“I don’t deny it Abraham. It gives me pleasure to see your dedication
to your poor brother,” he imagined her saying.
“Only poor because you spent every dime, you nudnick, you.”
“To me, you were obnoxious, also, old man. Because your brother found
a wife and no one could take living with you.”
“So, you put him there because there were no other openings?”
He recited the answer she’d given each time the question was asked. “No one wants a man who hits other patients,
pees himself and wanders away when they don’t watch him every minute. Only a place in a small town that goes begging
for patients. Only they would take him.”
And Saul’s wife moved from their comfortable home in Denver to senior housing in Holyoke so she could be with him for hours every day. She washed his face, combed his hair and turned her back when the young
women changed his underpants. And she came every day, long after he’d forgotten her face, until the morning her neighbor
found her dead on the bathroom floor.
“On the outside, Marta, on the outside you were a pain in the behind.
Abraham shook his head, stepped on the brake as he rolled into the small town.
The Dart slowed with a kirk, kirk kirk sound that Abraham vowed to investigate when he got the car home. He checked his watch
after parking outside the red brick facility. 10:30. He’d made good time.
The charge nurse waved as he entered. “Good morning, Doctor. Saul is
having a bath. You’re welcome to wait in the lounge. We’ll bring him in when he’s through.”
As if cued, a wail escaped from the slightly ajar bathroom door and echoed
down the halls.
“Now, Solly. You stop that. We’ve got to put on your socks,”
a young voice scolded.
Abraham bristled at the nickname. Still, they cared for his brother well,
and it was not an easy thing to do, to wash and feed a grown man who acted like an infant most of the time. Another five minutes
and they wheeled Saul out, restrained by a cloth halter into a wheelchair. The young woman stationed his chair facing Abraham
and pushed the locks down on the wheels.
“Hello, Sh-aul.” Abraham took the hand, so frail it seemed translucent.
His brother’s eyes, once bright as night sky stars, now were milky blue. Saul raised his head and muttered.
“It’s cold outside, today. I have snow on the ground at home.
Here there’s just cold.” There was no response, no recognition.
“Mama loved the snow, Sh-aul. Remember? She said it made everything
The bald head again raised, but there was light in the eyes. “Avrom?”
“Yes, Sh-aul. Avrom. Avrom your little brother.”
The thin hand tightened on Abraham’s. Then, as quickly as it came, the
light dimmed and Saul stared, unblinking at the ceiling.
Suddenly Abraham felt like a small child again. He remembered being frightened
when the Nazis took away his father. How his mother soothed him.
“Put out your hand. Avrom,” she’d said.
She had taken his small hand in hers and held it palm up. Then she snaked
her finger along his life-line bobbing the tip up and down.
“What is this?” she’d asked.
When Abraham couldn’t answer, she smiled.
“It’s a caterpillar, Avrom. It plods along until, one day, it
spins a cocoon and curls up in it. To all, it looks dead. Then, one day, it tears the old dry cocoon away and …look.
A butterfly. His mother had fluttered her fingers lightly against his cheek like a butterfly softly beating its wings.
“A promise, Avrom. That’s what this is. We are like the caterpillar,
our family. Maybe now everything looks dry and dead, but someday…someday Avrom, like the butterfly we will be strong
and beautiful and free.”
Abraham snaked his index finger across his brother’s unresisting palm.
“What is this Sh’aul?”
His brother’s expression remained impassive, his eyes without light.
“I’m sorry, Sh-aul.” Abraham closed his eyes against tears
that threatened. “I can’t help you.” He imagined his brother, tall, strong. Twenty two years old.
“I asked you once, in Bergen-Belsen, why God had brought us to this place.
I ask again now. What is it we did to the Almighty? You, like a baby again. Me, alone. Why didn’t we die in the camp?”
Saul was unresponsive, his head on his chest, breathing heavy and regular.
“I wish we’d never taken those medical records. I wish they’d
been destroyed in the liberation. In Minnesota, Saul, a doctor is using Nazi records to study warming hypothermia patients. Is
it so wrong to use the records, if they do good? Is it not bringing good for evil?”
Saul’s head still sank against his chest. His eyes were hidden. But
his hands worked aimlessly in the air, as though capturing unseen bubbles as they rose on his measured breath.
“The Nazis killed so many, Sh-aul. What sin is there in using the knowledge
gained? The screams still wake me, brother. I still see blood on my hands from wiping that marble examination table. I see
you, kneeling by the safe, stuffing the papers in a satchel, and I think…for what? For nothing unless we make it right
again. No more Kapo, Saul.”
Abraham pounded his fist on the chair arm. The man in front of him stirred
slightly. His foot began rhythmically scrubbing the carpet. Saul’s lips struggled to form words. Finally he rolled his
head up, his eyes met Abraham’s.
“Mengele,” he said.