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May 1944 MAG
I hate Americans. I hate their language, their fashion sense, and most of all, their bomber planes.
Every morning, I watch the skies. I listen for the whine of their planes or the whistle of their deadly bombs. I've been trained to wake at even the softest rumble of thunder, to duck even if it's just an old man whistling as he sweeps his porch. This war – these Americans – have taken my safety.
So I hate them and everything they stand for.
When the air raid sirens ring out on a bright May day, like they are now, I think of my loathing for them. It calms me, in an odd way. My personal anger at these foreigners raining fire on my home and country distracts me from the numb fear of those sirens.
My teacher hurries around, pulling the curtains down even though it's the middle of the day. It must make her feel safer somehow. If we can't see the bomber planes, they can't see us, right?
The cold classroom tile bites at my exposed knees as I climb under my desk with the rest of the students. I tug at my uniform skirt, trying to make it cover my bare skin. In the middle of my war with my too-short socks, a tremor rocks the school building.
I can't help it; I cry out, along with most of the girls in my class. The blast wasn't near us, but it's still terrifying to think that it could have been.
Why do they bomb us, a quiet town in the country, not bothering anybody or even having much of an involvement in the war? Lately, those sirens have been going off more and more, but only at night. This is the first time we've been attacked during the day.
Of course we've all heard of the weapons factory built just a little ways out of town, but I thought it was shut down after they built the prison next to it. It should be an empty husk of a building by now. There would be no reason to bomb an empty building. Just another reason for me to hate Americans, I guess.
Another explosion shakes the building, followed by two more. They are getting frightfully close to the school, and I bite my knuckles not to scream.
A girl a row behind me starts hyperventilating. She – Agnes Ulbricht – sounds like her lungs are being torn to shreds with every breath she takes. We all turn to watch her. She looks back at us with terror burning in her eyes. Agnes reaches out to a boy down the row from her.
The boy, Franz Wiegel, Agnes's boyfriend, crawls quickly to her. The teacher hisses at him to go back to his desk, but he ignores her. Franz wraps his arms around Agnes.
“Shhh,” he says to her, “everything is going to be all right. Nothing is going to happen.”
“Th-th-the b-b-bombs!” Agnes gasps.
“They're not going to get us!” Franz laughs nervously, trying to believe his own words. We all want to believe him. “You know what's going to happen once this all blows over?”
Agnes shakes her head. Another bomb goes off, this one closer, and we all jump.
Franz shakes her gently, getting her attention back on him. On his words.
“Once this is all over, we're going to get married. I'll build you a house – with a garden and lots of bedrooms for all the kids you want. There'll be a river nearby, and maybe a cow or two.
“You can paint all the time, because I know you like to. You can paint the living room yellow and the kitchen blue. Put flowers on the ceiling and pies on the windowsills. Anything you want.
“Don't think of those planes, think of our house. Okay?”
Everyone in the class, including me, has been leaning forward. We let Franz take our worries away for a few moments. Those precious moments made me forget my hate. I grasp desperately at the idea of the house he plans to build, wanting to be comforted by the peaceful dream he painted for us.
Then the wall next to me gets blasted to bits.
Blissful darkness never comes to me. I stay awake the entire time.
Ringing is all I hear. Heat is all I feel. Pain hasn't caught up to me yet. My vision swims in front of me as I try to move. My fingers are bloody, and I leave streaks of red – oh god, my blood – on the rubble around me. I shove the remains of the school wall off me and try to sit up.
Sunlight pours through the huge hole in the wall. They air is clogged with dust, causing me to cough. I crawl toward the hole – toward the light and the open air.
I try not to look at the bodies I go past. I try not to see the growing pools of red. I don't think of them as my classmates, or of the fact that they were all moving, breathing, living, just a moment ago.
My shaking arms give out and I sit down hard. A wetness covers my face and the side of my head, making my hair stick to me. I peel my hair from the side of my face, and my hands are covered with fresh blood. I turn away from the sight, feeling nauseated. That's when I see Agnes.
She's covered in dust and blood, just like me, and she holds Franz's body in her arms. His unblinking eyes stare up into the cloudless sky we can see now that most of the ceiling is gone. He was between Agnes and the blast. The back of his head is dark with blood.
Agnes rocks back and forth. My hearing slowly returns, and I begin to hear what she is saying to his still body.
“… and we'll have a garden and lots of bedrooms for all the kids we'll have. There'll be a river nearby, and maybe a cow or two.” Her voice breaks and tears roll down her dirty face, leaving streaks. “I'll paint all the time, because you know how much I like to. And I'll paint the living room yellow and the kitchen blue, and have flowers on the ceiling and pies on the windowsills, and – and –”
Sobs rack her body, and Agnes pulls Franz closer. She wails like a wounded animal, and I have to turn away. I feel like I'm intruding, so I push myself onto my weak legs and climb over the rubble.
When my feet touch the grass of the schoolyard I collapse again. The sirens still scream, but they seem muffled. In the distance, I see dark specks in the sky. They get farther and farther away as I watch, and somehow I know they're the American bomber planes. I try to stir up my hate for them, but I'm empty. I just feel hollow. I've been waiting for them to finally affect me, and I thought I'd hate them even more when they did.
I've waiting for them this long, and so as I watch them begin to circle back around, I decide to wait some more.