inglourious basterds. fredrick zoller, fredrick/shosanna. the world is quiet here ~1800 | pg13
there is a woman who lives on the streets
she hobbles to and fro, and sells flowers in the spring
and wood in the winter
but she is common
that is not to say that she is common but
rather she is commonplace; they all know her
but no one knows her name
and his father, he used to say, “you stay away
from that woman. No good comes from her ilk.”
but Helga hitches up her chin and gives the lady
half her allowance, pressing her pale, smooth fingers
into the ones gnarled and withered from the
cold, and she looks into his (not Helga; never
Helga) eyes and says, “think hard, boy, this is a bad
world, you know?”
(he wakes up screaming).
He wakes up screaming, thrashing his arms out. Pain explodes into his side, like a cannonball, and he thinks I have been here before because he remembers this moment. Remembers the pain so well, like he cannot breathe without some measure of it. He must feel the pain. He must. He must.
She swims into his vision, blurry and distorted. There is soot on her face, he thinks—but maybe not, it’s dark out, isn’t it—and her hair is like star shine dusting his cheeks, her fingers like knives in his side. Is she killing him? Oh God, isshekillingme?
“I shot you,” he says—no, he doesn’t; he just thinks it. He thinks things but does not say them. (he is trained good, this boy, his sergeant says, he will serve you well, up there)
“Hold still, fool, I’m trying to get the bullets out,” she hisses, and fire erupts in his lungs and he screams, he is sure he is screaming except there are only dull whimpers, like a dog that has been beaten but knows only to come back.
“I shot you.” This time, he says it.
She stops. Her red, red lips purse together—he remembers red; he hates that color but it had been beautiful on her, her dress so red that he thinks a moment before he shoots her (did I? did I?) that it was made of the blood of all those men who died below him, screaming for the salvation that does not come—and then she fades, red into black.
“Fredrick, I think you must be insane.”
A fever dream:
“Do you want to know a secret?” he whispers to her phantom. This must be hell. He dreams of hell often. He knows the truth—they say he is a hero, but he knows his bible thou shalt not kill—and this is hell.
“I never did,” he cries. This is not a confession. There is no priest to take his pleas. This is hell. It is ripped from him. “I did not carve that swastika! I could not I was—I was just shooting—I could not stop, you understand—how could I? If I did—!”
Hell is very warm, but his phantom’s lips are cool.
“Fredrick Zoller? Well, that is a good strong,
German name,” his Unterfeldwebel says.
“Yes sir.” (but you know, my father
wasn’t strong. He’s gone now, and very
“You know, Zoller, the risk Germany is at;
we have been crushed, demoralized by those
Europe scum and finally—finally, by God—we
are allowed to take our justice—God given justice,
Zoller! Heil Hitler! Long live Germany! Death to Eupore,
damnation to the Jews!”
“Heil Hilter,” he says, but not loudly
woman on the street, coins laden in her hands
“what is wrong?”
“oh, God! Mercy mercy!” the woman grasps
Helga’s wrists, holds on tight (this is
a lifeline in a storm; a pretty girl’s sad sympathetic
face, she cares about you even though she does
not know you). “Don’t you know? Don’t you know?
I am a Jew!”
she looks at Fredrick, lips chapped and charred, and
screams, “I am a Jew!”
the first night at his boot camp, Fredrick
awakens from a nightmare he does not remember
and throws up
His phantom of hell leans close to his ear. Mocking water touching his feverish brow. Oh what hell is this? Who is Lucifer—most beautiful of the angels; most damned—to treat him so? He did not understand! He did not understand!
(it matters not; and I did)
“Fredrick, shall I tell you a secret?” his phantom whispers close to his ear. “I am a Jew.”
“I did not know!” he thunders, and rears up. His arms come around the phantom, she is solid and small. He wants to find his freedom there but there is no freedom—this is hell, remember? “I did not know they would—I am sorry! Can I not find your eyes? I will return them!”
(they took her eyes from her first. Her screams had been loud enough to wake the houses around her, the soldiers pressing her down into the street as she screamed, and Helga running her fingers through his hair, praying and praying lord preserve us
Fredrick remembers; the woman stopped being there one day on the street, and he had been so afraid.
and he had not know her name)
“I want them not! I never meant to take them!”
Fredrick thinks Emmanuelle must be the prettiest girl he has ever seen. He likes her eyes best of all, the way they crinkle at the corners as they eye him with a certain disdain but curiosity—best of all, curiosity.
