the soulyard

Makeshift Galaxy - Tash Turgoose

The chorus of nightfall rang out through the valley.

It had been a vineyard, once upon a time, before the greens turned to ochre, and the ochres turned to grey. 

Thud. Thud.

The vines didn’t reach for the sun anymore; they cowered, as its rays carved a pathway through the earth each day, charging from East to West. The winemakers daughter sat silently in the cellars, listening to the stars falling from the sky. Thud. Her fingers flitted over the pages of seemingly empty books as if they were a piano, tracing tiny constellations of bumps and lines, composing intricate stories of the cosmos. She read about the Big Bang, and the moment that kickstarted life, in every variation. The melody of energy, intertwining and weaving into lifeforms, a string of accidents exploding into planets and laughter and autumn leaves.

She pressed her palm to the cellar doors and waited for the heat to dissipate. She could feel the grains of the wood retreating, deflating, sighing in relief as the oranges turned to grey. Any moment now she could go about her nightly duties, re-planting the Earths energy, a secret only shared with the moon and her army of souls. She took an oven mitt from a hook between the stones and turned the knob until it clicked. The sound reverberated through the valley, bouncing endlessly from the barren lands. It was still warm outside. Normally by now, the temperature would have dropped. The ozone holes must have been close today, the hills must be alight beyond the ranges. She wasn’t worried about flames in the vineyard anymore though, there was nothing left to burn here — nothing but herself. 

Her feet burned as she climbed the stairs, each stone clinging to the heat of the day just passed. Some of them had cracked and warped in the years of the flares. Most things that couldn’t burn had split, writhing in the torture, begging relief from the infernos. The winemakers daughter emerged from the crush house, trailing a line of yarn behind her, looped around the door knob, and then around her wrist. She wore the midnight moon, and nothing else. She didn’t care for the gazes of the sighted, for nobody came anymore. They assumed that everywhere the sun went, the souls went too. Most did, in the beginning; her mother first, her brother next, her dad held on as long as he could. But, he was as good as gone for months before, most of his soul had burnt away with the grape vines, twisting out into the cosmos with what was left of his hopes and dreams. One day he just walked out into the daylight without a word — not even his bones remained. It was just her and the star fields now. 

She could see things that others couldn’t, though she couldn’t see that which they do. That was the catch — to heighten your senses, you have to lose one. It’s only then that you can tune in to the galaxies, and hear what they’re trying to say. She could feel the universe shifting around her, the tiny bursts of energy that came with life and death and everything in between. She could follow the traces of stardust in whichever form they chose to take — a leaf, a tree, a man, a lover. She could recite the chords his stardust played in the galaxies that surrounded her. The low tones of his scars, the peaks of his eyes, and the melodies in his laughter. That’s all we are, after all — stardust carved into smiles and heartbeats, bones and skin. She could still feel the portions of that stardust they shared that made their souls collide again and again. Soul mates in every life form, in every life time, in every galaxy. It coursed through her veins and begged her to find him again. Though, she knew he was in the sky now, clustered with the others lost in the flares. 

She wandered the rows of the vineyard, craning her senses for a taste of the energy. She knew stars had fallen that dusk, she’d heard them, the chorus growing ever stronger with every sunset that had passed. Every night the star fields filled with more rocks than she could believe, like every star was plummeting to Earth one after the other. She couldn’t figure out why the showers were growing with such intensity. One theory fell to overcrowding, the flares had simply caused too many deaths and the skies were spilling over, pushing the stars back down before their time. The other fell to purpose, Mother Earth was calling all of her souls home in a desperate plea to save her Earth. Either way, she knew the fallen stars energies mimicked that of the humans she had loved. There were people trapped inside those rocks, ready to blossom once again. The sky was a graveyard of the souls of the dead, falling back down to Earth to start this life all over again. 

She caught the trace of one of the fallen, rolling its threads between her finger tips, letting it lead her to the crater. As she walked, she thought of something that her dad used to say when she was younger, when they’d bask in the sunshine during harvest, sipping sweet nectar from the barrels untapped. He would say that the only stars that we can see are the dead ones, firing up, ready for their descent. If she could see, she’d know that the sky was alight like never before. No longer just a spattering — much, much more than just constellations and Milky Ways — the stars shone in blankets, wrapped around the night. Auroras weaved between them, blues, greens, purples, like flags waved against the sky, celebrating the night. The moon shone from somewhere within the weavings, cracked down the middle, broken, stray pieces of its surface floating close by. The Earth wasn’t all that the sun had hurt. The whole universe needed a remedy.

