“I know you look at me and want what’s best. I am glad you are here, I know I’ve said this before, and I know you only half believe it, but believe me it’s true.”

“How can I believe it? There’s so much good stuff out here. Come. Get out of this room of gloom. We’ll go eat, drink, and find something playful we can enjoy. I know if you would just trust me you would never lock yourself in this place,” gesturing around the room, “again.”

“My trust in you is without end. But it is my trust in humanity that has no place left to go.” Long pause. “If you need to hear. If you think you need to hear, because I can assure you no one should ever do anything but beg to never be next to this story, I will speak of it this once to you. And though I have heard people say that to speak of hardship is the only way to let go of it, understand that the part of my heart which holds this story is so burnt away to speak of it is to unearth a festering corpse which can bring no peace, only strength to the nightmares that are now like my family.

“And it makes sense that I should start with family. Perhaps you thought in my childhood you could find the puzzle to unlock my melancholy, but you are only half right. You see my parents never mistreated me; in fact they worked hard to see me through to a good life and one of my own choosing. Though we had our share of pushing and pulling the only thing that could be said as detrimental in my rearing may have been the lack of emotionality between us, there were no great falls. My Mother a loner, I think she married more out of ignorance and social pressure then the desire to be two as one, and my Father so confused at the traumas of his own family that he bade us all safe distance and emerged himself in his work, left me with more the caring of nannies than a family unit. So I’m sure it would have gone until in the traumas of adolescence I would have either rebelled, retreated, or repeated, but for one thing at the age of seven that was to change my direction so completely.

“I’ve never spoken on any siblings but let me show you a picture of my sister Esther. This is she; I think she’s just turned twenty. She’s a senior in College, she finished young as my parents were proponents of accelerated education, and I think just before I took this she had told me about her plans to travel around looking for a place with a school or job that might keep her optimism in the world alive.”

“She’s stunning.”

“Yes everyone can’t help saying that, but for me I hardly saw her outsides, except in the expressions she made to me about what it was like to be considered stunning. Like being given a opulent life, she could not help but find her ego expanded, but I do not think she took much to the string that were attached to it. Sometimes I thought it would break her, but the vibrancy inside her heart always shored her up.”

“You two had a falling out?”

“No never, that is not were this story leads. What was missing in my family, someone to share with, someone who could give without expectations of every seeing a return, someone who I could love without any confusion, and who would love me back twice what I gave, came to me the day my Mother brought Esther home, cradled in her arms. Esther and I were as close as two siblings ever could ever be who were not born connected. We were not only the best of friends we were our family, together we covered all that was missing, and from then on all our lives were family in it’s best definition.”

“So she’s overseas then.”

“Yes, somewhere.”

“Haven’t you heard from her at all?”

“I heard from her often for a while. She went on that trip after school, you know the one that every college student whose eyes have been opened to the world, the western world, starting with the classics, must find a way to take, backpack, eurail pass, and hostels all some part of the equation. So she did and traveled everywhere. She had faith in the good that she said was in all people, and so was not afraid to go places where violence the mayhem had been. I say been for she would not go where their was fighting now, only where it had been, or was coming. She was not the solider type.”

“Did she give you that locket, I’ve always seen you rubbing something under your shirt, but tonight is the first time I’ve ever seen you pull it out before.”

“Actually it’s I who gave it to her. Before she went I gave her one exactly as the one I’m wearing here. This is the stare of David, and inside a ‘hi,’ which most simply translates ‘Life.’ I’m not religious mind you, but now I must wear it like the chains of Christmas past, or perhaps Hanukkah, not to mix my faiths too badly. The thing is my parents, neither followed either of their conflicting ethnic or religious backgrounds. I once did a study of our family on family and found more than once one side of our grandparents were probably killing off the other side. Not that difficult with half Jews, though as is written in the Torah, my Mother being Jewish did pass down to my sister and I an inheritance to Judaism. And my sister at one point in her life had practiced, being always the stronger of us, always the more inquisitive; she wanted to see what our heritage offered. And though she decided the practice was too rigid, she did come to believe that she had the obligation to stand as a Jew, to make her objection heard to any racism that followed a people who faced obliteration simply because of their beliefs, and not because they had ever tried to force themselves on the land or the beliefs of others. She had a hard time with the Zionist in Israel, but she felt this was a separate issue from the need to remind the world of the racism the Jews had know for thousands of years. I never had that strength. In fact I have in my life hidden that I was Jewish, or stood by in the shadow of racist remarks in order to guarantee my safety, or even just my amenity. But Ester was not like that, and when I saw this I knew how it would please her so to be able to wear it.”

