If I Should Die Before I Wake, page 1
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chatting with Han Nolan
Also by Han Nolan
National Book Award Finalist
A Face in Every Window
Copyright © 1994 by Han Nolan
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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"Nightmarish Days," from Lodz Ghetto, by Alan Adelson and Robert Lapides. Copyright © 1989 by The Jewish Heritage Writing Project. Used by permission of Viking Penguin, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
First Harcourt paperback edition 1996
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
If I should die before I wake/Han Nolan,
Originally published: San Diego: Harcourt Brace, c. 1994
Summary: As Hilary, a Neo-Nazi initiate, lies in a coma, she is transported back to Poland at the onset of World War II, into the life of a Jewish teenager.
1. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Juvenile fiction.
[1. Holocaust, Jewish (1939–1945)—Fiction. 2. Jews—Poland—Fiction. 3. White supremacy movements—Fiction.] I. Title.
ISBN-13: 978-0-15-204679-8 pb
ISBN-10: 0-15-204679-8 pb
The text is set in Cochin.
Designed by G. B. D. Smith
O N M L
This is a work of fiction. All the names, characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this book are products of the author's imagination. Any resemblance to any organization, event, or actual person, living or dead, is unintentional.
To Brian, my husband,
and to my parents, James and Eileen Walker
for the patience, faith, and love
And to the memory of the six million Jews
whose faces I never knew,
yet whose voices I somehow heard
SHE'S LOOKING AT ME. She's looking at me like she knows me. It's the armband. She must have seen it when they carried me in. People see my armband and right away they think they know me, know all about me. They don't know crap. I know her, though. I don't need any armband to tell me about her. It's written all over her what she is.
She's still looking at me. That's her kind, looking at me like she knows me.
Hey, you don't know me. So don't look at me like you do. You think with that grandmaw look you're going to undo me and find some sweet young thing hiding behind my armband? What you see is what you get. It's all you get. You're just like my mother and the Rev. and them all. Like any second I'm going to change back into that nothing of a girl I used to be and open my arms and say, "I love you. I love you all." Forget it. I'm not some Barbie doll in a beauty contest. Screw it! That's not me. Never was. That's just who they want me to be. And why? For who? Huh?
You want to know who I am? I'm the worst possible thing that could happen to someone like you. And if I weren't trapped or strapped or wrapped or whatever the hell I am, I'd show you. See, cause I know you. I know who you are. I can tell a mile away. Jew lady! Yeah, I know you.
What you doing here anyway? You some kind of guard? You here to see I don't beat the crap outta some sick Jew? This is the Jewish hospital, isn't it? What a joke on me, huh? Having a motor cycle accident in some Hebe town and coming here to the freakin' Jew hospital. Yeah, I remember that all right. Dr. Bergensteinburger, or something, right? All of you have those look-at-me kind of names. Those so-very-Jewish names, so you can recognize each other without having to fart first.
Can't you speak or what?
Nah, you're just like all the others. Can't talk to someone like me, someone from my side of the tracks. You think you're better than me? You're nothing! Nothing! Hey, don't look at me, lady.
Yeah, now that's better.
You ever hear of us? Huh? White Power, lady! We ever come crashing against your door in the middle of the night? Maybe a rock thrown through your window? Yeah, I know, kid stuff.
We got the whole Hebe neighborhood quaking in their stinkin' stringy sideburns once, though, we sure did. Redesigned their whole freakin' cemetery. By the time we got through with it, it looked like some bloody massacre took place there. Yeah, I spray painted everything in sight, so it's like, ARI—WHITE POWER—GOLDSMITH and then a big red swastika under all that Rest in Peace business they write. Yeah, bet they aren't resting in peace anymore in that stinkin' place. Made the front page of the newspaper, too. Not our local paper, that small-town crap wiper, but the freakin'Philadelphia Inquirerl How about that?
And that's nothing compared to what Brad and Billy H. and Chucky B. did last night or yesterday or whenever the hell this accident happened. Hey, picture it. They dress up like Bozo the Clown, all three of them, and kidnap this Jew boy. Wrestle him to the ground in the woods back of the library. Only dumb old Simon Schulmann would be at the library till closing time on a Saturday night. He'd been there the past three Saturdays so it was practically guaranteed he'd be there again this time and taking the shortcut home through the woods, of course. Lazy Jew. See what being lazy gets you?
Always he comes out dressed in these pants that I swear don't reach down to the top of his ankles. He's got these skinny black suspenders on, too, like he's afraid his pants might slip an inch and maybe he'd look normal. Of course he always has on his little beanie cap Saturday nights, the hypocrite. He wears the thing every freakin' morning climbing on the bus, but soon as he sits his butt down and Mommy's out of sight, off it comes. If he really believes in those beanies, why the hell is he always taking his off? I'll tell you why. No balls. Jews have no balls. That's what Brad says, and he's right, too.
