The sun was a child and fighting through the gray, overcast sky. There was a cool breeze slithering through the cobblestone streets and most people had just finished breakfast. Gray was the day’s wardrobe.
“Please close that damned window Mary, I don’t care for the smell.” Mary’s mother said to one of the two young girls sitting at the table. The day’s gray arms were reaching into the kitchen.
“Please don’t change the subject ma!” Mary said while being both firm and respectful. It was a skill taught to her by her mother. Her young lips curled at their ends, as if she were going to cry. She probably was.
Mary’s mother’s slim body leaned against the kitchen wall with her skinny arms tied in a knot over her chest. Her green eyes stared at the wooden floor. She studied the grain of the wood in a way similar to how most men studied her shape. A couple of years over forty, she looked to be untouched by time since thirty. The mother of Mary had always been beautiful. That beauty had taken her to different corners of the world, kept her hands soft, and her voice kind.
Funny, these things we are born with. The places they take us, and the lack of control we have over them.
“C’mon mom. We want to know.” This time it was Ruth, the other young girl at the table, talking.
“It’s just a very difficult thing to explain.” Her green eyes studied her two, sitting, daughters. She looked at their butter-colored hair. Everyone in that small, smoky kitchen had hair the color of lemons.
“You always say that!” Mary said, again with that same balance of respect and firmness.
“Yeah, mom.” Ruth wasn’t much of a talker really. She let Mary take care of that for the most part.
What else are older sisters for?
“Well, I say it because it’s true. It’s a very difficult thing to explain to young girls.” Ruth’s mom took a second to place one thought in front of the other. She licked her thin lips and looked into Mary’s oceanic eyes. Mary’s high cheek bones were starting to look like her mom’s. In a couple years, she would grow into a body just like her mother’s too.
Silence walked through the kitchen for a few minutes, as the girls’ mother took their plates to the white sink and washed them. The two girls looked at each other and tried to mouth words to each other. Their mom could hear their silent words and returned to the table.
“Okay fine, then let’s actually talk about it.” Both the young girls straightened their backs up in their seats and there mother sat down at the table with them. The girls’ parent placed her soft hands under her delicate chin. She really was beautiful. Beautiful in a way you just have to see to understand. A way that cannot be described, because to talk about it would scare it away.
“I know that it can sound scary when everyone starts yelling. You just have to ignore them. They are fanatics.” Her voice sounded funny to the girls, and they felt fear beginning to lick their insides. Their tiny chests began to expand and twist, just like when they heard those people yelling.
“Understand too, girls, that they aren’t going to hurt you.” This was some form of comfort. “Everyone here knows your uncle, and nobody would ever do anything to hurt you.”
“But, what do we do when people start talking about it?” Mary asked.
“You just try to change the topic.” Mary’s mom was quick with this response. “There is no use talking about these things. These people. It just gets people into a frenzy.” Her green eyes began to die a little. Fear eats everyone differently.
Ruth sat with her small hands together, staring at them. Mary sat in a similar way. Outside the house, and up the cobble streets, kids began to walk past the house. School was starting within the hour. The sun was still losing its fight with the cloud cover.
“You two should get ready for school, you’re going to be late.” Ruth’s mom said, looking out the window.
“You still didn’t answer the question.” Ruth said, with her dark eyes looking at her hands. She had the darkest eyes of the family, but they were still considered beautiful by the majority.
“Yeah.” Mary chimed in.
“What was the damned question again?” She said with a little smirk. “Oh yeah, ‘what do I think of it all?’”
“Yeah.” The two girls coughed out together.
“Well I think it’s silly. I think the whole thing is really silly. The stuff on the television and the radio, is never as bad as it seems. These reporters just whip us into a frenzy for numbers.” Her beautiful, tiny, face began to animate itself. “Your daddy thinks so too.”
“He does?” Ruth asked, with a little bit of venom in her molars. She missed her father, and did not understand where he was.
“Of course he does! He thinks it’s all so silly. The last letter he wrote me; it says so. He is all the way on the other side of the country, he says it’s so different there. There are no rallies, no protests. The people here are just bored.” She handed out a smile to the girls. They took nibbles of it.
“Afterall we don’t disagree with all of it.” Persuasion always sounded insincere on her voice. She never knew how to be sly. “So, you don’t need to actively speak out against it.” This part began to sound rehearsed.
“What does that mean mom?” Ruth asked, breaking the silence with her sweet eyes.
“I am saying that we don’t need to speak against it. It’ll all blow over. It always does.”
Reason, masterfully mutilated, had entered the room. It offered a compartment to place the young girls’ fears. The three of them continued their little talk for several minutes. Momma bear reminded her cubs of how much she cherished them, how much she loved them.
She kissed Ruth’s forehead, right above her earth colored eyes. Then, reaching across the table, she kissed Mary’s cheek. Right beside her earth colored eyes. Although she was nearing her wit’s end, she loved her children very much.
Young feet continued to patter up the streets. The sun, now almost a teenager, bit through the clouds and shot gold rays onto the sleepy town. Children were making their exodus to school rooms.
“Well girlys, how are we?” Mary and Ruth’s mom asked.
“I’m good mommy, I love you.” Ruth offered.
“I am good ma, I love you.” Mary offered as well.
“Good. Just remember, that these people only shout words. We ought not to worry about words. Don’t listen to them, they have nothing to do with you. Focus on your studies and work hard at school and before you know it, it will be summer time!” The girls laughed and smiled with their eyes as their mom held out her arms to symbolize the joy of summer. “Now go get ready for school!”
The girls got up from the table and made their way upstairs to get ready for school. Their mother sat at the table for a moment with a blank face and a sleepy soul. She missed her husband, but knew he would be on leave soon.
She placed a single white cigarette in her mouth as a comma to whole conversation. Once lit, the comma began to burn at one end and the brief pause became finite. Smoke pulled and stretched towards the ceiling of plaster and the girls’ mom thought about nothing. It was a welcome thought in wartime.
Gold rays shot through the window, and along with them the breeze. On that breeze a foul hitcher followed.
“Oh, please do keep the damned window closed. I cannot stand the smell.” Mary’s mom said as if there were someone in the room. She got up and closed the window with her soft hand. Grabbing a towl from the counter she covered her fragile nose.
Down the street, from Mary and Ruth’s home, there was an old apartment complex that had just received a couple hundred new tenants. Around the same time those new tenants moved in, the plumbing to the building had been cut off. Big, bright, yellow stars had been painted on the sides of the building, and boys would throw rocks at the windows. Across the freckled brick face of the old building someone had written with white paint, “Juden.”
When the the wind would blow from the south, it would drag its belly over the building and bring its stench into the rest of the town. It was a mixture of burning trash, human feces, fear, and death. The smell was one that follows a soul into the depths of hell. The smell was one exclusive to true, unadulterated, fear.
This is what hate smells like.
The people who scared Mary and Ruth, the ones who would shout and scream, had moved those people there. Even though Ruth and Mary were told not to speak about it, they wanted to. Everything about that apartment building scared them. Everything from the stars painted on the sides of the building, the smell, sad big-eyed people who lived there, to the new red flag that hung from their window terrified them.
The building scared most of the people in that town, but no one would speak about it. Instead, they would change the topic, and dismiss their fear. People of the town would just avoid that side of the village.
The smell was a different story. They would keep their windows closed day and night, trying to defend against that smell getting into their homes. No matter how hard they tried, though, the smell always found a way inside. It always does.