On the coldest morning of the year, my grandfather announced that he was bringing me to the family tombstone.
We drove for hours, rarely talking, and then turned off into a roadside forest, where the graveyard had been woven into the organic arrangement of the evergreens, beeches, and shrubs, so that it looked as if the snowy crosses and stones had grown up naturally from the seeds of the dead.
In a round clearing we found a circular mass grave. In the grave’s southeast quadrant, three layers down, what remained of my great-grandmother lay north-south, under snow-scaled purple herbs in the shadow of a cross as tall as the bending pines.
When the bombing began she was buying groceries by the city square. She took refuge in the service compartment of a fountain.
So did seventeen others. They asphyxiated, then burned.
White feathers were falling when we reached the family tombstone, designed by my grandfather. The stone was a black slab with a perfect circle missing from its center. Inscribed on it were five names: those of his parents and those of his three siblings: the first died as a baby, the second at seventeen on his first day on the Western front, and the third senile, angry, and unreachable.
Leaning against the tombstone was a gold-framed page my grandfather had placed there while I was still across the ocean. The page was creased with iridescent water-wrinkles, but I could make out a printed collage of grassy cliffs and seaside towns, and a line of text along the left side: