THE MEMORY OF MIRIAM
by Kelly Glass
I brush the leaves from my coat and hang it in the
small foyer closet. Miriam’s coat hangs there too: a black
pea coat that hugged her hips and collected stray hairs
from the cat. There are times I move in close and bury
my face in the neck of her coat. The wool scratches
against my cheeks and I imagine the scent of her skin
still clinging to the rough fibers. Miriam’s raincoat and
scarves live in the closet too. I could pass days simply
sitting and listening to all the memories pouring from
her garments. Jewel weaves her fat body around my
legs, meowing her displeasure that I haven’t greeted her.

“Hi, my friend,” I say, softly leaning over to stroke her
fur. “I’m leaving on a 5:20 a.m. flight out of LaGuardia
tomorrow so I’d better do some laundry. But first, some
tea.”

From my window I see the trees standing guard to the
entrance of my small backyard; their foliage spreads out
and overlaps like school girls linking arms for a game of
Red Rover. The wind blows by to say hello and the trees
respond in a chorus of applause. An army of fat, black
carpenter ants make their way across the deck in search
of breakfast. The steam from my tea cup swirls around
my face and I am content for a moment. I close my eyes
and see our room: pale buttery yellow walls, faded blue
and white bedspread, a mason jar filled with wildflowers,
a book of poems marked up with notes on my
nightstand. Miriam picked the yellow paint for the walls,
and I, the bedspread. She had an affinity for wildflowers
growing on the side of the road and I’ve kept up the
habit of picking them for her. The walls of my room in
this place are beige, but I still have the bedspread. The
wind makes another pass and the trees cheer again. The
flowers are waking, stretching their petals to the sky,
preparing to sunbathe awhile. It is a good day to be
alive. Tomorrow I am headed back to Auschwitz.

When I was young, the thought of my memory fading
terrified me, but now, as I wait in line at the welcome
center, I am grateful. I pay twelve dollars to enter the
place that held me captive for three years. I want to tell
the clerk to look in his logbook and he’ll see under my
name a notation that reads: Asher Reichenburg, paid in
full with his life, but I don’t. Instead, I slide my money
across the counter and say, “You may want to consider
changing the name of your building.” He stares at me as
if I’ve gone insane. Perhaps I have.

I wander through the buildings, the memories hazy from
time. “I have defied these bastards,” I think as I walk
freely through this place, touching the rough walls with
my weathered hands.

The last building I enter houses items our captors took
from us: glasses, prosthetics, children’s clothing, shoes,
hair. I turn, the glint of sun off metal catching my eye. I
step up to the glass and lay both hands on its smooth,
clear surface. The space is cavernous, filled with
hundreds of pieces of cookware: aluminum pots stained
and seasoned from years of use, yellow bowls with
delicate flowers hugging the outside, oval baking dishes
the color of the sky; all with chips and cracks to their
lips and handles. When Hitler’s men came to our town,
they rounded us up, barking orders to take only the
most precious items. I can still hear their jackboots on
the cobblestone plaza, still see their brass buttons
catching the sun, blinding us.

A memory of Miriam comes to me then. She is squatting
in our kitchen, rummaging around in the cabinets.

“Miriam, let’s go love. I have what we need.”

“Just a second,” she replies, her voice muffled by the
cabinet.

I am about to grab her arm when she stands up,
triumphant, with her grandmother’s cake pan in her
hands. The tube pan holds dents and scratches from
years of use and hundreds of happy memories: the touch
of her grandmother’s worn, loving hands, her mother’s
bright, carefree voice. Miriam looks up at me with tears
in her eyes and says, “It’s tangible, Ash.”

I look down at the stack of photographs in my hands and
know the tube pan will be the thing we save.

The Germans split us up on the trains. They said it was
for privacy reasons and we believed them. That was the
last time I ever saw my Miriam. She was standing in line
wearing her black pea coat, clutching that pan of
memories.

Perhaps Miriam’s pan lies in the room in front of me and
I smile at the thought of her standing in our kitchen, in
a house that no longer exists, wielding a tube pan like a
shield. The pan will never be recovered, but I have her
coat. Miriam’s coat came back to me by sheer
happenstance. After the war, after I returned to our
home only to find a pile of rocks and a few memories in
the rubble, government officials ordered the cataloguing
of all items found at the camps. Someone found Miriam’s
coat with her note inside, matched up our names and
just like that, her coat arrived at my small apartment
one bright, spring day. I will never know the name of the
person who broke the law to send me her coat. It came
only with a note that read, “Live for her.”

I find my way to the main entrance and step outside of
the old wrought iron gate that secured us from the
outside world. The sign that mocked us is still there:
“Work Makes You Free.” With a steady hand I pull out a
copy of the note Miriam left in her pocket:

My dearest Asher,

Love is a measurable, tangible thing. It is not in the
oratory of great poets or geniuses of prose. It is the
crinkle that comes to your eyes when you smile over at
me. Love is in your hand reaching up to cover my ear
from a blaring siren. And in my small hands working the
knots from your back. Don’t be afraid. The heartache is
going to come. It is going to plow right through you until
you’re almost dead and then come back for a second
pass. The lights will go out. An avalanche of hurt and
regret will bury you neck deep. Don’t be afraid.
Remember the texture of love and you will survive.

All my love,

Miriam

I pull out the small roll of tape I brought from home and
attach Miriam’s note on the post underneath the arch of
the main entrance. I look up one last time at the Nazi
saying on the fence and bark out a laugh. The only thing
that makes us free is love.


Kelly Glass is a Language Arts teacher at St. Francis High School in
Milton, Georgia. In addition to teaching, Kelly has presented at
numerous conferences on works by Langston Hughes, Elizabeth
Gaskell and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and topics such as strategies for
assisting non-traditional students in college writing centers. When
not writing, she thinks about hiking; when hiking, she thinks about
reading; when reading, she thinks about things she can write about.
Her work has appeared in The Drowning Gull.
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