Matthew McAyeal is a writer from Portland, Oregon. His short stories have been published in the literary magazines "Bards and Sages Quarterly", "Fantasia Divinity Magazine", "cc&d", "The Fear of Monkeys", "The Metaworker", "Danse Macabre", "Scarlet Leaf Magazine", and "Bewildering Stories." In 2008, two screenplays he wrote were semi-finalists in the Screenplay Festival.
"Current Affairs" is a historical fiction story set in 1939. It is 5,619 words and was previously published in "Danse Macabre", "cc&d", "The Fear of Monkeys", and "Scarlet Leaf Review."
“Hey, where’s my book?!” screamed Mary Brown. In an instant, her angry shriek brought tension and headache to the otherwise tranquil spring day in April.
By “my book” she meant her copy of Gone with the Wind. Margaret Mitchell’s story of the Old South was practically the most popular book in the world, and few loved it more than fourteen-year-old Mary Brown. She planned to reread it over and over again, enough to absorb every detail, before the movie came out. But now her copy had vanished. She knew she hadn’t misplaced it. She knew where she kept it. Someone else had moved it.
Mary marched out to the living room only to see her parents were completely unconcerned by her beloved book’s disappearance. “Where’s my book?!” she repeated loudly.
“Your book has been put away,” said Mrs. Brown.“What?!” asked Mary, outraged. “Put away? Put away where? What have you done with it?!”
“Your book has been put away until your grades improve,” said Mrs. Brown.
“But I need that book!” Mary protested. “I need to have it when the movie comes out!”
“That’s not until later this year. You have plenty of time.”
“December fifteenth, to be exact,” said Mary. She had the date memorized, obviously.
“If your grades then are like they are now,” said Mrs. Brown, “you might not be seeing the movie at all.”
These words made Mary so angry that she couldn’t even speak! How could she be banned from seeing the movie? Oh, how she hated the calm voice her mother had said it in, as though it were the most reasonable and sensible thing in the world! Mary wanted to hit something and hit it hard. Some part of her knew it wasn’t rational to get so angry about this, but she loved Gone with the Wind so very much. She simply had to see the movie!
“Father, do something!” she yelled eventually.
“Listen to your mother, Mary dear,” said Mr. Brown, resting in his armchair with the newspaper and not paying much attention.
“Thanks a lot!” she yelled back at him.
“Mary, do you realize how ungrateful you’re being?” asked Mrs. Brown reproachfully. “Look around you. You have a roof over your head, decent clothes on your body, and food in your stomach every night. Do you not see the people living in the Hoovervilles? What do you think any of them would give to be living your life right now?”
Mary knew her mother was right. She didn’t think of the Hooverville inhabitants she had seen in her boring real life, but instead of the part in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett O’Hara returned to Tara only to find her mother dead, her sisters sick with typhoid, and her home looted by enemy soldiers. Facing complete destitution, Scarlett had vowed that she would never be hungry again. There did seem a disconnect between Mary reading about people teetering on the edge of starvation for entertainment and then considering it an outrage when she wasn’t allowed to see a movie. Of course, she was still mad at her mother and didn’t want to admit to being wrong, so she said nothing.
“If you improve your grades,” Mrs. Brown continued, “you can see the movie and get your book back too. You know our family rules – you can go to the cinema only so long as you keep your grades decent and the picture doesn’t have Mae West in it.”
“But it’s too hard!” Mary objected. “I’m just not a smart girl like Margaret or Ethel!” Not that Mary would want to be like Margaret or Ethel anyway since she hated them.
“You could always take an after-school elective class,” said Mrs. Brown.
“But that would cut into my free time!”
“Do you want your book back or not?”
Mary sighed in resignation. She knew she had no choice. What good would free time be if she couldn’t have Gone with the Wind in it?
* * *
Later that day, Mary was in the local soda parlor with Miriam Schubert, her newest and best friend. Miriam’s family had only moved to America from Europe the previous November, but she already spoke excellent English. She had learned through hers and Mary’s common interest — American movies. Mary found it a bit surreal that movies from her country were apparently so popular over in Europe. After all, she didn’t know any non-American movies.
