Snow in March

Berlin, 1945

Snow in March
by Emma Venables

Anna skirts around the ruins of Berlin, around burst waterpipes and mangled tramlines. Her eyes are on the blue, inspecting the gap-toothed skyline for movement. She stands on her tiptoes, gets knocked sideways by a woman in a hurry to get home or to work or to her children in the playground. The Americans come in daylight now. No warning. Yesterday, on her way home from work, Anna threw herself to the ground just in time, pressed her face against the cobbles until she thought her nose would break. When the raid was over, when the dust dispersed, she looked up to see a girl impaled on a lamppost, a woman screaming out for lost limbs.

The sky roars. Louder. Louder. The ground shakes beneath her feet, already afraid of the consequences. Anna crouches, wonders if the pilots can see her: if she stares right at them will her image haunt them long after this day, this raid? Will they remember the defiant German woman? Will they tell their grandchildren she had it coming? Bullseye.

Anna knows she should lie down, hands over head, but she cannot move. Her body braces, ready for her luck to run out, but she will stare death in the face: watch the crack of light, the blaze of her sinews and bones. The belly of the plane opens.

Anna can only see in white. She screams. Something caresses her cheek and she shakes her head, tries to realign her vision. Fragments of the street appear around white corners. She sighs; her breath ripples the paper falling about her face. Leaflets – drifting like snow in March – land on the burst water pipes and mangled tramlines, filling the remains of a bathtub.

Anna should walk away with her eyes ahead, absorbing the shock, the shiftiness of others. The woman with the red dress. The man with the briefcase. The boy in the Hitler Youth uniform with his catapult poised. She should move on, but she wants to pick up the leaflet. She doesn’t want to read it; she can guess what it says, believes what it says. She just wants to keep it, stow it away, to know something more exists beyond bombs and brick dust and overflowing cemeteries.

Anna looks at the woman, the man, the boy, looks between the pieces of paper which blow on the breeze. She places her hand over the leaflet by her foot, curls her fingers slightly and lifts it up. She feigns a wince so anyone looking at her will assume she injured herself when the plane appeared: an explanation for her slow movements, for her hand rubbing her thigh.

The price for touching, hoarding, enemy leaflets is high – interrogations and cells – but Anna slides the leaflet into her pocket, stands up, and walks on. She does not notice the boy in the Hitler Youth uniform look at the ground and then crane his neck to watch her turn into a side street.

Emma Venables has taught Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and Liverpool Hope University. Her short fiction has previously featured in The Gull, Litro Online, The Lampeter Review, Strix, The Fiction Pool, LossLit, Spelk, and Normal Deviation: A Weird Fiction Anthology. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.

Image detail from a photograph of German women doing their washing at a water hydrant in a Berlin street, near the wreck of a German light armoured car, 3 July 1945, courtesy of the Imperial War Museum: © IWM (BU 8609).