Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fritz Haber

Clara’s thoughts were in shambles. She had read in the papers what her husband had done. The national war hero he’d become, a chemist making his own rules in the face of adversity. In all honest accounts he had won the battle and defeated Germany’s enemies, those ruthless and horrible and vile men. Those men, who according to the same papers touting her husband’s heroism, were less than men, who would sack a village, rape the women, murder the children and then burn the houses to the ground. These beasts, they were the very threat to everything that was civilized and right in modern Germany. But now, thanks to her husband, her beloved, these men were dead, choked and strangled to death in the worst way possible, drowning on land in a sea of their own bodily fluids. And her husband was responsible. He loosened the valves. He measured the dose and studied the wind and calculated the exact moment in which to release the green wall of gas that would kill everything it encountered, long after the enemy soldiers were convulsing and foaming yellow-green froth from their noses and mouths. He was the savior of the German people, the man who would turn the tide of the war in Germany’s favor. Her beloved, ihren geliebten.

To her, though, she could not feel that he was a hero. She could not stand behind this…this atrocity of warfare. She knew war wasn’t pretty or fair or just. But this desolation of humanity she could not ignore. As scientists they had a moral obligation to help humanity, she knew that and thought he had understood it, too. But perhaps he never had. Science should never be used to do what her husband had done. She just couldn’t bear to live with it.

By the time her husband had been home for an entire day the peacefulness of her house was gone, replaced with well wishers and taggers-on and reporters and all other sorts of people who are attracted to a war hero when he visits home. Freshly adorned with his new pins and medals upon his new uniform he strutted and sauntered around the house, visiting with this reporter and that government official. His new promotion had brought prestige to her and her son, as well. She had had no shortage of visitors to talk to her, Mrs. War Hero, asking stupid questions about what it’s like to be married to such a great man and how proud she was of him. Lies streamed through her teeth at the expense of her pride and her morality. Every lie she uttered brought her despair that much closer to the brink.

The second morning of his return home she had a few moments with him, their first few private moments since he’d come through the door and kissed her on the forehead. Sitting at the table over toast and black tea, they stared at each other, neither really knowing what to say. Finally, Clara broke the silence.

“Mien geliebten, this thing that you have done, you cannot do again. You must know that.”

He seemed genuinely surprised at her statement. He placed his tea cup on the table before he spoke. Excitement filled his voice. “Clara, you know I must! This victory is going to turn the war in Germany’s favor. It will win it for us. As it should be. Where is your love for your motherland?”

She couldn’t help it, her eyes teared up. “What you did is wrong and you know it. I know it. Everyone of those grieving families knows it! Science should be used for good and you have turned it into a tool for fear and death. I cannot stand by and watch you do it again, I just cannot.” She turned her face away, ashamed of her tears and unable to convey herself fully.

When he spoke again she could tell he would not listen to her, would not be convinced or swayed by her words. “Mein geliebten, I am a hero. And you sit here and call me Cain? I have a duty to my motherland, my country, to protect and serve. And I will do so as long as I can. Why do you not understand how important this is? How much I’ve accomplished?”

“You can hide behind your shiny badges and your promotion and starched uniform and your sense of duty but you can’t hide from the truth. This is wrong. All of it. And you know it. And I know it. And one day, mein geliebten, you will have to pay for it. Please…” She broke down, sobbing now. “Please…just…I don’t know…just stop. Don’t go back. Don’t do it again. Please…”

He sighed in resignation and without another word on the topic, without another glance at her got up from the table and put his dishes in the basin. He pushed his chair in and walked out of the room, leaving her sobbing in her hands quietly above her tea.

Her grief was overwhelming, her despair growing heavier in her chest as the time passed. Slowly, ever so slowly she stopped crying and went up to her bedroom. Their bedroom. His old pistol, the one from before he was a war hero, was in the closet in a small box. She took it out and looked at it. It was dull and worn, and it felt right in her hand. She put the box away and before she realized it, she found herself in the back garden. Her husband was in the house, talking to some important nobody, too busy to bother with morality.

The garden was nice. It felt comforting, being surrounded by her bluebells and daisies and roses. The sun was midway across the sky when she put the barrel of the gun to her chest and pulled the trigger. The shot pushed her backwards but she felt no pain, not at first. The air was gone from her chest and she struggled to breathe. A moment later the men in the house ran out, her husband and some nobody and her 13 year old son. Her grief grew, her poor son, her boy. What had she done? But it was too late. Her son ran to her body, tears already streaming down his puerile face. He grabbed her up into his arms, sobbing and screaming at the same time.

Her husband looked on from the stoop. A look of horror crossed his face and then he went back into the house, leaving her alone with Mr. Nobody and her son. Eventually Mr. Nobody went back into the house as well, leaving her son alone with her dying body. As the life flowed out of her and into her daisy flowerbed her son wailed and yelled at the world.

Her husband packed a few of his items later that afternoon and left before sunset, returning to the warfront, without saying a word to his son.

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