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Volume 11, Issue 3: Pictura

Keep Running

Douglas Jones

My sister tugged my braid and forced my eyes
to sky. I laughed and wrapped my arm around
her waist, a doric column for my youth.
"Let's home. I must pry off this oaken dress
and trade these books for Momma's smile."
We passed through townhouse yards and headed for
that uncombed hill which over stares our street.

The neighbor boys would paw to share her time,
but Berta kept us moving through, and teased
her hand against their noisy cheeks, "Go play."

They then demanded that she serve as judge.
And pointing to a dotted line that sliced
their second-story homes. "Which house has most?"
I knew these holes—more flying bullets here,
as on our own. More Nazi planes had forced
their metal signatures upon these walls.
She ran her eyes across their trophied cracks,
when at a rumble growl, they broke their pose
and sprinted up the hill to trace its birth.
They shouted as they ran, "It's sure to be
the King of Greece! His army's come to make
us free at last from Mussolini's herd!"
School boy fantasies.

But reaching crest with folded arms, we caught
their panicked-pony eyes withholding words.
We traced their stare to our own house, which sat
engulfed in military steel, black jeeps
and angry Roman tanks. Italian guns
held loose by soldiers strolling through our doors.
And then I knew my brother's secrets had
escaped his darkened grip and flown away.

My Berta grabbed my wrist and swept us down
toward their lazy siege. Her waving arms,
demanding voice, rebuking face to face—
they laughed and pushed our twiggly limbs inside,
entangling on our couch. "No talking now,"
the captain said beneath his eyebrow cliff.
We sat so still amid the tromping boots,
and then this captain pointed to the base,
that table base whose secret pulled my eyes.
He kicked it over, broke away the top,
and from the hollow column pulled that gun,
a shiny black, the prize of ebony.

The wall of soldiers at the stairs moved as
doors, opening, allowing to pass through—
our eldest sister, beaming Lottie tall,
and Gabriel our brother, their arms all bound
behind their backs, a prince and princess off
to prison. Lottie always stole the show.
Italian gapes would surely lay down guns
to catch her smile or breathe her auburn mane;
she brushed it every night ten thousand times,
she said, in case within a dream she met
some fetching man. I stood, and Gabriel
commanded us in Greek, opaquing all
barbarian perceptions. Captain glared.
And last of all they pulled the secret up
from basement cool—our broken Englishman,
the fallen paratrooper Lottie found.
She sneaked this puppy home, and Father hid
him, mother nursed, and we assumed him Brit,
but without proof; he knew no Greek, and we
were weak in English. He lied.

Italian captain lifted Father's gun,
his German gun. "A Luger," captain said,
and passed it to his man. I stared at it,
remembering when Father held it up,
same room, another time. That gun had made
a sharpened shade against his British vest,
all buttoned, tied, and looped with golden watch,
a pool of patience, never wearing yokes
of panic. He is my Olivier
in look and rule. He sighed and looked at Gabe
and warned him to be silent. "I have learned
the Germans took a neighbor family in,
suspicions that they rallied for the king.
They couldn't prove. But when they set them free
from camp, our neighbors ran in glee. And as
they danced on down the street, the fascists turned
and showered them with bullets, bleeding joy
across the gutter. So I hide this gun
for help." He slid it down that hollow leg.

Italians, though, are unlike German suits.
They share our blood and tongue, as Gabe said in
his mind. So when they occupied our street,
we made them friends. No others on our street
could speak their tongue, but Father made us love
his homeland speech; this softened wartime fear.
For months with them we shared our bread and wine,
and even laughed against the German heart.
Then in his comfort, Gabriel once spoke,
alone to them, away from Father and
revealed in youthful boast our Father's gun,
and Lottie too did seek for some advice
on how to send her paratrooper back
to English shores. And these two Roman guards
were glad to counsel her bright smile.

This captain pinches Father's Luger now.
Some word has come that they descended on
my Father at his work in Athens, I
can picture his most quiet hand disturbed
from writing careful numbers in his books,
as lesser men come storm upon his desk
and bind his liberty for stately ends.

But they imprison him for only two
gray days; Italian soldiers spread the blame
for deeds on Gabriel's head and Lottie's plea.
But Father long protests before the judge,
and tries to take the rightful blame upon
himself, but military justice does
not hear. So Father comes to Momma's tears
and tells us that the wartime judge has spoke,
condemning eldest loves to eight years each.
Her body limped, began to slide toward
our kitchen floor, but Father gripped her fear.

