Heart of the SunrisebyAdrian Leverkuhn©
The Starlight Sonata, Part III
Heart of the Sunrise
©2008 by Adrian Leverkuhn
(Note: The first part of the Sonata appeared under the title "Woman in Chains"; the second part as "The Stones of Years".)
Once upon a time Tracy had cared about the world she lived in... and the life she'd taken for granted for so long.
But that world, like the life she'd known so well, was gone... The people that had defined the contours of that life had vanished in a confused instant. Now she felt the remnants of that life – if at all – as a pale echo, almost like an old mirror shattered on cold, wet stone. She could look down onto the scattered fragments of her life and just make out the barest semblance of what had been...
Even so, she knew the remnants of that life were still alive – she could feel their echoes in this new dream that had consumed her...
This vast oceanic uncertainty that hazily resembled some sort of life...
'...it's not as if I ever really tried to forget...'
And then the stars would speak to her:
'...but it is gone – for now,' the music would say. 'That world, that life, it has grown silent to you.'
And she had accepted that silence as one might a gift from a stranger.
...remnants of that life were all around her – scattered everywhere. Everywhere – like the scars she could not feel...she saw the truth of that other existence everywhere she looked: the empty kitchen and the clean coffee maker, the cold stove that she had cooked eggs on hundreds of times, the empty pitcher once so full of orange juice... so full of life...
...she felt – that other life – must have been – the truth – once upon a time...
...there were the stars, and they never stopped telling her their stories...
She had been surprised to learn she had no choice but to listen... and learn.
The scars of war were everywhere. Huge open scabs dotted the blackened landscape, virulent sores where Russian bombs had fallen on retreating Germans, whole sides of buildings crumbled and slumped against burned-out ruins – like old drunks dropped dead beside broken dreams after one hard life too many. Trees scorched and tattered, scorched leaves reluctant to bud, dry grass beneath bare limbs, all withered – and waiting.
German had fought a running retreat across this ground; line engagements of a bygone era had given way to aerial bombardments and swiftly evolving battles between heavily armored columns of tanks – but it was the land itself that had ultimately lost this war. Lithuania in the summer of 1945 was a land destroyed by marching armies that had bruised her and burned her and bled her dry.
The dried bones of young men once free to dream now littered fields like stones causally tossed aside by spoiled children. Farms that had produced the lifeblood of generations lay fallow and deserted, centuries-old markets and town-squares had fallen in a battered series of petulant cries. Roads – even if they were little more than cart-paths – disappeared under crimson washes of blood-soaked mud; bridges meant to hold perhaps an ox and a heavily loaded wagon lay broken under the weight of main battle tanks – and now all of man's ill-purposed machines, their rusted hulks still oozing the life-blood of hate from their ruptured guts, lay waiting under a thoughtless sun for time to reclaim them.
So many had fallen – here in these woods and on these grassy plains.
Evil had had such a free hand here among the trees.
...something was astir in these woods. Stars shone down at night on a painful metamorphosis. Waiting for life to begin again, the product of this stunning change drifted among the trees, singing their song of themselves to any who had the heart to listen.
It was this way almost everywhere in the world after the war, but in Lithuania, under the hot summer sun of 1945, it was as if the silence of this new world had quite unexpectedly become unbearable.
On a low bluff overlooking the Neman River southwest of Alytus, nestled deep within the wooded ridges of southern Lithuania, was a small farm located on the edge of a large forest that had been known for hundreds of years as the Vidzgiris. In the summer of 1945, dazed Jews wandered through these woods – until Russians in green uniforms picked them up and sent them to refugee camps.
The Russians who rounded up these walking scarecrows had no way of knowing that many of these wandering Jews had just been released from other camps over the past few weeks; they could not have known these drifting ghosts had only just recently escaped German soldiers in gray uniforms and disappeared into the dark forest with nothing but their lives. These wandering Jews now feared anyone in a uniform, and the boys who tried to help were confused – for these young conscripts had yet to learn the simple truth of scarecrows:
Hate does not concern itself with borders or nationalities – or the color of the wool on a man's back – just as Evil is not limited by those who deny its existence.
Indeed, those first tentative summer days brought with them something like the dawn of a new era, an age when for some people simply eating and breathing in relative freedom took on the distinctive aura of religious epiphany.
...Tomas Podgolskiv found as he wandered through the Vidzgiris that he had become something of an agnostic. He no longer wanted to worship on the altar of gyroscopically-controlled electro-mechanically-actuated steering vanes; he no longer wanted to watch his creations streak into the upper reaches of the atmosphere – knowing as he did they weren't bound for the stars. It had been thrilling at first, he thought as he reached for his wife's hand – until he learned, until the Germans taught him – that these exploratory devices had indeed been intended for other, less noble purposes.
Podgolskiv had scarcely known his "release" was itself something of a minor miracle; and that the Germans had allowed him to live was, he would discover over the next few weeks of his life, something of a mixed blessing. But with this understanding had come a stark realization: life was fragile, and now he was determined to make up for lost time, to make the most of what time he had left on this earth. He would start a family. He would plunge his hands into the earth and raise food to feed hungry mouths. It came on him like a calling.
There were few who could or would realize that this seismic shift in perception had come at a terrible cost...
When he arrived by car in Weimar one June morning in 1944, he had been escorted down wet, empty streets toward a processing center that, ultimately, lead him through the gates of a settlement he had never heard of before – a place called Buchenwald. For such an auspicious day, it had begun in the most ordinary way possible.
He remembered the black sedan, the autobahn, the narrow country lane that ambled north through gauzy amber fields to the sleepy village of Weimar, then walking past Goethe's house, amazed the Linden trees the old man had planted were still so verdant and solid after more than a hundred years, and as he walked by the formal ochre walls he remembered reading Faust when he had been just so – young. Though it had been many years since those quiet words had slipped through his mind in a dusty classroom, something deep and hard stabbed at his consciousness, and echoes of those words beat the air above his head and made him wince. Then just as suddenly, as if a portal between two worlds had opened... the ground around him shook violently...
'But...What is that?' he stuttered loudly when the road ahead filled with stars.
He had, if only inside that sundered moment, stumbled on cold cobbled streets, then guards behind pushed him in the back, forced him onward into the yawning darkness that stretched ahead. But hundreds of stars had appeared in the air all around him – they had been there! - as if inside the brief and the dim pity of self-awareness something had pushed him aside... as if to make room for something else.
Podgolskiv smiled as he walked now, smiled – for what he had seen in the cold, wet air put his mind at ease, and suddenly he felt the light waiting on the other side of the night.
August, 1945. An undiluted sun falls on an indifferent land; the air is still but laden with promise. A solitary field full of shooting beets and potatoes, green and tan and rich, the yielding crops well fed on the blood of hundreds of men and women and children that have fallen on their flight over this very ground not so long ago. A man and a woman on their knees, picking weeds that have grown between rows of crops, killing pests that cling to once-verdant leaves with fingers mud-caked and blistered.
Sweat rolls down the man's face, clings to the end of his nose, falls to the ground only to dissolve quickly under the remorseless sun. The man sits back on his knees and pulls the front of his shirt up to wipe sweat from his face; he shrugs when he finds the cloth already too wet and wipes the sweat away with his hand and flings the drops away.
"My God. I have never felt such heat in my life," the man says as he leans back into his work.
The woman by his side does not pause, she does not look up. Her long, delicate fingers do not belong in the earth, yet she works quietly, without complaint, as her alabaster skin wilts under the brutal afternoon sun. She does not sweat – her body does not know how; yet she can not complain – her mind has grown immune to pain from living in the darkest depths of Hell for four years and even now she equates free speech with sudden death.
The man and the woman have just known love of a different sort.
They have learned what it means to live in the moment, and what it means to live within a world filled with unreasoning hate.
"We must finish this section," the woman replies, her head bent to the task.
They move slowly down the row, and as the sun settles on the far horizon they take a ladle of cool water from a pail hanging in the shade of a young tree. They might dream of better days, but to what purpose?
The woman holds her hand to the light and she examines the graceful arc of her fingers, the intricate delicacy of the music she has produced with them is now long forgotten.
Tracy holds her hand up to the fading sun and regards her fingers with a mixture of wonder and contempt. They seem to respond to the call of someone or something else and the rest of her body follows along like a puppet on a string.
'Why won't you leave me alone?' she says into the gathering darkness.
13 August 1941, it is early morning and Josif Karnavicius leads the huddled and whimpering Jews through the first tendrils of dawn into the dark womb of the Vidzgiris. The day before Russian prisoners dug trenches in the yielding earth, and now locals and a handful of Germans in black uniform stand waiting in the darkness.
Karnavicius leads the Jews to a spot in the forest and tells them to remain where they are for a moment. Men with machine guns close in on the huddled mass like wolves.
A little girl clings to the hem of her mother's dress as sinister shadows take form in the darkness all around, and she watches as the men raise weapons and begin shooting. She is aware of convulsive pain for a moment – then – nothing.
She hovers in this sundered instant, but soon smiles as the darkness around her fills with the light of ten billion suns.