Waves of whispers pulsed through the darkness as she approached the night’s first crater. She knelt and ran her hands through the dust, tasting the starlight with her fingertips. There was a lightness to this energy, it was refreshing, like that second when cold lemonade first floods your lips in the Springtime. She whispered sweet nothings into the soil as she buried the tiny meteorite, forcing it down into the Earth where the grape vines once grew. The energy sighed, and settled into the Earth. She felt it pull up the sheets on its old childhood bed, and settle into the familiar grooves of home. She had felt it time and time again, but it never got old. The more she felt the star hearts settle, the more she believed that maybe she would feel that once again, too.

It never felt strange to her — planting the star fields. It was familiar. A routine. There was a time when she’d of basked in the sunlight, helping her father plant dormant, bare-root grape vines in the early Spring. That’s all she was doing now — planting dormant souls in empty soil. Those memories kept her company during the nights alone. Though, she never felt lonely. She missed her father, her friends, her love, but each night as she walked across the star fields, she felt as though she walked amongst friends.

As she pushed herself back onto her feet, she caught the trail of another. She bundled the wool around her wrist and pulled it tight against the crush house door, making sure she was safe before she strayed further through the fields. This energy was further than usual, but something about it pulled her onwards, past the whispers of closer meteorites, through the rock boundary walls, and toward the ranges. She felt the wool ball shrinking smaller than it had before, but the energy grew stronger, closer, familiar. It swam between the strands of her hair and curled around her finger tips. It traced the curve of her cupids bow, then tasted her single tear as it drew patterns on her ashen cheek.
His starlight strummed at the strings of the moonlight, playing a melody she’d heard one thousand times before, in one thousand different ways. Tiny pieces of dormant stardust rallied within her heartbeat, as it quickened with every step closer. 

She dropped to her knees at the border of the crater, and felt the embrace of his soul, as he lingered about the star. She felt her own soul reach out and touch his, and her fingers found the meteorite. In the holes of the fallen star, she found the scars she’d known, so long ago, and in the peaks she found her lovers eyes, and arms and cheeks and grin. As she let out a small laugh, in relief, disbelief and joy; she heard the familiar melodies of his, too.
Normally, she would bury the stars where they fell, but this time she held it close, as she navigated her way back to her star fields. Midnight tolled and the darkness reached its peak, as cloud cover grew and covered the star-blanketed sky. The Earth fell black, though the girl knew no different. To her, it was always black, whether night or day, clear or cloudy.
What she couldn’t see, however, was the glow of her star fields. As the darkness pushed down onto the soil, the energy painted the vineyards gold, twisting streams of vapour into the sky. Each mound had its own vine of energy, reaching, twirling. Those that were planted long ago rose further into the sky — todays buried meteorite coughed sparks into the fresh, night air. Only the rock nestled into her chest behaved differently — vines of golden mist snaked around the girl, twisted in her hair, wrapped around the small of her waist, unconcerned with reaching the night sky, only her. 

The girl walked on through the field of vines — rows and rows of energy twisting into the sky, rising from the Earth where the grape vines once grew. Her army of souls standing to attention.
She descended the steps, cooler now, though still bucked and cracked, and pushed through the door. There, inside, stood a barrel, empty, upturned, full of soil, a tiny trowel pushed upright into the dirt.


'That's the thing about tragedy,' she said, 'sometimes you can completely forget that it happened. Completely. And then one day, you'll be doing something overwhelmingly normal - then perhaps there's a blockage in the shower pipes, and in that second when you wait for the water to come, the memories will swallow you. Just for a moment, you're 16 again, standing in a shower that you're not quite sure is a shower, hair hacked off, involuntarily naked, freezing... and then the water hits you, and you snap back into reality - an 80-something year old woman who survived, and let me tell you, I think all of this is the best revenge, don't you?' Her eyes sparkled with defiance. 
    'What is?'
    'Oh, come on, Ben.' She threw up her arms in victory, 'This! Life! They tried to get rid of us - all of us, and now I have a big beautiful family - I've made three more generations!' She paused for a moment, her head slightly tilted in thought, 'and my hair… that’s my little private revenge. I've barely cut it since they did.' She winked. 
    Hana fell silent, twisting a rogue strand of hair around her finger and letting it drop onto her lap, before picking it up and doing the same again, and again. 
    ‘I don’t think they took our hair for profit,’ she said, still watching the strands snaking around her knuckles, ‘I think that was a convenient secondary thought, I think they took it to try and take away our humanity just a little bit more.’ She sighed. ‘You know, Ben, I lived through it, and I still can’t believe that it happened.’

    By Ben’s maths, Hana was almost ninety. She was plump, with cascades of brilliant white hair falling down past her hips and pooling in her lap. Her hands, twisted from old age, were stained with colour - Ben smiled as he remembered her reasoning for becoming a painter, ‘It was forbidden to be a Künstler, an artist, so I decided that that is what I should become.’ Whenever she admitted to one of these tiny acts of rebellion, a wicked smile would flash across her face. Ben suspected that it was, in fact, these little acts that allowed her to speak so freely of her past - she feels as those she has defeated her demons. Perhaps she has.
    'Do you think it heard all of that?' she said suddenly, snapping out of her trance, 'do I need to repeat anything?' Ben couldn't help but chuckle - in the beginning, it took three attempts to start their interview, as Hana shouted for the recorder, leaning close to it as though it were a microphone. She was nothing if not a vivacious woman, fiercely proud of her history, incredibly willing to tell her story, and determined to defy everything the Nazi’s had ever made her do - Rutka Hana Wolczak was one of the last survivors of the holocaust.  

    She had arrived at Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1942, thrown from the door of a train carriage and into the jaws of a vicious Alsatian, before being whipped for crying, then thrown into line.
    ‘It was the appropriate greeting for a visit to Hell, don’t you think?’ she had joked. It was remarkable how she managed to inject life into her accounts of such atrocities.
    ‘I remember the smell, it was like nothing you had ever come across before - my sister suggested it was some kind of meat that they were cooking for us, we soon realised it was certainly a type of meat, but not the kind that should be cooked.’
    ‘From the train we were taken to die zentrale Sauna, it was not like the sauna’s that we know today - we were robbed of our hair, stripped naked, and forced into a shower room. Now, Ben, you must understand that we had all been told that the shower rooms were where we were sent to be killed. Water has never felt so good as it did in that moment, when we realised it was in fact a shower, and not a gas chamber. Once we got out, we were smeared with this terrible green fluid, it made your skin burn, and they used mops to apply it, so that they did not have to touch us. From then on we were untermensch - sub-human.’ 
    ‘After that, we were given those awful striped uniforms to wear, and this.’ Hana shook her bracelets down her wrist, and pulled up her sleeve to reveal numbers etched into her forearm - 791536. ‘and then, well… you know, the rest is …history. But I have never worn stripes, ever again,’ She tugged her sleeve back down over her tattoo. ‘and nobody ever gets to see that.’
    ‘I know it’s no comparison, but I understand.’ Ben said, unbuttoning his sleeve and pushing it up his arm. Evidence of burns climbed from his hand right up his forearm, reaching toward his elbow. 
    ‘Oh, my. That’s quite a scar.’
    ‘I used to make up stories about it when I was younger - always a heroic act involving fire… there were so many schools, and so many stories. It was ridiculous, really. My father only told me it was from an accident, so I never had a real answer to share. I never truly knew what happened. I don’t remember anything.’
    ‘Why so many schools?’
    ‘We just moved a lot, for my father’s job.’ Ben didn’t like to talk about his father - in reality, he didn’t like to recognise that his father existed. Much like Hana’s private revenge acts, Ben had one too. He was a journalist, hell-bent on defying his Nazi father by telling the story of every Holocaust survivor he could find. At eighteen, Ben had left his father and moved to England, where he had spent the last fifty years working in the media. Now he was a well-respected journalist, with a popular monthly feature column devoted to the survivors of the Holocaust - Hana would be his last interview, his retirement piece. 
    'Ben, there is something else I need to tell you.' Something about Hana had changed, she was wringing her hands in her lap and her eyes were fixed on the floor. ‘Get the recorder thing to listen - I will only say this once.’
    ‘It’s ready when you are,’ Ben whispered. 
    'I've never said this out loud before,' she said, her vivacity replaced with the demeanour of a scared child, 'but I've practiced saying it a million times in my head.' She took a long deep breath, then looked directly at Ben, her eyes swimming, yet determined. She cleared her throat, 
    'In the Autumn of 1943, something happened.' Her voice shook. ‘A young SS officer cornered me after roll call one day, and it... it just happened. You'd think, since we were Judenschwein, Jewpigs, they would not want to dirty themselves with us, but the SS leaders thought that sex made good soldiers, and that they should get it wherever they please. It continued, this same man, over and over, every morning as he did his rounds, and eventually I realised I was with child.' 
    'Pregnancy was a death sentence in Auschwitz - Mengele, the doctor, liked to experiment on pregnant women and their babies. There was a Jewish gynaecologist a few huts away who had been performing abortions, but once I saw her it was too late for me. I was too far along.’ 
    'So you had to keep the child?'"
    'I did.'
    'Did Mengele find you?'
    'He did.'
    'Yet, you are still here.'
    'I owe my life, rather ironically to the man who put me in the situation in the first place. The SS man saved me,’ she said, and still shaking, she continued her story. 