“Anyways I heard from her often. The Western Europe trip inspired her beliefs that the world had reason to hope even more, for every time she saw the problems in our over spun capitalistic communities, she also came in contact with groups of people trying to find better, for humane ways to fix the world. And the organizations that she came in contact with couldn’t but help to drawer her to the East where so many had lost that hope. We have all heard of genocide, a term so wonderfully scientific, something we’ve come so easily to accept as it roles of our tongues. We let it pass in and out of us like any other part of the day to day. We have no idea what it can mean. I suppose even Ester had no idea, but I got letters saying she felt she had to go; she had to see if she could help.

“Then somewhere past Dantsa, letters stopped. After 3 months I started making frantic enquiries. Almost a month of this and then someone who I had actually made human contact with at a subdivision of the U.N. called me and said that the last town she had been in had fallen and her contacts in Yugoslavia convinced her that Ester was most certainly dead. For days I cried. I was sure I could not go one without her.

“Still I didn’t believe it, or perhaps I believed it too much, for two days latter I was on a plane and then a train, and even pretending to be part of the press on U.N. convoys trying to track her down. If she was dead I wanted to stand at her grave. I still carried her beliefs; I was thinking that war, that her death was what must have linked honor to killing. If I were to go on I thought it would be as the carrier of her beliefs, I would take from her the fallen flag and march on.

“And she is still out there. What I came to hear I tell you is just as much a collage of what has happened to humanity, and what when I close my eyes passes these days as sleep. When you ask me to join you, to take part, I tell you I cannot because I did not find her, because what I found instead. Because my outstretched hand was there and the what happened found me cowering in a corner, until in the end all was sucked out of me, not even the feeling of loss remained. And this is why I am but a shell.”

“If you never found her you can still have hope. You know she would want you to go on as life's participant.”

“Why do you make me go on? I have told you that it tortures me to think of it as I always do, and to speak of it is like trying to breathe underwater. Are you not my friend, will you not let it be?”

“I am your friend forever. And if the only way I can remain so is to say nothing, I will be mute. But could it not be that you are unable to decide what is best, what even you’re Sister would want here. That you must find a way to live again?”

“If that could only be. I can see that you must hear the story to its end, and even then I would be surprised if you understood. But I say again there is no coal left in this cinder. You cannot breath the flame back in. If you must hear this story I will tell you, but I can give you no more.
“For a month I walked among the horror of the endless killing fields. There were few to find to tell me anything for so much had been laid to waist. No one I spoke to could give me hint of Ester, but in that month I came to see a side of man that suffocated any humanity within me with out repent. Still I could not give up, Esther was still in me.

“I was searching through a U.N. relief tent in Biast. It was difficult even to enter. So much suffering, and so real to me because the faces were so like those I had grown up with. Each could have been a neighbor or a best friend. I had talked to three or four when a young woman, being brought back to life from six months in a camp where her village use to lay, said she had heard a story about a Jew from an old woman down at the other end of the tent, she said she did not now her name but I could not miss her, simply look for the oldest looking woman I could find. When I found her, and it was not difficult for she was without doubt the oldest looking woman I had ever seen, her skin so creased and face so drawn I’m sure she must have feared going to sleep for that she would be carried out in the morning with the rest of the dead but for the fact that her fingers twitched even as she napped there. Though I was desperate to talk with her I could not bring myself to disturb her, and sat myself next to her bunk to wait. I needn’t concern myself though, for after five or so minutes, with no movement or change from her but that in her fingers she suddenly said in a soft but very rough voice ‘What do you want.’

“A tear dropped from my eye at that moment. I had not cried since I had left the States on this journey and I would not cry again till I returned, except for that one tear that fell just at those words spoken in a language that I had come accustom to as one of the suffering of the world. ‘What do you want?’ I wanted anything but to hear now what I had come so far for and was sure this woman of all the others I had spoken to could give me. I wanted the suffering of the world to end. I wanted to live in a world where violence was no longer the great byproduct of man’s existence on this planet.

“’I hear you know of a Jew, a Jew from America.’

“Her eyes, blackness swimming in pools of blood, opened and I stared as if Pandora. And I could not turn away as she took me in to the hell she had passed though and now carried with her always.

