing and pulling, Michaela had moved the armoire far enough away from the wall to slip in between the two. She stared down at a small door about two feet high and three feet wide. An old, rusty lock blocked the latch. She slipped her hand into her pocket and pulled out the key. There wasn't enough space to bend down, so Michaela lay down on her side. She fitted the key into the lock with a bit of a struggle as the lock was very rusty, but it was definitely the correct key. The lock opened and she slipped it out of the latch. Moving out of the way, she was able to swing the door open just a few inches, but it wasn't really enough to see inside the black hole.
* * * * *
Michaela pushed the spring ladder back up toward the ceiling in the hallway letting it close with a bang. The guests in the dining room looked up at her taking in her dusty dishabille momentarily then returned to their conversations. She made an effort to wipe off the dirt that covered her skirt and blouse - clothes she wore awkwardly as it was, normally preferring pants - then she made her way through the small crowd and into the kitchen. Her mother Evie sat at the kitchen table drinking a cup of tea. Her Aunt Elenore leaned against the sink counter. So lost in her thoughts, she barely noticed them as she walked through the kitchen to the back door. She had made it halfway out the door when her mother spoke.
"What are you doing Michaela?" she asked.
She stopped and looked at her mother. "I need a flashlight," she replied then continued on her way. The screen door closed with a bang.
Her mother yelled after her, "Don't slam the door!" but her efforts were thwarted as the door slammed shut on her words.
"Sorry," was Michaela's faint reply.
Elenore went and stared out the door. "Why do you suppose she needs a flashlight?" she queried.
Evie shrugged and sipped her tea. She knew Michaela had been up in the attic; she knew instinctively even without the sound of Michaela's clomping footsteps. Michaela didn't handle death well, not as an adult. She detached herself from the loved-one lost and chose instead to explore relics of the past. She had explored the entire house when Evie's mother had died, poking through old shoeboxes and knitting bags. It saddened Evie that Michaela became so unemotional. She remembered her optimism as a child and her naïve grasp of death.
Michaela had been only four years old when Elenore's husband Andrew had been killed in the final stages of the Vietnam War. Evie remembered watching her at the funeral, touching her uncle's face, poking him in the ribs, trying "to wake him up" she had said. Evie had sat down and pulled little Michaela onto her knee.
"Michaela, Uncle Andrew isn't going to wake up. He's gone to heaven. Just like they tell us in church," she said gently.
Michaela looked at the casket with a confused look on her face. "He's not in heaven, Mommy. He's right there. Don't you see him?"
She smiled, "How can I explain this to you? People, like you and me and your Uncle Andrew..."
"And Aunt Ellie?" she piped.
"And Aunt Ellie. We all have a soul inside of us. It's what makes us who we are," Evie had explained. "What you see there is Uncle Andrew's body. His soul has gone to heaven. Do you understand?"
Michaela thought for a minute chewing on her lip then shook her head "no."
Evie thought for a moment. Then queried, "Do you remember when you got the toy train for your birthday, and it was wrapped in paper covered with steam engines?"
Michaela nodded, grinning and kicking her feet at the memory.
"You didn't want to rip the paper because you loved the steam engines, but that was just the packaging. The real present was the actual train inside." She pointed over to where Andrew's body lay. "That's just Andrew's wrapping paper. His soul, what was inside, has gone to heaven."
Reaching up, Michaela had gently wiped a tear from Evie's face with her small four-year-old hand. "Don't cry, Mommy. We kept the train packaging."
"Sometimes I wonder about that girl, Evie," Ellie said with a shake of her head.
Ellie's words brought Evie back to the present. She stared into her cup. She'd finished her tea. Lifting herself from her chair, she placed the cup in the sink. As the water ran over it, the door squeaked open and Michaela brushed through the kitchen again.
"Found one," she said in passing.
"Michaela, what are you doing up there?" her mother insisted, but Michaela was already out of earshot.
* * * * *
Michaela squeezed into the space she'd made shining the flashlight into the darkness of the tiny closet. It was empty except for an old footlocker. She couldn't get the door of the closet open far enough to get that footlocker out, not with the wardrobe still blocking free movement of the door. She laid the flashlight aside and pulled herself out of the crawl space. Placing her feet shoulder width apart, she heaved her shoulder against the wardrobe with all of her might. Nothing happened. She stood back and sized up the monstrosity. She contemplated how to move the huge chunk of wood, her eyes roving up and down. She leaned down, placed her hands along the bottom and gave a pull up and out with all her strength. She stretched her hands and took a few deep breaths. Then she smiled at her accomplishment. The armoire now stood perpendicular to the back wall and the secret door could swing free. She pushed the door open with her foot. Bending over, she dragged the footlocker out.
The footlocker appeared to be old army issue. She pulled it over near the window where the light was better. She sat down and stared at it for a long time. What was in there? All of her grandfather's army paraphernalia appeared to be stored in the wardrobe. A chill suddenly ran through her bones causing her to look around for where a draft might have emanated, but all the windows were sealed, painted shut. She hesitantly reached toward the top of the trunk and pushed on it. With a creak, it swung back on its hinges and hit the floor with a thud. Dust flew up everywhere and Michaela began to cough. She waved her arm through the air to clear away the smoky cloud of grime, then slowly peered inside.
It was empty. Michaela felt a sense of extreme disappointment. She hadn't known what she would find in that footlocker but finding it empty certainly seemed anticlimactic. She looked inside again for a clue as to why an empty footlocker had been so secretly concealed. She ran her hand along the bottom, her effort rewarded when her finger got stuck in what appeared to be a groove or a gap between the bottom and the side. She tried to push her finger further into the groove but couldn't. Reaching into her pocket she pulled out the key she'd used to unlock the door. She jammed it into the space and pushed up on the bottom board. It came up easily, and Michaela gasped with horror.
She first pulled out a worn leather diary with a broken clasp. She opened it up and flipped through the pages. Yellowed with age, they felt dry and brittle to the touch. The ink was faded and run with water in spots. Then she pulled out a uniform, neatly folded and rather bulky, not an American uniform like the bunch hung neatly in the armoire but a Nazi uniform. She shuddered as she opened it up and something fell from inside the folds and hit the floor with a clang. She put down the uniform and picked up a gold alarm clock. The gold had a soft yellow hue; the face behind the glass still retained its pure white color. She turned it over in her hands and wound it up. It started to tick. She watched as the second hand and waited and watched. As the second hand hit the twelve, the little bell at the top went off. It made a frantic sound as the bell vibrated hysterically. Michaela hit the button on top of the bell with her hand. The ringing stopped. She sat there for a moment in the almost silence, for the frenzied sound of the bell still seemed to quake in her head.
When the noise had subsided from her conscience, she stuffed the Nazi uniform back into the trunk and replaced the false bottom, absentmindedly wiping her hands on her blazer and blouse, as though they were covered in some sort of muck. She replaced the trunk, relatched the door and maneuvered the armoire back into place. It looked as though it had never been touched. She pocketed the key again. She looked around the attic for a way to conceal what she had found. Sitting on a chair she noticed an old straw beach bag stuffed with what appeared to be old towels. She dumped its contents on the floor and replaced them with the diary and the alarm clock. She looked back only once before she descended the ladder.
* * * * *
The house had emptied out. Elenore sat in the corner chair knitting, without dropping a stitch though her eyes remained glued to the television. Evie quietly rocked in the rocking chair, her feet curled up under her, flipping through a magazine. Michaela reclined on the sofa, comfortably attired in jeans and a t-shirt, with her eyes averted up and out the window at the fading light. No one spoke. The only sound came from the buzzing television and an occasional squeak from the rocking chair. Suddenly Michaela spoke.
"Why did Cappy fight in the War?" she asked.
Elenore stopped knitting. Evie stopped rocking. They looked at one another puzzled and then turned their gaze to Michaela.
"Well, he was drafted. Every physically able man fought in the war, Michaela," Evie responded.
"Goodness Michaela. You've been acting so oddly today. What is it with you?" Elenore retorted.