    Winter’s breath had barely left Auschwitz, despite Spring breaking almost two weeks ago. Hana was five months into her pregnancy - her frail, now seventeen-year-old frame struggled to support a second life, but she was determined to survive. The SS woke before the sun, tearing through the huts at somewhere close to 4am, blowing whistles and screaming, auf, auf, auf - out, out, out. It was routine by now, lining up in rows of ten, one in front of the other. The guards paced in front of their assigned huts, calling numbers and marking attendance. One of the soldiers stood off to the side of Hana’s group - it was him. She caught his eye, and he raised a finger to his lips, before touching his stomach and shaking his head. Hana had learnt by now that if she leaned forward as though her back was sore, her shirt would hang over her stomach, and her pregnancy was not immediately obvious. The prisoners were forbidden from moving, but she slowly inched forward, until her bump disappeared behind the veil of stripes. 
    A man stood in front of the groups and cleared his throat. 
    ‘Pregnant women, please step forward - we will give you double rations today.’
    The guard shot Hana a warning look. Nein, he mouthed, nein. A handful of women stepped forward, and followed the man until they disappeared between the huts. Of course they were not to know that they were to become some of Mengele’s famous kaninchen - his rabbits, his test subjects. This was but the first time that the SS guard saved Hana’s life. The second came toward the end of Spring, when the blankets of snow covering the camp had been replaced with deep, foul mud. A special roll call was announced, and the prisoners were ordered to strip for the doctor - then run in circles, again and again, whilst he wove his way through them, picking a prisoner, and pointing them left or right - to life, or to death. Hana tried her best to hold her clothes over her bump, but without her striped veil, her condition was obvious. Mengele singled her out, and directed her not left or right, but straight ahead, where a group of pregnant women stood huddled together. The SS man appeared beside her, and grabbed her arm. 
    ‘Listen to me - tell Mengele that you are a twin, that your mother was a twin and your mother’s mother was a twin. This is important. He will not send you to die if he thinks you may deliver twins.’ He pushed her into the group, and stole away. 
    He was right. Mengele selected Hana for a low-impact experiment - he couldn’t waste the opportunity for tests, but also didn’t want to risk harming her too much, incase she had twins. Twins were Mengele’s favourite experiment. Hana was to be tested against the effects of exposure, stripped naked and placed in a crate, then left outside at the mercy of the elements. Still to this day, she will not allow blinds on her windows, as the faint strips of light remind her of her time in the box, when the first morning light would peak through the slats, as she lay awake listening to the roll calls and the labour marches. She was in that box, day and night, for two long months until, almost in unison with the beginning of Summer, Hana went into labour. She called for help and an SS guard opened the door. 
    ‘It’s time, the baby is coming.’
    The guard knelt down to look at Hana, she suspected it was him. It was. 
    ‘Are you sure?’ he said, Hana could only nod. ‘I will be back soon.’
    Hana was not sure how long it took for the guard to return - it felt like hours, her contractions coming thick and fast now, but it had probably only been thirty minutes. All of a sudden, the door flung open and the SS guard pulled her outside. 
    ‘Come. To the hospital wing,’ he said, ‘Mengele has been called away on urgent business. He will not be here for the birth.’ Again, this man had saved her life, and it was not long before he’d saved another - Hana’s son was born. 
    ‘Mengele is travelling to Günzburg, expecting a family emergency, ‘the guard said. ‘There is no such emergency.’ He winked.
    Hana had a million questions, but lacked the energy to voice them. Instead she could only utter a single word. 
    ‘Lebensretter,’ she said. Lifesaver.