The jukebox was playing Benny Goodman as Mary and Miriam looked over the options for after-school classes. It was a good thing Mrs. Brown wasn’t there. She would have asked how Mary could concentrate with that “modern noise” in the background and demanded that it be shut off even though Mary could concentrate just fine. Although the goal was to select an after-school class for Mary, she and Miriam found time to talk about other things.
“Do you think Mickey Rooney would ever marry me?” asked Mary.
“Sure,” said Miriam. “Right before you two adopt Shirley Temple.”
“Come on! What does Ann Rutherford have that I don’t?”
“A role in Gone with the Wind?”
“Shut up!” said Mary playfully.
It was at that moment that the door to the soda shop opened. Mary looked over and was happy to see George Baker entering. George was a very cute boy from Mary’s school and her second choice of husband should Mickey Rooney happen to turn her down. Unfortunately, George was accompanied by his know-it-all cousin Margaret as well as Margaret’s friend Ethel. Mary had several classes at school with insufferable Margaret, but none with George. Oh, how she wished that situation were reversed!
Margaret acted like she hadn’t noticed Mary, but that didn’t stop her from leading George and Ethel unmistakably in Mary’s direction. Mary decided to return the favor by pretending she hadn’t noticed Margaret and busied herself with her milkshake. As the group reached Mary and Miriam’s booth, Margaret acted as though she had just noticed Mary there.
“Oh hello, Mary,” she said dismissively. “We were just discussing the impact of last year’s Republican congressional victories on President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.” Margaret said it importantly, in the voice of someone who wanted it known that she regularly talked about sophisticated, adult things.
“Sounds very boring,” said Mary.
“You have a civic responsibility to know what’s going on in the world,” said Margaret superiorly. “Women have had the vote for almost twenty years in this country. You’re going to have to know what’s going on if you want to be able to make responsible decisions at the ballot box.”
“But I’m not twenty-one yet,” Mary pointed out. “I won’t have to become boring like you for another seven years.”
Margaret narrowed her eyes.
“Actually, we were talking about it for our current affairs class,” said George cheerfully.
“Current affairs?” asked Mary. “Is that an after-school elective?”
“Yes,” said Margaret. “Of course, that wouldn’t interest you. After all, you wouldn’t want to become boring like me, would you?”
Mary breathed a sigh. She looked down at the list. As she thought over what to do, the jukebox switched to a Louis Armstrong song, but she paid no attention. At the moment, the music was in the background and in the back of her mind. Eventually, Mary made her decision and circled “current affairs.” There was no way she was going to throw away the chance to be in the same class as George!
“What’s the matter, Mary?” taunted Margaret. “Not failing enough classes already? I'll bet you don’t even listen to the news on the radio!”
“Why should I?” asked Mary. “How do I know it isn’t Orson Welles again?”
“Because it’s not Halloween?” suggested Ethel.
“He could strike on a different day,” said Mary. “Besides, I know about plenty of things that are going on in the world. For example, that singing girl from Love Finds Andy Hardy will be starring in a movie based on The Wizard of Oz.”
“How about what’s going on in the real world?” said Margaret, rolling her eyes.
“Hollywood is part of the real world.”
“No, it’s not,” said Margaret contemptuously.
* * *
“I hope you really want to take that class,” said Miriam as she and Mary left the soda parlor together. “I kind of feel like you only took it because you felt that Margaret was challenging you and you couldn’t back down.”
“No, no, I really want it!” Mary insisted. “It has George in it!” She and Miriam both had crushes on George. How that would work out if he ever became interested in them she didn’t know, but for now he was another common interest for them to bond over.
“Okay, so long as you really want it,” said Miriam a bit uncertainly.
“Let’s talk about something else,” suggested Mary. “Do you think Vivien Leigh will be any good as Scarlett O’Hara?”
“I should hope so!” exclaimed Miriam. “They certainly went to enough trouble finding her!”