Michaela shrugged and went back to gazing out the window. Elenore picked up her knitting and resumed. Evie sat and stared for a moment at Michaela and then casually returned to her magazine. The chatter from the television again filled the silent space.
"But he hated Jews, didn't he? How could he fight to free them?" Michaela interjected into the stillness.
Without putting down her knitting, Elenore responded, "Yes, but he wasn't fighting to free the Jews. He was fighting to protect America. Don't put your own altruistic morals onto everyone that fought in World War II. I suppose you think all the Yankees fought to free the slaves during the Civil War as well." She chuckled to herself. "Liberals," she said under her breath.
"Something's troubling you, Michaela. What is it?" her mother questioned.
"Just curiosity, I guess. I found his old army uniforms and other things in the attic this afternoon."
"In the old wardrobe."
"Yes. You knew they were there?"
"I found an old clock too," she ventured cautiously. She didn't think anyone else knew of the secret door, but she couldn't be sure.
"Among the war things?"
"It was hidden in an old...uniform." She paused. "I was wondering if I could keep it."
"Michaela, you can have anything you want of your grandfather's."
Michaela rose from the sofa and stretched. "I'm going to bed." She walked over and kissed her mother on the cheek. "Good night Aunt Ellie."
She could hear them talking quietly as she walked to the back of the house.
* * * * *
He walked with a limp, his shoulders hunched and his head fallen forward. His clothes of an indeterminate neutral color hung off his body. The steely gray sky crowded around him as he walked across the yard. He looked up once to make sure he still headed in the right direction then dropped his head again. His hand clenched and unclenched around what appeared to be a pair of old rusty pliers. He stopped at a door. Looking up he read the word "badhaus." He knocked tentatively twice. The door swung open and a young lieutenant stood before him. His brown uniform was crisp and clean in stark contrast to the dingy rags the old man wore. The armband with the swastika glared at the old man. The lieutenant looked the old man up and down, his eyes stopped momentarily on the yellow star prominently placed on the old man's shirt. Then he broke into a grin.
"Good morning, doc," he flung out casually. The old man just nodded his head but kept his eyes focused on his feet.
"I'll be out here. Just knock twice when you're done," he said. The old man walked past the young lieutenant and through the door, which the lieutenant closed behind him. The old man turned and stared at the door. He could hear the click as the officer turned the key locking him in.
No matter how many times he did this, that moment when the door locked was always the most terrifying. That puzzled him. The horrors he would face in this room for the next hour or so could never fully be described. Yet, the sound of the door locking made him break out in a cold sweat. He knew that one-day when he came in that sound would be the last thing he heard. He shook the thoughts out of his head and moved forward.
The bodies lay piled haphazardly around the floor. He sighed as he bent over the first body. The faint smell of gas drifted up to the old man's nostrils causing him to wipe his hand across his face. He gently opened the man's mouth and peered inside. He saw rotting teeth in most places. The ones that hadn't decayed had turned a yellow that was almost brown. He shuddered and moved on to the next body. Again, he gently opened the mouth and peered inside. A glint of dull gold caught his eye. He lifted the pliers and moved them toward the mouth. Then he stopped. He bowed his head and mumbled something quickly under his breath, a prayer. Despite the decrepit appearance of the old man, his hand proved steady and skillful. He pried the gold filling out of the dead man's mouth so gently and adroitly one would have thought the man still lived, and if he had still lived, he would not have felt any pain. The old man dropped the gold filling into a small satchel attached to his belt loop. He moved on through the sea of bodies, one by one, inspecting their mouths for the gold.
He moved slowly stopping every now and then to wipe the sweat off his brow despite the ice-cold temperature of the room. He bent over another body, a young boy who couldn't have been older than sixteen or seventeen. He hesitated as he reached for the boy's jaw. He looked almost peaceful lying there, as if perhaps he were just asleep and not really dead. He shook his head, mumbled the prayer and tried to open the boy's jaw. Occasionally, the jaws had clamped down so tightly during death that they had to be pried open. This boy's jaw would not budge at the old man's tender touch. He inserted his thumb between the boy's lips and pushed them aside. He couldn't see any gold from his cursory glance. He was loath to pry the mouth open. He didn't want to disturb the restfulness of the child a minute longer. Just as he was about to move on, the boy gasped once, his eyes wide stared up at the man. The old man started back in horror, but the boy grabbed his arm. He tried to speak, but if any words escaped they were drowned by the old man's piercing scream.
The lieutenant rushed in at the sound of the scream.
The old man gasped out, "He's alive."
The lieutenant looked down at the boy. Without hesitation he pulled out his gun and shot the boy twice in the head. He turned around and walked back toward the door.
"Continue," he tossed back over his shoulder and then locked the door behind him.
The old man, his entire body racked with sobs, crumpled over the boy and cradled him in his arms.
* * * * *
Michaela sat straight up in bed with a start. Her pillow and hair were drenched with sweat. Momentarily disoriented, she sat still for a moment to let her eyes adjust to the darkness. At first she didn't realize that the alarm on the clock was ringing frantically. Her hand came down on the bell silencing its frenzied vibrations. She looked at the face of the clock. It read 4:17. The door to the room burst open and her mother stood in silhouette in the doorway, the hall light shining into her room.
"What was that?" Evie cried.
Michaela stared at her. "Sorry. I must have set the alarm wrong." She put the clock down on the bedside table.
Evie sighed and shook her head. "Scared me to death." She left the room and closed the door behind her.
Michaela got out of bed. Her legs felt like jelly as she walked the few inches to the light switch on the wall. She quickly returned to a sitting position. She ran her hand through her sweat drenched hair and took a deep breath. She had been having a dream, actually a horrible nightmare. She shuddered as she remembered the last image before she awoke. She picked up the clock and stared at it. The time now read 4:23. She reached in the back to reset the alarm for a more decent hour then looked at the clock again. The alarm hand was already set for approximately 8:30. She stared at the clock face confused. She started to reset the time to see if the alarm would go off then thought better of it. She didn't want to wake her mother again. Returning the clock to the table, Michaela turned off the light and lay back in bed. She puzzled over the mystery until she fell asleep.
At 8:30 the next morning, Michaela awoke to the ringing of the alarm. She turned it off and rolled over in bed. She stared out the window at the morning sun. Then she sat up. The alarm had gone off at the time for which she had set it. She looked at it, bewildered. Then she shook it off. Obviously she had dreamed the entire night. She quickly dressed and made her bed, then went to join her mother and Elenore for breakfast in the kitchen.
The two ladies chatted casually over coffee. Elenore grinned at her niece, watching as Michaela poured out a cup of coffee for herself and grabbed a piece of coffee cake from the counter.
"Had a little mishap with your clock last night, I hear," Eleanor chortled.
Michaela just grinned. Elenore found the strangest things funny.
"So did you set it wrong?" Evie asked.
Michaela stared at her a moment. So she hadn't dreamed it after all. She started to tell them the entire story then stopped herself. For some reason, she felt the story would only frighten them. Or worse, they would think that the strain of her grandfather's death had knocked a screw or two loose. Elenore had been bemused by her antics of yesterday and she knew that her mother was worried about her. Evie tried to hide it in her face, but a glance in her eyes revealed her distraught thoughts.
"Yeah. I set it wrong. That was all." She drained her coffee and placed the cup in the sink. "Well, guess I'll go pack. I've got a plane back to New York to catch this afternoon."
As she left the room she heard her mother say to Elenore, "She just doesn't handle death well."
PART II: Erudition
Michaela arrived at her apartment in Manhattan around midnight. She gave a cursory glance through her mail then tossed it on the kitchen table. She'd deal with the piled-up bills in the morning. Right now, all she wanted to do was to fall into her own bed and sleep for a week. She lugged her suitcase into the bedroom and pushed it against the wall. She kicked off her shoes and stripped out of her clothes. Turning the light on in the bathroom she came face to face with her own image in the mirror. She looked thin, tired and there were dark circles under her eyes. She splashed cold water on her face and brushed her teeth. On a hook on the back of the door hung her pajamas. She listlessly put them on, turned out the light and left the bathroom.
