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Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa


by Simon Moore

First Appeared in Burnt Toast#4, 1990

"History's a funny thing, isn't it," said Edward.

"Oh?" replied Inge, a strange expression on her face. "Why?"

"Well, things can change so completely with only a few actions. A whole different line of history could happen say, if the Treaty of Versailles had been more kind to the Germans, or even if Hitler had overcome the Soviets in Stalingrad."

Inge looked at him intently. "Why that?"

Edward was confused. "Why what?"

"Why Hitler, and in Stalingrad?"

"Well, I thought that was his big stumbling block. You know, why he lost the war."

Inge still seemed very concerned at this. Confused even. He knew she wasn't very interested in history. In fact, she seemed to shy away from any book or television program devoted to the subject. He tried to get her interested.

"You know, the war ended forty-five years ago," he said with a little more enthusiasm than the comment deserved. He was rewarded by a blank expression.

"Atomic bomb," he said with incredulity. "Don't you know anything?"

Inge gave him a fierce look, as if she was about to throttle him, but calmed down. She smiled strangely, and said, "Yes, do go on."

Strangely for him, Edward was lost for words. He opened his mouth to say something, but didn't know where to start, or if to continue the subject at all. He stared at her to find an answer.

He was rescued by a knock at the door. He jumped up, thankful for the interruption.

"Ah, good. That'll be Max."

He left the sitting room and walked down the short hall to the front door. As he opened the door, his mouth formed into a shape fitting to say the word "Max", but never reached its fulfilling conclusion.

There was no one there. Save for a vintage car, the street was empty. Cursing the fact that some stupid kid was playing a silly game, he closed the door, and returned to the sitting room.

As he entered the door, he noticed that the little colour television that sat in the corner wasn't there, until he remembered that it was in for repair.

"Where's Max?" asked Inge casually.

"Oh, that was just some silly prank by some child," said Edward. Deciding that Inge needed a compliment to cheer them both up, he said, "I like that red sash around your arm. Funny how those things are coming back."

Inge looked down at the red armband.

"Yes," she said. "I'm very pleased with the way it turned out, too. Do you like the design on it?"

Edward peered at it. He hadn't noticed the black design.

"Er... yes," Edward stumbled. "I think so. Then again, I was never one for fashion."

He looked at the design again. It was familiar. He thought of his old school emblem, trying to remember if that was where it came from. Yes, that must be it.

Silence reigned.

"Will Max be long, do you think?" asked Inge tentatively.

Edward smiled slightly at the attempt at conversation that was desperately needed here.

"I shouldn't think so," he mumbled, only half paying attention to his surroundings. As he stared into space he got depressed at the lack of energy that they both seemed to have, although Inge was clearly anxiously expecting someone.

He decided that they were both tired.

"What makes you say Stalingrad is the cause of Hitler's demise?" said Inge suddenly.

Edward was startled at this. That must have been half an hour ago at least.

"Er... well wasn't that where the Soviets pushed him back? Although I suppose it was his own big headedness that made him invade."

"You think so?"

Edward jumped at the chance of a debate.

"Yes, I do. Everything was fine until he started thinking really big. Although that was his original plan, wasn't it. To take Russia, I mean. He never really wanted Britain or France or any of that. In fact, he really admired the British Empire, and just wanted his own. If he hadn't bothered with the Soviet Union, he probably wouldn't have lost to the Americans and British."

"Isn't that all supposition though?" asked Inge.

"Yes, I suppose it is," admitted Edward. "Losing may just have been his lot in life. It probably would have been better for his reputation and Germany after the war if he had have been blown up by that bomb."

"What bomb?" said Inge slowly.

Now he was into it, he did feel like explaining it all to her.

"There was an assassination attempt at one of his forward bases. Someone planted a bomb, but unfortunately Hitler got away virtually unscathed. The assassins were planning an early end to the war should they succeed."

There was another brief pause while Edward watched Inge digest this.

"Oh, I've just remembered I had to call someone," she said. "Do you mind if I use your phone?"

"No not at all," said Edward. "The hallway."

"Danke," she said, and left the room.

Edward smiled at this piece of German, and then realised his folly. No wonder she was uncomfortable when he started to mention Hitler! Germans are always offended by this, especially when they or their family were 'involved' in some way, and as far as he could remember, Inge's mother was involved somehow. He must change the subject and apologise when she returned.

Glancing at his watch, he noticed that Max was an hour late. He would phone him after Inge was finished.

While he was waiting for Inge to return, he looked back to the blank space in the corner of the room where his little colour television should have sat. He was sure that he had collected it from the repair shop yesterday...

Inge returned, ending this train of thought. He reminded himself of what he should do.

"Inge, I'm sorry," he said a bit pathetically.

"About what?" she said brusquely.

"About me talking so much about Nazi Germany. I should have realised..."

"Well, it's a bit late now, isn't it," she said harshly.

He was about protest at this harshness, until he realised what a fool he had been.

"Yes," he muttered, hanging his head.

"And your friend Max won't be showing up to this little meeting, either."

Edward was taken aback.

"I beg your pardon?"

He heard banging at the door. Before he had time to answer he heard a splinter of timber, and running boots in the corridor.

Looking back at Inge his eyes passed by the little swastika on the red armband.

"I don't understand..."

The click of rifles made him slowly turn towards the door.


The calender on his desk said 1944.


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