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Somewhere Good

"But mommy," Emilie whined. "Why can't I come home?"

“Honey, you know you can’t come back yet. Not until everything has settled down.”

She held the phone awkwardly, standing on her toes to try and reach the table it was resting on. "I wanna come home, Mommy. It's boring and there's nothing to do and I only have one doll and she’s lonely and Léon says I'm a pest and it always smells like soup here."

Emilie waited for a reply, rolling further up onto her toes so as to hear more clearly. After a long pause, her mother sighed, but didn’t reply.

"Mommy, I'm really not a pest. I don't even like soup."

"Goodbye, Emilie," her mother said, annoyed now, but relieved. "Please don't worry me like that anymore. Only call if it’s a real problem. It’s dangerous for you to call here, honey. You know that.”

“But Mommy!” The phone clicked. “This is a real problem.” She whispered those last words to the room around her.

The room said nothing.

Emilie sat on the floor beside the table, dejectedly playing with her one lonely doll, when her cousin burst through the door to the kitchen.

“Emilie, they’re here!” he said, waving his arms around in his panic. “They’re telling us we have to leave now!”

“But where are we going?” She hadn’t totally finished her question before Léon had scooped her up into his arms and continued his frantic race around the room. She could hear heavy footsteps coming from the hall outside, and angry yells in a harsh language she failed to understand.

“Léon, who’s here?”

“The Germans, who else?!”

They were roughly ushered out of the house, pushed out onto the street. Léon stumbled forward, still holding onto Emilie, landing amongst a small collection of peculiarly dressed Jews. Some were in states of half-dress, some were bundled up in what appeared to be the majority of their wardrobe. One woman looked as if she had been surprised in the middle of a bath. Her hair hung around her face and neck in wet, soapy tendrils, and she appeared to be dressed in a combination of undergarments, a man’s clothing, and a bathrobe.

Léon placed Emilie down, grabbing her hand as they took their place among the odd bunch. The German officers were not far behind them, and they herded the group through the town, joining with other similar collections of Jews and Germans along the way. They walked for quite some time, until they finally reached the trains on the outskirts of the town.

Several train cars were sitting there upon their arrival, a row of dark monsters with gaping mouths for doors, waiting maniacally but silently for their next round of victims. Léon and Emilie were packed into the train cars with the rest of the Jews, Emilie quietly clinging to her cousin lest they get separated in the confusion.

She turned to look behind her as the officers finished cramming people into their train car, catching a last glimpse of sunlight before the monster clamped its rusty mouth shut with a bang.

The two had finally started to calm down a bit when the train screeched into motion. Emilie held Léon’s clammy hand with as much force as her tiny body could muster, as if their closeness was the only thing that could protect her from the chaos surrounding her. Fear kept her silent for some time, but eventually she gathered up the courage to speak.

"Léon, where are we going?" Emilie muttered into his coat.

"Somewhere good, Emmie, you heard them."

“Where’s Auntie?”

“She went shopping, remember? She’s probably still out.” He turned away from her, marking the end of the conversation.

“But will the Germans get her too?” She tugged his sleeve and he turned to face her.

“She’ll be fine, Emmie. She’s always fine.”

He pulled her closer to him, his arm draping around her as she nestled into his shoulder. She pushed his arm away to look up at him, searching his face for some sign of comfort. His eyes were set ahead of him, looking steadily towards something distant that Emilie failed to see. Even in the dim light of the crowded train car, she could see how pale his face was.

"Léon?" she whispered.

"Yeah?"

"I don't wanna go."

"Try to sleep, Emmie. Everything will be okay." She squeezed her eyes shut and rested her head against him, as the train raced through the night towards somewhere good.

She felt as if she had only been dozing off for a moment when light flooded the train car. The door burst open with a terrible screeching sound and Emilie moved away, trying to shrink back into the shadows that clung to the darkened corners of the train car. She blinked in the light, trying to regain some sense of awareness as sleep rapidly left her. She had very little time to do this, however. She had barely gathered her senses when several officers started removing everyone from the train car. Everyone was pushing towards the front of the car, Emilie losing Léon in the clamor. She felt an officer’s arm snake around her waist, and before she had time to protest she was roughly placed on the ground and led along with all of the other Jews pouring out of neighboring train cars.

She stumbled along, lost in the sea of much taller people surrounding her. She saw a few children around her, clinging to their mothers’ skirts and looking around either in fear or in apathy, sucking their thumbs or twirling a lock of hair around a finger.

Emilie wondered where her own mother was right now. Did the Germans get her, too? She though of her mother at their home in Paris, setting the table for supper so everything would be ready when Father got home. Did the Germans get her then? Did they come in during the middle of supper, or worse, during the middle of a bath like that other lady she saw? Or was she still safe at home, playing the piano or reading a book with a cup of tea, while Emilie was stuck in this awful place? Tears stung her eyes, but she brushed them away with an impatient, dirt-stained hand. She found it difficult to understand why she had been sent to live with Léon and Auntie Camille to be “safe” if she didn’t feel at all safe now, in this dirty, loud place with tons and tons of angry Germans in starchy uniforms and hats whose brims cast shadows over the soldiers’ eyes.

She felt a hand grip her shoulder and she tensed up in fear, thinking it to be another officer come to take her somewhere even more awful than where she was now. But as she felt the arm slide around her tiny shoulders, she looked up. It was Léon, a look of relief on his face. They continued to be pushed along by the ever-moving crowd of Jews trying to obey the barking orders of the Germans.

She clutched Léon’s arm, staying beside him as a line of people formed both in front and behind them. The line moved surprisingly quickly. At the front of the line stood a group of German officers. They pointed and yelled and dragged people in the line towards two different areas, but she couldn’t tell where these places were. Beyond the officers lay several buildings, all gray and all ugly. They seemed to speak to Emilie, warning her of the dangers that lie within them but at the same time enjoying her fear.

Within a few minutes they had made it to the front of the line. They stood in front of the group of officers for a moment before the tallest of the bunch began speaking in his angry language. Neither of them had any idea what the man was saying, which only seemed to make him more agitated. Finally, a woman close behind them leaned in to Léon.

“They’re askin’ you how old ya are, darlin’,” she said, her French broken but understandable.

No sooner had Léon replied to the officer than he was whisked away in one direction, and Emilie in the other. She screamed, trying desperately to hold onto the sleeve of Léon’s coat. Her efforts were futile, however, as in mere seconds Léon was totally out of sight and she was being jostled towards a large gray building by a crowd of women and children like herself.

The woman who had spoken to Léon before grabbed Emilie’s arm and pulled her close.

“Don’t worry, darlin’,” she said, patting Emilie’s head in an attempt to confort her. “You’ll see him soon.”

They were standing outside one of the buildings now, a new group of German soldiers ordering people in different directions.

“But where are we going? Where is he going? What is this place?”

“I think this is just a rest stop or somethin’. But the officers said we’re headed someplace good.”





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