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The International Writers Magazine:

Red Like Me
Lisa Timmerman

Zittau, Germany, 1933
I have never waited this long. Not for something unknown to me – or the other thing, the one that’s already become unknown to me. My situation is my secret. Until they return. I can’t think of any more ideas that would provide me with a reason for hope.
I look around again. I’m in a cellar room, that’s all I know. Just a few hours ago, I wasn’t alone in here. Now, they’re all gone. Dragged out of the room, some of them dead within hours of being held in this room. I still remember each of them stumbling inside – hand-cuffed and bleeding, their eyes trembling with fear.

Within hours, large pools of blood were covering the floor. I still hear the screaming. Now, the pools of blood are gone. Everything is dark-grey, even though there is enough light shining in through the chinks of the door to make some colors visible. In front of me, the chair to which they tied me a few days ago. Otherwise, the room is empty – apart from myself and the chair, I can only see dirt and dust, some spiders and woodlice.

I’m not grey. My hands are covering my knees. I feel that being confronted with the sight of both when I wake up would be too much. But I know I won’t sleep. I don’t want to look down on them again. I close my eyes and see the faces of my brother and my parents as they learn that I am dead. I’ve always been someone who enjoys dramatic scenes, but right now it’s not my choice, I can’t influence the images that are filling my head, ready to drain any sense of sanity out of me. I try to imagine them happy, like on my nineteenth birthday. Mutter had bought me a hat, not realizing it was two or three sizes too big. I remember her laughing when I put it on. It was hiding most of my face. Lukas laughed the loudest, as usual. He especially liked laughing at me when I was reading poems. Generally though, we had the same taste in literature: Remarque, Tucholsky, everything we’re no longer allowed to read.

My brother. He was better at everything. He always had the greater ideas, the more elaborate plans, the more fascinating women. Still, my envy could never diminish the love I felt for him. Feel. When I think of him, it’s even more impossible to think that I will … I try to calm myself down, as I’ve been doing for the last twelve – ten? –eight? days. I guess I should begin to get used to it by now. I want to know what time it is. I want to know what day it is. How can we define time? How can you gain any understanding of time? By experiencing it like me at this moment? Or by using it, in liberty, with the near-certainty that you have enough left of it?

If I make a decision, will I be happier? I try to sleep. How long have I not slept for? It’s more than a few days. I’m such a coward. Feigling. Schwaechling. Out of fear I cannot sleep, cannot think clearly. I’m hungry, at the same time I’m feeling sick. In a few minutes I will probably have to throw up again. What would Lukas think if he saw me like this? Crying, whining, wetting my pants. What’s waiting for me? So far I’ve survived. But I don’t believe I’ll make it. What a weird feeling to realize you have overestimated yourself for so long. Until one day, one hour in which everything changes.
Red, the color of love. I’m full of love. I laugh out loud at this thought and begin to scratch my hands in order to show some more of that love.

Suddenly I hear the lock turning and the door opens. One of the men enters and stops in front of me. I don’t look up anymore. I feel that I’m calming down. I think less about the future, I let things go. I’ll accept my fate, and I won’t let my fear lead me to humiliate myself again. This abhorrent fear that is threatening to destroy everything. I sense that it is making them angry to see that my voice is no longer trembling when I answer them, that my eyes are now dry and that my pain is slowly turning into my secret.

