The sky is tainted with the color of blood from the war, sending families searching for lost loved ones amongst the rubble left by fires and bombs sent forth by the enemy. The winter air is harsh against my stockinged legs as I stroll down the sidewalk heading home. I have already returned the laundry I finished pressing for the Aronowitz family and with my pay I was able to purchase a few groceries, but on most days our meals consist of cabbage and potatoes since the Fuehrer’s army has wiped out our meat supply. We trade cigarettes for coffee or flour and on the best of days we get to eat at least two meals.
As I steadily walk against the wind, I turn onto my street. Small houses sit quietly on either side with shades pulled to, as if saying you mind your business and I'll mind mine. People are too afraid to leave their homes unless it is necessary. They are fearful of the questions the soldiers ask and afraid their answers will be the wrong ones, leading them to be shot or taken to work camps. Or worse, forced to fight for the wrong side. I look up from the sidewalk to see a man leaning against my front gate. I straighten up my posture and put my shoulders back to show I’m not afraid of him.
He pushes off the cast iron fence to stand up in front of me. “Excuse me, are you Maggie?”
No, but I can’t lie because if he is German it will only make matters worse. However, he doesn’t look German with his dark hair, almost black, and his eyes are the furthest from blue. A genuine, kind smile stretches across his clean shaven face and he doesn't look malnourished or sickly. I realize I have waited too long to respond. “Yes, I’m Maggie.”
“May I come in and speak with you?”
“I guess.” My gut feeling remains quiet. He takes my bag of groceries and follows me through the gate and up to the door. Once we are in the foyer, I take my groceries back from him and lead him to the kitchen. “Please have a seat. Would you like some tea or coffee?”
“Either will be fine, thank you.”
Silence falls over the room as I warm the water for the tea, and it is his voice that finally breaks the silence. “I know you are wondering who I am.” I look over at him and turn around to place my back against the wall. “My name is Ben. This is going to sound very crazy, but I came here fr- from a different time.”
“A different time? How do you mean?”
“Well, from a few decades in the future. In… my time, I purchase this house. The one we are in now. It survives the war and I had started moving my things in and went to place something in the attic when I came across a metal, yellow box in the corner. Inside were your journals and some photos.” He reaches into a leather messenger bag hanging over his torso that I had not noticed until now. He pulls out a bound book, my journal that I currently keep upstairs.
“What? That is private! Where did you get it?” My voice is the loudest anyone has spoken since the war started.
“Please, I don’t want them. They're yours, but look at the dates on the entries if you don’t believe me.”
I snatch the book off the table and start flipping through it. It is filled with pages of writing, all in my handwriting. He slides a photograph across the table and I pick it up more gently than I did the book. The back of the black and white photo is dated two weeks into the present. I flip through the journal some more and it goes on for months into the present. I reach my hand out and search for the kitchen chair to sit down.
“How did you get here.. from the future?”
“My uncle is an inventor and he has built a time machine. It’s the world’s first.”
As I listen, I pour the tea into two cups. I hand him his and place sugar and milk in mine. “And you can go to any date, any time?”
“Then why come here? Why not go back and prevent this war?”
“There are serious repercussions for meddling with time. To go back and prevent the war will change significant events. Coming back to save you though, will have smaller consequences.”
“What could possibly keep you from saving the lives of millions of people?”
“I lost family in the war. My dad was forced to fight while my mom took me and fled to the country. My dad was killed by an air raid in Falaise. Look, I know it seems crazy and unfair, but I just can’t stop the war. I can at least save you. Your journals make me feel something I never thought I would. They made me fall in love with you.”
The air raid siren starts howling and interrupts our conversation. We make our way to the basement to wait it out. My time in the basement has increased over the past couple of days as raids have been getting closer and more frequent. I light the lantern so we can see as we sit on a cot I have set up. Some nights it’s easier to sleep down here to avoid being stirred by the sirens. I try not to do it often since the basement tends to be too cold at night and the moist air will only bring about a case of pneumonia which in this war, could kill me. I sit reading the journal entries I haven’t written yet. I can tell I did write these. Their pages have yellowed at the edges and some of the corners have been chewed by time. The creases in the binding suggest it has been opened many times, perhaps read twice as many. There has been a lot in this world that I have been taken back by. The fact that one person has convinced others that a single race is superior over others, that an innocent person can be imprisoned or killed by not flying the correct flag or for simply being Jewish. I have never heard of someone falling in love with a stranger simply by reading a journal. I close the book and look up to see Ben studying me.
“I’m glad you came and I’m glad I was able to meet you, but I have elderly neighbors that rely on me to make their meals and tend to their chores. I may not live through this war, but I have a duty to my people. If I stay here, I can help them and if I leave, it may result in the deaths of those that are dear to me. I can’t abandon them, I would be abandoning myself. You can’t love me, outside of these journals you don't know me. I’m sorry, but I can’t go with you.”
“Please reconsider! There is nothing wrong with putting your safety first! Save yourself!”
“There is something wrong with it. It’s not me. It’s not who I am. I don’t have a family. It’s just me.”
Ben’s head hangs and his palms catch his face. He breathes deeply into his hands and once he raises his head, his glossy eyes are damp in the lantern light. The sirens fade into the cool evening air. We climb our way back up the ladder to the rest of the house and as soon as I latch the door to the basement, a knock swifty raps on the front door. I open the door to find two men in full uniform. Their hair is as blonde and white as snow and the ice blue of their eyes are unfriendly and tired.
“Good evening ma’am.”
“Good evening.” I can feel Ben's chest pressing against my shoulder and it offers a comfort I didn't expect.
“We notice you are not flying the correct flag.”
“That is correct and I don't intend to.”
“What she means to say is that we haven't received one yet, but I was about to go to town to buy one,” Ben cuts in.
“That is certainly not what I said or meant!” I turn and look Ben in the eye and then look back at the men. “I have no intentions of flying that ugly flag so if you don't mind you can leave now.”
“Oh sure we will leave, but you will be coming with us. Arrest her!”
“No wait! Please! I will get her a flag, just let her go!”
They pull me from the house by my wrists and force me against the wall as they tie my hands behind my back. Ben stands in the doorway looking terrified. I look him in the eyes and tell him with a forced smile, “It will be okay.” The German officer leads me down the walkway and through my gate. They put me in the back of a truck that is already so packed full of people, that I am forced up against the barred doors. The smell of urine is overwhelming and I wonder how long they've been in here. I turn my attention outside the door window to Ben and as the officer goes to arrest him next, he starts resisting and fighting the officers. In the scuffle, another officer walks up and without warning, a crack of his weapon sends Ben to the ground. His body lays lifeless as I scream for him, “Noooo! Ben!” I sink to the floor of the truck and sob underneath the others who are forced to stand.
He came back to save me, but the person that needed saving, was himself.