What the Sun Touches
Nestled in their flat, Veronika and Howard spoke over a handsome breakfast. It had been cooked by the neighbor below, seeing as he owed them a little bit of cash. Cash, however, couldn’t replace the satiation full bellies. Regardless of mere over-easy eggs, a little bit of bread, and some sliced apple—not to mention the coffee—that milieu made Veronika smile.
Which made Howard’s satiation multiply.
“You’re sure you won’t stay?” Howard called to the impromptu cook.
The boy, probably fourteen or fifteen, shook his head. Most of his responses were binary, and almost all of them were with body language.
Howard tried to get any word out of him. “What’ve you got going on today? Boy your age on a Saturday?”
He shrugged his shoulders, awkwardly standing by the stove that he now realized had been left on. He turned the knob until it clicked. “Just some friends stuff.”
“‘Some friends stuff.’” Howard laughed, applying some more butter onto the sourdough. “Is that what you boys are calling it nowadays?”
Veronika swallowed her gulp of coffee. “Oh, let him be,” she said, placing her mug down. “Leo can cook a fine breakfast, and if that’s all he wants to say, so be it.”
Leo gave a muted nod, said, almost whispering, “Good day,” and dipped into the hall, closing the door gently behind him.
“What an odd boy.”
“You know, Howard, you were just like him at that age.” Veronika wiped up some yolk with that spongey dough.
“We haven’t known each other for that long.”
“Oh, fifty years, sixty, what’s it matter?”
Howard stood up from his seat and leaned over to the window, of which their little table was flush against. He pulled the curtains open and fastened them to stay that way. “It’s too nice of a morning to stare at this dusty cloth.”
“Nice…you use that word loosely,” Veronika said. “The weather may be nice, sure.”
Howard grinned, throwing his hands up as he said, “Who cares about the little ants below us? All we can see is the sun and the trees. I think even a bird’s nest may even be just below us, right on the dormer.”
“Yes, dear, I get it. Lots of fear. Fear, fear, fear.” He slinked back into his seat. “It will be over soon.”
No matter her apprehension, her look at reality, Veronika seldom refuted that response. The way it always seeped through his gravelly vocal chords, promised a certain outcome, it eased any anxiety.
Maybe for the moment.
She looked out the window now, for real. She gazed past the adjacent rooftops, above the crowds of people below—the uniformed men—and at everything the sun touched. That drenching, yellow, early morning light made the leaves hum. It turned the muck of the road a glistening stripe of sun.
Nothing compared to this scene with him.
But lately, from her daytime stares, Veronika had noticed something beyond the trees: a billowing strand of smog. It obscured the white fluffiness of the clouds. It cascaded the light. It forced that anxiety right back onto her.
“I was thinking,” she began after that long silence, “that we should move.”
Howard took a titan of a breath, letting his chest rise. “Are you so ready to let this place go?”
Veronika refocused her gaze. She brought it inside and scanned everything. The shelves that brimmed with framed photographs, that little old piano she hadn’t touched in years but still needed, the cases of China, the swathes of decorative silver, all those menorahs.
She looked back to the smog. How slowly it crept through the sky and masqueraded the sun. “I don’t—”
A pound on their door shattered the warmth. It sliced through the mundane objective of finishing a meal. Diverted attention from the photos and piano and China and silver and menorahs.
“Who is it?” Howard called out. He set his mug down.
The door nearly jolted off its frame, bursting open in a flash. Two men, dressed thickly in grey with rifles slung around their shoulders, marched in. They did not heed Veronika or Howard, but instead tore through all the dust-layered possessions.
Howard commenced a march of his own, arms and brow already flippant. “What do you think you’re doing?” he rebuked. “Come into my home—”
One soldier paused his plundering and with a swinging rap, struck Howard in the cheek with his rifle’s stock.
Veronika rushed over from her seat—which scuttled into the wall—and caught Howard as he fell, hand to his face. “Dear?” Her hand shook over his. She struggled to follow his daze. “Howard?”
Those men shoved them into the hall, yanked them down the three flights of stairs, and threw the couple into the muddy street.
Veronika fell to her knees, struggling to keep Howard close. Already, the blue promise of a bruise swelled on his face. That pain kept him in a state of conduciveness—of subordination to the chaos at hand.
In that darkness, the thunder of the railroad beneath them, only glints of light came through gaps in the walls. Pressed against that metal, Veronika was able to meet the sky with her eyes, at the billows of black smog that grew closer and consumed the sky.