Friday, August 18, 2017

Cares of a Family Man: Finding Hitler's Moustache



I wrote this story about finding Hitler's moustache a few months ago. I think it is time to post it here. 

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Cares of a Family Man
by Gary Barwin

            We found it upstairs in the attic, huddled against the eaves. It was frightened and alone. A sad little squirrel, a little lost mouse. We didn’t know how it got in, perhaps when the weather turned cold, it squeezed through a hole in the roof. The soffit or fascia, though we didn’t remember what they were exactly, they likely needed repair. It was an old house.  It was all we could do to cover the basics. Work, cook, shovel the walk, feed the dog.
            We approached cautiously. It was small but it was scared and we knew fear could cause it to try to hurt us. My wife suggested a broom, just in case, but I thought that might make things worse.
            “Let me talk to it,” I said. “My voice is reassuring.”
            “Yeah,” she said, but I didn’t know what she meant.
            “Hey,” I said, softly. “Hey, there. Don’t be scared.” It moved slightly, pulling itself in a bit. I could see some quivering.
            “Maybe we should offer it food,” my wife said.
            “Sure. What?”
We didn’t know. We tried cheese, pieces of bread, nuts. Then I remembered we had some leftover sausage—bratwurst—wrapped in brown paper at the back of the fridge. We’d been saving it for the dog. I tore it into appropriate bite-size chunks and rolled them close.
            “Here,” I said. “You’ll like this.” There was some uncertain rustling and then it edged slowly forward. It didn’t eat, but nuzzled against the sausage as if proximity gave it comfort. Bratwurst, my familiar, my own.
            “Shh,” I said. “Everything’s ok.” My wife and I crouched beneath the slope of the roof, trying to be quiet and still. I could hear breathing. Our intimate and shared concern.     “Give it time,” I said. “It’s scared.” After about ten minutes it moved further into the room, pressing close and nervously against the next piece of sausage.
            “There you are,” my wife said. “See? It’s alright.”
            “There’s lots of sausage,” I said. “You’re safe here.”
While my wife watched and reassured, I went downstairs, found a shoebox and tissue paper. I punched holes in the lid. I remembered grade school. The things we found. Injured birds, baby rabbits, worms, a broken toy soldier, an escaped hamster.
            We weren’t sure if we should touch it, but finally, my wife slipped the lid of the shoebox underneath it and slid it into the nest of tissue paper.
            “What it is?” I asked.
            “Not sure,” she said. “I have ideas.  I’ve seen things.”
I carried it carefully downstairs in its box and put it on the desk beside the computer. My wife sat down and began typing.
            “I thought so,” she said. “I knew it.”
            I had my own ideas, but I didn’t trust them. It seemed too unlikely. “What?”
            “It’s a moustache,” she said. “That we know. And look. It’s Hitler’s moustache.” She pointed at an image on the screen. The edges, the little bristles, the shape. It wasn’t the same colour, but it had been many years. We read about how it had gone missing after Hitler married Eva Braun in the Bunker and before they committed suicide. It was mentioned in a few accounts. There was a note from Martin Bormann, and among Goering’s papers, a sentence or two. They were surprised when it disappeared, that it escaped the notice of the guards outside the Fuhrerbunker and then at the door of the Vorbunker which led to the Reich Chancellery stairs. But it was small and dark and perhaps in those last intense days of the war, a sense of looming dread, and madness upon all of them, they had been distracted. Hitler fulminated about many things as he lost his grip, stormed about, raved and then fell silent, despondent and hopeless. And then soon after, his suicide on the couch in his private room. Cyanide for Eva, gun to the head for Adolf. A moustache could find an opportunity, and disappear.
            Where had the moustache been all these years? Certainly there had been a network, from Argentina to Canada, many places for the moustache to hide, to begin a new life, to assume a new name. Pictures of the moustache at a London men’s club, trimmed, and brushed. A snapshot of the moustache on a boat in the Adriatic, holidaying with a sheik and an industry titan. The moustache at the wedding of its granddaughter somewhere in Rio, waxed into curls. It had been a happy life, a life of conviviality and friendship, one it seemed, with few regrets. But who knew the moustache’s private moments, the middle of the night awakenings, the early morning beach walks, the trembling, the rage. Had the moustache changed? Was that even possible? Was its escape simply self-preservation, a Himmel- or Goering-like loss of confidence and desire for surrender or a new regime, or was it more? What had the moustache been thinking, all those years under Hitler’s nose, spackled with saliva as his lip convulsed with apoplexy and mania?
            “What do we do now?” I asked.
            “Now?” my wife said.
            “I mean, what next? Do we speak to the authorities?”
Instead we got some food, plopped down on the couch and turned on the TV. The moustache was between us, a bowl of popcorn on top of the box’s lid. We scanned the channels. Sports. News. History. Nature. Movies. A few seconds on each, a tiny cross section of complete scenes: bodies moving, trees swaying, a train crash.
            “Wait,” I said and went back to the History channel. Charcoal bombers flickered through a pockmarked grey sky. A documentary about the Battle of Britain. “Maybe it’ll recognize something,” I said. “Maybe it’ll react and…”
            “What?” my wife said.
            “A clue.”
            “About what next?”
            “Yes,” I said.
The expected drone of engines, the indistinct cityscape, pale citizens in rubble, the stentorian voice of the narrator detailing the devastation, the losses, the gumption, the heroism. I listened carefully to the box. A few times the moustache readjusted its position, an indistinct scratching which soon subsided.
            “Nothing,” I said.
            “What were you expecting?”
            “Not sure.”
Weeping, an admission, denunciations, apology, prayer? I was not sure what I anticipated.  I had thought the sounds of battle might cause the moustache to respond. Had it no regrets? Did it live in a self-contained world of certainty, self-congratulation and delusion? Or was it simply too old, frightened, lonely, and hard of hearing?
            I muted the TV. I lifted the lid a few inches. The moustache had balled up the tissue paper into a corner and was mostly hidden underneath. Cautiously, I rested my upturned finger on the floor of the other end of the box.
            “Don’t be scared,” I whispered. “Don’t be scared.”
            The moustache pulled itself completely under the tissue paper.
            “I’m not here to judge you,” I said and then was silent. As we waited, my wife began changing channels, scanning through channels on the muted TV.
            After a while, some of the moustache appeared from beneath the paper. Rippling greens and blues from the screen. The moustache crept carefully across the box and then, after a moment’s hesitation, lay against my finger. I could feel the warm bristles and a kind of breathing or trembling. I stayed still. Then the moustache climbed onto my finger, turned carefully around, and lay down. I didn’t risk moving but remained motionless. My wife had stopped looking through channels and the screen glowed an aquatic blue white. I could hear my wife breathing beside me, my own breathing, the low electric hum of the muted television.
            “What now?” she whispered.
We waited. Then I moved aside the lid and raised my hand as smoothly and slowly as I could. I brought the moustache closer and closer. I bent my head down.
            We were inches away in the undulating light. I touched the moustache to my lip and it held on as if it were my own.

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            “It’s a new life,” I said.




from a series of palindromic rabbi's beards.




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