Thought I'd post Chapter One of my work in progress. Every once in a while I like to see my work outside of its normal habitat of MS word, see it in a different setting, a different light. One of the things I love about the Amazon Kindle is the ability to send documents to it to read. I've sent my first book there before and was amazed at how different the book looked and felt as I read it. While the Kindle isn't a "book," per se, there is a concreteness about it that merely reading the work on my laptop doesn't have. This is the first step outside of the comfort zone: letting others read the work.
The Reclamation of Karel Benakov: Chapter One
“This is who you are now,” he hands me the papers. We stand outside the car, his family, inside, not watching us. The wife stares out the passenger-side window in the opposite direction. I can’t see but can picture her face: tight and pinking with anger. The son, head bowed, reads a book as if it were any other outing to the country that they used to take before, long before. The daughter feigns sleep. He has stopped at a large stone building outside the town we had just passed through. I do not know the name of the town. He faces the building. I face him.
I stare at the papers. At the name scribbled in his impatient handwriting.
“That is who you are.”
Before I can speak he is returning to the car, its engine rumbling, rattling, anxious to continue, to get back on the road. I take a step forward but he drives away. I watch, waiting for him to stop, to change his mind, take me with him but he doesn’t. In the side mirror I see his face, eyes wide and set on the narrow dirt road as if it were extremely treacherous and he were in danger of plunging off the side of a cliff instead of driving on an unpaved country road. He doesn’t look back. Only the son does, one quick glance up from his book followed by his tongue sticking out at me. Victorious at last.
I wait until the car has finished its path down the dirt driveway, onto the road and out of sight. I look at the papers again, crunch them in my fist and stuff them in my coat pocket. With a deep breath, I kneel, scoop up a handful of dirt and dust and smear it on my face, then dust my coat and muddy my pant legs. With my satchel in hand, I turn to the building.
As I enter, not bothering to knock because it doesn’t strike me as a place, a door on which one knocks, the smell strikes me first and foremost, moldy, moist air, stale, as if the outside has not been allowed to enter the premises for months or maybe even years. After the crispness of the country air, my lungs seize and choke from this thickness. I stand breathing in the entryway, small and sparse, with only a wooden chair pushed against the right wall. The door closes behind me with an understanding thud and a click, leaving the light outside. I wait for my eyes to adjust to the dimness. In the absence of clear sight, I hear noises, far off, muffled by distance and walls, laughter and childish squeals, people at play, sounds that belied the ominous dark in which I stand, the silent foyer closing in on me. But still I don’t move, don’t seek the voices. I stay in that darkness. Setting my satchel down, I sit in the lone chair, its wooden parts creak, even under my slim weight, and echo in the hollowed-out room. The white walls ghost in the paltry light sneaking in around the cracks of the door frame and from the other rooms to which the entryway leads. The walls are dingy, ugly, and bare, not a picture or mirror interrupting their whiteness, save for one wooden crucifix stationed above the doorway. The other rooms, which I can not see except for their entrances, wait for me on either side of the end of the entryway. Further beyond them, a staircase climbs upward to more unknown areas.
I grip the handle of my satchel and bring it up to my lap. I look at the door from which I had entered, at the light glowing at its edges. My stomach tight to the point of pained. My jaw the same. Leave and go where? I didn’t know where I was, where he had brought me. Germany, but other than that, not a clue.
I stand, the chair scraping at the wood floor as if it too wanted to get away. I walk toward the other rooms.
The first, on the left, is as empty of people as the foyer, which I had suspected, the noises, the laughter and occasional squeals that still came were too far off, but there is light and furniture, old and beaten but comfortable looking. Couches, three of them, positioned in a U-shape in the center of the room, and numerous chairs of all kinds: wooden ones like the one in the entryway, upholstered ones with a mix-match of fabrics, stools and ottomans, scattered, somewhat haphazardly, but all facing the large fireplace on the wall to my right as I stand in the doorway. There is burnt wood in the gaping mouth of the fireplace and, walking over, I place my hand inside, letting it hover, feeling the slight heat still emanating from within.
In the second room, much larger and longer than the first, I find rows of tables and chairs, a dining area. Also empty. I wander in. The light here is brighter, shining through the curtain-less windows. I look outside from where I had come. The road beyond the grounds of the house are empty too. I knew they would be but, of course, I hoped they wouldn’t. Hoped he had come back and was waiting for me, despite the wife.
Turning, I walk to a door at the back corner of the room. Even before I encase the knob with my thin hand, I realize the voices are closer, though still just incoherent bursts. Opening the door, I step into a kitchen, also empty save for the lingering odor of prepared foods: breads, gruel, maybe eggs. I take a deep breath, yes, eggs, and sausages. My stomach aches for sausages. How many mornings had I stood outside his house, chopping their wood or washing their clothes, while the wife prepared breakfast for her family. How many times did the aroma of sausages breathe out of the cracked window in heated clouds that hovered over my work. She opened the windows on purpose, knowing. How many mornings did I sit outside in the freezing cold gnashing on molded bread and equally molded cheese while they sat at the table feasting on sausages. He had tried to sneak some out to me in the beginning but the wife found out and beat me. I told him it was worth it but he couldn’t see me like that, he said, so he wouldn’t try again because she would know. She took meticulous inventory of their food.
I stand, weary and wavering within the aromas that inhabit the kitchen. I am alone. I could easily find some food and take it away with me. They would never know I had even been there. They wouldn’t look for me or report me. I didn’t exist to them. Fill my satchel with breads and eggs and meats to last for days. A peal of laughter reminds me I am not entirely alone. Outside the windows of the kitchen, I can finally see the children, the ones who’d been laughing and squealing. They are running around the yard, playing, oblivious to me in their kitchen. A woman stands watch, on the perimeter of their play. A tall woman, large but not fat. Very German, I think to myself, in her stance, her strength and poise, the set of her jaw and the fold of her arms. She looks stern but the children don’t seem to be afraid of her, running about her in circles, flouncing the hem of her gray dress as they whirl past in their games.
In an instant, she pivots her head toward the windows, toward the kitchen, to me standing there. I think I should run but don’t. I am not scared. I don’t care that she’s caught me.
She says something to the children, who barely acknowledge her words, and then she walks across the yard to the door leading to the kitchen. Once she inside, she stops in the entryway. The voices from where she had come were louder, clearer, more excited. We looked at each other for a moment before she spoke, “Was ist das?” Her voice wasn’t angry or as stern as she looked. It was merely a question.
I pulled the papers out of my pocket, holding them out to her.
Moving to me, she received the papers, eyes slightly narrowed as she regarded me. She read the papers quickly then looked at me again. “You are Charles Werden?”
It took me a moment to decipher the name. I blinked once, twice, then spoke, “Yes, I am Charles Werden.”