Hana paused in her storytelling, only now showing the pain of the words she had said. 
    ‘What happened to the baby? Why was the guard protecting you?’ Ben asked. 
    ‘It will all become obvious soon,’ she said. There was no trace of her previous spirit, and Ben realised that maybe she had not defeated all of her demons, like he thought. She went on. 

Hana slept for quite some time, before she was woken suddenly by the guard.
    ‘Where is the baby?’ he shouted, ‘where is it?’ Hana could not answer.
    ‘He is right here,’ a nurse called from the other side of the room - she was Jewish. She brought the baby to the guard, and his face contorted with anger. His nostrils flared, and he gritted his teeth. 
    ‘What have you done?’ He muttered, lifting up the babies arm to reveal numbers freshly inked into his skin. He passed the baby to Hana, and grabbed the nurse, ‘What have you done?’ He screamed, and dragged the nurse from the room. 

‘I remember his numbers still today, 9132514,’ she muttered. ‘I used them to look for my boy for years after the war was over.’
    ‘You mean he wasn’t killed?’ Ben was in awe. 
    ‘Oh, no, I do not think so.’

The SS guard tore back into the hospital hut. 
    ‘Mengele received word that all is well at home. He is returning to Auschwitz as we speak. I have found a job for you in Kanada, there you will arrange men’s jackets, check the linings for valuables - it is a safe job, you will be safe.’ He put out his arms, to take the baby. Hana held on to him. ‘Get up! You must go. Mengele is coming back.’
    ‘But, my baby.’
    ‘You do not speak of this to anyone. I will take him. If he stays here Mengele will kill him. He wanted twins. He will not let one survive.’
    ‘…take him?’
    ‘My wife cannot have children, but now we will have one. It is the only way. Get up, give him to me. You must go. Now.’ 
‘This is why you saved me,’ she gasped. Everything and nothing made sense. Hana did not know what else to do. She kissed her baby on the head, and gave him to the guard, then struggled to her feet and left the hospital. 

‘That was the last time I saw my baby,’ she said. ‘I could not find him. I do not know if he is still alive, or if he died.’ 
    ‘Hana, I…’ Ben could not find the words to say. ‘Maybe I could help. I could look, too.’




Ben’s retirement piece had been his most successful - Hana’s story captured the attention of the world - as did the plight to find her little boy, 9132514. He received mail by the bag-load, letters of support, tips offs from amateur historians, and sometimes more sincere propositions from established professionals. But, two months later, the mail had slowed, and today only one tiny parcel fell through the letter box. It was a diary, bound in rich leather, with a note affixed to the front - there were only two words - For Bruno. His heart skipped a beat. He knew it must be from his father, he was the only person who knew him by his birth name. It appeared to be his journal, penned during the war.
    ‘Why did you send me this?’ Ben muttered to himself. ‘Foolish old man.’ He rifled through the pages half-heartedly. There were letters, photographs and a tattered Nazi clothing badge, held between the pages of detailed diary entries, all of which Ben refused to read. But then, something caught his eye. A photo, folded multiple times, pushed into the back of a paper pocket. He unravelled it to reveal a picture of tiny newborn baby, it could have only been a few days old. Ben reached for his glasses.
    ‘No…’ he whispered. 

    He dropped the diary and its guts spilled all over the floor. He wasn’t sure how he made it to Hana’s house, he couldn’t remember the drive over, and when he made it to her front door, he couldn’t bring himself to knock. Her dog barked incessantly at the window, until Hana found Ben sitting on the porch. 
    ‘Ben!’ she cried, ‘How lovely! You should have called, I would have prepared tea.’
    ‘I found your son.’ Ben uttered, his eyes fixed on the floor. A lump grew in his throat, and tears threatened to spill down his cheeks. Hana clapped her hand over her mouth. 
    ‘Where is he? Is he alive?’ Ben couldn’t answer. He looked up at her, and a rogue tear ran down his face. He pulled up his sleeve, to reveal his scar. 
    ‘It wasn’t an accident, Hana. They were getting rid of my number.’ He pulled the photograph from his pocket, and passed it to her, his hand shaking so much that the photograph appeared to dance. He pointed to a number on the babies arm. 
    Ben ran his hand over his scar, its position mirrored that of the babies tattoo. Hana turned over the photo. It was inscribed - Bruno Schröder, 1944.