She checked the setting of the alarm on her digital clock and then turned it on, glancing briefly at her suitcase where the gold alarm clock still remained carefully wrapped, along with the diary, in some of her clothes. She turned out the light and before her head even hit the pillow she had fallen asleep.
* * * * *
The old man glanced back at the bodies as he tapped twice on the door. The Nazi lieutenant stared at the man's ashen face. He grabbed the satchel from the old man's belt. He weighed it in his hand.
"Too light. Did you get them all?" he interrogated.
The old man meekly nodded and tried to hide the sobs still escaping from his mouth. The lieutenant slapped him across the face.
"Quit that! Or I'll send you back in there to spend the night," he shouted, "Or worse, you dirty Jew." Then he spat in the old man's face and pushed him out into the yard. "Get back to the barrack," he bellowed.
The old man stumbled his way across the yard. The lieutenant watched him until he disappeared into the barrack on the other side. He then turned and walked in the opposite direction. He hummed an old German folk song his mother had sung when he was a child. The bag of fillings swung from his hand freely as he walked along. He stopped at a concrete building and knocked briskly on the door. Another officer, a captain, let the young lieutenant in to the building. He saluted and then walked into another room.
Sitting behind a desk sat an obese man. He sifted through a stack of papers. The lieutenant saluted as he came in and promptly placed the bag onto the desk. The obese man, the Commander of the camp, stared at the bag. He looked at his young officer, grunted once and dismissed the boy who turned on his heels and exited.
The Commander stared inside the bag. He reached underneath the desk and pulled out a glass jar already half-filled with other gold fillings. He emptied the contents of the bag into the jar. He looked over at the wall where a shelf held five other jars filled with the same and he laughed to himself. He glanced at his watch. Removing it from his arm, he proceeded to tap on the face then shake it violently. He held it up to his ear and listened.
"Gustav!" he roared.
The captain who had answered the door hurried in to the room. He stood at attention.
"What time is it?" he demanded. Gustav looked at his own watch. Then, realizing that the Commander was staring at him, he removed his watch from his wrist and handed it over. The Commander put it on his arm. He tossed his old watch into the garbage. He stared at Gustav with a look of disgust on his face. He stared at the jars of gold fillings and suddenly a grin spread across his face.
"Get me Gemmler, that old clock maker." Gustav turned on his heels and sprinted from the room.
* * * * *
The clock maker cowered at the door despite the fact that he towered over the other men in the room. Like the old dentist, the clock maker's clothes hung off him limply like an empty potato sack. Staring at his feet, he noticed a black smudge on his dirty, holey shoes. He fiercely rubbed the toe with his other foot obsessed with removing that one smudge amidst the rest of the grime. Gustav pushed him forward causing Gemmler to stumble.
The Commander spoke, "You are the clock maker?"
Gemmler nodded his head.
"I want a clock," the man in charge continued. "You will make it for me."
The man simply nodded his head again. The man in charge thumped one of the jars of gold fillings on his desk. The thud of the jar caused the clock maker to look up. He stared at the jar trying to discern what it contained.
"You will make the casing of the clock from these," the man in charge ordered. "Gustav, take him away. He has one week."
Gustav thrust the jar into the man's arms then walked him out of the office and down a long set of stairs into a dark tunnel.
The clock maker stared around at the closet where he now stood. The closet itself was big enough to contain only a small table and a chair. Someone had managed to obtain some of the tools and parts he would need to make a small clock. He placed the jar on the ground by the door. He sat in the chair. His hands shook slightly as he organized the tools on one side of the table and the clock parts on the other. Then slowly he began to connect the pieces together like a jigsaw puzzle that he had memorized. He worked silently and meticulously. Every once in a while the clock maker would lean close down to the table to try and see where to connect the next piece. He only succeeded in blocking out the only light source in the room, a bare bulb that hung from the ceiling. After about twenty minutes, he sat back and rubbed his eyes. He flexed his fingers and rubbed his hands together. Just as he was about to resume his work, he heard a faint whisper. He looked around the room thinking that a crack or hole somewhere had allowed the wind to enter his closet. He couldn't find even the tiniest opening. He sat very still and listened again. The whispering continued and came from somewhere behind him. He bent down and listened under the crack in the door. While he listened at the door, his eyes fell upon the gold-filled jar. Again he stared, trying to figure out what the nuggets actually were. He sat up and pulled the jar close to him. Hesitantly he unscrewed the lid, and the whispering suddenly turned to an anguished cry for just a moment then faded completely into silence.
* * * * *
Michaela awoke to the sound of muffled ringing. She switched on her bedside lamp and looked around the room, wondering where the ringing was coming from. She stared at her suitcase against the wall. She tentatively walked over to it and put her ear to it. The sound was definitely coming from within. A thought suddenly came upon her. She fearfully turned around to look at her digital clock on her bedside table. The LCD readout said 4:17 a.m. She ripped open her suitcase, the volume of the ringing increasing, and rummaged through it until her hands found the alarm clock. She pulled it out, stared at it - the bell shuddering uncontrollably - then shut it off. She stared at the alarm hand. It was still set for approximately 8:30. Michaela sat on the floor and crossed her legs. She dropped the clock onto her lap and stared at it without really seeing it. She sat there for quite awhile; perhaps she drifted into sleep a bit for when she came out of her thoughts the clock by her bed read 4:35 a.m. She stood up and carried the clock into the kitchen, opening a drawer and pulling out the yellow pages. Michaela flipped through them until she found what she sought. The ad simply: EXPERT REPAIRS, ANTIQUE CLOCKS.
* * * * *
Michaela almost walked past the tiny shop tucked away between two ivy-covered apartment buildings. Timepieces of all shapes and sizes filled the window. The display looked as if it hadn't been changed since the turn of the century. A layer of dust blanketed the window and the clocks encased behind. As she opened the door, a bell tinkled above her. She carefully closed the door behind her and looked around. The room had shelves lining the walls filled with clocks - some running, some not, and clock parts - old cuckoo birds, wheels, chains, pendulums. A single counter ran horizontally across the room and behind that stood another door. Michaela waited at the counter. No one came. She leaned over and looked to see what was on the other side. Behind the counter, she saw more of the same kinds of objects that lined the shelves on the walls. She saw a pendulum and touched it setting it into motion. So fascinated by the movement, she didn't hear the door behind the counter open and softly close. In fact, it took a moment to realize that a pair of worn, brown lace-up shoes stood beneath her head. With her eyes, she followed the feet up a pair of legs, up the torso and stared into the face of a kindly, elderly man with white hair and round spectacles. The man smiled at Michaela.
"Perpetual motion fascinates me also," the man said referring to the pendulum.
Michaela righted herself and smoothed out her wrinkled shirt. She grinned, embarrassed at being caught.
"Can I help you with something?" the old man asked.
Michaela placed the clock down onto the counter. The man picked it up, turning it over in his hands.
"I hope so. You see I'm having problems with the alarm. It keeps going off at a time that it's not set for," Michaela explained.
The old man nodded. "I see. You set it and it goes off at a different time from which you set it. The calibration is probably just off."
"Well, actually, it also goes off at the time for which I set it. It just keeps going off before that as well," Michaela continued. The old man continued to scrutinize it, turning it around slowly. Michaela opened her mouth to speak then thought better of it. The old man looked up.
"Was there anything else?" he asked.
Michaela shook her head "no." The old man stared at Michaela a few moments longer, a piercing gaze though not unkindly.
Then he said "Very good," as he reached under the counter and pulled out a little invoice pad with carbon paper. He scribbled a few words onto it and ripping the top page off, he handed it to Michaela.
"Come back on Friday. I'll take a look at it," the old man said. He smiled, then turned and disappeared behind the door.
Michaela stared down at the invoice in her hand. The old man had simply written three things on the paper: Friday, $3.50 and Bernstein. Michaela stuffed the paper into her handbag. Before she left, she leaned over the counter and looked at the pendulum. It hadn't skipped a beat.
