Mischling

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Authors: Affinity Konar
desk on the rear wall. They were fastened through the iris, pierced with pins, all assembled as neatly as children at roll call. They were colored like a pretty season: green and hazel and brown and ocher. A lone blue eye stood at attention on the periphery. All the eyes were faded in the way only living things that no longer live can be, their irises veiled with husks of tissue that stirred when a breeze lilted through the window. At their centers, the silvery winks of pins assured their captivity.
    Though just a girl, I had ideas about violence. Violence had a horizon, a scent, a color. I’d seen it in books and newsreels, but I didn’t truly know it until I saw the effects of it on Zayde, saw him come to our basement home in the ghetto with a red rag over his face, saw Mama go soundless as she bound his nose with the scrap torn from the hem of her nightgown. Pearl held the lamp during this procedure so that Mama could see, but I was shuddering so much that I couldn’t assist her. I should be able to say that I saw violence happen to Mama when a guard came to our door with news about the disappearance, but I kept my eyes closed tight the whole time, sealed them shut while Pearl stared straight ahead, and because my sister saw it all, I felt the images secondhand, felt them burn on the backs of my eyelids—I saw the guard’s boot glow and furrow itself in Mama’s side as she lay on the floor. Pearl was angry that I was not an active witness, and so she forced me to take it all in, and when I begged her to stop subjecting me to such sights, she informed me that I had no say in the matter, because she would never look away, not ever, no matter how much it hurt me, because in looking away, she said, we would lose ourselves so thoroughly that our loss would require another name.
    So, I knew violence. Or I knew it well enough to understand that it had happened to the eyes. I knew they’d been torn from bodies that belonged to people who deserved such better sights than what they’d last seen. And even though I was unaware of what the most beautiful sight could be, I wanted to give it to them. I wanted to travel the whole world over, from sea to mountain and back, and bring to them an object, an animal, a view, an instrument, a person—anything that might reassure them that even as violence tore on, beauty remained, and it remembered them still. Realizing the impossibility of this, I gave the eyes the only thing I could: a tear crept down my cheek.
    “Why are you crying?” Nurse Elma demanded. She shut the door on the eyes, but not before they saw my tear.
    “We’re not crying,” I claimed.
    “Your sister’s not crying”—she jerked her snowy head at Pearl and then crouched to face me—“but you are. What did you see in there?”
    The truth was that I couldn’t describe what I saw. But I knew that I’d never stop seeing those eyes, that they’d follow me for all the days I’d live, wide open and blinkless, hoping for another fate. I knew that I’d sense their stare the most whenever I heard of someone being born or wed or found. I knew that I’d try to shut my own eyes, just to have some peace, but I never would be able to shut them entirely. True closure, I was sure, would escape all of us.
    “I saw nothing,” I protested.
    Drops of moisture from the hailstorm beaded Nurse Elma’s face and they dove to the floor, one by one, while she resorted to her standard tactics.
    “I know you saw something,” she insisted as she shook me. “I just want to be certain that we saw the same thing. I want to know this, because I do not want the other children to be frightened by any of your wild stories. I am familiar with children like you. Lovers of fiction! There was a girl here once, she told a story about what she saw, a story that was not true, and do you know what happened to her?”
    I told Nurse Elma that I did not.
    “I can’t recall either, not specifically. How can I be expected to remember? There are

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