The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places, it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness.
Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived, I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast.
This time, everything was too late.
The sirens. The cuckoo shrieks in the radio. All too late.
Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood.
They were glued down, every last one of them. A packet of souls.
Was it fate?
Is that what glued them down like that?
Of course not.
Let's not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds.
Yes, the sky was now a devastating, home-cooked red. The small German town had been flung apart one more time. Snowflakes of ash fell so lovelily you were tempted to stretch out your tongue to catch them, taste them. Only, they would have scorched your lips. They would have cooked your mouth.
Clearly, I see it.
I was just about to leave when I found her kneeling there.
A mountain range of rubble was written, designed, erected around her. She was clutching at a book.
Apart from everything else, the book thief wanted desperately to go back to the basement, to write, or to read through her story one last time. In hindsight, I see it so obviously on her face. She was dying for it-- the safety of it, the home of it--but she could not move. Also, the basement didn't even exist anymore. It was part of the mangled landscape.
Please, again, I ask you to believe me.
I wanted to stop. To crouch down.
I wanted to say:
"I'm sorry, child."
But that is not allowed.
I did not crouch down. I did not speak.
Instead, I watched her awhile. When she was able to move, I followed her.
She dropped the book.
The book thief howled.
Her book was stepped on several times as the cleanup began, and although orders were given only to clear the mess of concrete, the girl's most precious item was thrown aboard a garbage truck, at which point I was compelled. I climbed aboard and took it in my hand, not realizing that I would keep it and view it several thousand times over the years. I would watch the places where we intersect, and marvel at what the girl saw and how she survived. That is the best I can do-- watch it fall into line with everything else I spectated during that time.
When I recollect her, I see a long list of colors, but it's the three in which I saw her in the flesh that resonate the most. Sometimes I manage to float far above those three moments. I hang suspended, until a septic truth bleeds toward clarity.
That's when I see them formulate.
They fall on top of each other. The scribbled signature black, onto the blinding global white, onto the thick soupy red.
Yes, often, I am reminded of her, and in one of my vast array of pockets, I have kept her story to retell. It is one of the small legion I carry, each one extraordinary in its own right. Each one an attempt-- an immense leap of an attempt--to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.
Here it is. One of a handful.
The Book Thief.
If you feel like it, come with me. I will tell you a story.
I'll show you something.
About the book:
HERE IS A SMALL FACT - YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION - THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH
It's a small story, about:
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.
ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW - DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES
Excerpt from Swing Time
- Zadie Smith
Excerpt from Breakfast at Tiffany's
- Truman Capote