You know what Brad and them did with him? It's a riot, it really is. I only wish I could have been there to see old Simon's face. Girls aren't allowed to do those kinds of things in the group, but I would if I could. I would if I could. Simon's on my school bus, lives right behind me, anyway. He'd recognize me—but Brad and them, they've been out of school a couple of years already. Hey, but I'm the one who chose him as our victim. I did that all right.
So, they stuffed him in one of the big orange lockers they got in the boys' locker room at school. He's pint-sized anyway, just like all Jews. Tiny little monkeys, what they are. Tiny little crooks.
Hey, I know what you're thinking. Poor little boy. Poor pitiful little boy. He's thirteen, okay? That's not so young. He can take it. Don't look at me with that shame-on-you look. You don't know, Grandmaw.
He's all right. Even if we are on spring break, Brad said, he was screaming loud enough to wake the dead.
So what anyway. I don't care. I don't care about him or anyone except Brad.
Brad, now he knows me inside and out. He's the only one. Where is he anyway? He get hurt? Huh? You gonna talk to me, Jew lady? Look at me. Jews are always looking at the ground. Brad says it's 'cause they're always looking for pennies. Rich Jews. Rich bitch Jews. What you need to be scumming for pennies for?
I don't like the way you're looking at me. Don't pity me. Hey, don't pity me. Why do people always do that? All my life people are always pitying me. Teachers, they're the worst. They give you that simpering look and then come up and put their arm around you like they're your best buddy. They don't know me. They don't know what I'm thinking. Like when my father died. When a whole freakin' office building my father was working on collapsed and crushed him to death because his Jew boss was doing some dirty dealing with the construction, what did they know about how I felt? Nobody knew. But my teacher figures she knows all about it and she says, "Nancy dear, why don't you go sit next to poor Hilary. That's a good girl." Then, when Nancy's settled next to me, with her snooty nose flipped up toward the ceiling like a pop top, Mrs. Doyan adds, "Now, boys and girls, I want you all to be extra nice to our little Hilary Burke today, something very sad has happened to her father."
So of course at play period every kid in the freakin' school's asking me what happened. That's how understanding that bitch was. Yeah, she really cared.
So what anyway, right? All the hell I ever wanted was to have people leave me alone. If she had really understood, she would have at least known that about me.
So how come I can't see anything but you? Huh? Can't even see my freakin' body. Can't even move.
Know what you look like? Like some old bag lady that slept with her face pressed into the cracks of a sidewalk all night. Yeah, it's true, some gray old bag lady.
Where is everyone? Where's Brad? You can tell me that at least, can't you?
Screw it! He'll be here. He'll come. And wait till you see him. He's got eyes the color of blue ink and the biggest shoulders. Like rocks—hard, you know? I remember the first time I really got a good look at him. Yeah, I was spying on them one night down in Hack's basement. Peeking through the window. Well, hey, all that yelling I was always hearing when they'd go marching down my street, what'd you expect, right? I had to follow them, see where they were going.
So what do I see but like ten of these major hunks all with their shirts off, and they're standing in a circle and one of them's got a hefty set of weights on his shoulders and the others are counting while this guy tries to lift it over his head. I recognized Hack and a couple of the others 'cause they went to my school a couple years back, but this one guy—Brad—only time I'd seen him was out in front of the 7-Eleven, where he once actually winked at me. Then when I started walking away, eating my stupid doughnut, I could tell he was watching me. Really, I could feel his eyes on my back.
Anyway, when they rolled the weights over to Brad, he picked them up like it was marshmallows on either end of a toothpick, I swear. And he does like seventeen lifts; more than any of the other guys. When he passes it over to the next guy, Mick, I can see this boy doesn't look so hot. He picks up the weights and the others start counting and it's like, one, tuh-ew, thur-eee, fff-our. His legs are shaking like he's trying to steady an earthquake, and the weights are lopsided, one side about to conk him on the head.
He loses it after six and everyone jumps back to let the weights crash to the floor. Then it gets really weird. Mick starts backing away and all the others, without any signal, they get into this line facing him and start stalking toward him. Then Mick starts crying, swear to God, and when his back comes up against this table, he turns around, pulls down his pants, and bends over. Yeah, really. And then Hack pulls out this long stringy whip thing and they each have a go at Mick, with Brad being last and whipping him seventeen times. Then Mick pulls his pants back up, turns around to face the others, and wipes at his nose. He raises his right arm straight out in front of him, palm down, with his fingertips almost touching Brad's chest, and he starts shouting, "Heil, Hitler! Heil, Hitler!"
The way he said it, man, like he wasn't just five seconds ago bent over having the blood whipped out of him. He stood so tall, and the others, they all together do this turn-around thing with their feet so they're facing the same way, and they all raise their hands and join him. "Heil, Hitler! Heil, Hitler!" Then they put their arms on each other's shoulders and they're shouting, "Strength through unity! Power through hate! Kill Jews! Kill Jews! Kill Jews!" And I'm there, down on my knees under a freakin' bush that smells like cat pee, trying to figure out how I'm going to manage to get up enough courage to say something clever next time I see the steamy guy with rocks for shoulders. Hey, I won't forget that night in a hurry.