Mary laughed. “My grandmother was born in 1853,” she said, “so she remembers the ‘60s. I hope she’ll watch the movie with us so she can tell us how accurate it is. I’ve been trying to get her to read the book.”
“How do you think we’ll refer to the ‘60s when we get to the 1960s?” asked Miriam thoughtfully.
“The 1960s?!” said Mary with a laugh. “That’s so far off! We’ll probably all have flying cars by then!” By this point, they had reached Miriam’s house and came to a stop in front of it.
“Well, goodbye then,” said Mary. “I wish I could see more of you. What church does your family go to?”
“We – we don’t go to a church.”
“What?!” asked Mary in surprise. She hadn’t meant to sound so aghast, but she just didn’t know what to think. Did Miriam’s family not believe in God?
“We’re Jewish,” explained Miriam. “We go to a synagogue.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that,” said Mary a bit guiltily, feeling that she should have known this about her best friend.
“Don’t worry, you wouldn’t know,” Miriam said quickly. “I don’t normally talk about it. Well, I’ll see you tomorrow!” She sped up to the porch and in the door of her house.
* * *
It was Thursday the twenty-seventh when Mary, not sure what to expect, walked into her first current affairs class. She took a seat between Clarence and Lois, the only two people there she knew and liked, although they were only casual acquaintances. She would’ve preferred to sit near George, of course, but he was too near Margaret and Ethel for her tastes.
“Welcome to current affairs,” said the teacher, a middle-aged woman. “For those of you who are new, I’m Mrs. Gregory. Today, we’re going to play a little game of sorts. I’m sure you’ve all been following the recent events in Europe.” Mary hadn’t been, but decided to keep that to herself. Margaret’s hand, however, shot up.
“I have, Mrs. Gregory!” Margaret boasted. “I could explain it!”
“Very well, go ahead then,” said Mrs. Gregory.
“Well,” Margaret began rather smugly, “the German Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, demanded that the Sudetenland – that’s the German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia – be incorporated into Germany. Britain and France were supposed to protect Czechoslovakia, but they agreed to let Germany have the Sudetenland in order to prevent a war. Now, of course, Hitler has gone far beyond that agreement and taken over all of Czechoslovakia.”
Oh, how Mary hated Margaret’s know-it-all attitude! She thought she was just so smart for knowing all about some far-off events taking place in Europe. Well, it wasn’t like those distant European events could ever affect Mary’s life in the United States.
“Yes, very good,” said Mrs. Gregory. “This comes just a year after Hitler incorporated Austria into the German Reich, and now he’s clamoring for the Polish Corridor between Germany proper and East Prussia. Meanwhile, General Franco has won the civil war in Spain, and the Japanese invasion of China is still ongoing. In short, there’s a lot of trouble in the world nowadays. In our game, we’ll see how the world’s problems would be handled by you, the new generation. You’ll each be given a country, and we’ll see how you can try to achieve world peace while fulfilling your country’s interests.”
“Mrs. Gregory, I don’t think Mary should participate in this,” said Margaret, raising her hand but not waiting to be called on. “She’s just not smart enough for it. Either that or she should be given some inconsequential country which will never matter, like Cuba or Afghanistan.”
“You shut your big mouth!” shouted Mary.
“Both of you, stop it!” said Mrs. Gregory harshly. “This is no way for young ladies to behave in school!” Mary thought of asking sarcastically where the appropriate place for young ladies to behave like this was, but decided she would rather not get into trouble on her first day in this class.
Mrs. Gregory said that Mary would participate like any other member of the class. Each student was called up to reach into a hat and pull out a strip of paper with the name of a country on it. Ethel got France, Margaret got Great Britain, Lois got China, Clarence got the United States, and George got the Soviet Union. When it was her turn, Mary mechanically reached into the hat and, not caring much which country she got, grabbed the first strip of paper her hand touched. As she walked back to her seat, Mary unfolded the piece of paper. It read: “Germany.”
Once everyone had their country, Mrs. Gregory got them to rearrange their desks into a circle so that they could all talk to each other.
