Electric Tram by John McLennon

1939 Berlin

  Sharon and her daughter, Monika, stood self-consciously in a cluster of commuters in the early morning’s dark. The Reich had ordered Jews to wear the Star of David sewn conspicuously over the left breast. This was the first day to wear it. 

They waited for a tram to take them to the Solf Manufacturing Company, where they assembled electrical circuits. The Reich mandated Jews over the age of twelve to work in the war industry at half pay. Despite the long hours and bloodsucking wages, most Jews were happy to have employment. It saved them from starvation and provided some protection from the concentration camps.

 Upon entering the tram, Sharon and Monika stood in the aisle, holding straps affixed to the ceiling. For Jews to sit on public transportation violated the law. Disregarding regulations, no matter how trivial, could get one’s entire family imprisoned. The crowded car spared Sharon and her daughter the humiliation of standing in the center aisle surrounded by empty seats with her star conspicuously displayed. 

In the air raid lamp’s blue light, the commuters melded into one another, swaying and jerking in unison with the jostling car. Sharon’s fellow passengers also found the star an embarrassment and avoided her eye contact.

In a daze, Sharon stared blankly at an old man seated and engrossed in his newspaper. When he glanced up from the paper, he caught her looking at him. His eyes dropped to the star, and his head jerked noticeably. He compressed his lips and shook his head in the negative. The old man rose to his feet, holding his arm to block anyone from taking his seat.

 “Madam, please, sit down.”

Sharon’s face flushed. “No, I can’t. Thank you for offering.”

 “Oh, but you must.”

 Sharon didn’t want to be overheard criticizing the Reich, so she dared not explain to the old man the dangers of her taking his seat. “No,” she said while looking around to see if anyone was watching. “Really, I’m happy to stand.”

 “We Germans are not barbarians,” the man raised his voice, “in this country a man stands for a woman.”

 “Please, I’m fine. Leave me alone.”

 “I insist,” the man said. “I will not sit while a lady stands.”

Sharon leaned into the old man and hissed, “For God’s sake, you old fart, leave me alone.”

 “You needn’t be insulting. I was offering you my seat.”

 “Thank you. It’s very kind of you, but I’d rather stand.”

 “This is an insult,” the man shouted. “Is my seat not good enough for a Jew?”

Sharon’s eyes blazed with terror. She grabbed hold of Monika’s hand and pulled her through the crowd to the door. Behind them, the old man continued to rant.

 “Try to do something nice for a Jew, and this is what you get. The Führer knows how to take care of your kind.  You’ll see.”

John McLennon earned a BA in English Literature from the University of Texas at San Antonio.  He is a member of the San Antonio Writers Guild which awarded him two first place prizes for short stories.  Calliope, Adelaide, Ariel Chart, and other literary journals have published his stories. 

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