Me and fourteen other girls. After months, years, of sawdust
and ground acorn coffee, rancid margarine and biscuits
that required a chisel, it almost seemed a gift.
I am disgusted now to admit I was one of his yellow-feathered things,
but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh vegetables into my mouth.
Asparagus sceptres ennobled with hollandaise, sweet roasted peppers, lettuce,
rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a vegetarian
or pretended to be. It’s difficult to describe the solemnity of seeing each meal
as your last. We cried with relief when our bowels moved bloodlessly.
But I was hardly a medieval court taster. I never even met him.
We were kept in a separate room, a forced sorority. Forbidden
from seeing our families, we slept on hard beds in a concrete bunker.
At night Marlene and Ruth debated belladonna versus arsenic versus hemlock.
Anna and Irene swapped stories about boyfriends and brothers and other brutes.
Our cycles began to align. We laughed from time to time.
Ingrid did her best Lola-Lola, a blue angel falling
in love again while Ilse giggled, embarrassed, cheeks hot.
Ursula swept our hair into aristocratic knots and swirls.
I can’t explain why all fifteen of us had to test his meals
or why we were all women. Helga thought him handsome, deferential
to our fragile bodies. Gertrud punched the wall until her bones went limp.
Equally important was that we be upstanding German stock
as though we weren’t just tasting his food, but digesting it too,
his outsourced intestines.
We were lab rabbits twitching in our cages. Karin wondered if our shared diet
made us more like him or he more like us. Hydrangeas with the same blue hue
dictated by acidic soil. I still can’t eat Eintopf or Grießklößchensuppe.
Frieda concocted bold escapes. Eleonore recited verses
from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers.
We wrote each other’s obituaries, full of lewd jokes and accolades.
It went on that way until one night when a soldier who was sweet
on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth
in the fence. The Russians got there soon after
and shot the other fourteen
while the newlyweds dined