I always thought I was courageous, brave, strong. Now I know that it even takes me a great effort to complete the smallest tasks I set for myself. I never would have thought that I am so weak. But that’s no longer important. What’s important is that they don’t know about Lukas and the others. I could never forgive myself if that happened.
"Einen Namen, sofort! It’s a waste of time to still have you live. You give me a name or you’ll be hanged, right now!" he screams while he grabs me and starts smashing me against the wall. For a few seconds I cannot hear or see anything. Then he lets go of me. I fall down and throw up. He gives me about half a minute, then he begins to kick my knees. I hold my breath so as not to give him any satisfaction by crying out. I am ashamed, so ashamed, but for a moment I thought…
Lukas, I would never give away. But I thought… for a second…
If I gave away Walter’s name, I could go.
No, they would never let me go.
And I could warn Lukas, send him away, force him to disappear.
He’s safe, he’s too smart to let himself get caught.
I’m a pig. Ein mieses Schwein.
"I was alone." I can barely hear my words. I look up. He shakes his head, grinning.
"You really think I’m stupid, don’t you?" He is still grinning as he kicks my knees again, then my genitals, several times. I’m straining to stay quiet.

Red is the color of power. I have power. I laugh heartily and don’t stop when he pulls me up and beats me in the face, again and again and again but I’m still laughing. He throws me down on the floor and starts kicking me. I laugh and laugh and suddenly I realize that I really do have power. A tiny bit I have, at this short moment until I’ll stop laughing. And hatred. I never thought I would ever hate this much. I used to avoid it. Indifference is much more useful. But what is useful for me at this point? Even love is inside me right now, even though my laughter is fuelled by contempt. I feel so much love that I know I can’t do it, I can’t betray any of them. This moment becomes eternity for me even though it’s so short, even though I cannot go on laughing for any longer. I cannot breathe. For a few seconds I think I’m going to die, but then I slowly recover my breath. He stops kicking me and starts laughing. Then he leaves the room, filled with a sense of power.

And yet again I have to wait. I want to die, please let me die, on a rope so big that it’ll take me minutes to die and I feel sufficiently punished for my endless foolishness. Meine Dummheit. Have I ever managed to accomplish anything I set myself out to? I can’t remember. Please don’t let me disappoint myself even more.
The man comes back in. "Heil Hitler", he says with pleasure. I can barely open my eyes. "I said, ‘Heil Hitler’", he repeats. I ignore him, almost indifferently.
I still love indifference.
"Oh, I’ve already made you deaf? Good for you, then you won’t hear the interesting news I have for you." He kicks me in the stomach. "Wake up, pig."
I guess it’s too late to try and defend myself.
"Your gutless brother was found dead in an attic. One problem less for me." He laughs.
I don’t believe it.
"You really can’t hear me, can you? What a pity."
I must not believe it. I must not believe it. I must not believe it.
"So you need to tell me only one or two more names, not a difficult task. Depends on whether you still feel like surviving, now that your precious brother is dead."
I fight the urge to scream, I mustn’t let it show.
He comes nearer and watches me closely. "Your brother has hung himself, this gutless namby-pamby boy, this piece of dirt with no will and character. Disgusting." He spits on the floor.
"He would never kill himself. He has more right to live than any of you… dumb slaves." My voice sounds unfamiliar, uncanny. I taste blood in my mouth.

I don’t feel anything when he kicks me again. After a few seconds or minutes, he stops abruptly. "Now you’ll learn that it would have been of more use to you to believe in our ideals than in your miserable little brother who already shits his pants when he just imagines getting caught." Then he leaves.

Lukas is too strong, he would never…
He was afraid of not being strong enough, he thought he could save me, he knew what they’d do to us.
He must have gone into hiding, he’s gone into hiding.
He’s dead. And it’s my fault, I’ve destroyed everything, any chance for us to get through this. Why couldn’t I have been more careful? Suddenly, I can see him again. In front of a huge pile of presents. On a bench with Walter. By a lake, fishing rods in his hands. In the kitchen, with mum sitting on his lap, laughing hard. In his room, kissing his last girlfriend. Crying, even though I’ve never seen him cry. In the attic, cord around his neck.
I start searching the floor, meticulously, without hope. It seems like a miracle when I find a sharp stone, just right for this kind of purpose.
No longer will I have to think, wait or hope. I take the stone and use it. And think of the color red again.
Red, the color of love.
© Lisa Timmermann Jan 2008

Lisa is studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at the university of Portsmouth
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