The Price of a Fine Coat by Dee Pratt

Dee Pratt is a writer and a licensed attorney. She currently lives in Arkansas with her husband and too many cats.

     The knock on the door sounds at 6:05 p.m., just as it does every Friday. But my father looks surprised, all the same. Beads of sweat form at his temples. He opens the door, just a crack.
     "Mr. Schröder," my father says.
     That's what we have to call Mr. Goldfeder now. Before the war broke out, Goldfeder took his mother's maiden name so the Gestapo wouldn't seize his property. If only they knew a Jew spent his days collecting the money of hard-working Germans. My father mumbles something I cannot hear, and the hawk-eyed man comes into view. The brim of his hat is cut too wide to be fashionable, though it'd cost my father three months' wages. His long, black coat is simply cut but fine. I look at my father's tattered rag of a coat, too-often mended and barely holding together.
     "Very well." Mr. Goldfeder reaches into his leather satchel and produces a small notebook. He scratches out the contract and offers it to my father. "Make your mark. The full amount, with interest, will be due next Friday."
     Father closes the door without another word. His face is green, like he's had too much schnapps.
     "Will we have the money?"
     "What will happen? Will he throw us out?"
     The silence that fills the room is so thick I think I might choke on it.

     * * *

     I head down Prinz-Albrecht-Strasse to scrounge for dinner. The dumpster behind the Gestapo Headquarters will have stale rolls. I pass a poster that declares 1945 will be the year of our righteous victory.
     There is already a boy sifting through the garbage. He looks younger than me, but it's hard to tell when nobody has enough to eat. A dingy armband with a yellow star encircles his bicep. I hop over into the next dumpster and find pay dirt in the first bag: sauerkraut.
     The backdoor of the building opens with a metallic whine, and three agents spill out. They order us out of the dumpsters. I climb over the edge, and the agent nearest to me checks my arm and lifts my cap to look at my straw-blonde hair. He lights a cigarette.
     One of the other agents has the boy with the armband. "You dirty little thief!"
     He shoots the boy in the head. The agent with the cigarette picks up the boy's bag and hands it to me. He turns to leave, but something occurs to me and I call out. Wait! I want to report someone. His name is Andrej Goldfeder."

     * * *

     I lead the agents to Goldfeder's shop. The aroma of challah bread greets us the minute we step inside, and my stomach rumbles. Mr. Goldfeder steps out from his office. It is not surprise on his face, but something like resignation. Like he knew this would come, and maybe even that I would be the one to bring it.
     "Mr. Goldfeder?"
     "Schröder," he corrects, though it seems that he is only reading a script, letting the scene play out despite the fact that everyone knows how the story ends. They demand his papers, and he tries to cover the imperfection in the corner with his thumb. No use. The bullet hits in the center of his forehead. The officers ransack the place and take the money from the till. One of them gives me a hard shove toward the door.
     "Go now."
     "Please," I ask. "May I take his coat? For my father?"
     The officers look at one another and file out, leaving me alone. I strip off Goldfeder's fine coat and hat. Then I go into the back and pull the panel from the wall. Inside, I find the satchel, still full of last week's rent money.
     I run upstairs, anxious to tell my father that our problems are solved. When I get there, I find a note on the table.

          I've re-enlisted. Rent is paid.

     I stare at the letter. A suicide note. The Allies must be winning if the Wehrmacht will take him. They already declared him unfit. Air raid sirens blare in the distance, and the earth jerks violently when the bombs hit. When the shaking subsides, I get to my feet. I have to go. I look down at Goldfeder's things. They'll know. They'll know what I've done. Bile sloshes in my gut. I slip on the coat and hat and take only what fits in the satchel. As I scurry downstairs, understanding shows on my neighbors' faces. Understanding and disgust.
     I run into the night, until I reach a graveyard strewn with bodies. Smoke fills the air, and I think about the stories I've heard of poison gases. A German soldier grips my ankle, and I scream. His chest rises and falls in erratic bursts. He's been shot and is bleeding into his belly. I sit on a grave and hold his hand until he goes. Then I peel the gas mask from his face, slip it onto my own, and replace Goldfeder's hat.

     * * *

     For three days, I run. I drink from streams and steal food from empty farmhouses. On the fourth day, I see a contingent of British soldiers. I duck behind some bushes, but it's too late. The soldiers haul me out and demand to know who I am.
     I open my mouth and cannot believe the words that come out. "My name is Andrej Goldfeder."

     * * *

     The morning light on the desert sands is nearly blinding. I lean my head against the window and watch as the Great Pyramids come into view. I have seen pictures in textbooks, but I never dreamed I'd see them in real life. The officer who found me in that field, took pity on me, and smuggled me onto this plane tells me that I can ride a camel to see the pyramids up close after we arrive at British HQ. I take off Goldfeder's coat. I won't need it anymore.

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