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  1. Please note there is some narratively relevant anti-Semitic thought and violence depicted. OPENING SCENE - Introduces protagonist (his bifurcated state of mind building tension and sympathy), antagonist, setting, object to become enduring symbol, description creating atmosphere/mood, dialogue with provocative statements, inciting incident, powerful event foreshadowing primary conflict and acting as microcosm of wider setting. Josef got his mail at the university in the center of Lvov, rather than at the convent, and that made all the difference. He knew the sisters, if they could have read English, wouldn’t approve of what he’d written in the manuscript he’d swaddled in butcher paper and sent away at great expense, stamps covering the face of it, so many needed to guarantee safe passage across land and sea to New York. The sisters believed all truth was already known, no need for tortured men like the character he had written to keep searching. But despite being raised by these nuns after typhus and the last war had left him and his brother first motherless, then fatherless, and despite some unavoidable level of admiration for Jesus Christ as a suffering protagonist of the first order, Josef was inspired to write only secular stories. Somehow, it was a further sacrilege, he knew, to write such things madly into the night in the shelter the convent still provided him. And worst yet perhaps, to write only in English. So, he had listed his address as the university because, unlike the sisters, his one professor of literature might have understood. Beyond Polish literature, he had introduced Josef to English and American books, had nursed Josef with the fiery drama of Shakespeare, the sooty stories of Dickens, the steamy poetry of the Pre-Raphaelites. And just in the last year, with the shocking electricity of Steinbeck and Fitzgerald, Hilton and Buck, these last in pocket-sized paper gems so fresh from a printer somewhere in New York that Josef was sure he knew the smell of America from their pages. Like that fabled land, its language held so much more promise than did Polish, and Josef had chased English words and meaning through late night readings and re-readings, fluency a hunted dream, ever elusive, but doggedly pursued. And then he had written. In a frenzy he wrote, English words coming without effort, and they were perfection, better than anything he had ever written in Polish, the best he had ever produced. In such a glow, he sent this, his best work, to the best in New York publishing. He reverently wrote Simon and Schuster on the brown bulk of the bundle, sure his words would be shrunk into revolutionary pocket-sized, paper-covered editions and therefore reach the masses, the American masses, who would know a good book when they read it. It was a secular book, yes. But Josef was not so far from his Catholicism that he didn’t take advantage of all his religion might ensure. Before entrusting his words to the postal clerk, the brown bundle was duly sprinkled with holy water from the same font that had received his dipped fingers since they’d been plump with the fat and reverence of childhood. A mistake. That had been a mistake. Josef realized this straight away that day in the university mailroom when he first saw a package too close in bulk to the one he’d sent away months before to be anything but his sanctified words refused, turned back from the gates. When the clerk handed it over, Josef pushed back his too-long hair from his eyes and brushed his fingers along his own name as addressed, then took in the sender’s. The dead weight of the package seemed to emanate from those same words that spelled out the name of the offices, the name he had so reverently printed: Simon and Schuster. The newest and brightest of publishers, now imprinted as well on a single enclosed sheet in glowing gold that should have meant promise and fortune. But the rejection letter’s fine stock was attached to the rougher paper of his own words, and the gilt incarnations of the publisher’s names on the header were impersonally stamped, the S’s just a touch larger than the rest of the text, so they were devilish serpents in his path, spitting shame. After reading it – We regret…despite resonant themes…compelling characters…skills in English to an acceptable level – he ran his fingers over the S’s at the head of the stiff paper. The embossed, raised gold. Shame turned to anger. His brother, Harald, found Josef hours later, stewing on the steps of the humanities building leading down to the university courtyard, his hair in his eyes, the names of those who had refused him still burning under his fingers. Harald flicked aside Josef’s hand, read aloud the names, “Simon and Schuster?” with a suspicion Josef now felt was fitting, even if it came from his brother, who read no English beyond black market Marlboro and Wrigley’s. He said it with a heaving breast that matched Josef’s own raised blood, though Harald’s heightened breathing came from his cycling across Lvov from the government office where he ran errands, and his anger was a perpetual one, unsourced. Sweat brought a sourness from his skin that matched Josef’s resentment, there on the shadowed steps, cold from the stone seeping through him to his heart, the promising late spring sky above a lie. It was a