“So, I’m Germany,” said Mary. “Apparently, I want to take over Poland or something.” She knew nothing about the country other than what Mrs. Gregory had said at the beginning of class.
“The Polish Corridor,” Margaret corrected her superiorly. “Though knowing Hitler, he probably wants all of Poland in the long run.”
“This’ll be difficult,” said Ethel. “Hitler has broken every treaty he’s ever made. Somehow, we’ll have to come up with an agreement which Germany will have no choice but to keep.”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” said Margaret smugly. “In fact, I believe this situation is already resolved. Germany cannot invade Poland without getting into a war with Soviet Russia. If Germany and the Soviet Union went to war with each other, we could just sit back and watch two of our enemies destroy each other. The British Empire’s dominance over the world would remain unquestioned, and our two primary foes would be severely weakened.”
“Thanks a lot, Britain!” commented George.
“Sorry, George, but it’s just politics,” said Margaret. “Herr Hitler has shown a real expansionist streak in the past, but I’m afraid he’s now expanded as far as he dare.”
Mary didn’t really think. She just knew that she hated Margaret’s haughty voice, liked George, and noticed a common enemy.
“Hey, Russia!” she said to George. “How about we ally against Britain? We can invade Poland together and divide it in half between ourselves.”
“You can’t do that!” sneered Margaret. “Germany is fascist and Russia is communist! They would never work together!” But George was considering it.
“Sure,” he said eventually.
“Mrs. Gregory, Mary is ruining the game!” yelled Ethel. “She’s making it completely unrealistic!”
“Mary, I don’t think you understand just how opposed to communism the new Germany is,” said Margaret. “The Nazis accuse anyone who disagrees with them of being a communist, and then they put them in camps. A pact between Germany and the Soviet Union would never happen!”
“Well, it’s happening now,” replied Mary. “And you can’t do anything about it unless you want to go to war with Germany and Russia.”
“And Italy!” declared Donald. “We’re joining in too!”
“You and Germany are both supposed to be in the Anti-Comintern Pact!” yelled Ethel.
“Gee, I guess we have no choice but to surrender,” said Walter, who was playing the part of Poland.
“No, don’t you play along with their nonsense!” shrieked Margaret.
“There’s no way Poland could defeat the combined armies of Germany and the Soviet Union,” Walter explained. “Britain and France didn’t come to the rescue of Czechoslovakia, so why should I think they’ll come to the rescue of us?”
“All right, Britain and France declare war on Germany!” said Margaret, and Ethel nodded in agreement.
“What about Russia?” asked Mary. “They’re invading Poland too.”
“We declare war on Germany!” Margaret repeated, affixing Mary with a glare.
“Too late!” declared Mary. “Poland is gone!”
“This is getting too silly,” said Ethel. “I quit.”
“By ‘quit’ do you mean surrender to the German armies?” asked Mary.
“Sure, why not?” said Ethel disinterestedly.
“What?!” shouted Margaret. “Ethel, you know that France is one of the world’s great powers. They would never surrender to Germany just like that. The Maginot Line is impenetrable!”
“Why don’t you surrender too?” asked Mary, who was quite enjoying this. She really loved seeing Margaret losing her cool.
“Never!” declared Margaret. “We’ll defend our island at any cost! We’ll fight on the beaches and in the streets if we have to! And even if you could subject our island or part of it, our Empire would carry on the fight! We will never surrender to you!”
“Hey, Germany!” said Ralph suddenly. He had been talking with Clarence and Lois, but had evidently been listening to what Mary was doing with Europe.
“Yes?” said Mary. “What country are you?”
“Japan,” he said. “We’re in the, um, Anti-Comintern Pact with you. Since you control France, can we have French Indochina?”
“Sure,” said Mary gleefully. “Take Britain’s colonies too!”
“Mary, you’ve completely ruined what this exercise is supposed to be about!” Margaret snarled. “We’re supposed to be trying to find a way to achieve world peace!”
“Mrs. Gregory didn’t say anything about how we should achieve world peace, did she?” asked Mary. “World peace will be achieved once the entire world is ruled by Germany and Japan.”
