My mother plonks down a bottle of ink, dips an index finger in it, and presses it on the centre of the page lying before me. I want an army of fingerprints, she says. Three of my fingers can squeeze into the bottle’s neck, feel the thickness of the liquid.
My mother paces. She says she’ll cut out the best square and send my fingerprints to my father. He’s fighting for us. He needs a reminder, something he can slip into his pocket. Her hair’s wild. Wisps point at the ceiling, accusing it of something. She wipes her hand across her forehead. A blue streak adorns her skin. I want to laugh but I know I shouldn’t.
I continue with my task. Some of my prints overlap. I worry my mother won’t like this, will draw out a clear page from my father’s desk, insist I perform all over again.
My mother’s looking for scissors when my grandmother comes in, orders me to stop. Your father’s dead, she says. Her hand cups my chin. My mother throws the scissors; they anchor in the parquet. She has known all along, of course. My grandmother ushers her away.
When I see her several days later the ghost of the ink lingers on her forehead. The army of fingerprints hide under my bed.
I trace my fingers across the gold lettering. Mein Kampf. My husband watches me from inside his frame on the sideboard; his face held in a smile, his uniform free of creases. I caught his kisses in my hand as the train pulled away from the platform. Just moments before he’d told me to keep my head down, to keep my resistance in my ribcage.
I open the book, pull the pages and contemplate how much force I’d have to use to hear the snap of paper leaving spine. I will myself to do it, to feed the fire. But then, that makes me just as bad as them, doesn’t it?
Frau Hertz shuffles past my door. She likes to press her ear to it, likes to check I’m listening to the correct radio station. I am. The volume turned up so she can just about hear. I’d hate for her to have to run to her telephone and summon the Gestapo.
I wait until I hear the clatter of dishes in the kitchen. Yes, she’s occupying herself with someone else’s dirt for now. I pick up my fountain pen and draw the ink pot closer to me. I let my rage flow in crossing outs and marginalia. I watch the ink blot and bloom, distorting the Führer’s sentences, before shutting the book and returning it to the shelf. More tomorrow.
Frau Hertz knocks at my door. My fingers are blue. I answer anyway. Writing to Joseph? she asks. I nod. She waves herself out of view. I wash my hands, leave blue trails that look like exclamation points on the enamel.
The soldier grabs me when I’m walking between two buildings. The glass pot in my pocket clinks against the brickwork, but he doesn’t seem to notice. I try to push him away, try to negotiate. I’ve a watch – worth nothing – but it tells the time, can be wound to Russian time just like this piece of Berlin. I could show him if he’d let me stand up.
He lets me go and beckons for me to remove my watch. I put one hand to my throat, massage, try and smooth out the dents that must decorate my windpipe now, and slip the other into my pocket, produce the glass pot. He frowns. I remove the lid and send the ink in the direction of his face; it splatters on his cheeks, forehead, chin. Indelible. He staggers.
The man who gave me the ink told me to graffiti the skin of attackers with blue blots and clots, so they’re known to their superiors, can be punished. I’m not sure I believe in his methods but I run until I’m behind a locked door – a luxury in this defeated city – and then I slide to the floor, examine the stains on my fingers.
Biography: Emma Venables’ short and flash fiction has been widely published in magazines and journals. Her short story, ‘Woman at Gunpoint, 1945’ was a runner-up in the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize 2020. Her first novel, Fragments of a Woman, will be published by Aderyn Press in 2023. She can be found on Twitter: @EmmaMVenables.