sharp resentment that merged with Harald’s next words, the same as in Josef’s heated mind, but unspoken. “What does a bunch of dirty Jews know?” It could have been left at that. Josef might have noted his anger displaced, shame rising up again in its stead at hearing his unfounded, ugly thoughts sounded aloud. Might have crumpled the letter and tossed it like a ball to his brother, made a game of it that would end in a tussle, maybe a bit rougher than was warranted, but cathartic all the same. Might have held the letter loose and flapping while perched on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle and dropped it into one of the open areas of the river where the workers still had not covered it with street, dropped it when they passed by as they did every evening after Harald fetched him from the university to return to their rooms. Might have folded the letter calmly and tucked it back in with the pages of the manuscript, hoping the latter were unmarked, still clean enough to send off again to a different publisher, this rejection set aside resignedly, yet calmly. But the university was full of young men like Josef, with fathers and uncles lost in the last wars, fed on the chatter of nationalists and fascists rising with the advancing boots of soldiers toward Poland, on the writings of men who blurred the lines between race and religion, between public hygiene and revenge. Young men Josef would never have thought to join if it were any other day. But this day. Across the courtyard opposite where Josef sat, the doors of the medical school building shot open. They ejected a sole scholar, coat, vest, trousers in tweed, wool despite the approaching summer’s warmth, wire glasses wrapped to ears. He might have been any scholar, but his short hair was darker than most, coarser than most. He darted a look left, then right, caught sight of Josef and Harald, and bolted for an opening in the wall of the courtyard, a gate meant to keep the greater world at bay, protecting the scholars within. The doors of the medical school slammed shut again, reverberations echoing off the surrounding cluster of encircling buildings like a heralding call. The scholar’s hard soles on the cobbles were the only sound for a second, maybe two. But it was not long enough. The doors of the medical building were thrust open again, and a tide of red-faced young men, light hair and icy blue eyes, rushed after the scholar, arms raised. The dark-haired young man whipped his head back, hoping perhaps to see a trail behind him empty of enemies, but this was a hopeless hope. When he faced the gate again, his glasses did not follow, fell with a weak tink to the cobblestones, and then their lonely sound gave way to a great roar. Josef heard the roar, felt it come not from the open mouths in hateful faces, but from the raised arms, from the glint of something menacing that they held. Straight razors and knives borne aloft. So many arms raised with the same intent and weapons, fulfillment of a plan not written, but whispered. A plan that made organized what before had only been random. A plan that would not let even this one Jew escape unharmed. Josef sat frozen as, across the courtyard, they tackled the scholar to hard stone. Light from the setting sun streamed down on their backs, honing their blades to a shimmering sharpness Josef felt once again as his own anger prodded him now to stand. To his right across the cobbles, the sciences building was silhouetted against the setting sun, its steps in shade. Josef heard, rather than saw, its dark doors thud open with a force that foretold the violence to come. He had taken two determined steps down, but now pivoted toward this new opportunity. Another dark-haired scholar skittered down those steps, but this one fell before reaching the cobbles. Behind him, through the doors still trembling, came a crushing wave of bodies, razors raised, and they too fell. Fell upon him. Josef pivoted yet again as another set of doors shot open across the cobbles to his left. The mathematics building. Then Josef twisted himself to see just up the steps of where he stood, the very doors behind which he and others studied history and philosophy, literature and religion, burst open, and the inevitable dark-haired fellow took the first steps at a gallop. When the young man saw Josef, he locked eyes with him, stumbled, changed course at what he saw in Josef’s stare. And then the sound of hard soles, yells and yelps, swallowed Josef to deafness, so that he saw rather than heard the cry that came from his brother’s lips as he stood, a spring sprung, beside him. “Jews!” Harald crowed. “Here’s your chance!” Harald was down the steps, Josef close behind before he realized he’d moved. His brother made for, not the mob from Josef’s own house, philosophers and historians who were still chasing their own quarry, but toward the first downed Jew from the medical school, as if Harald had never taken his eyes off that initial opportunity. Harald sprinted across the cobbles and became one with the crowd as Josef heard the first sharp cry from the humanities fellow, just then tackled, whose eyes he’d held with his own venomous gaze. The sharpness launched him from the steps, across the cobbles, his emotions a confusion of angry desire and the need to leave that horrid cry behind. When he came up against the throng of