“And Italy!” declared Donald. “Don’t forget Italy!”
And so, the game continued. After a while, Mary had taken over most of Europe and was moving into North Africa. But even as Margaret went on denouncing the direction of the game as stupid, she refused to surrender Britain and seemed to become ever more emotionally invested in seeing Mary’s Germany beaten.
“What about Soviet Russia?” said Margaret at one point. “Are you going to stay allied to them forever? You oppose everything they stand for! Shouldn’t you stab them in the back at some point?”
“Why should I do that?” asked Mary. “We would be at war with the British in the west and the Russians in the east. That sounds pretty pointless to me.”
Some time later, a new war broke out between the ever-expanding Japanese Empire and the United States for control of the Pacific Ocean.
“Aren’t you going to declare war on the United States?” asked Margaret, gesturing towards Clarence. “Now that they’re at war with your ally Japan?”
“I don’t think so, Britain,” said Mary. “You’re just trying to bring more countries onto your side of our dispute. It didn’t work with Soviet Russia, and me going to war with America would be even more pointless. If I do nothing, America will just stay away from Europe and focus on Japan.”
Eventually, Margaret was forced to admit that Britain wouldn’t be able to hold out against the combined forces of Germany and Russia, at least not without support from the United States. Mary was just about to launch an invasion of Canada to destroy the British government-in-exile when the class ended. As she walked out of the classroom, Mary was feeling amazed at how fast the time had flown. If this class was going to be this fun on a regular basis, it might not be such a chore after all!
As she headed out of the school building, she found Miriam dutifully waiting for her. Mary smiled, happy to see her. They usually walked home together, but she hadn’t been sure if Miriam would wait around so long after school just for that.
“I actually had a swell time!” said Mary without preamble as they turned to walk down the road together. “We played this game where Mrs. Gregory assigned each of us a country. You’ll be happy to know that I got your home country Germany and practically conquered the world!”
Mary instantly had the feeling that she had said something wrong because Miriam became very quiet. As they walked on in uncomfortable silence, Mary wondered if she should say something, but it was Miriam who spoke up first.
“Do you know why my family left Germany?” she said eventually.
“No,” said Mary, feeling very awkward about the sudden air of seriousness. Miriam took a deep breath.
“Early last November,” she began, “I was lying in my bed one night when a brick flew in through the window. I heard shouting outside. I peeked outside, and I saw our neighbors. There were people I thought were our friends, and they were throwing bricks and rocks at our house! The police were there too, but they were just standing there and letting it happen. I was scared! I ran for my parents, but the people outside broke down our door and came into our house! They started smashing all our things! I thought they were going to kill me!”
“Why would they do that?” asked Mary, slightly dazed by this story.
“Because we’re Jews, that’s why!” shouted Miriam, tears shining in her eyes. “Everyone knows that Jews aren’t real people! You can do whatever you want to us and no one will care!”
“But why would they hate Jews so much?” asked Mary, not understanding.
“They say we’re responsible for everything bad in Germany,” said Miriam. “They say it was the Jews who overthrew the Kaiser and made us lose the World War. They say it was the Jews running the banks who caused the Depression.”
“But you didn’t do any of those things!” objected Mary. “I don’t know if Jews did, but I know you certainly didn’t! You’re just a kid! Why should they take it out on you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Miriam, her voice shaking. “I’m a Jew, and we’re all the same to them. Germany was also my country. Why would I want it to be miserable? I had to live there too. My family suffered in the Depression like everybody else. Why would we do that to ourselves?”
“I don’t know,” replied Mary, unable to think of anything else to say. They walked on for a bit before Mary remembered about the recent events in Europe and decided to ask Miriam about them. “You know Germany has taken over Austria and Czechoslovakia?” she said.
“Yes,” said Miriam. “Bad news for the Jews living there. Bad news for everyone living there, but especially for the Jews. You don’t know how lucky we were to get visas to the United States. So many more of us are still trapped in Germany. We can’t live there anymore, but there’s nowhere for us to go to. Other countries don’t want to let too many of us in. They don’t care about what Germany is doing to us. They don’t want us either. No one cares about Jews.”
