Svendborg was unusually quiet. Clouds covered the sun, letting only weak streams of light through and leaving the darkest corners of the city still dark. The cobblestone streets were slick with the rain from the previous night. Fall leaves were scattered across the ground. A chilling breeze, heralding the coming winter, pulled at the flags that hung from lampposts and roofs: the flag of Denmark, red with a white cross, and the flag of the devil, with it’s crooked black spider.
Just like they had every day for the past eighteen months, ever since the Germans invaded our country, two soldiers watched the street. Or more precisely, those who walked on it. One was tall, with a thick mustache, chalky skin, and squinty eyes. His lips seemed to be set in a permanent frown as he surveyed my brother and me make our way down the street. The other soldier was blond, with a round face and ears that seemed too large for his head. They stood together outside of the barber’s, both wearing the tan uniform and armband I had come to hate. Guns were slung over their shoulders. Beside them on the cobblestone was a dark stain from where my father had bled out in the street.
I tugged on Oliver’s hand, urging him to walk faster.
My brother wouldn’t have it. “I’m tired, Claudi,” he whined, his lips turned downwards in a pout. Oliver clutched his stuffed rabbit to his chest, a sad thing with only one eye and a thousand stitches. Oliver had named the rabbit Rolf after hearing one soldier call to another across the street.
“Just a little while longer,” I said, lowering my head to whisper in his ear.
He continued to gripe."I'm cold, too.”
I sighed."Ma needs us to get ginger, Ollie. Don't you want her to feel better?" Oliver paused for a moment, then, ashamed, looked down at his feet and nodded.
We didn’t have enough money to buy medicine, something we would have been able to scrounge for when my father was bringing in money from the shop, no matter how little it was. But we had used all of the money we had saved up on a burial for him. It was a proper one, not the one the soldier had intended for him when he poured the rest of his akvavit on my father’s body and asked for a match.
Our Ma had been sick ever since that day, coughing through the night and keeping me up. Even if she hadn't been sick, though, I still wouldn't have been able to sleep. Whenever I closed my eyes, I would see my father and the squinty eyed soldier who shot him in the middle of the street.
But our Ma was getting worse, so she had sent us to get ginger from the general store, a small wooden building squeezed in between the post office and the clock maker’s. Its windows were broken and poorly covered with squares of canvas. Paint peeled off the wooden slats. The store owner’s dog, Aksel, a fat mutt with a stubby tail, was sprawled out on the step in front of the store with his legs thrown out like a star. Oliver patted Aksel’s head as we passed, and the mutt nuzzled his hand. My brother laughed. But that joy was short lived, as Aksel clamped his jaws around Rolf's foot and scampered off, the ragged rabbit dragging against the ground.
"Rolf!" Oliver cried.
Aksel, his stubby tail wagging back and forth, galloped down the road in the direction of the soldiers. The blond one noticed the mutt first. He nudged the squinty eyed soldier, a small smirk on his lips, and said something in German.
I took off down the road after Aksel, cursing at the dog under my breath. Before I could get very far though, the squinty eyed soldier stepped out in front of Aksel and cried, “Anhalte!” It was a word I knew better than I wished I had. It was the same word that same soldier had screamed at my father before he shot him. Stop.
Aksel ground to a halt in front of the soldier, who dropped down onto his knee and placed his hand underneath the dog’s jaw. He squeezed. Aksel’s mouth fell open. The squinty eyed soldier grabbed Rolf from the ground where he had landed and wiped the stuffed animal on his pants, ridding it of dog slobber.
He muttered something to his comrade, then began to move towards me.
I curled my hands into fists at my sides, trying to keep from shaking. All I could see as the soldier came towards me was that moment when he had uncapped his bottle and tipped it, sending alcohol cascading over my father’s body. All I could see was the bloody footprints he left when he walked away. All I could see was the drunken smile he had had on his face.
And then the soldier was there, holding Rolf out towards me.
This man was a German, a murderer, the soldier who had killed my father. But that was not who he seemed to be now. Now, he was only a man who had returned my brother’s rabbit.
© Aubrey Rhoadarmer, Westview Middle School