Her Days Were Numbered
"Sag es Nicht! Sag es Nicht! Don't Tell!"
What I won’t do to make him happy! My needy insecurity is getting old. I had a perfectly good, some would say “great!” career in Frankfurt. I was the first woman CEO at an up-and-coming retailer. My wage had soared to six figures, and I had the local buyers eating out of my fiscally tight-fisted hands. Why would anyone step away from such a promising future you ask? For love. Pure love. At least I love him.
Now I’m just being the bitter wife he left for me. But Jim promised if I was willing to retire early, he would fill my days with travel and adventures. I should have guessed, when I saw the deserted, dilapidated farmhouse he purchased, that the adventure would be picking the right paint colors for it’s cracked walls and travel would be to the local hardware store for tools and plaster. I am pleasantly surprised that flipping an old farmhouse is more rewarding than flipping the figures at my thirty-eight merchandise outlets. What really caught me off guard was how much I missed the sales personnel, our customers and the day-to-day human contact.
What he neglected to tell me, in his borderline begging speech to join him in blissful isolation, was early retirement would only be facilitated after he had completed a year of consulting for the different branches of his global firm! “Not to worry Sweetie! I’ll be home on the week-ends.” Had I realized the extent of the isolation I would have to endure, I would have passed on the abandoned farm and its questionable “potential.” Too late now…
I’m not the skittish, nervous type, but these past few weeks have left me feeling on edge. Having lived alone in the city for decades, It’ not like me to jump at every little “bump in the night.” But there have been far too many “bumps” since I settled in and unpacked. When Jim is home, and I detail the sounds I hear and movement I see out of the corner of my eye, I feel foolish. He stares over my shoulder and mindlessly nods as I tell, what I believe are legitimate concerns for my safety. His come back is always “I bought this place, so you would be safe when I’m on the road.” Easy for him to say as he lounges in his security enhanced five-star suite!
Now, I’m being neurotic and silly. It’s just a crumbling little farmhouse miles from civilization. The real test of my grit will be visiting the barn tomorrow. The exterior of the barn is in greater need of repair than the house. But even with its broken windows and missing wall planks, it is haven enough for local wildlife. Every morning as I sit on the porch and drink my French press, I watch small animals, wild chickens and even an emaciated cow wander in and out of the gapping hole on one side of the tilted frame.
Flashlight in hand, I decided to visit the barn at night. I figured if indeed there is an unwelcome guess in our barn, he will have a harder time finding me is I need to run and hide from him. If only I had a friend, a companion, I’d settle for a stranger, just someone to go into the barn with me. I keep telling myself, “It’s just a stupid old barn!” Then I remind myself that most of the activity and creaking sounds have emanated from the barn. Even in the dead of night, I have heard eerie sounds from within the wooden monstrosity.
Pulling the moaning warped door open is surly dangerous, as it hangs precariously from one bent hinge. The rusty metal- on- metal rasp of an ancient door latch seems to offer a warning to retreat to the comfort of my freshly painted Livingroom while I still can. I am slightly relieved that none of the sounds of my entrance were the sounds I have heard at all hours of the night. It is the bowed, weathered floorboards that emit the familiar little scream with my every step. No one has been going in or out. He is still here. He does not leave.
I hesitate to turn on the flashlight. I don’t want him to see me. But if I don’t turn on the light, I might not see him. I realize I haven’t breathed since I pointed the light beam on the barn walls. Who does this!? And for God’s sake why!? Every available inch on the four walls have carved tally strokes! Hundreds, no, thousands of tally strokes! Someone has been keeping score. But of what? I quickly turn off the flashlight as I fear I might be the next carving on the wall.
Pressing my back up against a moonlit window, I can refocus my eyes to the darkness and feel my way around the outer perimeter of the horse stalls toward the door. Crunching and cracking sounds under my feet are created by old, dried eggshells and small animal bones. As I sift them through my fingers, I trip over a rusty, dented milk bucket. Lifting the bucket to the moonlight, I can see fresh milk coating the bottom. My fear is being replaced by an even greater curiosity. Someone is or has recently been living here. Are the stroke marks days, and not victims? Are these barn walls just one big calendar for a lost soul?
This old barn could have been the safest respite for those who had no place to go. The Real Estate agent mentioned the farm had been vacant for more years than anyone locally could remember. If we had not bought it, the town leaders were going to level it all and clear the land.
I can’t bear this anymore! I’m such a fool! Is Jim right to ignore my un-founded ramblings and efforts for attention? These days of loneliness and isolation have driven me to the brink of madness with imagined footsteps and images that have no form! It feels so good to finally cry! I just need to let it out! The hay scratches my back, but a moonbeam wraps itself around the spot where I sit, and I can finally weep. I feel safer this moment than I have the entire time I have been on this God forsaken, run-down farm.
Wait! What? When I stop to catch my breath, there is still the sound of crying. How can that be? It grows and imitates my own. Its timber and softness is that of another woman. “Hello, hello! Who shares my loneliness? Who shares my sadness? Who shares my home?”
A gentle, meek and raspy voice tells me who, but in a language I do not speak. I follow her thin and tentative voice to a distant corner of the barn and push away the bail of hay she hides behind.
There before me sits the oldest, smallest, most frail woman I have ever met. I am speechless, as a chill runs down my spine. Her withered little face glistens in the moonlight as tears travel down her gaunt cheeks. I kneel by her side and look deeply into eyes that struggle to focus on her intruder. I take her little hands in mine, and we weep together. Not for the past, but for this shared moment of discovery.
The chill of the Autumn night is washing over her thin, emaciated body, and I know she needs warmth, and food as soon as possible. I ask her name, but all she can say is: “Sag es nicht! Sag es nicht!” Years later I would learn she was saying “Don’t tell! Don’t tell!”
Her body starts to shiver in the evening breeze. I remove my soft, pink cashmere sweater and wrap it around her boney shoulders. As I gently pull her wrist through the sleeve opening, my grip loosens. Small, but distinct black tattooed numbers creep out from under my fingertips. I can feel the raised images and recognize the numbers that were deeply inked into her once young skin. I gently massage the concentration camp tattoo, as if I can erase the obscene legacy she wears. I am touching history and it is touching me. She is still hiding! Hiding from them…
She reaches for a wooden pole near her in an effort to stand and walk on her own. I whisper “You are home! You do not have to hide, ever again.” I want her to know she is safe. I want her to know I am a friend. I want her to know there is no one left to tell. I take my car key and carve into the wall behind us a big, deep tally mark. Our tally mark. One more safe day, only this time she is not alone.
I lift her frail little body into my arms and head for the cozy, warm, farmhouse. She wraps her thin little arms around my neck and hugs me. As I head for the amber glow of her new home, I know I have found a friend. A very special friend. I can’t wait for Jim to meet Two, Nine, Seven, Four, Three.