Berlin’s occupation, rain threatening, city razed as a field of unproductive crops. A tiny sock torn by the unmistakable print of a tank tread. Smoke rising up from the buildings as if adding to the clouds. Your grandfather smoking a Lucky Strike, shaking out a match, crushing it under his boot. The weight of unknowing that comes before destroying a life, a feeling like passing a new room’s threshold, head dizzy, eyes adjusting.
Your grandfather surveying the city with his unit, starting with what was a house, plumbing exposed, curtains billowing from gaping hole. Infantry slouched over domestic miscellanea, rifles out of reach, dead eyes staring up. Your grandfather finding the Sturmbannführer slumped on the couch, left side of his head erased. Him staring into the man’s remaining eye as the clouds turn black.
Your grandfather finding the woman with her infant, hand covering the child’s mouth, weeping after the door opens. The unit pulling her away from her child, taking her into the hallway, shutting the door as the infant cries. The clothing torn from her body, balled up fists held to carpet, intoned German, though whether prayers or curses it isn’t clear. When the others finish, your grandfather unbuckles and does this thing, not able to look at her though she stares only at him, the boy’s cries but otherwise nothing, otherwise silence. Him leaving a chocolate bar on the floor as if to make it all right.
Your parents’ room, lightning coloring the sky through the window, your body undulating on the waterbed’s waves, your father drinking MGD. Hundreds of empty Marlboros in the corner, a modern art installation, overpowered by tobacco smell when you go anywhere near them. Last month your father was smoking for a barbecue grill. This month he’s smoking for a tent.
You starting up your Game Boy and your father taking out the double As, tossing them into the trash, telling you he’ll teach you to play a real game. Swigging, putting three darts in your hand, pushing flights into place. You bouncing one off the 20, landing another out of play, the third sticking into drywall. Your father finishing one bottle and opening another, grouping the darts around the bullseye. Slapping the back of your head when you miss the board again. Telling you to stand by the board. Insisting you don’t move. You feeling the wind of the flights above your head and crying as the thunder rolls in. Your father telling you it’s only a joke.
Your father booting up the computer, navigating to his sites. Another bottle nearly finished, your father handing it to you, telling you to kill it. Your father confirming he’s over eighteen, and the thunder outside, with no rain. A person being choked, opening their mouth like a fish struggling on a pier, hooked in the gills. Getting up to leave but being told to stay. To hop up on your father’s lap. Saying you don’t want to but being grabbed by the arm, bruise forming beneath your father’s hand. Hopping up as he presses play on the next video.
A house party you’ve been dragged along to, hurrying to get inside and out of the rain. Dubstep faintly audible, crushed cans of PBR like decorative stones outside the door. Not knowing anyone there, hands in pockets, a MacBook DJ “spinning.” Being handed a PBR, cracking it open, taking imperceptible sips.
Thunder drowning out songs and awkward dancing, your friends mingling, leaving you with strangers. Dubstep giving way to German techno, inebriated girl telling you how she studied abroad in Berlin. How her family was originally from there. How her grandmother came to America alone, save for her son, after the war. Your friend approaching, trying to hand you another beer. Turning it down to nurse the first one and telling the girl about your grandfather, the war hero of the family.
The room getting unbearable from the heat, sweating through your shirt. Stepping outside, the rain clearing up. Nothing but a fine mist, a rolling fog. The girl from before, face down on the lawn by the side of the house, out of view. Walking up to her and stopping. Standing there, EDM reverberating off the walls of the house. Trying to wake her, but getting no response. Looking around for people. Seeing no one. Pulling out your phone, calling for a cab, standing next to her and waiting for it to arrive. Lightning bringing false daylight way off, out there, far away in the distance. The rain above you no longer falling.