Yeah, he'll come get me, all right. We stick together, us Warriors. You'll see.
Bet you he didn't even get hurt. I go flying off that motorcycle and whizzing through the air like a stone from a slingshot, and what'd I hit? Something, I know that, 'cause it felt like my whole body just shattered into a million pieces at once. I remember that, I sure do. And then snap, everything goes blank like at the end of a videotape when the movie's all over. Well, I'm here now, I'm alive—right?
Hey, where you going? Well, good riddance to you. You finally took the hint. Only a Jew would stand here like a dummy and listen to someone insult them and then look at the person like she's the one to be pitied. Only a Jew would do that. Only a dumb Jew. Hey, yeah, dumb Jew, get it. Dumb, a person who can't speak. That's you, all right. Dumb Jew.
Wait a minute. Hey, come back here! What's going on? What's happening? I'm spinning!
I'm spinning backward. All around me is black. I see the old lady. Through this pinhole of light I see her. I see her face just for an instant before falling farther away, before spinning backward again, head over heels—away.
WHEN I STOPPED SPINNING, I found myself walking through a sunny fall day, on a street I had never seen, in a land where I had never been, with a best friend I had never known. I was wearing a colorless wool jumper over a white blouse and itchy wool tights that sagged at my ankles. Still, I was pleased with what I was wearing. The tights were new and my best friend looked much the same as I. We even wore the same coat, with the same star decorations: canary yellow stars, one on the front and one on the back. We were on our way to school, laughing and talking in a language I did not know, yet I understood.
As we approached the next street, we stopped laughing. I felt my shoulders stiffen and my throat go dry as I took hold of my friend's hand and we timidly set foot down the street. There were other children on the road, laughing and pushing at each other, as we had done earlier. They weren't afraid, and I suddenly knew that it had something to do with our stars. I knew, too, that we were taking a great chance going to school, and as we walked, we scanned the streets left and right. I did not know what we were searching for until they were in front of me, two men in uniforms with guns in their hands. Without thinking, both of us hopped off the sidewalk. That was the rule. When these men in their uniforms were on the sidewalk, we had to get off or they'd shoot us. We expected them to turn us away, saying we were no longer allowed to attend school with the other students. Instead, they led us to a building that on the outside smelled like manure and on the inside like disinfectant. There were several women there like us, with yellow stars stitched to their clothing. They were down on their knees with guards behind them, and
One of the men shouted at us. The shout was so loud and it frightened me so, I didn't hear what he said. He slapped me in the face.
"Tights off!" he repeated in a language that so repulsed me to hear I wanted to scream, but I didn't. I knew he'd only slap me again, or worse.
I kicked off my shoes and tried to scramble out of my tights, but I wasn't fast enough and the guard kicked me in the back. It wasn't hard and it didn't hurt, but my feet were still in the tights. I lost my balance and fell onto the floor and into the disinfectant. The men behind me laughed, but no one scrubbing the floor laughed, or even looked up.
"She's just a young girl," I heard someone say, someone down there on the floor, close to me. I wiped the wet slop off my coat and stood up. The others kept scrubbing.
I was led away from my friend, down the hall to the other end, where a woman was scrubbing the stairs.
"You work with her, clumsy Jew!" The officer spit. "Use those to scrub." He pointed at my tights.
I dropped to my knees and dunked my tights into the bucket beside me. I didn't look up and I didn't speak to the woman who worked on the stairs with me. I just dunked and scrubbed, dunked and scrubbed. It must have been a half hour before I took a chance and looked around. It was then that I noticed that the woman beside me was my neighbor and my mother's best friend, Estera Hurwitz. I wanted to sing with joy when I saw her. I inched over closer to her and as we scrubbed we knocked elbows. I saw her smile, but she didn't look up. Still I knew she knew it was I who was beside her, and the occasional knocking of our elbows gave both of us courage, a reminder that we weren't alone.
I watched the circular movements of her hands and tried to copy the rhythm. Her movements were even and strong, strong like her hands, used to hard labor but not to such humiliation. She dunked her rag into the bucket, wrung it out, and spread it back on the stairs. It was then that I saw for the first time what she had in her hand, what so many of the other women had in their hands—her own underpants. I wanted to cry out, to weep for these women, and I wanted to kill the men, the officers who were doing this to us. I scrubbed harder, faster, trying not to think about it, trying not to cry. I wanted to be strong like Estera Hurwitz, like my own mother, both of them so brave, so strong. Yes, I had to be like my mother—my mother! Was she here? Please, dear God, not my mother. I could not bear it. I inched closer to my mother's best friend and asked in a voice so low that even I could hardly hear it, "My mother? Here?"
Other author's books:
- A Summer of KingsA Face in Every WindowWhen We Were Saints
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