Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.
The preacher had spoken those words at grandma’s funeral. He’d liked it at the time, the image of being nothing. No more mama crying as she darned the same pair of socks for the tenth time. No more brother stealing his bread, the only food they had all day besides the ever-present pot of onion soup. Onion water, really. No more da sleeping off the moonshine he distilled himself. “Keeps me sane,” his da had claimed. “Man can’t stay sane with no work and all you yappin’ kids.” Bruises on his mama’s arms and the welts on his own back proved otherwise. There was no sanity here.
When the cloud had appeared on the horizon, he’d fantasized it would whisk him off to a new life, like Dorothy in that wizard story. It hadn’t, of course. The dust had settled. Life had gone painfully on. Escape hadn’t come until his 18th birthday, and it’d come in the form of Uncle Sam, not some little old man behind a curtain. War was hell, they said, but he’d thought any place was better than Texas.
He watched the skeletons shuffling by him. Empty eyes. Walking zombies. He looked at the metal sign hanging over his head. “Arbeit Macht Frei,” it said. “Work will make you free.”
His captain pulled him over to a small building. “Gaskammer” read the placard. “Gas chamber”. “Look,” said the captain, chewing on his cigarette. “Claw marks where they tried to get out.”
He ran back outside and vomited.
There was no freedom here.
He watched a young boy with a hollowed-out belly holding hands with his emaciated mother. Pain echoed in every step she took, but a fierce smile broke out over her face as they walked through the barbed wired front gate. She looked to the sky and blew a kiss from her hand to the heavens.
He knew now that he’d known nothing of starvation, nothing of suffering.
Clicking his boots together, he chanted, “There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.”
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