It will be a fairytale for him. He will have somehow find Helga’s book again and the prince saw the princess and loved and France will not be so bad (they are Allies in France, and he shot them all).
And, he thinks, all fairytales must end with—they lived happily ever after, for many years.
Except his, of course.
they come down on them like a hail storm
Fredrick trembles, finds he has no rifle to grip
and instead puts his hand to his mouth and prays,
“not me o God, not me.”
“god’s dead boy,” his commander says, “but you’re
not, do you want to live? Well do you?
Or will you die here—in this motherfucking waste?”
below them monsters howl and rage—Fredrick
used to be afraid of the dark, now he is afraid of something
different, and he says, “I want to live.”
there is a rifle in his hands
A bullet catches his commander square in the head
and he falls across Fredrick’s lap, blood and
bits of bone painting the wooden floor red, and this
my boy is just a taste of hell. Just a little taste;
do you want to die?
Fredrick shoots and shoots and shoots,
and he does not stop, not until the
world ends (with a whimper)
This is why Fredrick knows he killed Emmanuelle. He has never stopped shooting. He thought she would take the gun away but she did not, she only gave him more ammo. He hadn’t meant to shoot her, not really, but he has not meant too many things.
He shoots her, and his sins pile on top of the other and they compile into this: what will you do to live? (much, much, much). He loved Emmanuelle—he did he did!—but she found deficiency in him and saw him weak and gave him a gun and said what will you do to live?
Nothing, he hadn’t said, nothing. He shoots her to end it, to make the world breathe quietly again.
Hell rises up to meet him, fire flickering behind Emmanuelle’s haunting eyes.
Except the punchline is: he didn’t. His hand falls against his side and he looks at her and thinks, at least it is you, at least you have killed me. Hold my hand, won’t you? Emmanuelle, I think I have no name—I took her eyes, and she took my name.
The world was never so quiet as the moment she took his arm and dragged him out of the burning cinema.
“Common,” the doctor say, bending over him
on the examination table, as if he cannot hear them, “really
what did you except? Only survivor, alone for a week?”
“Yes. Yes. But can he go back?”
“I would not suggest it,” the doctor says, “he may break
completely. At least not right away, don’t send him back.
Let him go home. Send him home for a while.”
(home—I am a Jew!)
“France,” he whispers. “I would like to go to France.”
“Carefully,” the doctor whispers, “handled with great care,
very delicate. Nothing very strenuous—away from
violence assuredly, no telling what he’ll do.”
“Am I insane?” he wonders, but they have stopped
listening. “Am I insane?”
“My name is Shosanna Dreyfus.”
“I do not have a name.”
“Yes, you do. You are Fredrick Zoller.”
“No, he is dead. Emmanuelle shot him—an eye for an eye. Do you know what happened to Emmanuelle Mimieux? I must be in hell—for shooting her. I did not mean to—I wouldn’t have meant—it was her eyes, I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t take her eyes.”
“Fredrick, the fever will pass.”
“I loved her. No—I loved you. Forgive me—have mercy o God—Shosanna I am sorry. I couldn’t stop myself. I shot you.”
“Sleep. I will be here.”
the commander leans forward, blood rolling
down his nose, gripping his gun, “what are
you doing?” he shouts. “Shoot! Shoot! Don’t you want to live,
boy? Don’t you know anything?”
but not really: she has no eyes. She grips
the hem of his uniform, bloody fingertips
digging in, her eyeless sockets like blackholes
to swallow him up, “why? Why did you take my eyes?
Will you not give them back?”
“So what are you, Hitler’s nephew or something?”
Emmanuelle asks with great disdain.
Fredrick smiles. The world has gone quiet.
But not for long.
The fever breaks.
Fredrick wakes up in the small room of a French inn, the room dark round him, everything quiet save for the heavy breathing that escapes his chest. He turns, but he cannot. He remembers.
Shosanna sleeps on her side, her head tucked on his arm, her fingers gripping the blanket to keep it over them. Fredrick remembers—forever. He has not shot her, but she shot him, killed him, and brought him back—rebirth, it is a circle, you were wrong, God is not dead. Fredrick wants to laugh, wants to cry.
He curls around her, and she sighs, and he buries his head into her hair, inhales the soft, rich scent. When she wakes up, she will tell him. About his fever, about his thrashing and his moaning, and she may forgive him, or she may not. But she promised—forever.
The world breathes, as it always did, but for the first time in five years it is only a soft, noiseless thing in Fredrick’s ear.