What They Knew
by Eric Dreyer Smith
Mrs. Petersen knew what they were doing up the road. Mr. Baum had a good idea, too. He was the town baker and although he worked a lot he still heard the rumors. Then the people who worked up the street began ordering bread from him. He resisted hearing the rumours firsthand as fact from the people who worked there, but soon realized that listening to their stories was a part of doing business with them. He had to listen to get their money and they seemed to have to tell their stories. Therefore, it was not long before Mr. Baum really knew.
The children of the town said ghosts lived up the road. In a way this was close to the truth, but children do not know everything.
Mr. Kappel prayed for the longest time that it was not true. But when enough people said it was true, at least enough for a reasonable man to wonder if it were, then he prayed even harder that it would pass soon. When rumours blossomed, he prayed as hard as possible that they would be forgiven. Kappel worked at the church and it made sense that at least some of his prayers would be answered.
Mrs. Huber was a teacher and quite educated. She believed history was repeating itself. The logical conclusion would be that revenge would be taken. She felt ashamed, but kept teaching her lessons. She knew what was going on up the road.
Mr. Schuster pretended for the longest time that he had no idea what was going on. He knew the ones in town who liked to talk about it. The ones who bragged or condemned what was happening and he avoided both groups assiduously… He never walked up the road or looked in the sky toward that direction. When the workers from there came to town, he disappeared. The whole thing, from the very beginning, had been too big for him. He was one man. He knew there was nothing he could do.
Mrs. Koch was proud of what was happening. If anyone deserved this, then it was those people. She knew they could not get away with what they had been doing. They had been doing it for centuries and now they had to pay a little. It was only fair. What else did they expect for doing what they had always done?
Mr. Farber was more practical. He figured that it was better that it was happening to them than to people like those who lived in the town. This was the logical position. After all, there was a war going on. Something had to be done to ensure internal security. Those who were not our friends could easily become friends of the enemy. The people kept up the road were never our friends.
Mrs. Vogt was horrified by what was happening. The thought of it grew in her mind daily. Why had they chosen a place just up the road to do such things? The terribleness of it was seeping into her skin. She could not sleep. Then her daughter accidently died that summer. Some combination of this and that wore down the thin wire that was left of her mind, and she snapped.
Mrs. Zimmermann would often ask rhetorically at coffee: who was she to care what happened? No one had elected her the boss. At times it did seem a little insane to her, but then again so did a lot of events. All things that happened in times such as these were bad. It did one no good to dwell too much on matters one could not control. This was wise philosophy. Besides, governments were always doing questionable activities.
Mr. Meyer thought about protesting. He made inquiries of others on the matter. No one responded favourably. He began thinking of ways he could get the place up the road closed or perhaps moved. He thought for a long time, but when he got no support, these thoughts remained thoughts and never became an idea. He never did get an idea before it was all over.
Mr. Thalberg was so old when this thing began that honestly his mind did not understand it. A few friends tried to explain it to him during conversations, but to no avail. It sounded like fantasy to Mr. Thalberg—the very little bit he understood of what they were trying to tell him. Were they talking about Hansel and Gretel? Did they think he was a child?
Mr. and Mrs. Fleischer were so stressed that this was happening so close to them that they did not have sex for seven years. They could not avoid the matter since the workers from up the road relied on their goods. Those workers insisted on telling their stories. It was profitable and maybe morally necessary to listen. Someone had to attempt to absolve the confessors. Someone had to play heaven’s ear.
Mrs. Brandt was certain there were two nations within the country. It was divided between those who fostered what happened and those who would never have taken part in such business. Basically, the party system in the country justified her interpretation. It was the ones with guns who made this happen. She was part of the other group. This knowledge consoled her.
Mr. and Mrs. Henrich never favored what was happening, and especially hated those in charge. They knew justice would come. All they had to do was wait. While they waited for justice, they sneered at people who seemed to support the activities up the road. When it was over, they were proud they had kept such a low profile through it all, and they continued to sneer.
Mr. Dreher kept concentrating on the time when the rumours were merely whispers not loud enough to be truly heard. If new thoughts came, he mumbled to himself to drown them out.
Mrs. Oster knew it was all her fault. She lost seventy pounds during those times.
Miss Schreiner saw opportunity in what was happening. She made it a point to marry Mr. Burger during those times, and came up with the idea of the town specializing in new goods that the workers up the road would need. She cleverly arranged for shipments on the new trains that were arriving. She and her husband made lots of money.
Mr. Busch lived in personal horror the whole time, since he recalled a family story that some of the hated people held up the road were his ancestors. He worried that a scientific method would be developed that would discover him.
Mr. Franz ran away and joined the Resistance. Mr. Bohm wrote a book about it one day.
Mr. Weissmuller thought if he never saw the gates up the road, then no one could ever blame him.
Mrs. Ritter made herself happy by forcing herself to vomit.
Mr. Furst one night silently murdered a drunken worker from up the road.
The Barth sisters played cards so much that they had no time to think about it.
Mrs. Pabst insisted the place up the road was merely a bakery.
Mr. Gerste kept saying, “It could not be.”
Mrs. Lehrer thought the workers from up the road were nice and that they must have come from good families.
Mr. Nacht tried to move away, to get far away from it, but he had so little money that he could not. He was a prisoner of those people up the road and was always angry about it.
In the end, a few people did move away. The town waited. It went on with things. Things would change since many of the old died forgetting, and the young were born before they could remember.
Copyright © Eric Dreyer Smith 2015
Eric Dreyer Smith lives in San Antonio. He graduated from Trinity University in 1989. Books published include No One Blames San Antonio for the Civil War and Eligible Atrocities. He is currently completing an M.A. in counseling and his hobbies include short film production.