bodies surrounding the medical student, he wiped his hair out of his eyes and searched for Harald’s capped head. The scholars were a circle of suited backs, uniform, blades attached to hands from white cuffs, slashing down and coming up again, speckled red, then down again, and up, now streaked red, and again, splashed and spreading red, soaking it up like virgin blotting paper overfilled with mistaken ink. Josef surged into the crowd, his heart racing. He caught a flash of Harald’s bright blue eyes, feverish with the fun, then found a pen knife thrust into his hand, his brother clearing a path for him through the sea of reddened faces, bloodied hands. Josef gripped the knife, curled fingers around its length, the other hand fisted, wronged anger growing to a hatred such as he had never felt. A clarity of purpose made concrete in the stretch of cobbles that led him to the one who deserved to suffer like he did. And there Josef was, knife-wielding arm raised to plunge, the maddened students roaring, urging him to add to their strikes. But Josef’s vision clouded and he could not see the horde of students any longer. Could not see what he was meant to do. All that lay before him on the dark, slick stones was a huddled form, a young man curled into himself so he was no more than the size of a boy. Curled into himself like a babe in the womb, streaked with blood on his pale, pale skin. Slashes in skin opened further the flesh his torn clothing exposed, gaping to the cruel light of the setting sun. His scholar’s tweeds covered little of him any longer, fabric shredded and torn away, what remained soaked with blood through rents in a fabric so like that which made up the suit Josef wore. What was he meant to do? Josef no longer heard the taunts and curses. They faded as he unclenched the fist of his free hand, reached down to touch the boy’s wounded side. His fingers cringed back as they took on the wet of the scholar’s blood, and yet Josef was unsure in that moment if he had really touched him at all. The blood of that huddled form pumped toward his fingers, seemed to leap at him until he was dizzy with the darting of his eyes from this wound to that, from wound to wound to wound, thinking he would know what to do if he could find the boy’s face, see his eyes like he had those of the other Jew, know when they locked with his own that he was alive despite it all. And then he did see his eyes. One swollen shut, but the other, a warm brown that belied the cruelty he endured, seeing Josef, even without his spectacles. Josef looked. But he could not lock his own eyes with that one saddened eye, so turned away, just as it began to close, an acceptance of fate. Josef tore his unfocused gaze back to the Jew’s face. No, no, let it not be so. He held his bloodied fingers out, as if to open those eyes again, no longer sure what his thoughts and his risen blood protested exactly. Let it not be so. This same utterance, miserable rejection of his own rejection, transferring now to the scholar on the stones. Rejected scholar, yet just a boy in tweeds like his. Josef lowered his knife hand into the silence. He stood stock still, then felt the knife grabbed from him, a whisper—was it Harald’s?—in his ear. “Maminsynek.” With that, sound returned. The jeering surged again, the bodies pressed in front of him and shoved Josef backward until he found himself on the outer ring of the gang, stumbling out of their midst. Josef turned away, searching for some sure thing in the cold architecture surrounding him. But instead, he saw another huddle of students surrounding a fallen form on dark stone. And another. And another. They were grey-black clouds descending on the courtyard cobbles, roiling masses moving as one over a carcass, a body brought close to death by a multitude of small injuries. Josef reeled. Open-mouthed, he tilted his head to the blue sky above, trying to catch even one pure breath. But the voices calling, the screams in answer, choked him. He retched, searing bile surging up and out of him. Maminsynek. He was a sissy for sure. Josef stumbled back across the courtyard toward the humanities building steps he had perched on so long, stewing in his rejection. If he could reach them, climb back to where he had been, it might all reverse. But he found himself at the bottom of the marble rise, saw his manuscript miraculously still in its package tipping off the edge of one tread, as if a decision hung in the balance. Josef snatched it up and spun to face away, across the courtyard, toward the gate in the wall where the spectacled Jew had seen a possible escape. Josef could do the same, make it through, away from all that was occurring, even if the Jew could not. He pulled the package to his chest in a protective embrace and shambled to a run across the cobbles, avoiding the clustered attackers, made it halfway to the gate and stopped, almost falling over himself. The spectacles. Unmutilated, as if simply set on the cobbles. Josef stared. It was unreal, that they could be unharmed. He reached down. His fingertip smudged one lens with red. He pulled back. But then he snatched them up, stuffed them into the package with his words, and ran. Ran toward the gate, just as the Jew had done. But Josef made it through, his own skin intact, yet marked with blood just the same.
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