Sarah’s mama had a scar across her face that was deep and forever pink; her left hand was missing the smallest two fingers, but she was not frightening to look upon. She had a kindness about her that was more constant and more powerful. Sarah did not fear her, and no one in their small village had an unkind word to say about her.
She had gotten the scar and lost the fingers when Sarah was five years old. When Mr. Cohen had lost control of his plow, it rolled directly into their barn as Mama was hanging laundry across the line. The manic plow tore the wooden structure to shreds with her in it.
The whole village went into an immediate uproar at the injury, and they went after Cohen. But Mama came to, Sarah weeping at her side and uncertain what would be underneath all the bloody bandages, Mama stood, pushed passed the doctor, and strode into the town square to tell everyone that Cohen was not to be blamed. He was a good man, and she did not blame him.
Sarah loved her mother, for her heart was so big. No one bothered Mr. Cohen after Mama said not to. And no one said anything about the scars.
The pounding on the door woke Sarah abruptly. She was eight now. She leaned over the edge of her bed and peered down at the center room as Mama shuffled in her nightdress to the door. “I’m coming. I’m coming,” Mama shouted and then muttered, “At this hour. Who would be out?” She opened the door and a man fell face down at her feet.
She yelped in surprise. Sarah sat bolt upright in her bed.
Mama held up her full hand and waved her young daughter back. “It’s okay, dear. Stay up there.”
The man did not move. He seemed to lie there motionless, and Sarah wondered how he had ever managed to pound on the door. He looked dead now, not that she had ever seen such a thing.
“Help…” he moaned from the floor.
Mama fell to her knees and pushed the man over onto his back.
Sarah could see this mysterious visitor now. He was in some sort of uniform. She had frequently seen other men dressed like him in the village over the past months. The uniform was an ugly brownish-grey, and around the right arm was a red badge of sorts with a white circle and a strange crooked black cross in the center. Sarah had asked Mama what the men were, but Mama would never say. She would just smile and say,
“They are just passing through, my little mouse. They are nothing.”
“Help,” the soldier moaned again. He had red all over his chest and neck, and Sarah knew it was blood, blood like from the plow and the barn.
Mama dragged the man carefully into the entry and grabbed a blanket off the chair by the fireplace. “What is your name, son?” she said softly. “My dear,” she spoke to Sarah now, “bring me the pitcher and some rags.”
“Is he dying?” Sarah asked quietly as she slid off her bed and moved to the ladder. She kept her eyes upon the man; he was breathing loudly, a rattling in his throat.
“Bring me the water, Sarah.”
The man coughed, and crimson came from his lips. He moaned and clutched at the wound in his chest. A pool of blood formed at his throat and dribbled to the floor.
“That… that’s…” he was looking to the window were the menorah had three lit candles flickering gently. “That…”
Mama moved so that she was over him and looking down into his face. “Tell me your name,” she said.
His eyes seemed to roll in and out of focus but came to rest upon the pink scar. He took a sharp breath of surprise and then coughed. He looked away. “L-lionel,” he muttered. “Karr.”
“You just relax, Mr. Karr. You just lay there, and I’ll take care of this.”
Sarah set down the pitcher of water and the rags and then stepped back. Her toes curled under her feet and she thought about going up to her slippers. It was winter, December, and the floor was very chilled in the night. She wondered if she should add a log to the dwindling fire. She wondered if the man would want food. She kept wondering about anything other than the blood dripping to the floor underneath the man.
Finally, she crept to the fire and set another log upon it. She did not look back at the visitor anymore.
“Sarah,” Mama said after a long time. “He’s resting now.”
The man had a blanket over his body and his eyes were tightly closed. He was breathing slowly, and looked very peaceful. Rising, Mama moved to her. Sarah had crawled up onto the chair facing the fire and was hugging her knees. “Will you keep an eye on our friend? I need to go ask Doc Walsh for something for the wound.”
“I can go,” Sarah said quickly. She moved to stand, but Mama put her hands softly upon her shoulders and kept her in the chair. “Just look after him. He’ll sleep.”
Sarah was alone at the fire now.
The soldier groaned in his sleep and Sarah turned to look at him. He moved slightly and touched his bandage. His eyes flickered open and Sarah looked at his face completely, for the first time.
He was young. His skin was smooth, but he had purple under his eyes, which were odd to her. One was brown and one was green. She had never seen such a thing. Their eyes held, but then he drifted back to sleep and she was left staring once more at his young face. She moved to the fire and without realizing it, she fell asleep.
“You know you saved my life?” the soldier’s voice came in the darkness behind Sarah’s eyes as she came out of her deep slumber. Mama’s voice came, “You were hurt. What else would anyone have done?”
Peeking through her lids, Sarah did not open her eyes fully nor move suddenly to let them know she was waking.
“Others… would have let a person like me--”
“Others do not know the blackness that can be put upon the soul by simple acts,” Mama said. “He looks down on us always.”
The man thought a moment and then said quietly, so quietly, Sarah had to hold her breath to hear him over the crackle of the fire next to her. “I don’t believe in that fantasy.”
She could hear the smile in Mama’s words, “No one is asking you to, Mr. Karr.”
He did not say anything else.
“Do you want any more water?”
He must have nodded because he was slurping then.
Sarah kept her eyes closed, and soon fell asleep once again.
The man with the different colored eyes was gone when Sarah awoke to the warm sun cast upon her face the next morning. She stirred and a blanket that had been draped over her fell to the floor. She looked around to the kitchen and found Mama, her back to her, at the stove. Sarah stood and then pulled the blanket back over her shoulders. Though the sun was warm, it was still winter and the cold snuck into the cottage easily.
In the kitchen, she stood alongside Mama and rested her head into Mama’s arm. Mama lifted her arm about, and, still stirring the breakfast porridge, stoked Sarah’s dark hair with her three-fingered hand. They did not speak about the man who had fallen through their door.
