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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 13 page 11


"Guys, over here."

Prisoners 75 and 22 looked at the door.

"Who's there?" said 22.

"Listen," said the voice from the other side of the door, "I know nobody trusts you guys, hell, nobody even likes you guys. Everybody says you're just a step down from the guards, but I believe you guys have as much reason to join us, maybe more reason, considering what you've been forced to do, what you've seen."

"Join you? For what?"

"We're going to fight back," the voice said.

"Good luck with that," laughed 75.

"You two could help us," the voice said.

Prisoner 22 rustled in his bunk before hopping down, slapping his bare feet on the cold, wooden floor. He grabbed the door handle and was about to open it when the voice said, "No, it's best if you don't see me. If you decide to not fight with us, you could point us out to the guards."

Prisoner 22 backed away slowly, his face filled with shame.

Prisoner 75 said, "You want us to join you, but you won't show us your face because you don't trust us? Why should we trust you?"

There was a pause before the voice responded. "Don't take it personally. We want this to work, and we can't take any risks, and you two have a lot more to lose than we do."

"How do we have more to lose?" 22 said.

"You have water. You have food rations you can actually survive on. You have clothes that keep you warm at night. You have soap. You have space to actually sleep. You two have everything."

"What do you think you're going to accomplish?" 75 said. "Do you think you're going to overrun the camp? Kill all the guards? Free the prisoners? What then? Do you think you're going to crush the regime? Kill their leader? Restore peace?"

"Of course not," the voice said. "We intend to destroy as much as we can, and kill as many guards as we can before they kill us."

"That's your plan?" said 75. "You want to chip away at the boulder before it rolls over you?"

"We're dead anyway, all of us, even you two, but at least the deaths of those who are willing to fight will mean something."

With pleading eyes, 22 approached 75's bunk. "He's right," 22 said. "We should join them. You said it yourself — they're going to kill us anyway. Why not do as much damage as we can? Why not take some of them with us?"

Prisoner 75 rolled over in his bed and faced the wall, gazing at the same spot he stared at whenever he needed perspective. What at first appeared to be splinters in the wood were chips of human fingernail. For many days and nights he had stared at those small pieces of fingernail, speculating who they belonged to, if they belonged to a man, a woman, a child. Maybe they belonged to somebody who did the same job he himself was doing. What possessed a person to do something like that, something that clearly caused great pain in a place that already celebrated suffering. He had also wondered, long before the voice at the door mentioned fighting back, if the owner of those chipped fingernails had chosen to rebel, and if that was the reason 75 had been assigned to this job a year ago. He wondered if, without knowing, he had lifted, swung, and tossed the body of the person he replaced into one of the ovens. Was it light or heavy?