The metallic taste of blood in my mouth means I am still alive. A familiar smell oozes from the writhing bodies above – urine mixed with feces. A welcome distraction from the stench of rotting corpses beneath. I lay still, hidden by a cover of nakedness. They are my people and in death, they still protect me. I promise to remember.
Muffled sounds of gunfire and screaming - additional weight in the pit. It's nighttime now. It can't be much longer. My hand brushes against cold, hard flesh as I struggle to touch the scrap of paper in my pocket. A small section of a crude sketch, a map I found lying in the muck while moving boulders through the camp. I recognized a village. I call it, Mentesség – Freedom. I etched it in my mind, saving only the corner that leads to freedom.
Above me, a man's voice whispers the Mourners Kaddish. I join in, silently. His voice dies; it is time. Clawing my way to the top, a ladder of bone and paper-thin skin is my only chance. God is with me. I am alive. I have a map.
Sylvia picks at the cheap walnut top of the conference table waiting for her class to arrive. It is the last day of a two-week rotation on the memory unit. A small fragment of laminate breaks free under her nail. Two weeks for students to grasp what science can't fully explain.
"Professor? Can I talk to you?" Andrea is a quiet young lady. She is compassionate and listens carefully. Silvia smiles. She will be a good nurse some day.
"It's about Mr. Levine," Andrea says. She looks at the stark white wall behind Silvia as if measuring her words. "He takes the menu off the dining table at every meal." She pulls a folded piece of peach colored copy paper from her pocket and lays it flat on the table. "He draws on it and then hides it, and does the same thing at the next meal. When I try to take it, he gets very angry."
Silva looks at the paper, black block print listing the morning meal, covered with lines of crayon in a childlike scrawl. "Don't try to take it," Silvia replies. It seems like a simple response to such a complex inquiry, but thirty years as a nurse has not afforded her all of the answers to Alzheimer's disease. The best way she knows to explain it to a young student is to equivocate it to someone locked inside a house: and only they are aware of what the interior looks like. "It's just a cheap piece of copy paper, give it back to him. Most likely, he's reliving a memory." Hopefully, she says to herself, it's a pleasant one.
Andrea picks up the menu, looking again at the scribbled bold lines. "Professor? I have to ask...what are those numbers on his arm? Was he in prison?"
Silvia rubs her temples. "Much worse than prison. He's a Holocaust survivor."
"Oh," Andrea whispers. She traces one of the lines with a thin finger. Then another. And another. They twist and turn across the pale background, yet all seem to lead to a final haven. "Oh," she whispers again. She refolds the menu, careful to use the existing creases, then tears a small corner from it and places it in her pocket.