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Darlene M Caban

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The Last Picnic With Greta
By Darlene M Caban
Thursday, June 02, 2005

Rated "PG" by the Author.

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A concentration camp guard resists becoming inhuman.

Rudolph's fingers closed again on the ring in the left pocket of his uniform as Greta chose a place for their blanket. It was a sunny day in April in this mountain town in Germany, and Rudolph was enjoying his time away from the Army with his girlfriend, whom he intended to make his fiancee this very afternoon. As Greta unpacked the basket and set bread, fruit, sandwiches and a water jug on the blanket, Rudolph admired her rosy skin and cheerful face. He'd had few reasons to smile in his line of work, especially with the prisoners, so Greta's easy smile made up for his own dulled emotions.

Birds sang in the trees behind them, and before them stretched the town square with its clock tower, shops and fountains. They sat in a small park noted for its apple trees and while they talked and ate, small apples fell from the tree behind them.

Rudolph decided that he would present Greta with the ring at dessert. He had no doubt that she would accept his offer of marriage, but he wondered if she would like the ring. It had been his grandmother's wedding ring, and the style was antique... Greta was very modern in her tastes, and Rudolph hoped that the ring would not disappoint her.

A group of children ran past them on the lawn, and Rudolph watched Greta as she laughed at their antics. He could see the love she had for children, and he felt sure that she would be a good mother when the time came for them to start their own family.


They finished eating, and Greta began cleaning up the leavings. She glanced across the square and a frown clouded her face.


"Must they ruin everything?" she sighed.

Rudolph looked across the square and saw a long, gray line of people marching in their direction. These were prisoners being marched to the train station in town. There were old men and women and several small children in the column, all staring straight ahead with the appearance of shock victims.


Guards barked orders as the column neared the park where Rudolph and Greta sat. As the line of people passed, a young boy from the column ran over to them, grabbed a leftover hunk of bread, stuffed it in his mouth and ran back to his place in line before the guards turned around again. There was no reaction from the other prisoners, who continued through the square and into the train yard a few blocks away.


"Rudolph!" Greta scolded. "That boy has stolen our bread!"


Her vehemence surprised and saddened Rudolph. He tried to call back images of the kind, graceful Greta, but the unsmiling creature before him had destroyed her. His imagined wife, home and children vanished then, and he felt their loss as an emptiness in his heart.
He dropped the ring back into his pocket.


"Forget about it, Greta," he said. "The boy is already dead."


The mournful whistle of the train sounded, and the birds were silent.


"Come on," Rudolph said, standing up. "Let's go and get a drink in the cafe."


He crossed the lawn into the square while Greta hurridly wrapped the fruit and put it and the blanket into the basket. She looked up to see that Rudolph was already across the square and sitting at a table with a beer. How rude of him, she thought.

As he watched Greta struggle across the lawn with the basket, Rudolph whispered his thanks to his grandmother's spirit that he had been shown his girlfriend's true nature before they had married. No one so selfish should ever wear his grandmother's ring. She had been a friendly, generous woman and had taught Rudolph about mercy and kindness... she'd have gently mentioned Greta's lack of compassion to her in an effort to help her. Privately, his grandmother would have told Rudolph to find someone with a bigger heart, not wishing to offend her but unwilling to see her grandson become saddled with an immature woman.

Greta arrived at the table, sighing as she put the basket next to her chair. She ordered a glass of wine and sat back to look at Rudolph, who was staring past her at the train passing through the yard on its way to one of the prison camps. As many times as he had seen this sight, he could never look at it without wondering if it was bound for a work camp or a death camp. He wondered about the people inside, and how it felt to be in the cars as they moved slowly to their destinies. Would that bit of bread make a difference to the boy? Would it sustain him on the journey, or would he be shot for some minor transgression? Would he go to a work camp and prove his usefulness at a trade, or would he be 'selected' and be sent to feed the flames of a crematorium?


Greta cleared her throat, and Rudolph looked at her in annoyance.
"I was thinking we might go down to the lake later," she said. Rudolph shrugged, his mind elsewhere.


Greta glanced at the train. "I wish you could forget about your job, just for a little while. You don't smile anymore, and your temper is always short. We used to have such good times!"


Rudolph finished his beer. "That was before I was transferred to the camp. It was easier when I never saw the prisoners. I'm a good soldier, that's what I was trained to do... but I'm not a prison guard."

The train disappeared behind the trees, just a runner of smoke visible in the afternoon sky. One last whistle sounded, the cry of a thousand people lamenting lives that would never be lived.


Greta sipped her wine, and Rudolph ordered another beer. Around them, life continued and the clock tolled the hour. Greta would never know about the ring, and Rudolph would never tell her what was in his heart... she would never understand.


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Reviewed by Regis Auffray 3/11/2006
A sad tale but very "true to life," Darlene. Thank you for sharing your gift. Love and peace to you,

Regis
Reviewed by Cles Wilson 7/1/2005
Wow...I really enjoyed your writing.
Reviewed by Michelle Kidwell Power In The Pen 6/4/2005
Powerful, sad and well done write
God Bless
Michelle!
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 6/3/2005
heartwrenching story, darlene, but very well told! BRAVA!

(((HUGS))) and much love, your friend in tx., karen lynn. :( >tears <
Reviewed by April Smith 6/3/2005
What a sad story. Sad becuz it's horrible to think that people really were and ARE like Greta. Thanks so much for sharing this heartfelt piece, April





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