Herr Doktor worked on the girl. He suggested it was a miracle how a body that had been battered and bruised both inside and out could have given birth. Only the girl hadn’t. The flat face of the neonate was stillborn-blue. She’d birthed death. The baby, like bird droppings, lay face down in one of the spittoons, baptised by Herr Doktor, who discarded its life like flotsam and jetsam. I’m not sure if I heard the ghost of a mewing cry. There was no little face looking back at me.
Herr Doktor perched like a vulture, probed and prodded at the remains of the living body, ‘she might live,’ he grunted, noncommittally, peeking and pulling and peeling her insides out, using medieval claws, the silver instruments of medicine. But he looked almost happy sewing her up with what looked like catgut.
‘She’s like a wild child,’ said the soldiers that brought her admiringly, ‘but she is a Romanian’. She only responds to simple commands they explained to Herr Doktor, ‘open mouth; close mouth; eat; take clothes off; open legs and sleep’.
She had no socks or shoes and was wearing little more than a burlap sack, with a frayed bit of string holding in her stomach. Her only ornamentation was the old yellow-red bruising of a black eye. We could only guess that she’d somehow escaped from one of the trains going East to the work camps and been caught again. Used and traded to the SS for further rewards. The girl looked too young and frail to survive. She whispered to me that she’d been bought many times. The marks of payment were still on her body, until the baby got in the way of the rape business.
‘And what am I supposed to do with goat-girl?’ asked Herr Doktor, to the soldiers that brought her.
‘Ask her when she last had a bath,’ he said, turning to me, his blue eyes squinting from beneath furrowed brows and his mouth sewn shut.
‘Oh, it doesn’t matter,’ he said, melodramatically changing his mind and flinging a file on his desk onto the floor. ‘Take her to the shower room and hose her down,’ he said to the two Ukrainians that had brought her.
Only when they’d brought her back naked and wet, but with her hands now tied, with the string that had been around her waist, would Herr Doktor look at her again. ‘She smells better,’ he said, wrinkling up his nose, ‘not perfect, but better.’
The girl eyelids flickered; a practiced look at nothing, but the taut bulge of her smooth stomach and her flat feet. Her only conversation was the drip, drip, drip of water from her long straggly brown hair onto the parquet floor. But when Herr Doktor touched her lightly on the back she turned so quickly, that he almost stumbled over his office chair, and hissed at him like a goose.
‘You’ll need to tie that one up to examine her,’ chortled the older of the Ukrainian guards.
‘Clean her up,’ said Herr Doktor, rushing away to wash when he’d finished his medical chores in sub human medicine.
I loosened the string and helped move her feet from the stirrups the Ukrainians had tied her feet. I massaged her arms and legs, trying to give them back life, but all elasticity was gone. I rubbed at her temples, but life had been smuggled out of there too.
All around me where the kidney shape dishes filled with the crimson blood of life, holding scalpels and sutures and thread, but there was no water to wash her dead body. I pushed her eyelids shut, but unhinged they popped open again, her marble eyes judging me.
‘At least you are free,’ I whispered in her ear, tears springing into my eyes.
Her baby had a caul on its head. Sailors would have paid a premium for such an object, believing the water of the womb imbued it with antagonistic properties that helped prevent the keeper from drowning. I wiped clean the baby’s bloody battle with life on my dress. Underneath the caul peeked out a full head of black hair. It was a little boy. He was a little boy. I held him for a second, rocked him, and showed him what life could have been like.
I called the baby ‘Jasio,’ framing him in my mind, giving him another life, the same life as my little brother, and put him carefully in his mother’s arms. But he rolled off and to the side and almost fell off the table.
‘Enough,’ said the guard.
And it was. I’d tasted my ration of death.