“I care!” said Mary. “Well, I care about you. I don’t know if I care about Jews in general…”
“I thought I had friends who cared about me in Germany,” Miriam said quietly. “They were good friends too, but the Party changed them. Now they proudly march in parades with BDM uniforms. How do I know it couldn’t happen here too? This country isn’t immune. I’ve seen the way Negroes are already treated here, and I’ve heard the kind of things Henry Ford and Father Coughlin say about Jews.”
Mary didn’t know what to say. She wanted to say that she would never abandon Miriam like that, but she wondered if Miriam’s old friends might have once said the same thing. That would make her seem even more like them. But what could she say instead? Before she could think of anything, they reached Miriam’s house.
“I’m sorry,” said Miriam as they came to a stop, “I don’t think I should have told you about that. Your life here is so far removed from what I went through in Germany, and maybe it should be that way. I don’t want to think about the past. I just want to live a normal life here with a friend like you and talk about normal things and go to movies and things like that.” She paused, but Mary didn’t say anything. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Mary,” Miriam added, and she turned to walk to her house.
As Mary continued home, she was mentally hitting herself for having not replied. She should have said that she wanted their friendship to be about normal things too, but she hadn’t. Oh well, she could tell Miriam that tomorrow. But why did she seem to feel guilty? Mary told herself that what was happening to the Jews in Germany wasn’t something that concerned her, but how could she not care about that and care about Miriam at the same time?
That night, Mary lay wide-awake in bed. She tried closing her eyes several times, but she just couldn’t get to sleep. She kept imagining a brick flying in through her window. She couldn’t stop thinking of what Miriam must have felt as she ran from the angry mob invading her home. It hit Mary that Miriam had almost certainly been wearing nothing but a nightgown at the time, just as Mary was now. A few times, Mary sat up to look out her window and verify that there was no angry mob outside. Each time, she lay back down again, thinking of how stupid she was. She wasn’t Jewish, and she didn’t live in Germany, but anything seemed possible in the dark.
The next morning at breakfast, Mary continued to wonder why she had been so upset. It wasn’t that she hadn’t heard about horrible things happening to people before. Horrible things had occurred in the books she read, the radio shows she listened to, and the movies she watched. Was it because this time she knew it was something which really happened? Was it because it happened to someone she cared about? Was it because she wondered how Miriam, who had had the actual experience, could sleep at night feeling safe? Did Miriam have trouble sleeping? She seemed pretty cheerful to Mary. Did Miriam have sleeping trouble at one point and overcome it later? How did Mary not know the answer to any of these questions about her best friend?
While she was in the middle of these thoughts, Mary caught a mention of Germany on the radio. She had previously been treating the morning news as background noise like she always did, but now, for the first time in her life, she found herself actually paying attention to the news.
“Speaking before the Reichstag today,” said the radio announcer, “Chancellor Adolf Hitler responded to President Roosevelt’s peace proposal, thoroughly rejecting each and every point. During the course of the two-hour speech, Hitler further told his puppet parliament that he was no longer bound by Germany’s naval agreement with Britain or her non-aggression pact with Poland.”
A shiver went down Mary’s spine. It had all just been a game, hadn’t it? Margaret had said that Germany couldn’t invade Poland without getting into a war with Russia. Mary had gotten around that by making an alliance with Russia. Might the real Germany do the same? Mary reminded herself that Margaret seemed to find that ridiculous, and Margaret probably knew what she was talking about.
Still, the actions of their game translated to the real world would practically amount to a second World War. Mary looked around at her surroundings in the Brown dining room. The peacefulness almost pounded in her ears. She couldn’t imagine the world at war! She had been born almost seven years after the end of the World War, after all. But she had experienced the Civil War through the words of Gone with the Wind, and it seemed pretty horrible. She couldn’t imagine the sorts of war horrors she read about in Gone with the Wind happening in her actual life!
And speaking of Gone with the Wind...
