S h e l l e y  O n t i s

When They Come

You have two choices.
One: Keep silent. Spread yourself flat into any shadow, no matter how small. Carve away the excess to make yourself fit. Look only at the boots ringed around the scrambling feet, the feet dug in at the heels, the feet dragged limply behind. Do not think about the neighbor girl who flirted each morning as she walked past or the man who taught your son to play the piano. They will rarely think of you after, but memories of her blush and his baritone hum will sharpen no matter how hard you press your palms against your eyelids or your ears. 

Try not to think of their faces or what might have become of them. Spend your days trying not to look at the faces that remain for fear of seeing your shame staring back at you from another man's eyes. Never grab his hand and weep, or beg to know, "What did we do?" no matter how much you ache. 

Spend your years telling yourself you were scared, you froze, you survived. Drink to stop the dreams, and spend each moment awake trying to cushion yourself against the pain of being awake, the pain of having survived.

Understand this is your choice. When they come, do not look up as the howling knots of people scrape past. 

Or choose this: step forward into the flow of bodies. Grab her hand. Brace your feet in the dirt. Try. Bear whatever happens next. Learn to disappear among the other skeletons, pressing your fist into your gnarling stomach to hush it. Keep your head bowed, not from shame but to survive one more day because it's all that's left to do. Suck your fingers at night and comfort yourself knowing this is the hell you would have someday wished for had you kept your place.