The introductions were relaxed but complete as befits three people in a small room, she the linchpin knowing each of the others, utter strangers to each other, save in her stories. The men stared at each other gently ensuring the other saw only a smile for the better part of two minutes, basking in the silence that introductions demand. “I am really surprised,” the older man said, “it is truly odd, but you look at absolutely, exactly like what I imagined the adopted son of Isadore Myers would look like not more than 30 seconds ago.” “It is truly odd,” the younger man replied, “you look nothing at all like the man I met in this room not a second more than a minute ago, and why, pray tell, is that woman over there smiling?
We kept them together to protect them, he said, though we did make the men wear the red And yellow badge. You must understand, this was for their good. We didn’t want them corrupted by our Catholicism, so we had to ensure we would not mingle with and debase them. There were our bankers, without them the King would’ve made tax demands on us and a kingdom cannot long survive on the broken backs and empty pockets of its people. And anyway, they knew they need not comply, after all what’s a pound of silver fine to a Jew.
Some, mostly of us, said we were the chosen people, as if wandering the desert for 40 years was the grand prize, okay of Sodom got the runners-up gift. I didn’t buy it then, don’t now, even after I sold my membership as the price of final freedom. No, we were, still are, the people of the candle and oil lamp, the latter far too sooty these days, playing hell with our smoke detectors. Two every Friday, and Hanukkah is good for forty-four, and on the anniversary of a death, just one, but that to burn a full 24 hours. So while our butchers fatten their thumbs for the scales, and our bakers tell their wives they won’t be home for dinner on Thursday nights, busy braiding dough, it is our candle makers who have chosen us as their kind of people.
The house is suddenly empty standing alone on a stark barren lot. The old drapes are drawn tight and little light enters, but there is no one there to see it. Every once in a while there is a rattle, a creaking, and you expect someone to appear in one of the now dark windows, the door to be thrown open, an invitation to enter or at least a wave, life asserting itself within, but it will not happen. You know the house cannot stand long unattended, that it will, too soon, fall away leaving only a hole to mark its presence.
On the anniversary of the start of a war one feels almost compelled to speak to its horrors, its cause, its effect. But we live in an age where wars are plentiful, when peace is the exception and war seems to loom around every corner. So on this anniversary I watch the snowy egret stare into the pond outside my window, the great bird calmly imagining that in her world all of the people are merely fish.
The salmon people don’t live here anymore you have moved them up the river, then inland so they no longer need to wander.
The salmon do not swim here anymore you have dammed the rivers to draw out their power and penned the mighty fish where the river first licks the sea.
The eagle doesn’t fly here anymore the great pines that sat for generations below his aerie are now cut into neat supports on which we hang our walls.
Our children do not run here anymore they have moved to the cities, have gone off to wars for fighting is the only job which they are given.
We have no rivers we have no salmon we have no sons, save those who sleep under neat white stones. We look for the eagle a mighty spirit but he, too, has been claimed by the others to decorate their buildings. We have only our spirit to guide us and we know that soon you will claim them too and leave us as you arrived to repeat the sad story.
No one is certain who painted the words on the wall. No one knew when the painting occurred, someone noticed the words one morning and told others, and the word spread through town. People stopped to look at the words, but few understood what they meant. Soon there were pictures drawn around the words, familiar faces, and people would stop, add words until the wall was a mural that could not be forgotten, only ignored by those who simply wouldn’t understand.