Chapter 1: Minor Annoyances
World War II wages in the unseen distance. In a battlefield far to the west, men fight and die. Men collapse in the mud as nations clash: But here, in the dark and godless corner of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Jacob lies in dirty rags on a metal cot.
4:18am, rising from his hard bed following a sleepless night, Jacob slides his cold, bare feet into tattered shoes so he might go outside and relieve his bladder. He notices his left shoelace has frayed and broken.
Jacob: (sitting on the edge of his bed, fumbling with the severed string). Curse this blasted thing.
His bunk-neighbor, David, sleeps noisily. David has a particularly loud snore that grated on Jacob’s nerves all night and kept him up.
David: (from the neighboring bunk, snores loudly and then wheezes)
Jacob: (sighs, speaking in a harsh whisper) David, you damn wretch. Keep it down! I can’t sleep with all that cursed noise.
David: (half-asleep, stirring) Huh? Oh, sorry, Jacob. I’ll try to keep it down.
Jacob: (softly to himself) It’s always something. I can’t get a moment’s reprieve.
Daylight. In the mess hall, Jacob stares at watery, salted soup, unable to stomach its taste.
Jacob: Is this even edible?
Fellow Prisoner 2: (looking at Jacob) Eat what you can, it’s all we’ve got.
Jacob: (grimacing) I can’t stand it. It’s like drinking dirt.
Fellow Prisoner 3: (shrugs his shoulders)
A shot rings in the distance. Jacob barely hears it as he sniffs his foul-smelling, overly-salted soup.
Later that evening, Jacob lays on his bunk noticing some dry skin at the back of his elbow. Mumbles a muted curse under his breath and tries to ignore David’s snoring.
Jacob: (lying on his bunk; an hour or two later — a large moth’s wings repeatedly flutters against the bunkie’s broken window screen, angrily seeking warmth from the night air). Jacob’s teeth grind as his mind races. I abhor moths. They’re ugly butterflies without the glory or the color. “Demon bug!” he mumbles loudly aloud.
Nazi Guard: (passing by) Keep quiet in there, vermin!
Jacob: (whispers angrily to anyone who will listen). I don’t want it getting in here. It’s trying to get in! I’ll kill it before it does. He rises and heads to the window.
Fellow Prisoner 4: (whispers) Leave it, Jacob. It’s not worth the trouble.
Jacob: (whispers back) I won’t let the devil have its day on my watch.
Fellow Prisoner 4: (sadly) There are worse things in here than bugs, my friend. Get some sleep.
Jacob: How can I with this bloated toad wheezing through his nose all night?
David: (snoring and his mouth gurgles)
Fellow Prisoner 4: (softly) We all find ways to cope, Jacob. Try not to let it consume you.
Chapter 2: Moments of Respite
Despite the constant hunger gnawing at his insides, Jacob becomes more irritated by the gritty taste of the watery soup he is served than the murderous emptiness in his stomach. He squints at the murky liquid, trying to pick out any semblance of nutrition; and in those moments, the emaciated bodies and hollow eyes of his fellow prisoners seem to be temporarily eclipsed.
Jacob: (in the mess hall, staring at the watery soup). It scratches my throat. I think it has a gritty texture. Do you feel that?
Fellow Prisoner 2: (looking at Jacob) I don’t notice it.
Jacob: (grimacing) I can’t stand it. My throat is itching now. It’s like swallowing liquid sandpaper.
Fellow Prisoner 3: (leaning in) Give it to me then; I’ll eat yours if you don’t want it.
A woman’s blood-curtling scream weighs down the room from outside the hall. It lasts a minute then is silenced by the harsh sound of bullet.
In the midst of the rising tension, Jacob’s attention is diverted. He noticed a loose thread on his tattered shirt.
Jacob: (examining his shirt, frustrated) What’s this? Of course this would happen now! He plays with it incessantly—trying to break the thread with a quick pull; it only seems to unravel more. Ruen zol er nisht afile in keyver!
Fellow Prisoner 5: (patting Jacob’s shoulder) Don’t worry about it, my friend. We’re all falling apart here.
Jacob: (weak smile) You’re right of course, Rabbi. But curse this garment. May it burn forever.
Fellow Prisoner 5: (leans in, uses his teeth to cut the offending thread on Jacob’s shirt.) Shalom aleichem, brother!
A day of hard labor ends. As night returns, Jacob finds himself back in the Bunkie and is bothered by a persistent itch now on his ankle.
Jacob: (scratching his ankle, annoyed) This confounded itching!
Fellow Prisoner 6: (caring tone) I know of a sort of ointment you might use.
Jacob: (grateful) Thank you, I appreciate it.
Fellow Prisoner 6: (leaves and comes back with some spare soup he had ferreted away; uses a piece of fabric to apply it to Jacob’s itchy skin as a salve. He rubs it gently while humming).
Jacob thinly smiles between a grimace. The night air is thick and suffocating.
Chapter 3: Coping Mechanisms
Early morning. Jacob awakes and notices a painful hangnail throbbing pain into the end of his thumb. The act of pulling his threadbare blanket over his thin frame catches on the hangnail, causing a jolt of discomfort. He finds himself fixated on the meager injury, gently rubbing the tender area.
A whirl of violent gunshots sing out in the early morning. He doesn’t notice.
Jacob: (musing) I believe today’s Tuesday. I may be able to catch a glimpse of my wife in the other barracks as she leads the women to the clothes washing room. By God’s mercy I’ll catch a hint of her face as she walks along her side of the fence…
Pain distracts his wistful thoughts of his wife. Oh, this damned thumb! I’ll have to find a way to pull out this fiendish hangnail before it drives me to madness.
(The meal bell rings). Jacob rises, puts on his shoes, and heads for his morning soup.
Outside a guard grabs him a pushes him violently into line as it assembles.
Guard: Hurry up, you swine!
Jacob stares at his feet and avoids the guard’s hateful stare. His left shoelace is still shorter than his right. He must fix that soon!