‘You are family of the Jew girl? She wore a stared crucifix like the one you wear. Yes I was with her in Lanstk.’

‘They say she is dead. Did you see her die?’

‘I have seen much death, I have seen my own death so near it’s breath has brushed the hair out of my eyes, but what I saw of the Jew girl was much worse.’ There she had said the words, with no warning or clue that everything that were in my thoughts were as easily brushed away as telling someone what time it is. My mind was well prepared for this, but my body still shuttered to its deepest core. I think know that that was all this women planned to say, she did not look she could give anything, as so much had been taken from her, but she must have seen there was something we shared, something of the walking dead between us that made her go one. ‘When innocence and death meet the way they did with the Jew girl there is a horror so deep, that even the heart that is long dead moans from the grave.’

‘Can you tell me?’

‘I can, but perhaps I should not, there is a tear on your cheek, and I have not even begun.

‘I must. I can promise you I can save my tears for another day. But you must know, I must know.’

“’Yes you must, I know.’ And then we sat there for a moment and breathed. ‘No one knew names in Lanstk. We had been brought in from many places. Most whose words got to me spoke of watching nothing but death all around them. Some came from towns of a couple thousand and said they thought they were the only one still alive. Others new of a few who were half when they were carted away, but they had no idea where they had been taken. And in Lanstk there were few moments to share. We were put alone, or under guard of those who would come and shoot you if you shivered much less spoke. Those who were there had come because they either had been the only one of thousands to live, or because they had been captured by the non-military who felt unable to kill you there, or because you were pretty. Lanstk was if nothing else their brothel.

‘And that is of course why the Jew girl could not help but be brought there, even though I think it was a mistake. I think she had been taken by solders who did not realize it might not be good to take an American who had come to their country not ours. But I never had the chance to ask her, I only guess this because when she arrived she looked as if she had not been taken, and as when she came there were a group of solders yelling at each other and with her, at that was the only time I ever saw solders talk with a woman. I think they had decided to take her back instead of put her in with us, but then they saw that star crucifix and began to ask her if she was a Jew. She said something then in a language I had never heard, I think it must have been the language of Jews, for when she said it one solder said she was a Jew and that she had murdered Christ and no one would care if she lived or died. I think she spat at him or it is possible she even hit him, but what ever she did it was the last thing she did that was not done to her. I had seen this much before, it was like the stories told to children around a fire on a winter night, how once wolves were the princes of the forest and they did what ever they wanted. And when there was no food in winter they would find and circle a child tearing and eating even as the child still cried. The wolves have come back, but their want and hatred is much worse. The Jew girl was beaten and raped many times. They cut and burnt holes in her and spoke of Christ. I could hear some solders complain that they had beaten her too much, and that soon she would be good for nothing. After many, many hours they dragged her away. I never saw or heard of her spoken of again. The next morning they pulled me out and made me clean where she had been. There was a lot of blood to be scrubbed off. I used torn cloths that must have been those of the Jew girl. And just before I was finished I found this’ she touched my star, ‘waged in the crevasses, but I could not take the chance of keeping it, I am not a Jew.’

“’A two days later, and it can only be God who let me live on to that point, I was grabbed by a soldier and told to help take bodies into a truck that was going out of the compound to bury them some place. I think I helped carry the Jew girl, but the body had been rotting and it was impossible to be sure. Though the hair still had beauty in it. That kind of beauty is hard to wipe away. Then all those who helped with the bodies were told to get into the trucks and I heard one of the generals say ‘when they are all in the hole, kill them too.’ And in the way that the world has be turned to darkness I thought ‘Ah this is the way it should be.’ But when the truck was coming around a slow curve I simply fell out the back, as it seemed just as good a way to die. But I did not die. Instead with broken bones I walked across the border to this tent. I often wondered why God had saved me, it seemed like I was meant to die for such a long time. Perhaps it has been so that I could tell you the story you have come to hear. What God plans, we shall never know till we have passed beyond this world.’

“She said no more, nor did I. It was as if we had both been used up. As if humanity had left us and the soulless shells could continue in the motions, but life was gone, there was no way to contemplate it, it was all gone. I went from there to the airport, in fact I did not even go back to my room. My cloths, my books, even my plane ticket. I left it all. At the airport I used the remainder of a credit card to take the next plane out. I think it has been five years now since then and I will never stand over the grave of my sister and I will never be alive again for I have seen the illusion of humanity.”