Ever so slowly, I chip away at my novel. Just like The Little Engine that Could, I find myself slowly chugging up the mountain, straining to reach the top. The problem with writing a novel (particularly a historical fiction novel, which relies as much on historical accuracy as it does creative license) is that it’s an up hill climb the whole time. And simply finding the time to write is proving to be the biggest hurdle of all.
I need another week in California to knock this thing out.
Whatcha think, Babe? Think I could sneak away for five more days?
You wouldn’t miss me…right?
Here is another sneak peek at the novel that I am fighting to finish. I hope you enjoy.
Set up: Maria and Polina have been sent from Kiev, Ukraine to Northern Germany to work in a slave labor camp assembling armaments for the Nazi’s. The conditions are poor, just a step above those in the concentration camps.
A deep, rattling cough has settled in Polina’s chest and I see her movements slowing down steadily. She is sick and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. Nothing but offer her half a piece of stale bread and a hand to hold on to in the dark.
It’s been a little over a year since the war began – since everything changed. I have nothing left of my former life but the memories that haunt my dreams – the echoes of laughter and sorrow that mix together in a swirl of black and yellow each night. I worry about Sergei and wonder where he is and what he’s doing. Is he alive? Is he well?
I have convinced myself that Anna is safe and refuse to consider the possibility that she might not be. I’ve heard from the other girls that when they examined our hands at the train station, they were looking for strong hands that could perform hard labor. If the hands looked too soft and the girls too dainty, they were sent to another part of Germany to work as housekeepers or nannies.
I pray this is where Anna is, because then I know she must be safe. In a house full of children with only the chores of cooking and cleaning, Anna will be in her element and it gives me hope for her survival.
I cannot think of Mama and Papa without my chest burning with sorrow. How frightened they must be with all of us gone and no hope for knowing where we are. It is the thought of them that gives me the most heartache.
It’s dark tonight and we are finally heading home. We work sixteen to eighteen hours a day and the labor truly is wretched. We stand the whole time, sometimes lifting heavy containers. My fingers are raw and rough from the long days of moving metal and turning and screwing on the caps that will seal the fate of one of my countrymen.
Polina wheezes steadily next to me, her chest giving off a deep rattle. She is so sick.
“You shouldn’t work tomorrow,” I say, my voice thick with fatigue.
“If I don’t work, they will kill me,” she responds.
“I thought that’s what you wanted,” I answer quietly and immediately regret my words. Polina labors forward a moment in silence.
“Yes,” she says finally. “It is what I want, but…” She grows quiet and I wait as a coughing fit racks her body. Stopping to lean forward, I hear her coughing up fluids and spitting bitterly in the grass at our feet. I cannot see her in the dark, but I can guess that she is spitting out blood and my heart goes cold.
Taking a breath and straightening up, Polina pulls hard on my arm. “Help me back,” she whispers. I hear the sound of the German boots coming up swiftly behind us.
“Walk quickly!” he snaps, jabbing me in the side. Polina and I stumble to catch up to the moving line.
“I don’t want to die at their hands,” Polina whispers, her voice tight and constricted. “I don’t want them to have the satisfaction of hearing me moan as they burn my body alive. I want to die on my own.”
It’s true, what she says. I know that it is. I haven’t seen the ovens where they burn the bodies, but I’ve heard of them. They are real and sometimes girls are still alive when they’re lit. Tears prick my eyes, hot and bitter as we step across the threshold of the camp, our home in hell.
“I just need to lay down,” Polina says and I nod. Most of the girls make their way to the bath house where they will wash off the grime of today’s work, but I turn with Polina and we slowly walk back to the barrack. I pull Polina through the door and set her down gently before heading to the lamp and striking a match to light the wick inside. The single, burning lamp gives a light orange glow which dimly flicks at each barren wall with a sorrowful shadow. I pick Polina up under the arms and drag her to the small pallet on the floor that is left for the sickest girls who are unable to climb into the bunks along the wall.
She is so light, her body nothing but skin stretched taught over bones.
©Kelli Stuart; October 2012
The Nester has issued a 31 Day Challenge in which we write for 31 days on a single topic. Over 1,000 people have joined in and the internet is ripe with learning and encouragement right now. I have chosen 31 Days of Believing I Can. Scroll down for more of what I’m learning as I embrace confidence. Today, I believe I can finish this book…by the time I die. Let’s just go with that.