“The memory of this night will live in our hearts forever.”
|Word Count 2979|
Twinkling Stars in the Dark Sky
The ragged line of internment camp inmates waited for food they would not have fed to their dogs a couple of months ago. But today hunger burned in Katia's belly, she would eat anything. The people making their way to be served stood silently, their eyes focused on the sun drenched ground beneath their feet. The line moved closer to the food—one dusty step at a time.
Katia stopped in front of the large kettle that contained the only food she would see today. She didn't look up as a man dipped a spoon into the steaming pot and spilled food onto her outstretched tray.
"Katia?" His voice was raspy and familiar.
Hearing her name spoken, she looked up at the man holding the wooden spoon, then quickly averted her eyes and moved past. Carrying her tray she hurried away from the table. Taking long strides, the man with the spoon caught up with her, then took her arm and directed her to the shade under a tree. Sitting on the weed covered ground, he patted the space next to him and smiled up at Katia. She smoothed her dark hair against her head and pulled at her dress to hide the wrinkles that were now permanent. Finally, she signed and sat next to him.
"How have you been?" His brown, watery eyes searched her face.
"Look at me, Carl, how do you think I am?" She took furtive looks at the groups of people talking and eating, then looked away when she saw the guards. "They'll punish us both if they see us together.
"Katia, it's still me, I haven't changed. I think you're the most beautiful girl I've ever known." He pushed long, stringy dark hair away from her eyes. "I never thought I'd see you again."
"Maybe it would be better if you didn't." The two guards walked toward them. "Please, go away, I don't want them to hurt you."
Carl fell silent as the guards stood over him. "Who told you to leave your job?" One of the guards looked at Katia with cold eyes.
"I felt sick, I had to get in the shade, only for a minute. I'm sorry."
"Get back to work. People are helping themselves to the food and now there won't be enough to feed everyone. It will be your fault if people don't get their food."
"I'm sorry, sir." Carl stood with his back to the guards. He caught Katia's attention and then mouthed the word, message. She turned away. The guards escorted Carl back to the steaming kettle that was now surrounded by a crowd of people.
Katia pushed back the memories she didn't want to think about as she watched Carl walk away, but the memories came anyway.
Carl had been the boy next door who teased her when they were children. He grew up to be a strong and handsome young man. He became the man Katia fell in love with.
The man she was to marry.
But that was before the people living in the ghetto were arrested and held in camps with inmates who stole to feed their families. She never expected to see Carl again.
As she ate, the visions of her relationship with Carl played in her mind. She saw Carl walking with her along the fertile fields in their village, her hand in his. She could even smell the fresh-cut hay. She saw wild flowers dancing in the gentle summer breeze as they sat in a meadow and shared lunch. She remembered the night of their first kiss—their only kiss.
And she remembered how the stars twinkled in the sky the night Carl asked her to marry him.
"You'll have to get permission from papa," she told him after she caught her breath.
"I already have...he has given his blessing." He had turned and seen that the ever-present chaperone was looking in another direction. Carl turned back and kissed her. It was the first time she had ever been kissed.
The loud voices of people arguing over food jolted Katia back to the squalor of the camp. She sat in the shade with a tray of uneaten food. She did not see Carl at the table.
Katia knew what Carl had asked her to do, what he meant when he mouthed the word message. Inmates left messages for each other in the bark of a tree...the message tree the inmates had named it. A note from a mother telling her child she loved him; a husband in search of his wife; lovers trying to find a way to have a private moment. But it was dangerous. Sometimes the guards were able to decipher a message, and when they did it was a guard waiting in the dark instead of a star-struck loved one. Offenders were shipped off to a worse camp.
Is there a worse place then this?"
Katia looked for Carl at the serving table for a week before losing hope that she would ever see him again. She remembered the way the guards had treated him when he sat with her under the tree. She feared he had been sent to another camp. There was only one way to find out—a message. The danger of being caught worried her, but she wanted to know he was alright. She wanted to see him again. She wanted to be kissed again...by him. She knew that her best friend, Fiona, could be trusted to know what to do.
Fiona's eyes grew large as she listened to Katia tell her what she wanted to do. "Do you know how dangerous that could be?"
"Yes, but there is a chance the guards won't find the message, and even if they do, maybe they won't understand what the note says."
"Are you willing to bet your life on that?" Concern furrowed her brow. "I hear the people in the other camps don't live very long. Think about what you're doing."
"I have, Fiona. I also know I might find myself in one of the camps no matter what I do. Before I die I want to experience love. I want to be kissed again, held again—I want to know love."
Fiona's shoulders sagged. "Okay, why ask me then, you're going to go through with this no matter what I say."
