54.7754° N, 31.7890° E, April of 1940

'Antique Keys' by Simon Greig - A pile of keys

54.7754° N, 31.7890° E, April of 1940
by Slawka G. Scarso

Tucked in the pockets of their wool coats, medals pinned to their breasts and officer stripes to their shoulders, the prisoners clutch us, grasp us, feeling our comforting shape in the palm of their hands and through their fingers, the way they would do with the folds of their prayer books, and the photos of their wives, their children, their parents, their lovers.

Tucked in their pockets, they feel our curves and our dents, as the train gains speed, ta-taaa, ta-taaa, ta-ta-ta-ta-taaa, leaving Kozelsk behind. We’re going home, they all think without saying it out loud, because that would bring bad luck. We’re going home, they all think, until one of them, bored of looking at the foggy forests outside the window, notices a carving in the wood panel. One made with one of us, with one of our dents. ‘Pociąg jedzie na północ, a nie na zachód. The train is going North, not West,’ it says. West being home, North God knows where.

As the voice spreads, and the fog dissipates, the sun disclosing the truth of the orientation, however debated the destination and the date will be for decades, they clutch us like rosary beads, and pray.

But we’re not rosaries, we’re just the keys to their houses that they kept because they hoped to be home soon, and are now empty, because their families were asking too many questions: where are our husbands, our fathers, our brothers?

Soon we will lose our smooth curves, our dents rusting in the damp soil, trees carefully planted on top of us, to conceal those who are concealing us, tucked with their fading hopes in the pockets of their wool coats.

Based in Italy, Slawka G. Scarso has published flash and micros in numerous anthologies and magazines. Her debut novella in flash “All Their Favourite Stories” was commended in the 2022 Bath Novella in Flash Award and is available from Ad Hoc Fiction. More words on Twitter as @nanopausa and www.nanopausa.com.

‘Antique Keys’ by Simon Greig via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0). Colour was removed from the original photograph.