All Is Bright

Life in Munich is defined by silences: bordered by them, hedging round him until Edward is nearly claustrophobic. He learned early on that it was better not to speak of his homeland; the only thing worse than the laughter and derision of the men who do not believe him is the strange, frightening calculation of the ones that might.

The walls in their tiny apartment are thin, dangerously so. The two of them can clearly hear the movements and voices of the people in the apartments next door; more importantly, their neighbors can also hear them. At first they had spoken English when alone; it was an easier language for both of them, though not the native language of both. But the first time the constable came around, investigating reports of potential British "sympathizers" within the apartment, they had realized the danger.

It didn't take a genius to realize the other dangers of the thin walls. Ears that could hear snatches of English could just as easily hear other noises, and so they are constrained to make love silently, with the thick cloth of a bedcover clenched between Ed's teeth for a gag, and the radio playing staticky in the background to cover up the heavy breaths and tiny grunts he cannot silence.

Scar, Edward resents sometimes, because the older, larger man never seems to have any trouble with silence. It comes easily to him, naturally it seems; he wraps it around himself like a cloak, and though Edward knows it is necessary he still hates how far away he seems, sometimes.

He doesn't love Scar. The idea is ridiculous, but they are all they have left, each other's bodies rocks against the tide of strangeness, unfamiliarity. They are no longer enemies. Here in Munich, so very far away from home, the distance between their places of birth shrinks to an ant's footsteps. Here Scar's beloved God does not exist; and Edward's alchemy also does not exist, except in the minds and memories of the other.

Now he looks at his lover, once enemy, standing at the stove; the blue-red gas flames light him from underneath, lending him an unfamiliar glow. It evens out the strange contrast of his skin and his white hair, makes invisible the pale dead lines of the scar crossing his face. A broadcloth apron spreads down his broad chest, protecting him from the grease that hisses and spits sullenly in the pan.

Scar had proved himself unusually handy at cooking, and taken over the chore without argument between them. In fact the older man spends much more of his time in the kitchen than Ed would have thought necessary, and he wonders if Scar prefers the heat of the cooking stove against the gathering chill of the German winter. He's never said.

Edward leans his chair back on two legs, to give himself room to turn over the newspaper. His throat aches and stings from so much silence, so he relieves it by reading the day's news aloud; Scar either can't or won't read it for himself, Ed doesn't know.

Edward runs out of business pages and, since the bacon is not yet done, turns to the editorial section. Against his better judgment, he reads one of the opinion pieces; a man is going on a great length, and apparent seriousness, about the contamination of the local drinking water by the gypsies and jews who were allowed to run rampant in urban areas. His proposed solution is to institute a "color check," and expel all others from the borders of the country.

The illogic of the article makes Ed want to swear, makes him want to rant and curse at the stupidity of it all. It only makes him angrier to know that he can't, that such a thing would be virtual suicide if overheard. And when he glances up at his lover's smooth, brown, impassive face, it only makes him more furious.

Don't you care? he wants to rage. This is YOU the article is talking about, it might be YOU who gets herded onto a truck to the border or lynched some day soon, by ignorant sheep without an inch of sense between them? Are you even LISTENING?

Because it makes Ed cold inside, and afraid, to think of Scar being taken away; to think of him being hurt or killed by the bloodthirsty hysteria of the mob. And he knows he shouldn't be afraid, and knowing that only makes him more angry.

But there's none of this that he can say, and he can no more read the thoughts from Scar's face than he could fly; so he stares instead at the neat, smug newsprint words, and feels the silence press around him until he is ready to burst, mixed only with the patient sound of sizzling grease.

One gray, chilly, damp day gives way to another smoggy night, clouds and fog underlit by Munich's sputtering sodium lights. The sun rarely shows its face even on the best of days, and it seems like hardly a surprise when the day's drizzle starts to come down as fine, sheeting ice, instead. Edward suffers from the cold, but he does so in silence; at night Scar's solid, furnace-heat warms his aching limbs, but during the day there is little left to do but endure.

It is December the twenty-fourth, and it is only a date to both of them; for he is not a believer of any god, and Scar is a devout believer of only one, and it is hard to say who between them is more steadfast. Ed is in a foul mood when he gets home, for it is sleeting and all day the streets have been filled with drunken revelers and dangerous automobile drivers.

The only advantage to the date, as far as Edward can see, is that when he climbs the narrow rusting stair to their apartment, every other door and window is dark. They are, Edward presumes, out among the partiers in the ice-slick streets, or perhaps the crowd pushing and shoving their way into the tight-packed, noisy churches. And with a perverse irreverence, Edward thinks that maybe for the first time in a long time, he can have sex with his lover and be as loud as he damn well pleases.

He opens the door to his apartment and finds the rooms dark—and cold, but that is not unusual, for the heating is poor; but the darkness only makes the cold seem more clinging. He trips against the counter, trying to fumble his crusted boots off one-handed, and curses; the noise stirs a movement, over by the window, and only by that does he know that he is not alone. Still here, for now.

"Why's it so dark in here?" Ed complains, trying to make his way around the furniture by feel. He puts his box down on the counter, safe from any accidents, but somehow he doesn't quite want to announce it quite yet. Hell, he doesn't know if Scar even likes cake, even enjoys sweets, or whether he'll think it's a foolish, irresponsible waste of money. "Hey, are you alive in here?"

He trips again, over something unseen by the window; but this time an arm muscled like a tree limb catches and steadies him before he could hit anything. He scowls up at his lover, who does not even turn his face down to look at him.

"What are you doing, just standing by the window, huh? You're going to catch a cold. I wanted to..." and he trails off, a lump clogging his throat. Even alone here together, he can't say what he wants, the heat and the blissful mindlessness of it, the precious moments of relief and intimacy that he craved so much. And feels, more than ever, that despite the closeness he was truly alone, thousands of miles and years away from his family, the place of his birth.

Scar does not answer, but he looks at him for a moment, and then back out the window. Involuntarily, Edward looks too.

In the pale sodium lights of the streets of Munich, the steady, fine-falling ice looks like snow, drifting to cover the earth in a glittering whiteness. Looking up, you can imagine the glinting grains stretching upwards forever, forever, up into the sky where they hang like tiny stars, so bright and far away that you could see them from another world.

It's cold by the window, and Edward shivers. And his lover puts an arm around him, and pulls him close, and Edward can feel—though he cannot hear—the beating of his heart, alive and grateful for it. Maybe from one of the nearby churches, or maybe just in his imagination, the breath of a song echoes through the stillness; and here and now, in this one place, he is not alone.

And the silence unwinds around them, beating on gossamer wings out into the reaches of infinity.