by Bryan Russell
The two naked men nodded hesitantly to each other. They stood in line, not wanting to move. Neither were entirely certain how to hold themselves, but fatigue dulled nervousness, and accumulated fear overshadowed shame. This nakedness was just one more thing. They tended to hold their hands in front of themselves, out of politeness. Their ribs were clearly visible in pale, taut skin, the bones arching toward each other, meeting in the hollows of concave chests.
“Are you from Budapest?” one man asked.
“Yes,” a second man said. “And you?”
“Yes, I lived on Egyesules Street.”
The second man blinked, a light kindling in his eyes. “Is it so? I, too, lived on Egyesules Street. Out past the park.”
“We were near the boulevard. That’s where my home was. We had a beautiful garden.”
“Yes, yes, I know the area. That is strange. Do I know you?”
“I do not think so,” the first man said. “I don’t recall you, though I thought I knew most of the people on the street. Yes? My family was there for many years.”
“Mine, too. Mine, too. How old are you? I cannot tell in here.”
Everyone in this place became indistinct after awhile, features blurring, age creeping over each face regardless of years. Everyone here was centuries old, vast lifetimes washing quickly through their skins.
“I am thirty five. And you?”
“I am thirty six,” the second man said. “It is so strange. I do not recall you. And yet we must have seen each other, yes?”
“So many years on the street. Playing as a boy. Playing football at the park. Many boys were there. Did you play?”
“Yes, I played. I wasn’t very good. If I looked up when dribbling I tripped over the ball. If I looked down when dribbling everyone yelled at me for not passing.”
“I was pretty good, though not as good as my friend Bodo. He was a very good player. Very good.”
“I remember him!” the second man said. “Yes, he was very good. I remember that. I remember playing with him. What has happened to him, do you know?”
The first man looked away and said nothing. They were both silent for a time.
“You had a garden, you say?” the second man said. “I must have seen it. Walking on the street, I must have passed it by.”
“It was beautiful. I worked very hard on it. The garden was already very nice when we bought the house. I was struck by it. That is why I picked that house, I think. I had always liked the garden. Even as a boy, walking to play football. Isn’t it strange? You were there, too. Playing football. Walking past the garden. I think I improved it, though. The garden. I read a lot of books, taught myself. Every spring I would go out planting.”
“Yes, I think I saw that garden. A beautiful garden. Was there a little stone wall? Yes, a little stone wall. And beautiful flowers.”
A guard walked by and the men stopped speaking. Their eyes followed the guard. The whole line of naked men quieted at the passing of the booted feet. The bare feet of the naked men stopped their weary shuffling, still as mortuary statues.
The second man nodded slightly once the guard had passed. “I think I remember you. I didn’t recognize you at first, but I do now. Did you have an older sister? A sister named Myrta?”
“Yes, that is me.”
The second man opened his mouth to speak, but closed it, fearing the silence that would follow his question. He nodded, thinking of the street, the garden, the games boys played, the girls they admired. He could smell the roses, the blossoms on the little tree. “There was a tree,” he said. “You had a little tree, with blossoms. They smelled lovely.”
“Yes, that’s the place,” the first man said.
The second man wanted to ask what kind of tree had blossoms that smelled so sweetly. He knew little of horticulture. But the guard was returning and the whispered voices were silenced.
“Juden!” the guard yelled. “Jetzt, jetzt! Schnell, schnell!”
The line started moving, the naked men shuffling forward.
“It is good to see you again,” the first man said, his lips barely moving.
The second man nodded. “Sholem.”
“Schnell, schnell!” the guard yelled.
The naked men walked into the chamber. The second man was still thinking about the blossoms. What were they? He would have to ask. The memory of the blossoms struck him so sweetly, so keenly, the fragrant taste of them hanging in the air. They would fall in graceful arcs, spinning slowly down to new resting places, gathering in pale drifts amidst the insubstantial ghosts of old petals. Petals, a spring snow atop the green, green grass.