My publisher wisely, I now believe, asked me to drop the following. It was actually supposed to open my new novella. Instead, it and the other bits related to this part of the tale were excised. I share it with you now, so that it’s cutting will not have been entirely in vain.
The ordinances shook the ground as we ran towards the railroad tracks on the other side of the square. Along the way, every brick in the road threatened to trip us up as though they’d been shaped by German hands, baked in German ovens then placed there in strategically in advance of our escape. Down an alley, which I was sure promised a way through, we came upon a pockmarked wall too tall to climb. We had lived our whole lives in that small town. Rachel and I knew it only as children could but in our panic, we became momentarily lost and disoriented. I sense distinctly, however, that I was the one closest to panic. The war on the wind was the smell of diesel and death in the air.
For generations my and Rachel’s families had been close. When the two of us were summoned to a joint meeting in her backyard the night before, I knew what was coming. I had been following the news of the vicious Nazi advance. These reports were supplemented by village gossip of what the Germans had in store for us. If anything, the whole last train out plan seemed several time tables too late.
Taking the news like a good boy, I tried not to look too pleased. Rachel, however, protested and wept in a way that was a surprising. I was only too glad to leave. In fact my greatest fear was surving the war then spending the rest of my life in the terrible shadow of its memory in that little mountain town.
I had little in common with the other residents. My parents were a good deal older than me. I had never been close with them as they had treated me as a burden for as long as I could remember. Rachel, on the other hand, acted every bit the small town girl, squeezing and holding on to her parents until the very last minute.
When as we scurried along that alley and heard the train whistle blowing, I even detected a sigh of relief from her. I kept pulling her along and when we finally negotiated a way around that wall by squeezing through a small space at the other end of it, the train station stood miraculously before us. A great, black engine sat steaming and growling on the only set of tracks. All the passenger cars were stuffed to overflowing. We were nimble, dancing the chaos of the platform amidst all the rushing and tearful goodbyes. It did not take any clairvoyance to sense that Rachel wanted to linger with them. Still, I refused to let go of her hand. My only fear in that moment was of having to make the journey alone.
Another young couple stood weeping with bags at their feet, while the sound of explosions burned through the air like approaching thunder. Then with no further warning beyond an almighty whine-inducing creak, the great machine shuttered into motion. Suddenly, those we were among went still just as an urgency came to us. Even Rachel, no longer behaving quite so much like luggage, began to race after the moving train.
Carful after carful of cramped riding cars lumbered past. Then came the wooden ones with their large sliding doors gaping open. These were less crowded. Picking out one near the end that appeared empty, I leapt, just managing to land inside of it. Clawing at a gap between the planks, I steadied myself. When I turned for Rachel, I began to lose my grip and slide out the opened door. As I reached out for Rachel, I felt something take hold of my belt. Racing now with more urgency than she had shown during the whole of our escape, Rachel reached out for me. I took first her hand, then her wrist, then her forearm and with a heave pulled her aboard.