Three months did pass, but everyday we made
a visit to imprisoned Lottie, while
denied admittance to our Gabriel.
For women's jail, they forced a hospital
of holy nuns to be their prison guards.
The walls were clean, as was the food, and I
quite liked this prison life. Perhaps I too
could find a broken spy, but I should keep
such words within my mouth.

The summer heat beyond horizons passed,
when late December saw an August sun
of news. We heard that Mussolini's heart
was overjoyed that his dear daughter bloomed,
and birthed a grandson for his line. So he
declared a jubilee throughout his lands,
and freed all prisoners with sentences
ten years or less. Gates opened for our loves.
We found our table full once more, as they
returned with weary smiles.

Within some months, the heart of war had moved,
and drew all eyes to other fields of call
than Greece. Americans had joined the fray,
and German and Italian picked up
and left, as quickly as they came, and dropped
Greek treasures for the French, or whatever
they now might hold. We lounged within
the rising heat of spring, all sprawled in chairs
across our roof, and whispered freedom thoughts
to friends on other homes. Could this be true?
Those fascist lords have fled? And then we heard.

Far down the boulevard, we see the flags
and hear the cheers. A long parade pours forth
through block and street. "Americans!" some shout.
"And English too! The Allies come, it's true."
But Gabriel and Father didn't smile.
They looked more closely at those ragged flags,
Departing roof for street, they moved like cats
across the roads to see this line of cheer.
We watched them stop so far away, and turn
and run uphill to us. They waved us move
inside. When at our door, they shouted to
those neighbors gawking from their roofs. "But no!
Parade is not our liberators but
all Marx's men, Greek communists."

We knew the knock would come. We sat so still
for days, all huddled in our steaming house.
At night we heard the gunshots bark, as new
lords had their way. To them, all royalists
were dangerous. Now Gabriel did curse
his April days, when he held up the flag of royalty.

This time, the knock removed us all. They marched
us miles at night, through farms and fields of mines,
and poked me with their guns. I drooped so soon
but Father lifted me and held me close,
much lighter than the cross of his regret.
At dawn, we reached some nestled, empty town.
These communists would use no nuns; they crammed
us in a cinema, the outside sort,
with walls but lacking roof; we stayed for weeks,
with only water. Father sneaked me crumbs
of bread. I ate them circled by tall walls
with movie posters colored pink, the smiles
of Hollywood stood guard for us at night.
They questioned Gabriel and Lottie, day
and night, all threats and mocks at their past love
for king of Greece. I memorized the names
of all those heroes pasted all around
and made up plots for movies never seen.

Then came our day. They called us cross the street
to stand within their court of justice which
they set inside a darkened bank, all sweat
and smoke. They knew so much about our lives,
and even talked about that German gun.
My legs did not reach ground, and so I used
them as two fans, and tried to move some smoke
out into open streets. Discussion turned
against us, no surprise. But then these men
all round began to talk of Lottie's find,
her paratrooper blond. How did they know?
They questioned Lottie, some began to laugh.
But other judges raised their voices high,
and let occulted truth slip through their words.
That paratrooper was their man. A spy
they floated into fascist lines, no Brit.
We royalists had healed our captor's eye.
More laughed, but others slammed the table hard,
"No royalists shall walk!"

Behind our heads a silver voice cuts through
their argument. The tabled judges stop
their lips and stare toward this swollen man,
who whispers through his cigarette. He points.
"Let them go." Judges glance from side to floor.
Who is this deus ex machine they fear?
We know him not—some Marxist higher up.
Again he rasps. "Let them go." The room is still.
A judge then flicks his chin toward the guard.
We stand as one, and move along the seats.
We're free, I say to Berta with my hand.
The man does not return our look. We circle
before the door, and Father crouches low
to speak into our eyes. "When we get out
these doors"—he bore the eyes of one run through
with spear—"you must run fast and not look back."
He knows his actions brought us to this chopping
block. If only he could empty history;
He sees our eyes and hates that stupid gun,
his love for ugly king. He grabs me to
his vest. I hear him pray into my hair.
We all grab hands and run into the street.
We run. We run. We run. . .
But bullets never give us chase.

When I look back on all his photos
now, I see two men, before and after.
That moment at the door, that father's pause,
regret forever scarred his handsome face.&134;

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