* * * * *
Sitting in a worn, armchair, Michaela pulled on her glasses and took up the leather diary. She slowly opened it to the first page and began to read. Most of the entries were brief descriptions of the days' activities. Oddly, they seemed completely devoid of emotion whatsoever. Her grandfather had signed the bottom of each page with his initials, which was by far the most personal aspect to the journal. Michaela hadn't been completely sure what the journal would reveal. Perhaps she had hoped it would offer some insight into her Grandfather's beliefs, and perhaps it did. Everything in the journal pertained to military tactics and plans and the ultimate defeat of the enemy. Of course, her grandfather never named the enemy. As Michaela read on, she realized that in all of its vagueness a Nazi could have written this journal. She remembered the uniform in the trunk and shuddered at the thought. She dismissed her musings and returned to reading. She flipped ahead through the journal and just as she was about to toss it aside something caught her eye. An entry toward the end read as follows:
April 23, 1945. We liberated the camp today. The enemy had already fled from the place so we took no prisoners. Those still alive in the camp were nothing more than skeletons. I vomited once from the stench of decay that filled the air. The Red Cross loaded them up and took them away.
The captain sent Williams and me into the officers' quarters. The enemy clearly knew we headed in their direction for a half-eaten meal remained on the table in the kitchen. Flies swarmed about the rotting food. It felt like a ghost town inside. Williams found a bunch of jewelry and pocketed it. I found a gold alarm clock...
Michaela flipped a few pages ahead.
...that damned alarm clock went off in the middle of the night. I suppose it was a good thing because I was having the strangest dream, really quite terrifying. I never dream about anything...
Then later she read the following:
...I haven't had a decent night's sleep in weeks. That damned clock keeps going off in the middle of the night. Not that I could sleep even if it weren't defective. These dreams keep haunting me. Months and months of battles and dead bodies and never once did they enter my head after I'd fallen asleep. Now when I close my eyes, I'm visited by images of those stupid Jews being gassed and then some old man removing their teeth. Every night the same dream. I wish to God I had left that clock where it was. I finally wrapped it in an abandoned uniform left by the enemy so I could get some sleep. If it weren't made out of gold I'd throw it away now...
Michaela closed the journal. Her grandfather had had the same dream that she, Michaela, had dreamed only two nights earlier. Yet it appeared that her grandfather's dream had been recurring. Michaela closed her eyes and thought about her dream from the previous night. It had been different and yet connected to the first dream. Michaela shivered and looked around the room. She suddenly felt unsettled as though someone or something had entered the room. The thoughts that raced through her brain frightened her. She hid the diary on her bookshelf and noticed that her hands were shaking.
* * * * *
The sign on the door to the clock shop read: CLOSED. Inside all was dark. The only sounds came from the ticking of the working clocks on the shelves, all set for different times. Occasionally, one of the cuckoo clocks would burst open, the little bird announcing the hour. Underneath the counter, the pendulum was at rest. The door behind the counter led to Mr. Bernstein's workshop and living quarters. An old wooden worktable with a bench underneath rested against one wall and looked as if it would fall over without the support of that wall. Tools and parts lay scattered over the surface. Standing in the middle of the table was Michaela's clock. A counter ran part way down the back wall. A porcelain sink was set in the counter and an old hot plate sat next to it, its electric cord curled up neatly. A chair stood in the middle of the floor, the old man's jacket hung casually on one side. The only other piece of furniture in the room was a small cot pushed into an alcove with a blacked-out window. Mr. Bernstein lay on the cot covered by a worn woolen blanket. He tossed in his sleep and every once in a while a soft moan escaped his lips. Suddenly he bolted up right, hitting his head on the alcove wall. And then, the alarm clock began to reverberate.
Mr. Bernstein slowly pulled himself off the bed, grabbed his spectacles from the pocket of his jacket and sauntered over to his worktable. He picked up the clock and watched the bell vibrating on the top. He looked at the face. It was set for 7:00, and the time was only 4:17. Without stopping the ringing, he turned the clock over, picked up a screwdriver and removed a tiny screw from the back. He stared at the inner workings. He poked his finger here and there. Everything seemed to be working fine, yet the alarm shuddered uncontrollably. Mr. Bernstein replaced the back of the clock and finally shut off the alarm. He calmly looked at the clock turning it slowly over in his hands. He peered at the bottom. Grabbing a buffing cloth from the table, he gently rubbed. He held the clock a few inches away from his eyes and realized that a name had been etched in the bottom. Very steady hands had etched that name for it revealed perfect penmanship for writing so small. Mr. Bernstein removed his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. He stared at the clock and his face softened with a look of understanding. His eyelids then began to droop, his head slowly dropped onto the table and he fell asleep, one hand resting on the clock as if to comfort it.
* * * * *
Friday morning, Michaela walked slowly from the subway station. Her thoughts kept returning to her grandfather's journal. She hadn't read it since that night, although she had checked to make sure it was still hidden. She kept thinking maybe it would just vanish into thin air. No matter how much she tried to convince herself that she was a rational woman and that haunted clocks simply did not exist in the real world, she secretly believed that some force beyond reason was at work. And why not? As far as she was concerned Hitler's entire "final solution to the problem of the Jews" was beyond reason. Michaela had never understood racism. She'd always felt that it was an illogical conundrum. If something as irrational as racism could exist in the real world then why couldn't a haunted clock. Or perhaps, she was just losing her mind. After all, her grandfather, a man she had loved in spite of his deep faults, had just passed away. She knew she didn't handle death well. She handled it logically, pushing her emotions aside so as not to feel pain. Perhaps the dreams were a mere manifestation of the pain she couldn't allow herself to feel when she was conscious. She'd just about sorted through her conflicting thoughts when she arrived at the clock shop at eight o'clock, despite her slow pace. She stood outside the door just staring inside. She felt a bit embarrassed at her apprehension. After about ten minutes she pulled herself together and determinedly walked through the door, the bell above tinkling to announce her arrival.
Mr. Bernstein emerged almost instantly from his workshop carrying the clock with him. He smiled solemnly at Michaela. Michaela nodded her head in response. Mr. Bernstein then eyed her questioningly. Michaela stared back innocently. Neither spoke a word for what seemed like hours but actually was only minutes. Michaela couldn't stand the silence a moment longer, or the curiosity for that matter.
"Did you find anything wrong with the clock?" she asked meekly.
Mr. Bernstein studied Michaela a moment longer then slowly spoke. "There is nothing mechanically wrong with your clock."
Michaela breathed a sigh of relief then stopped herself. "Nothing mechanically wrong?"
Mr. Bernstein cradled the clock lovingly. "May I ask how you came by this clock?"
"It belonged to my grandfather," Michaela responded. She felt the stinging behind her eyes of hot tears, a feeling she hadn't felt during the entire course of her grandfather's funeral. She then choked out, "He just passed away."
Mr. Bernstein reached out and patted Michaela's hand. "I'm so sorry." He pulled a clean handkerchief out of his pocket and began to wipe his spectacles. "Did your grandfather fight in the war?"
Michaela looked up. "Yes he did." She stared at the kindly old man and thought for a moment. "I believe he brought the clock back after the war from somewhere in Germany."
Mr. Bernstein nodded. "A concentration camp I should think."
Stunned, Michaela sputtered out, "How...how did you know that?"
"I think perhaps there's something you forgot to tell me when you left the clock." At the astonished look on Michaela's face, Mr. Bernstein continued. "I shouldn't wonder that you left it out. I would imagine that you have been struggling with the idea that perhaps you are crazy. In this day and age of psychotherapy, all of those mysteries in life can be explained away. It's the modern day answer to religion I think." Mr. Bernstein paused a moment and stared at Michaela. The astonishment on Michaela's face had only increased as Mr. Bernstein rambled. Realizing that he had Michaela's complete attention, he continued. "To me, the saddest aspect of psychotherapy is that it explains away the most interesting parts of life by convincing people that it is all in their head. When in actuality, those mysteries can be explained another way."
"What way?" Michaela breathlessly interjected.
"Are you a religious woman?" Mr. Bernstein queried.
"I was raised with religion but I'm not what you would call religious."
