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Crystal Night

By , Manhasset, NY
“You hear that, Miriam?” Papa said, his eyes on the leaping lights outside our window. “Those are fireworks.”

My ears tickled from the pops above, and in my mind I could see those nice bright colors in the midnight sky.

“Why are people making noises, Papa?”

“People are just excited,” he responded with his big hand on my head. “Excited to see the actors coming tomorrow.”

He smiled down at me and the light pawed at his cheekbones. I looked over to see Ellie collapse onto the couch, clutching her stomach with a milky white hand. I traced those pretty purple veins beneath her skin, wishing my hands were as pretty as hers. She smiled sadly, and as her ruby lips extended across her face, I thought she was the prettiest girl in the world.

“What’s wrong, Ellie?”

“Your sister is just over-excited…you know how she deals with that,” Papa replied from across our room. Ellen nodded softly, and I laid my head down on her stomach, matching my breathing to hers.

Books toppled over in the background as Mamma stumbled forward. She held up our copy of the Old Testament, looking at it as if she had won it from a battle. She told me we were going to pray. Though confused by why we would be praying now, I kept quiet, not wanting to upset Mamma, who trembled as she sat on the couch. I smiled at Papa as he sat next to me, placing his sweaty hands over my ears to block out the loud fireworks. The fireplace pulsed with warmth and Ellie snuggled in to Mamma, who began reciting the prayer in her silky voice. I closed my eyes. Everything was so…still.

Suddenly, I heard a window shatter. The fireworks howled so loudly in the sky that I could feel their rumbles beneath my feet. The vibrations sprinted their way up Papa’s shoulder and he tensed, pressing his hands against my ears until all the noise melted into one. The dim lights on the ceiling flickered out, the room flooded by darkness. Mamma’s voice rose in intensity.




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The next morning, I was woken up by hands pounding at the door and voices yelling to pack bags. Papa grabbed some of my things; when I asked him why, he answered that the actors had arrived. They wanted us to come with them for the performance. I tucked my teddy bear into my jacket and eagerly waited by the door, anxious to see the show.

Stardust and crystals lined the streets, and happy yellow stars dotted the windows of my favorite stores. The sun had yet to rise, even thought it was early in the morning. As we rushed along the sidewalk behind all of the other people heading to the show, my neighbor, Mr. Fitz, staggered outside, shouting something I could not understand. I asked Papa why Mr. Fitz was so upset, and he told me that Mr. Fitz was simply jealous of the fact that we were going to see the show.

“Why isn’t he coming, Papa?”

“Because, Miriam…he isn’t right for it. The actors don’t want him there.”

We were soon directed into a battered train, the actors shouting orders sharply. They all seemed to stare at the pretty yellow star sown on my shirt. I tried to ask one of them what the performance would be about, but he just waved me off as Papa grasped my arm and yanked me away. He squeezed my hand as we entered the train, my eyes getting scared by the dark. I didn’t bother to ask why it was so dark; Papa had told me earlier that lights would ruin the surprise.

As we sat down on the floor, amongst loud people-noises that my father explained were only caused by excitement, I felt the pulse of the train speed up. Mamma groaned when the train hit bumps along the tracks and Ellie once again clutched her stomach. I could hear thunder and lightning sound outside, the rain drops singing against the roof of the train. Papa looked over in my direction, and he nodded his head assuredly, but for some reason I could see fear in his eyes. I pulled my teddy bear out of my jacket; his fur was cold and dusty. As I squished him against my warm chest, I heard a sob from the corner of the train. I turned to Ellie, who had wrapped her thin arms around Mamma.

“Why is someone crying, Ellie? Are they upset about seeing the show?”

She looked so sad when she lifted her head up off Mamma’s shoulder. Holding my hand, she pulled me into a hug, resting her chin on my hair. I squirmed, confused by such sweetness from her, but she only squeezed me tighter.

“We’re not seeing a show tonight, Miriam.” Ellie whispered. “Not tonight.”

I dropped my teddy bear so that I could hug Ellie back, wondering why Papa would promise me a show when one there wasn’t one.



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I saw as the train began to slow a large gate and building that stretched on for a while. The train doors creaked open, and instead of jumping out into the dazzling light, all the passengers recoiled back, shrinking into one another. I quickly grabbed my teddy bear, and Papa took my shoulders as we were hurried out of the train. After what Ellie had said, I couldn’t decide who the “actors” were supposed to be. On the platform, Papa and I were directed to the right, while Ellie, who was looking less nice and pretty, and Mamma were directed to the left. I strained to look over my shoulder as the crowd carried me away, and all I could see was Ellie’s face. A man wearing a plaited uniform saw my teddy bear and yanked it away from me before I could cry, leaving my arms missing the feeling of his protective warmth.



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I didn’t like what the “actors” did with my hair. I had such thick and dark hair that Mamma used to tell me I had been kissed by a raven, but after my haircut, I had a shiny, pale head with ugly spots. My world became washed with gray: gray, pajama-like clothing, gray teeth, gray eyes, gray faces. Papa’s cheekbones grew bigger and bigger to the point where I thought the skin of his cheeks would rip. I knew Mamma would be worried by the fact that even though I was approaching the age when Ellie had begun to look so beautiful, my body wasn’t changing in the same way.

The “Nat-zes”, as I heard people refer to them, assigned Papa and me to tedious work that I often complained about, but Papa kept telling me to be quiet before the men gave me something worse. A few days in to living in this strange place, I met a young boy whose tan skin and fat cheeks reminded me of the teddy bear I once knew, so I called him Teddy. Every day when we were forced to line up outside so that the “Nat-zes” could shout their orders, Teddy would squeeze my hand and I would feel as though I had become his adult.

The precious days began to blur, speeding past my eyes before I could catch a memory of them, as if they were scared of me. Months passed, and I realized that I had been here for more than a year. Mamma and Ellen were distant figures now; Papa had taken a shower long ago and never returned. I shortened Teddy’s name to Ted when I noticed the chubbiness that had made him a teddy bear had vanished, and it would be inappropriate to call him something that he wasn’t. I realized that the men called the “Nat-zes” in charge of this camp had been “actors” all along: they acted strong and loud, but I could see ugly fear lurking around in the blue pools of their eyes. They were conducting a performance that they were supposed to be the stars of, and there I was, watching with sunken eyes as the show I was once been thrilled to see was becoming a tragedy.



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