She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.
She knew she was late and would miss her bus. But she hadn’t been able to help herself. Once she started reading, she was compelled to finish. It had taken her 15 hours – and cost her a night of sleep – but it was worth it.
It’s not as though Anna didn’t know the story. She couldn’t help knowing it – she had grown up with it. She first heard about what her grandmother had done in “the war” when she was just a toddler, too young to understand what it all meant. It was a story to be whispered among the grown-ups, lest the youngsters get scared and have nightmares.
As Anna grew older, she began to question. “Why, Grandma,” she would ask, “Why did you do it?”
“I had to,” was the unfailing reply. “It was the war. I did what had to be done.” After a while, Anna stopped asking.
Somehow, through the years, she managed to avoid That Book. Its very existence was disturbing. She didn’t think it would be wise or safe to delve too deeply. This time, though, she had no choice. It was required reading – part of the literature syllabus at the high school where she taught.
So last night, in trepidation, she opened a tattered copy at random and read, “Nice people, the Germans! To think that I was once one of them too!” Shocked, she flipped forward through the book, only to encounter, “There’s in people simply an urge to destroy…”
This would never do. She must begin at the start and force her way through. She must find out for herself – at last – why Grandma had behaved the way she did. Anna began to read. As she approached the story’s climax, she believed that she had discovered the answer she was searching for.
But, what now? This question occupied Anna as she absorbed the remainder of the book. It filled her mind as she walked outside and headed to the bus stop. Suddenly, she knew what she must do.
Abruptly, she crossed the street to catch a bus that would take her to the center of town – away from her school. Away from her daily responsibilities. She would be missed, of course, but that didn’t matter. She had to see for herself.
One hour and two bus transfers later, with whole sentences from The Diary of Anne Frank – it was no longer That Book in her mind – running riot through her brain, she found herself in the center of Amsterdam. Stopping for directions, she made certain of her route. She strode purposefully now – no longer in doubt; no longer questioning herself – “two blocks down, then turn right, cross the Prinsengracht canal and you can’t miss it,” the helpful police officer had told her.
All at once, she saw it. Prinsengracht 263-267. The Anne Frank House. After all those years of hearing the stories, after reading Anne’s Diary in a single sitting, she was face-to-face with her family’s past. She felt Anne Frank’s words reverberate through her soul, “[I]n spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Solemnly, Anne Frank’s namesake crossed the threshold into the factory building where, for more than two years, her Grandmother Miep had sustained the lives and the hopes of a handful of Jews, so many decades ago.
©2012 Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.
A Note of Explanation: This story was my submission to Round Eight of National Public Radio’s “Three Minute Fiction” contest. All stories submitted for Round Eight were required to begin with the sentence “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.”