“Mary,” said Mrs. Brown suddenly, “I’m sure you’ll get a passing grade once your new class is factored in. Therefore, I’ve decided to give you your book back early. I know how much it means to you.” With that, she held out Mary’s copy of Gone with the Wind. The book itself looked just as it had when Mary saw it last, as if it had never been gone.
“Oh… thanks,” said Mary dumbly as she took it in her hands. She was happy to have her book back, of course, but now all she could think about was how, if their game had been real, her actions would have been spreading horror and terror across Europe — horror and terror to people like Miriam.
* * *
As she entered her current affairs class later that day, Mary had already decided what she would do. Once again, their desks were arranged in a circle so they could wrap up their little game.
“So, Mary, you’re now in control of Europe and North Africa,” said Margaret contemptuously. “Your improbable alliance with the Soviet Union still stands. What are you going to do now, Germany?”
“Surrender,” said Mary.
“Germany surrenders,” Mary repeated. “The war is over — well, the war in Europe at any rate. I suppose there’s still the war with Japan.”
“Italy changes sides!” chimed in Donald.
“Well… if you’re serious about this,” said Margaret slowly, “I demand that you restore all the European countries you conquered to their previous governments.” Mary was about to answer that she would when George chimed in.
“Not so fast,” he said. “Soviet Russia is still in control of Eastern Europe, and we’ll be putting those countries under communist governments loyal to Russia. We need a buffer against the West.”
“Great, now Europe will be split in half between democracy and communism,” Margaret grumbled. “If this doesn’t lead to war, Europe will be divided, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, maybe for decades. All thanks to you, Germany. Who knows how this ‘cold war’ will turn out.”
* * *
After the class ended, Mary was walking outside the building. As on the previous day, Miriam was waiting for her, but this time she was looking rather pale and twisting her hands anxiously. Mary didn’t think that she had ever seen Miriam looking quite so upset. Mary smiled at her.
“Hello, Miriam,” she said.
Instantly, a smile broke out across Miriam’s face. She ran forward and threw her arms around Mary, holding her in a vice-like grip.
“I love you, Mary!” said Miriam. “I love you!”
It seemed natural to reply with “I love you too,” but Mary had never said those words to anyone outside her family before, and the thought of doing so felt too awkward. Instead, she slowly brought her arms up around Miriam so that their hug was no longer one-sided. She held Miriam tightly.
“Oh, Mary!” said Miriam. “I thought — I knew you would still be my friend, but — but — I never told you I was — was Jewish because of what happened with my friends in Germany. I knew it was different here, but I was scared! Then I not only told you that, but yesterday I told you about things I’d never talked about with anyone! I was just s-s-scared what would happen!”
“It’s okay,” said Mary as they came apart. “We wrapped up our game today, and the first thing I did was surrender Germany.”
“Oh, I didn’t mean for you to ruin your game on my account,” said Miriam, sounding a little guilty. “I know it’s not real.”
“No, Margaret was right,” said Mary. “I wasn’t taking it seriously.” A second after the words left her mouth, Mary was struck by the fact that she had never thought the words “Margaret was right” would flow from her lips so effortlessly, but she moved on without giving it a second thought. “I want what you want, Miriam,” she continued. “I don’t want to think about what happened to you in Germany any more than you do. I want everything to be normal.”
“Actually… Mary,” said Miriam slowly, “I’ve — I’ve thought it over, and I kind of do want to talk to you about it. I feel bad asking, but I know I’d feel better if — if I could sh-share with someone. I swear tomorrow we would go back to talking about boys and movies and normal things!”
“Okay,” said Mary right away. She didn’t know why she agreed so readily, but she knew that she meant it.
“I’m sorry if I pressured you into it!” said Miriam quickly. “I didn’t mean it like that!”
“No, I want to hear,” insisted Mary. “I can’t really know you if I don’t know what you’ve been through.” She didn’t know where those words had come from, but she knew immediately that they were right. In fact, they sounded much wiser than anything she thought her brain was capable of thinking up! “Let’s go over to your house,” she added.
With that, Mary took Miriam’s hand, and they turned to walk down the road together.