Beyond the Bridge

When the shooting came closer, it was night. Annelise’s mother threw cheese, bread, and a skin of water into a cloth bag. She dressed the girl in her father’s tattered, oversize sweater. He did not need it. He’d been taken away by the Germans shortly after the soldiers arrived and found his shortwave radio. He was sent to a camp somewhere east. Annelise’s mother did not wash the sweater after he left. Her daughter seemed comforted by his still lingering scent.
The flash of gunfire was terrifying, but staying in the home was worse. Her mother hoped it was safer in the woods, away from the shooting. They had only made it to the house next door when Annelise heard her mother cry “Oh!” and stumble. She clutched her side, but said nothing more and guided her daughter on.
“Hurry, cheri, hurry.”
In her head, Annelise heard the words her mother would say if she wasn’t so desperately silent.
When her mother collapsed, Annelise held her hand. She did not cry, but spoke softly to her mother describing the white parachutes that drifted down, down, down, disappearing into the fields in the distance. She heard clicks and shots and rustles and remained quiet, holding on to what remained of her mother.
Annelise held her mother’s hand as it grew stiff and cold. At dawn, she saw her mother’s face, tortured, not at all peaceful, a trickle of blood drying on her mouth. In the rising sunlight, she saw the woods ahead, tantalizingly close. Maybe the soldiers in the parachutes had gone there. Behind her lay the village and the bad soldiers her mother had feared.
Annelise kissed her mother’s cheek and put the cloth bag over her shoulder. She only needed to cross the bridge and she would be safe.

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