Some time came and went, a soon Sarah had grown many inches and Mama’s hair had become a little more white than any of her blonde. They were walking from market when Sarah saw a crowd gathered around Mr. Cohen’s shop. They were all laughing and some even clapping. Mr. Cohen was standing a top his display and stomping carelessly over his tomatoes while shouting at two men in the ugly soldier’s uniforms. They had rifles slung over their shoulders, but they were not using them.
“You tell your master he has no place here! You tell your god forsaken devil of a master that he will burn for what he is doing!” Cohen was screaming louder and more franticly as he avoided the grasps of the soldiers, though they did not seem to be trying too hard to capture him. Cohen went on, shouting to the gathered crowd now, “They’re going to take us all away, you hear me? They are going to take us to those structures they’ve raised and we’ll never be seen again! They have machines there! They have contraptions that – that take the souls out of people! They have machines and death and – and we’ll all be destroyed! Do you not hear me? Their soulless, unclean devil master is – is coming down like – like a dragon!” The crowd laughed at the crazed man as he kicked squashed tomatoes at the two men.
Sarah looked confusedly at her mother, and then moved to get a closer look, but Mama held her hand. “No, let’s not be involved. We have shopping to do.”
“But,” Sarah began to protest.
“We have shopping,” and Mama walked them the other direction. Sarah could still hear Cohen screaming and the crowd laughing at the odd scene.
It was winter again, and the wind was biting. It sliced into the house and Sarah’s teeth chattered ever waking moment. She was nearly twelve now. She waited for the clock to chime so that she could put another log down, when a heavy pounding sounded at the door. Mama was out, so Sarah moved to answer the door.
“Open up!” a deep guttural shout ordered from the other side of the door.
Sarah hesitated. “Who…?” she began, but the door tore open with a snap of wood at the bolt. She screamed in horror and stumbled back.
A man in the strange military uniform stepped swiftly into her home and was followed by two more men with guns in their hands. The lead man shouted angrily at Sarah, and in her fright, she did not hear a word. He grabbed her around the wrist and she screamed loudly. She did not know where her mother was. She could not think. She could not feel her feet as the man pulled her into the snowy yard and toward the market. He kept yelling at her and the other men. She could feel the edges of her nightgown growing damp and she knew her feet were covered in mud now.
The market was full of people, everyone for the village it seemed. And they were all shouting and crying, and they were all so confused. Sarah was screaming for her mother, but she was crying too hard to know if the words were even escaping her throat. She was thrown into the muddy snow at the feet of so many, and tears were in her eyes. And she thought she could hear her mother shouting over the chaos.
“You will let me pass, sir! My daughter is alone in there, and you will let me pass!
Sarah got to her feet with the help of some hands and she could see a parting in the crowd before her. It was her mother she heard. The soldiers were moving into a half circle facing the villagers, and Mama was before them forcing them back. She was raising her voice, and it was an unfamiliar sound; it was something none of them had ever heard. Sarah’s mama was shouting.
“You get back! You all get back! Now! All of you!” Mama carried on. She had tomatoes in her basket, and she was now throwing them at the men, and it was not funny like when Mr. Cohen had been doing it. No one was laughing now. It was quiet and only the wind now dared hiss in the village square.
The man who had dragged Sarah from her warm home, who had dragged her from the warmth and safety of the fire stepped forward and raised his pistol to Mama, and he sneered with yellow teeth.
“WAS IS LOS!” a voice boomed and the soldier turned sharply along with the other men in the uniforms. “What is this!” the voiced repeated and a man stepped through the ranks. The strange uniformed men all seemed to snap into a straight posture and looked forward with rigid stares. This man was in a different uniform, cleaner and more warmly dressed. He had a thick black beard that covered the bottom of his face, but it did not soften his yell. He marched over to the man pointing the pistol at Mama and barked at him, “What is the meaning of this scene?”
“The woman,” the yellow-toothed soldier said. “She was…”
“Then you end it!” the other barked viciously. He snatched the pistol and walked closer to Mama. He looked down at her and raised his arm straight.
Sarah screamed in horror and shoved her way out of the silent crowd. She flung herself over her mother and put herself between the gun and its target. The man shouted and waved his flinching soldiers back. “Nein!” He moved to the mother and the child and pulled Sarah off Mama. Sarah looked up at the man defiantly, unblinking.
And she knew that he would not kill them.
The beard had grown thick over his once young face and there were cracks at the edges of his eyes, one brown and one green. He stood motionless over them, the gun pointed at the snow and mud.
“Sir…” the other soldier said.
“We received orders from an imposter,” Karr said sharply though still remained staring down at Mama and Sarah. “A saboteur.”
“S-sir?” the other said.
Karr turned sharply and faced the man and all the men. He shouted again in a very authoritative voice, “This saboteur is believed to be English, and he is on the move East. We must track him down before he can destabilize anymore of our missions. We must move NOW if we are to capture this man.”
The men hesitated for only an instant, and then all of them moved every which way with purpose. They grabbed up crates and filled up their vehicles. They moved in organization without ever looking back once for any more orders.
Karr looked down upon Mama and Sarah; he looked up at the shocked yet still silent village. He said nothing. He looked into Mama’s scarred face one last time and then turned on his heels and stomped away.
Before the sun could warm into Spring, the village was empty. Mr. Cohen’s field was overgrown and thick with tomatoes, but he was not there to pick them. Sarah heard that the buildings in the North that had the contraptions that took people’s souls were getting bigger and there were tales of more of them, but she did not listen to the tales. She laughed with the others and smiled with her Mama as they moved further and further from the village. She never asked questions. No one did, that she ever heard.
© T.C. De Witt