Letters From the Dead  
    Shelley Berc

The Father, Budapest 1944:

Today in the courtyard I watch the postman with his key. Each metal cubicle opens up, each with its own name-- Nagy, Bruckener, Gabor, Gruen. And a letter slides in, sometimes two or three or four letters. There is no box with my name so there can be no letter for me, but then there could never be here any letter for me. I am eighteen and the only people who might write are gone to a place without paper or stamps. They give them ink and say: here, write home on your flesh if you want to communicate so much; I'll help you tear the skin off, stuff it in an envelope. I watch for the postman every day. Now I steal other people's mail.

The Son, Argentina, 1977:

Over and over he tells me--hiding here, escaping there. No papers. No identity at all because the only one he had was death. On the phone last week, he said to me: "I am old, when I am gone if you forget there will be nothing left...like letters from the dead."

The Father, Budapest 1944:

To: Dreisa Fogel
Address: Auschwitz 1944

Dear Mother--I am writing you this letter without street address because I do not know where you are. I have chosen Auschwitz as your town and since I have not received it back, I am assuming it has reached you in the crematorium. I just wanted to say that you raised me to believe in joy, that life was joy and God the ultimate joy.

The Son, Budapest 1994:

I am standing in front of the building at 10 Rumbach Street where my father lived in hiding during World War II. The huge metal door is open; I enter the courtyard and look up the dizzying spiral of stairs that led to the apartments. The hallway has not been painted for years, the walls themselves are falling apart and a single bare light bulb swings from the ceiling and lights the narrow corridor. I see him in his room, my young father, younger than my own son. Our routes were so much apart that finally they've touched. I can hear him singing as he sews.

My father's words. Now. From Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is writing to me about growing up Hassidic in the little town of Sacel near the Carpathian Mountains. He is telling me again about the War and Rumbach Street and the time he escaped from the train to the death camp. He is telling me about wandering around Europe homeless after the War and getting a fake Bolivian passport that landed him in Argentina where he became a cantor in the Jewish cemetery. This are my father's words. All I have left of my grandparents or of their children, my aunts and uncles. These are their words.

Shelley Berc is a novelist and playwright. Her previously published novels include The Shape of Wilderness and A Girls Guide to the Divine Comedy. Her fiction has been seen in Bomb, Exquisite Corpse, 5_Trope and LitKit. Her plays have been performed at Yale Rep, the ART, and the Classic Stage Company in New York. She is currently a recipient of a Pew Foundation National Theatre Artist's award. Letters From the Dead is an excerpt from a longer work, 10 Rumbach Street.


In Posse: Potentially, might be ...