Far to Go - By Alison Pick

Part One

The Sudetenland


Dear Mrs. Inverness,

Although I could write a whole book, a short note will say what I need to say.

Things are happening here—unimaginable things. And yet, our only child, our Tomáš, is safe in London with you.

Dear Mrs. Inverness, I cannot tell you my gratitude. And your detailed writing about our boy has moved us to tears.

As you are so extremely good as to be inclined to prepare his favourite dishes, I shall gladly tell you what Tomáš likes to eat. He is very fond of fruit, especially of bananas. His favourite soups are: vermicelli, mushroom, potato soup, lentil soup, cumin soup with vermicelli. As to the farinaceous food he ate little as well, but he mostly liked a chocolate tart minus cream. (First I should say to please excuse my English! It is a recent language for me.)

We long for Tomáš, surely. He is only four years old! But if we bring the sacrifice of parting with the child to exempt him perhaps of great suffering, and know that he is so well kept safe by you, we master our pain.

We will see him soon enough.

We thank you still many thousand times & remain,

Faithfully yours,

Lore and Misha Bauer

(FILE UNDER: Bauer, Lore. Died Birkenau, 1943)


It was just like you to pull such a trick. To give this world another run for its money. And to give yours truly another chance. You can’t imagine the relief I felt. I’d lost so many, but you wouldn’t leave me. You would stay.

I knew, finally, that despite all the loss we were blessed. The end of this long and winding story was happy.

You’d been gone thirty seconds. Maybe a minute. Eyes glazing, gaze immobile. The steady beeps from the heart monitor fell into one line of sound. A long quiet highway down which your ghost was walking. It was just like the movies—I opened my mouth to scream but no sound came out. There was no one else to watch you die, your hospital room empty for once of interns, nurses, cleaning staff. I could not scream but I didn’t need to. Your eyes opened. You’d been gone, but you were back.

I exhaled. Around me, the room had also popped back to life, latex gloves snapping, a doctor rushing past with her ponytail swaying, bending over the heart monitor as though it was the patient, not you. I kept my eyes on your face. Despite all the chemo, the chemicals that had been flooding your body for months, your skin still had the wonderful papery softness of old age. I reached out and laid a palm against your cheek. You were quiet, taking me in. It wasn’t quite a smile, but a look of recognition, after which I knew: you would live. The others were all dead, their bodies piled up at the edge of my awareness like logs by a cabin in the woods. They had gone up in smoke. But you’d come through.

There were words. “Juice,” you said, and I held the small cup with the foil pulled back to your lips. You couldn’t manage. I turned the stiff crank on your hospital bed, raising you to sitting.

“Straw,” you said. I reached behind me, without looking away from you, and some masked assistant obliged.

There was a Viennese waltz playing in the background. It was the exact recording you’d wanted, on tape, the old-fashioned way. I’d had considerable difficulty locating a cassette player. I’d gone to several enormous and abominable technology depots where I was told repeatedly that they’re not made anymore. The sales people—children—spoke with disdain. One—I’m not lying—did not know what a tape was. “Like Scotch tape?” she asked. “Or masking tape?”

I finally realized I already had what I needed, in the back of my closet in my office at the University, a small machine I used to use in my interviews. So I brought it to the hospital. I thought of the voices it had recorded, of the futility of those stories. For years, decades, I’d had faith in letters, in words. But now I realized that you had it right: a simple waltz was more comforting. Music held more meaning than language ever could. The tape player would finally be of real use after all these years.

The waltz was playing quietly in the background. It made me think of a candle in a window, of softly falling snow. What happened next was equally slow. There was nothing dramatic, no close-up of the beautiful doctor’s