"Do you believe that people have souls?" Mr. Bernstein continued.
"I was raised to believe in the concept of the soul," Michaela responded.
"But do you believe that people actually have a soul?" Mr. Bernstein persisted.
"I don't know."
Mr. Bernstein nodded to himself then smiled gently at Michaela. "I think you do know. Why don't you tell me about the dreams?"
* * * * *
Michaela sat in Mr. Bernstein's workshop sipping a cup of tea.
"After I read the diary I should have known that you would have the dreams also," Michaela said calmly. After fainting on Mr. Bernstein's floor, the tea had settled her nerves immensely. "Do you know what it means?"
"I believe I have an explanation. Are you willing to listen?" Mr. Bernstein responded.
Michaela nodded attentively. Mr. Bernstein began.
"When the Nazis first forced the Jews into the ghettos, they instructed the prisoners to leave everything of value behind them. Like any concept, ‘value' takes on a different meaning for each person dependent upon their experience and their circumstance. A little girl may see an old doll - matted hair and dirty face wearing a ragged pink gingham dress, one eye permanently closed - scrunch up her nose and turn her head to the shiny new-spangled doll of the day with delight and rapture and visions of the adventures the two could have together. And yet, that same raggedy doll, to the mother who lavished years of love, filling the hollow insides with memories and now wishes to bestow that precious artifact of the woman she became on her young daughter, is a precious treasure of which any child would dream. So it was for the Jews...and the Nazis. What did ‘value' mean? The prayer shawl hand made by the grandmother and presented by the father to the son upon his entering the yeshiva carried the promise of learning to the young man, and yet to the German soldier it merely served to shine his muddy boots. The silver candlesticks used on the High Holy days and Passover were of value to the young mother preparing her first Seder because they were passed on to her by her mother who had received them from her mother and back for generations...not because they were silver. What was value? What did the Nazis know from value? And so the Jews were herded, retaining some symbols of their culture, religion and lives, and leaving behind others, into the ghettos in Eastern Europe. From there, family by family, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood, the Jews were transported to the concentration camps with nothing left to their names, except their names and a waning will to survive...or so the Germans thought. What of value was left to take from the Jews once they were in the camps? No jewelry, no money, no precious metal ornaments. Yet even now, they found more ways to debase, humiliate and horrendously defile the race of human beings toward whom Hitler so obsessively had chosen for the direction of his hatred, fear and ignorance. I'm sure you've read, or heard, about the gas chambers and other..."
The old man stopped for a moment. He looked at Michaela who stared at him, mesmerized and intrigued by the old man's melodious voice. Mr. Bernstein got up and filled a glass with water. He slowly drank the glass down and sat back down in front of Michaela.
"I don't need to tell you of what we went through. You've read about it, or heard, I have no doubt. You will never be able to truly understand and that you must accept. Feel remorse, practice tolerance and reject hatred, but never claim you understand."
Michaela nodded slowly. She started to speak but stopped.
Mr. Bernstein continued, "I have not spoken of the dreams. I know. I needed to prepare you. Do you know why?"
Michaela thought for a moment then, looking down at her hands, shook her head. Mr. Bernstein rose from his chair and looked solemnly at Michaela, then smiled.
"Reason and logic are only one aspect of the universe, in conflict perhaps with other more spiritual ones. Don't presume to think that reason and logic alone, by their mere existence, overrule and abolish the reality of the truth of others."
Michaela struggled with her thoughts for a moment and then nodded. "So the ghosts...their souls...have inhabited the clock." Michaela stopped then continued, "But how?"
Mr. Bernstein shrugged. "That I do not know. Nor do I need to."
"How am I to help if I don't understand..." her voice trailed off.
Mr. Bernstein handed Michaela the clock. Michaela rose and followed Mr. Bernstein to the front of the shop.
"Mr. Bernstein, what do I do now?"
"Whatever you wish."
"I meant about the clock."
The old man sighed, "Well, you can lock it up in a trunk for another 50 years as your grandfather did and perhaps the dreams will stop."
"I don't think you believe that will work."
"What I believe is not important? What do you believe?"
Michaela carefully placed the clock in her handbag and headed toward the door. "Thank you for your help, Mr. Bernstein."
"It is through action that we learn if our beliefs are the right ones. A man who does not act upon his beliefs - especially when action could right an injustice - only continues a cycle of self-delusion."
Michaela turned around but Mr. Bernstein was not there. Standing on the counter, though, was the pendulum, swinging back and forth.
* * * * *
Michaela placed the clock on her nightstand when she got home, replacing her digital alarm clock. She sat on the edge of the bed and just stared at the clock. She still felt light-headed, but she was pretty convinced it was no longer due to feeling faint. She lay down and stared at the clock, hearing again, over and over in her head, the words of Mr. Bernstein. Michaela was lost. She turned and gazed at the clock. A beam of sunlight danced on the glass fronted face. It mesmerized Michaela and she continued to stare at the light until she drifted off into sleep.
* * * * *
The sun was shining but the air was brisk. The children were gathered in a circle behind the bathhouse, near the exterior fence wall. They ranged in age from about seven years to 16 years of age. Hidden from the watchtower by the building itself, the children were moving rhythmically, clockwise and singing in step:
Vecker, vecker, einen wecker
Share your dreams with the old clock maker
Hour hand, minute hand, turn back time
Clockmaker, clockmaker, hear my rhyme.
They stopped their movement and looked to the center of the circle. A grown man sat there, his eyes covered, a smile on his face. One of the older girls reached down and took the man's hands in her own, helping him to his feet. The man kept his eyes closed, since his hands were no longer covering his face. The girl had a sweet face, although it was gaunt, and what had once been beautiful, curly chestnut hair was now shorn close to her head, although the vibrancy of the hue remained in defiance of its present state. The girl pulled the man into the circle with the other children. The man's height was impressive and yet not overpowering. He squeezed the girl's hand tightly and she smiled up at him. The children began moving clockwise again and chanting:
Grandfather Tree with the silver hair
The fruits of your knowledge with us share.
Mother Stream Sapphire murmurs in our ears
With your cooling touch, quench our fears.
Father Stone with your soft mossy lap
May we curl up and take a nap?
Brother Sun and Sister Moon above
Look through your window and shine down love.
The children broke the circle and led the man toward the fence. They began giggling and chattering at the man.
"Look, Papa Gemmler, look just there," a little boy said pointing.
The girl took his hand and urged the man forward. "See, papa," she said. "The first flower of spring."
The man opened his eyes and stared through the electrified fence to the place where the children were pointing. About ten yards beyond the perimeter of the camp, lay a small grove of trees, which were merely the entry to a much larger forest. The trees had grown in a circle creating a clearing with a small brook running through it. The sun reflected off the clear water. A large flat stone lay near the water, partially shaded by the long branches of a very old tree with gray green leaves and blackened bark. Just to the right of the stone, a single flower had blossomed. The white and deep purple of the petals presented a strong contrast to the browns and greens surrounding it, making it quite visible even at a distance. The man's eyes watered slightly and then he smiled.
The young girl squeezed his hand and looked up into his eyes. "Will we touch it someday, papa?"
The man looked away from the flower. His eyes followed the criss-cross outline of the fence, until his gaze landed on the barbed wire bordering the top of the electrified barrier. A dark shadow passed across his face, erasing his smile and he shivered slightly. He then continued to look up at the cerulean sky above, almost completely cloudless. He closed his eyes. His hand gently went to the young girls head and he caressed it. Taking a deep breath, he looked down at her and stared intently into her face.
"Yes, daughter. You will touch it someday. I promise."
He gathered the children round him and began to tell them about the flower they could see in the freedom beyond. Before long the peaceful smile returned to his face and he had the children laughing.
"Now, finish your song and then we must go. Some of you will have a bath today."
The children formed their circle once again. Gemmler stood next to his daughter once again and held her hand tightly. The clockwise movement began one last time.
Vecker, vecker, Einen wecker
Did you hear my dream, old clock maker?
Minute hand, hour hand, move ahead fast.
Let your bell ring out till we sleep at last.
* * * * *
Michaela's eyes fluttered open, the distant chanting of the children's voices floated inside and outside her head. She turned and stared at the clock but there was no alarm sounding. She slowly sat up and reached for the clock. She cradled it in her hand. As she caressed the clock, her finger rubbed across an uneven groove on the bottom of the clock. She turned it over and peered at the spot. Written there, in perfect penmanship, was a name. Gemmler.
Michaela carried the clock to the kitchen with her. She picked up the phone receiver and dialed very slowly. A moment passed as she listened to one ring, two rings, and then she heard a voice at the other end.
"Mr. Bernstein, can you help me find a clockmaker named Gemmler?"
PART III: Journey
The sunlight of the clean April morning radiated through the towering wall of windows at the Frankfurt airport. Michaela felt groggy from the flight; she had slept for most of the journey from New York, but it hadn't been a restful sleep, even if it had been dreamless. The busyness of a major international airport overwhelmed her and she stood for a moment letting the mass of people wash around her. She slowly made her way outside and managed to find the taxi stand. She attempted to give directions for the hotel in very broken German until the young driver interrupted her.
"I speak English," he said.
"Thank you," Michaela responded, embarrassed. "I need to go to the Hotel M- at Parkestraße 11.
The hotel was located in the Frankfurter West End, one of the city's main cultural centers, but Michaela had chosen it based on its proximity to the Gemmler family home, which lay just across the river Main. After eight months of research with Mr. Bernstein's assistance, the Gemmler family had been traced here to Frankfurt.
The driver sped off out of the airport arrivals lane and maneuvered his way into the traffic of the city. Michaela leaned back against the car seat, staring out the window. The modern buildings near the airport eventually melted into more traditional neighborhoods - streets, houses, churches which brought to mind an older time, historically Bavarian. Michaela had attempted to prepare herself for where she was going and what she was coming to do. She wasn't prepared though for the beauty of this city. She felt a twinge of guilt at the thought. Here were more contradictions - a city this charming in a country where a trainride, or less, would take you to a place of horror.
As the city unfolded around her, Michaela went over in her head the story that she and Mr. Bernstein had been able to piece together. Ezra Gemmler and his ten year old daughter Raisa had been taken to the camp Flossenbuerg, not too far from the Bohemian Forest, in 1942. There was no record of a wife and mother. It was possible that the father and daughter had been at another camp prior but again no record had been found, so it was unknown how they had stayed on the outside for so long in Germany. While Raisa Gemmler had survived the war, her father had not. The clock that was carefully wrapped and packed away in Michaela's suitcase may have been the last work that Ezra Gemmler had completed. While Michaela believed that returning the clock to the clockmaker's family was the solution to easing its turmoil, Mr. Bernstein had cautioned her that Raisa Gemmler Berman might not want it. She may not have known her father had been forced to make the clock and its history alone might be traumatic. Though they disagreed on what the outcome would be, they both felt that Raisa would be a good place to start.
* * * * *
After months of being awakened at 4:17 a.m. in the morning, she was accustomed to the dreams now. In fact, she welcomed them. Each new dream provided yet another piece to the puzzle she so desperately needed to solve. And yet when Michaela awoke her first morning in Frankfurt she felt a twinge in the hollow of her stomach. In her head she knew that she should eat some breakfast, but nothing appealed to her. She grabbed a croissant and an apple, wrapping them in a napkin in case she felt hungry later. She noticed that her hands shook slightly as she tucked the food away in her handbag, right next to the carefully bundled alarm clock. With a deep breath, she walked through the lobby of the hotel and out the door.
It wasn't a long walk to the Berman residence, about fifteen minutes to the river Main and then just across to Rembrandtstrasse. There was a light mist that threatened to turn into more substantial precipitation. She pulled her coat more tightly around her. Her feet sped up from the wet and the chill, and she would consciously slow her walk down when the nerves knotting her stomach overwhelmed the coldness. No matter what her pace was, her feet kept carrying her toward her destination. She stood across the street from the Berman residence and just gazed at the seemingly quiet house. Michaela felt the twitch in her stomach one more time which propelled her across the street and up the stoop to the front door. She grabbed the brass doorknocker and let it fall, then did it again.
She wasn't prepared for the person who answered the door - a man in his mid-30s who had to be over six feet tall with curly brown hair and sad brown eyes. It was his eyes that startled her so much. She had seen those eyes before, in her dreams.
Without thinking she spoke, "Ezra? Ezra Gemmler?"
The man looked at her, a slight scowl on his face. "Berman," he stated. "Ezra Berman." He started to close the door.
"Please. I'm sorry. Your eyes just reminded me of..." Michaela cut herself off. "I'm looking for a Mrs. Raisa Berman."
Ezra looked at her, still skeptical. "Raisa Berman is my mother. You are American. My mother has never been to America. How do you know her?"
Michaela looked down at her feet, unsure about how to proceed. "I don't know her, but I very much need to speak with her."
"About what?" was his short reply.
A gust of wind blew Michaela's hair into her face. She shivered as she brushed the hair away. She bit her lip back, feeling the sting of tears welling up behind her eyes.
"About her father...your grandfather. I think I have something that he made...during the -" she couldn't finish the sentence.
"The word you are looking for is ‘holocaust'," Ezra spit out at her. "My mother doesn't need to be reminded of that. Please don't come back." He closed the door in her face.
Michaela stared at the door and let the tears run down her face, then turned around and sat down on the stoop. She pulled out the clock and gently unwrapped it. She caressed it and then whispered, "I'm so sorry." She didn't notice the woman watching her from behind the curtain of the front window. While she sat there holding the clock it started to rain. She quickly wrapped it up and tucked it back in the bag. She got up and started to walk back up the street. She hadn't gotten more than two houses down when she heard a voice yelling out to her.
"I am Raisa Berman. Please come in out of the rain."
* * * * *
Raisa Berman handed a towel to Michaela, who was now comfortably seated on a sofa with a steaming cup of tea in front of her.
"Thank you," Michaela said as she took the towel and delicately began to dry off her hair. She gave a sideways glance toward the fireplace. Ezra leaned against the mantle, his arms crossed, and a stoic stare upon his face.
Raisa sat down in a chair across from Michaela, hands crossed genteelly in her lap and stared at the young woman thoughtfully. Michaela finished drying off her hair, folded the towel and placed it on the table next to the teacup. It was Raisa who finally broke the silence.
"You're from the United States," Raisa stated matter-of-factly.
Michaela nodded and said, "New York."
"You've come a long way to speak with someone you've never met before," Raisa continued with a kindly smile. "What did you need to speak with me about?"
Michaela and Mr. Berstein had carefully planned how she should approach this subject with Ezra Gemmler's family - the clock found upon the death of a relative, the name inscribed on the bottom, the search for who the clock might have belonged to, then ease into the dreams seemingly invoked by the clock and the belief that, somehow, the souls so entwined with the its origins had to be released, put to rest somehow. Michaela took a deep breath and began, but the words that stumbled out of her mouth were far from what she had intended.
"My grandfather was not a good man. No, that's not completely fair. He had...he believed..." Michaela stopped and took a deep breath, fighting back her tears.
Raisa reached over and squeezed her hand, "You loved him?"
Michaela nodded and then continued. "Very much. I loved him very much in spite of his...flaws. But I need to fix...rectify...make amends for something that he should have done but didn't. Most likely because he didn't realize that something needed to be mended. His beliefs wouldn't have allowed him to see that the real wrong done was not the wrong he thought he'd already fought for."
Michaela took a sip of her tea and Raisa waited patiently for her to continue. "My grandfather was a gun surveyor in World War II. He was part of the unit that liberated Flossenbürg in April of --"
"Of 1945..."Raisa said with her, sucking in her breath.
Michaela looked at Mrs. Berman, "I'm so sorry. I hadn't planned on telling this tale this way. Mr. Bernstein, he's a friend in New York, told me that I will never be able to truly understand what you went through, what he went through, and that I must accept that. I had wanted to be mindful of your experience, try not to cause more pain. And yet here I am... This isn't about me. It's not supposed to be about me." She stopped and reached into her bag and gently pulled out the clock, slowly unwrapping it to reveal to Mrs. Berman what was so carefully protected. "I came to see if you might want...if you could help... My grandfather brought this clock back with him from Germany. He found it in the camp. Your father made it."