"Please...Fiona?..." Katia's lips curled at each end. "Tell me I'm not crazy?"
With a deep sigh, Fiona hugged her friend. "You are crazy, but go ahead, I'll help you...but be careful."
Katia was excited. That night she sneaked a small piece of paper from the desk in the infirmary where she worked and wrote a quick message.
You asked me to marry you under the tree in my front yard. Meet me under the only one like it here, at the same hour that you asked me to marry you, on the same night of the week. She could not sign the note, so she did the next best thing. Fiona says hello.
After work, while most of the camp slept, Katia sneaked to the message tree and pressed the small scrap of paper under loose bark, she looked around and convinced herself no one saw what she did. Fiona waited in the dark a short distance away.
It was Friday night, the night Katia would know if Carl had found the note.
"Come to my barracks before dark." Fiona eyed Katia's dress.
"Look at you. You need a bath, clean clothes, perfume. You want to look nice for Carl, don't you?"
"Perfume...here in the camp?"
"Just come to my barracks." She walked away.
It was almost dark when Katia reached Fiona's barracks. A single light bulb lit the corner where her friend stood talking to four women. They all turned to look at her and then turned to each other with knowing eyes and nodded to Fiona. Smiles creased their faces.
"Let's get started," Fiona said. The women surrounded Katia.
An hour later, Katia stood in front of a small shard of mirror hanging on the wall. She couldn't believe the transformation. She turned to the women and smiled.
"You see, I was right." The woman who had used a rough cloth to scrub Katia's skin smiled. "Her skin is glowing."
"You needn't worry about the wild flowers in your hair, Katia," a white haired woman said as she tucked a loose end, "I wove the stems tight, they will not fall out."
Another woman took Katia's hand and frowned. "I should have steeped the tea longer," she studied Katia's fingers, "the orange color would have been stronger."
"It will have to do for now." Fiona pulled at the sleeves of Katia's new dress. "You are a wonder, Helena, this dress fits her perfectly." Fiona smiled at an elderly lady who had somehow sewed a dress from scraps of other dresses. The woman returned Fiona's smile with her own toothless grin.
Fiona turned to Katia. "I hope he appreciates all the trouble we've gone through to make you look pretty for him."
"I only hope he's there."
The woman who had been keeping watch for the guards poked her head around the corner. "You must go now, the guards are changing shift...come now, hurry."
Katia took one last look in the mirror, pushed some curls off her forehead, and turned to the smiling women surrounding her. "Thank you, all of you, I feel like a bride."
Katia stepped out into the darkness and made her way to the sycamore tree where she hoped Carl would be waiting. She hurried through the shadows and listened for the guards. She peeked around the corner of the last building and saw movement under the sycamore. Was it Carl? Was it a guard? Was it someone who imagined the message was intended for him? She had to move closer to be sure.
"Katia?" The sound startled her and she stopped abruptly, frozen with fear.
"Katia?" This time it was louder, and she recognized the voice—Carl's voice. He stood in the darkness under the tree, her heart skipped a beat. She hurried to him and fell into his arms.
"You look beautiful." He loosened his embrace and looked at her. "How did you ever manage this?" He felt her tremble under his grasp.
"I'm so glad you could come," she whispered, her eyes glistening with tears. "I was afraid they already transferred you to another camp."
"No, just to another job. I was so happy when I found your note. How is Fiona?"
"Fine...she helped me to get ready tonight."
"Will you thank her for me?" He looked deeply into her eyes. "You are so beautiful." He drew her to him and felt her heart beating against his chest. Suddenly, the sound of footsteps crackled in the dark. He pulled Katia tight against him and leaned into the tree trunk. He felt her breath leave her lungs forcefully.
A guard walked along the dirt path not twenty yards from where they stood. Holding Katia close, Carl smelled the fragrance of the wild flowers entwined in her hair. He felt the softness of her skin against his cheek.
"Shhh." He held his breath and hoped she couldn't feel his heart trying to leap out of his chest. They listened but only heard their own breathing. The guard walked past and disappeared into the darkness. After a moment of quiet, Katia looked up at him.
Moonlight lit little specks in her brown eyes, as if they had been sprinkled with gold dust. Her skin glowed in the moon light. Her tongue slid across her parted lips, moistening them.
"We're still engaged," Katia whispered, then lowered her eyes.
"Are we?" he answered. "Does that mean..."
"...that you can kiss me?" Her face turned up toward him.
"Yes, that I can kiss you."
Their lips met in a soft kiss. Carl's tongue slipped between her moist lips, Katia responded tentatively. Their embrace tightened. Carl felt her warmth against his body.
