Classes approached. Mildred was emailing for help planning her course. Students were requesting syllabuses and “I really need to get an A.” One confused sophomore asked if Eran would be his thesis advisor. On the other hand, Eran had a supplementary stipend for the year, his rent was holding steady, and Stefan had been uncharacteristically complimentary about the revisions to his spring seminar paper: One more round, and you’ll have a journal article on your hands. So things could have been worse.
But Eran wasn’t ready to go back to school. One last weekend, he swore, one last lazy Sunday before I have to grow up again.
Ian was of the same mind.
“Cam keeps telling me everything’s gonna change. No more nights out, no more days to ourselves. I don’t know. It’s just a matter of setting priorities, really. And we’ll have to do it. With the promotion, I’m going to be traveling. I won’t even be here half the time.”
“Doesn’t that bother you?”
Ian shrugged everything off. He could afford to. His leased, oddly stodgy Buick Enclave took the grooved pavements of Lexington as if it were cruising on fresh blacktop. He had already spilled at least three espressos on his console: Thank god for detailing, was his reaction. “We’ve gotta pay for the wedding. Plus the kid’ll need a college fund. Maybe private school. Study-abroad. Cam says she’s going to stay home – someone has to make the money.”
“So that’s your plan for the world? Let everything go private because you can afford it? To hell with the rest of us?”
Ian’s look was not without sympathy. “And how would you be doing, right now, if you could respond to the world as it is, not just as you want it to be?”
Eran lost every argument, and knew he deserved to. His case had at least some merit, but he got too irritated and brought it up at times when it wasn’t even relevant. Like today.
And then there were his biographical liabilities. The nonprofit social services group for which Eran had been operations manager – no advancement, but a living wage! Benefits! Purpose! – had folded during the recession, too obscure to draw the affluent donors that kept other orgs afloat.
Which was why, many Sundays, Ian the younger brother/success story paid for Eran’s lunch. Today it was Mai Village and pho.
“Why the past-life thing, anyway? Dad and Mom think you’ve had a psychotic break.”
“Illusion of control, maybe. If I can’t respond to the world as it is, maybe find a different world so I can?”
Eran heard himself say this and realized it was an exit line. He might, in fact, be psychic…
Some gardens had been spared, but not this one: boots tramping on it all night, and the men digging their feet in desperately as they were pushed into place. The German captain was lining them up by the wall.
Someone’s child had been torn away, was crying, would live. It might not have been anyone’s child anymore. Mothers and fathers had died, panicked and ran.
Things like this weren’t done to people like her.
I can’t believe it. They will.
(It was her thought and Eran’s. He was frozen. She…)
Her legs worked on their own. She passed the captain as if floating. Destination: husband. Him. They were beyond names, on to the irregular scar behind his ear and the blue stubble he could never scrape off.
I won’t. I won’t. To her ears she sounded determined. She might have been begging. (Eran physically tried to pull back. He couldn’t help her. They would make her face the guns.)
Whatever alchemy passed between her and the captain, she had never seen before. Mercy. A miracle. Her husband’s hand in her own: she was leading him away from the wall. A last thought for the men who had no one to plead for them – who were, perhaps, hating her as their last act – and they were free, he was trembling, she whispering: Lean into me. Don’t listen. Go.
Eran looked up at Ian.
“You’re looking confused, dude. Was that one?” Ian hardly tried to hide his grin.
“I just saw a bunch of people murdered.”
“Oh.” Ian looked down at his bowl and said the only thing there was to say. “I’m sorry.”
August 24, 1914: Massacre at Dinant, in Belgium. German troops kill civilians amounting to as much as 10 percent of the town’s population.