Michaela held the clock out to Mrs. Berman, who made no move to accept the object. She merely stared at it, quiet tears softly tracing a path down her face. Ezra came silently into the room and sat next to his mother, holding and rocking her gently. Whispering into her hair, "Don't cry, Mama."
Michaela bowed her head, but for the first time since her grandfather's death, she was able to successfully fight back her own emotions. This wasn't about her. This was Mrs. Berman's pain. She could not share it and had no right to. She quietly wrapped the clock and put it away.
After a few moments, Mrs. Berman regained her composure. She looked gravely at Michaela. "I know your intentions were honorable and just, child. But why, why would you think that I would want that? What did you think I could do?" Ezra stared at Michaela, a hint of curiosity behind the bulldog mask he wore when protecting his mother.
Michaela looked contritely at Mrs. Berman. "I'm sorry. I realize now I shouldn't have come. It was wrong of me. I will find another way to...make amends."
"You keep speaking of making amends. To whom do you need to make amends?" Raisa Berman queried.
Michaela shook her head. "It's not so much to whom but for whom. But I will burden you no more. You've shouldered enough. This is my puzzle, my burden now. I took it on when I found the clock in my grandfather's attic. Thank you for your hospitality, the tea, the towel. I hope you have a long and happy life." And with that she turned and left.
Michaela nodded once to Ezra, an apology without words and opened the door. Ezra follow her out and watched her walk down the steps to the street.
"Why do you wear a Star of David? You are not Jewish," he blurted out.
Michaela's hand immediately went to the delicate silver chain that hung around her neck. She gently caressed the silver star that hung there. She smiled pensively to herself.
"It was a gift from a friend," she simply replied. "Thank you for the hospitality. I won't take up anymore of your time Mr. Berman."
But as she turned to continue up the street, Ezra's questioning again stopped her.
"So what will you do now?"
She shook her head and sighed, "I don't know. I guess I should go to the camp." She paused for a moment knowing that it was more than a guess. "I have to go to...Flossenbürg."
A fleeting wave of sorrow brushed Ezra's face, but then in his stoic manner he responded, "You won't find anyone there to answer questions. You won't find anyone there...only ghosts."
Michaela thought for a moment, then slowly nodded. "Yes. And perhaps that will help, " she replied. "More than you know."
Ezra, puzzled, stared after Michaela and continued to stare down the street long after she had turned the corner.
* * * * *
A steely grey sky intensified into a startling, shimmering silver illuminating the light frost that covered the hard earth underneath the clockmaker's feet. His hand fidgeted with a small scrap paper grasped tightly in his hand; the expression on his face vacillated between sorrow and the last remnants of hope. As he turned a corner at the end of the row of barracks, he could see the distant grove between the meshwork of the metal barrier and his hand went to his face with a jerk to wipe away the tears that had fallen there. As he approached, he noticed a small form, curled in a ball at the base of the fence, facing outward at the world beyond the barrier. He reached down, gently stroking the auburn curls radiating outward from her head like a protective shield of light. She did not wake at his touch but a sweet smile seemed to form on her face and her breathing, labored from the chill of the morning air, eased and softened. The clockmaker slipped the paper from his hand into the slightly curled fingers of the young girl. He looked up one last time at the grove in the distance, his eye focused on the single solitary flower, glistening in the early morning light, struggling defiantly under the weight of the frost on its petals.
"Survive, little flower," he whispered and then rose from the sleeping child's side and turned to go.
His pace was slow as he began his walk back toward the barracks. But his progress was stopped by a sweet sound.
"Papa?" the child's voice rang out.
He turned and stared at the child, smiling as she ran up to him and threw her arms around his waist. He stroked her curls again then lifted her chin staring into the blue eyes.
"For this one morning, I am your papa Michaela," he choked out. "That paper in your hand. Read it when I am gone and remember it when you wake. You are almost there."
The young girl nodded and squeezed the paper in her palm.
"Is he in heaven?" she blurted out, in a young voice that sounded strangely out of place in this setting.
The clockmaker brushed his hand against her cheek and looked deeply into her eyes.
"Why do you ask me this question, child? Don't you know there is no heaven, only our memories? You honor him by remembering him truly," he stated simply, then turned and walked away.
He didn't seem to see the young girl - her head shaved though the vibrancy of the deep chestnut hue glowed like a crown - that he passed on his way to the barracks; nor she him. Yet at that moment where their paths crossed, they paused, a visible feeling of tranquility washing over them, before continuing in their opposite directions.
When Raise reached the spot where Michaela stood, she kissed Michaela once on each cheek then took her hand. As the two girls moved toward the fence, Raise raised her arm and pointed outward toward the solitary flower. Michaela followed her gaze and kept walking. She passed easily through the barrier and was a few feet beyond when she realized she no longer held Raisa's hand in her own. She ran back to the fence but couldn't get through. Raisa smiled at Michaela, inclining her head, urging Michaela back toward the grove. And as Michaela got closer to the spot, she felt an urge to run - run like she had as a small child, free from fear. So she did, and when she reached the flower in the grove she reached down and touched its petals. Then she turned with a triumphant smile back to where Raise was waiting. She waved to Raisa, beckoning her to follow.
Raisa waved back, then looked into her hand now holding the flower and lifted it to her face breathing in its scent. She smiled at Michaela then faded away.
* * * * *
Michaela shivered slightly in the early morning chill as she stood on the station platform. Her ticket was held in one hand and clenched in the other was a folded piece of hotel stationary. Over her shoulder, she carried her bag with the alarm clock, carefully wrapped and concealed as always.
"All aboard!" the train conductor shouted as walked up and down the platform, a familiar action to Michaela even in this foreign country. She pulled herself up onto the first step and then into the train compartment. As she settled herself into the first empty window seat, she thought she heard her name. She looked out the window, but a pillar obstructed her and she saw only the flapping of the edge of a coat. She turned away from the window and staring down at her was Ezra Berman, a slightly sheepish look almost surfacing from behind his natural stoicism.
Gesturing to the seat next to her, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "Is this seat taken?"
Michaela shook her hand, trying not to smile as Ezra removed his coat and stored it in the compartment overhead. He sat down next to her just as the train slowly pulled away from the platform. For the first twenty minutes of the ride, the two sat side by side in complete silence. Ezra staring straight ahead; Michaela staring out the window, first at the disappearing city and then at the passing countryside.
"May I tell you a story?" Michaela asked, breaking their silence.
Ezra looked intently at her and nodded at her once to proceed. So Michaela told him the story - as she and Mr. Bernstein had intended it to be told - from the finding of the clock and the diary, to meeting Mr. Bernstein and their developing friendship which led to the quest to find Ezra Gemmler or his family, to the journey here. And of course she told him of the dreams. She could see the skepticism in his eyes and couldn't help smiling. She also told him of Mr. Bernstein's thoughts on the soul and modern day psychiatry. For the first time, Michaela saw a smile spread across Ezra's face and then he laughed.
"He sounds like my mother," he chuckled, but then the skepticism returned. "You don't really believe this, do you?"
"How else could I have found your mother?" Michaela parried back at him. "And why her in particular?"
Ezra looked away. He suddenly remembered how Michaela had first addressed him when he had opened the door to her the day before. He realized it wasn't that action of calling him by his grandfather's name - Ezra Gemmler - that had shocked him. That action was logical; the name had been etched on the clock and finding a clockmaker named Gemmler was possible. No, the shock arose from the fact that she recognized his face, that she knew somehow that he resembled his grandfather, something his mother often told him proudly.
"How did you know I resemble my grandfather?"
"Because I'd seen him," was her simple reply.
Michaela turned from him and gazed out the window, her hand absentmindedly fidgeting with the folded piece of stationary in her hand. He couldn't believe her, and she accepted that.
"What is that in your hand?" he asked her.