"There's not much time," Katia said when their kiss ended.
Carl took her hand and led her deeper into the shadows under the sycamore. Slowly, without breaking eye contact, they lowered themselves until they were kneeling, their lips met, their kiss deepened, urgency tightened their embrace.
Carl pulled back from the kiss, "Are you sure, Katia?" He brushed a blond curl from her forehead and stroked her hair.
"I don't know how much time we have, Carl." She kissed his lips. "But I want to live each moment we have to the fullest."
Encircling her in his embrace, Carl lowered her onto the carpet of cool moss under the tree. His hands followed the curves of her body, their lips pressed together and burned. Carl found encouragement in Katia's soft moans.
The hardness of his desire pressed against her thigh, and she raised her hips when he lifted the hem of her dress. Carl's hand cupped the warmth between her thighs and she felt him grow harder.
Gently, she pulled away from him. "Carl, wait."
"What is it, Katia?" He searched her eyes in the darkness.
Katia said nothing. Sitting up, she reached behind her shoulders and unbuttoned the top of her dress. Pulling it over her head, she tossed it aside and turned to Carl. "I want you...I love you." She lay back against the moss that was now warm. She waited.
Lying in the dark with her heaving breasts exposed, her nipples raised into small rose buds that glowed in the moonlight. Carl lowered his mouth to cover one bud, then moved to the other, sucking gently.
His finger found her swollen clit and he paused, stroking it until he felt a shudder pass through her body. He then moved on and felt her warm opening. Moisture gathered on his finger as it curled into her. He withdrew his hand from between her thighs, Katia closed her eyes and waited.
Heat rose from Katia's loins and settled in her belly—she was no longer afraid. Carl pulled himself over her, and she willingly parted her legs and felt his rigid member press against the heat of her opening. She could wait no longer, she wanted him now...before it was too late. She reached for him.
Feeling him rigid beneath his outer softness, she grasped him firmly and guided him into her, then felt the bulbous head press past her folds and slip into her wet entrance.
"Please, be gentle," she whispered into his ear.
Carl felt her warmth envelope him, he put his arms around her and drew her to him, while he slowly ventured forth fully encasing himself in her wet petals. Raising his face to look at her, Carl kissed her forehead...her eyes...her cheeks, and finally her warm lips, where he lingered.
Concealed in the shadow of the sycamore tree, their sighs mingled with the gentle breeze that caressed their bodies as they fell into a slow rhythm and allowed the sensations of new love to flow through their bodies. Being held in Carl's loving embrace, their love now consummated, Katia no longer felt fear.
With their hearts beating against each other, Katia looked up at the shimmering leaves of the tree that protected them. Awash in moon light, she saw the contentment in Carl's eyes. Suddenly there were no labor camps, there was no war ravaging the countryside—she and Carl were free.
Later, Katia lay with her head resting in the crook of Carl's arm. Looking up, she saw blue and white stars winking in the ink black sky above her, just like the night he asked her to marry him. A gentle breeze passed over her like the wings of a thousand butterflies. Lying in the dew laced moss they knew this night would have to last a lifetime.
Without moving her head, Katia smiled and said. "I wish this night would never end."
"It won't end," he kissed her lips. "The memory of this night will live in our hearts forever."
Katia sighed as her eyes began to close.
When the morning was just a sliver of gold on the horizon they knew they had to return to their barracks. As they made their way in the lingering darkness Katia felt the despair of the present working its way back into her. She thought about the night that had just passed and smiled.
Katia did not see Carl for more than a month. No one seemed to know if he was even still at the camp. Katia left messages for Carl at the message tree but he didn't reappear at their special place. Then one morning as she walked to the infirmary to report for work she saw a truck stopped at the gate, a guard inspected the papers the driver had given him.
The tarp covering the rear of the truck had been left open and men looked out. Suddenly, Carl's face appeared. He looked around the camp hopefully, and smiled when he saw her, but Katia saw the sadness in his eyes. The guard handed back the papers, gears chattered and the truck lurched forward with a moan. Katia smiled at Carl and whispered, "I love you." His lips formed the same sad whisper. Then he puckered his lips and smacked her a kiss. She smacked a kiss back to him.
She remembered the stars that twinkled in the dark sky that night a month ago and smiled as she watched the truck bounce along the dirt road. She pulled out the wild flower she had kept hidden between her breasts for the last month and brought it to her lips. Kissing it, she looked up into the sky and prayed that she be allowed to live long enough to see the unborn child she knew was growing in her womb.
Word Count 2979
Received Honorable Mention in the Paradise Cove contest, August 2011.