She looked down, up to that moments not realizing it was there and now remembering that is was.
She handed it to him. "This morning's dream. I wrote it down. It's the first time I've done that."
"Why this dream?" he asked as he took the paper.
"Because somehow this dream wasn't about the past but about the now. Because this dream seemed to provide instructions and not just information. And because in this dream...I was there."
Ezra looked up from the folded paper in his hand and stared at Michaela, but she had nestled down in her seat and leaned her head back, closing her eyes. Ezra turned back to the paper, carefully unfolding it and began to read. When he finished, he looked at the sleeping young woman next to him.
He shook his head and smiled again. "Remarkable," he whispered, then leaned back himself against the seat and closed his eyes, both of them napping for the remainder of the train ride.
* * * * *
Ezra offered Michaela his hand, assisting her out of the car that had driven them to Flossenbürg. This gesture surprised her almost as much as the private car and driver waiting for them at the train station, prearranged by Ezra the night before.
Michaela had looked at him with confusion and gratitude saying, "You planned to come with me last night?"
"No," he replied looking down at his feet. He paused, then quietly admitted, "I come here once a month. Your unexpected appearance merely coincided with my plans."
Michaela looked at him sympathetically. "Why do you come here, Ezra?"
He looked at her helplessly. "I, too, am trying to...understand." He paused again, and Michaela looked away, allowing him to wipe away his tears. "Perhaps your Mr. Bernstein is right, I will never understand. I can only accept."
She looked back at him and smiled, "Will you share this with me? Show me where you go when you come here?"
"It is not easy," he warned her gently.
Michaela nodded and bit her lip. She had no reply. Then he offered her his arm and they walked through the gate.
Ezra insisted that they first sit through the film, shown in the building which had been the camp headquarters, and translated for her quietly in the back of the small theatre. When it was over they filed out with the other visitors into the camp. Despite her research and the pictures she had seen before coming to Germany, the upkeep of the site surprised her. Ezra knew many things about the camp, not only history - some of which she was already aware of - but small things that only someone who intimately knew the subject could point out. Many of the SS buildings had been preserved, which Michaela found disturbing, but she began to look more closely at the camp extremities when they approached the prisoners' area of the camp. The barracks were no longer there, and the images she had seen in her dreams looked so different from what she now saw before her. Ezra watched as she tried to orient herself in the right direction to find the grove beyond the fence line. She pulled the clock out of her bag, removing its covering. She looked at it, then looked again at her surroundings.
Ezra shook his head. "That grove of your dreams may not exist anymore. Or it may never have existed in the first place, but was merely a representation of something else - a desire, a wish."
She looked up at him, feeling that familiar sting of tears behind her eyes. She nodded, fighting back the tears, accepting that this was probably true. She took his arm again, still clutching the clock in her free hand, and they continued on to the memorial site, each leaving a stone in memory of the dead.
Ezra gestured toward the clock, "Perhaps you leave it here?"
Michaela shook her head. "I can't explain it. It doesn't feel...right. If I leave it, someone else will just pick it up and throw it away...or keep it. And then they..." But she couldn't finish her sentence.
They walked slowly back toward the entrance, the clock safely tucked away back in Michaela's shoulder bag. The afternoon sun was high overhead and the sky was a crisp blue with no hint of the early morning chill remaining. Ezra looked at his watch as they walked out the main entrance toward the waiting car.
"Would you like to head back toward Weiden and have lunch? We have time before the train," he proposed.
Michaela nodded and tried to smile. She looked back toward the camp behind her one last time, as Ezra opened the car door for her. But she didn't get in. She stood frozen, her eye trained off to the side of the main entrance at a small creek running down the hill. Without looking away, she began to walk toward it, and the closer she got the faster she walked.
"Michaela, what are you doing?" Ezra yelled after her.
When she didn't respond, he ran to catch up. She smiled at him as they followed the creek down a small incline. Neither of them spoke as the creek wound its way into the outskirts of the forest. The tightly woven branches above blocked out much of the sun. Michaela reached out and grasped Ezra's hand, an involuntary action, which he didn't reject. Her pace had slowed as she kept her focus on the creek and the surrounding area. The flurry of purple and white flowers appeared so suddenly it was almost as if they materialized at that moment.
"Oh!" Michaela gasped.
She stopped and stared at them, then looked at up at the sun shining down through a clearing in the dense leaves above. She looked around the small area, then dropping Ezra's hand she suddenly ran to a very large, very old tree. The trees branches drooped toward the water and underneath it was a flat stone that jutted partly over the running water. The white and purple flowers were al around the spot. Michaela dropped to her knees and fumbled in her bag with great haste, as if she couldn't get to the clock quickly enough. Ezra watched astonished as she tenderly laid the clock on the flat, mossy surface of the stone and began to speak clearly but quietly.
"Yit-gadal v'yit-kadash sh'mey raba, b'alma di v'ra hirutey, vyam-lih mal-hutey b'ha-yey-hon uv'yomey-hon uv'ha-yey d'hol beyt yisrael ba-agala u-vizman kariv, v'imru amen. (Magnified and sanctified be God's great name in the world which He has created according to His will. May He establish His kingdom soon, in our lifetime. Let us say: Amen.)"
Ezra slowly walked toward her and kneeled down next to her. He took her hand and spoke with her, "Y'hey sh'mey raba m'varah l'alam ul'almey alma-ya. (May His great name be praised to all eternity.)"
She squeezed his hand, tears running down her smiling face, and the two finished the Mourner's Kaddish together. They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Ezra helped her to her feet.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
Michaela then bent down and plucked one of the flowers from its bed. She nodded at Ezra and the two left the clearing behind them as they headed back to the car.
* * * * *
Ezra and Michaela both got out of the cab at Michaela's hotel. Ezra planned to walk the few blocks to his mother's home.
Michaela looked up at Ezra, a frown of uncertainty furrowing her brow. She warily handed the white and purple flower, it's stem carefully wrapped in a wet paper towel from the restaurant, to Ezra.
"This is for your mother, if you feel like you can give it to her," she explained cautiously. "It is a promise finally fulfilled."
Ezra took the flower, concerned. "Whose promise?"
"Your grandfather's promise to your mother," Michaela continued. "Those were the instructions on the piece of paper in my dream."
Ezra stared at her warily and a bit confused. "But you never read the paper in your dream?"
Michaela took a deep breath then reached into her pocket and pulled out a very old slip of paper. It looked as if it had been torn from a book, the pages covered in type. In between the lines, in a jerky script were written the following words in German:
A flower to touch in freedom. My promise fulfilled. I love you, Raisa. Your father, Ezra Gemmler.
Ezra read the handwritten note and stared for a long time at the signature. He looked up helplessly at Michaela.
"That is my grandfather's signature."
She nodded. "I compared it to the signature on the clock."
"Where did you get this? Why didn't you show this to me on the train?" he asked sharply.
"You didn't believe me on the train. Do you believe me now?" She looked into his sorrowful face, then took a deep breath. "When I awoke from the dream this morning, it was in my hand."
Ezra folded the paper and tucked it into his own pocket. He looked at the flower, then nodded his head.
"You are not what I thought, Michaela," and with that he kissed her cheek and walked off down the street.
Clouds blew across the darkened sky, stars glinting through at the breaks in between. And then the clouds passed and the moon shone down on the clearing in the trees. Everything was silent, except for the gurgling of the creek and the faint ticking of an alarm clock. Without warning, a frantic ringing erupted into the silence. The clock hands pointed at 4:17 a.m., and the moss on the stone beneath the clock muffled its frenzied vibrations only slightly. No human hand was there to silence the sound. As it continued to ring its agitated dissonance metamorphosed into a tranquil melody; the ringing fading slowly, the hammer hitting the bell more gently with each passing second until the sound and movement came naturally to rest and silence.
The sun began to rise painting the sky a pale pink with flecks of orange. The clock sat on its perch, out of place and yet peaceful. A breeze gently blew on the leaves of the trees in the clearing and very quietly underneath the rustling leaves was another sound, the sound of children's voices, singing, laughing, living.