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Siege 13 by Tamas Dobozy

It was Zoltán's decoration as a "war hero" by the Soviets that finally brought him to Tíbor Kálmán's villa late in 1945 … "I wish I could help you," she said. "But Tíbor is dead."

Zoltán stood there with his military decorations and wondered why he'd come, given that the war was over, and with it his reason for seeking out Tíbor. "He's dead," Karola said again. "He was dead when we returned here from Budapest." She pointed at the hole left by the bomb in the roof above the dining room, covered with a number of tarps inexpertly sewn together. She told him the story in a manner so offhand it was clear she was still in shock: Tíbor Kálmán had lost both hands when a Russian shell landed on the villa. He'd raised his arms to protect his wife, Ildikó, from the collapse of the ceiling, and a beautiful chandelier of Murano glass sheared off both hands at the wrist, though it hardly mattered to Tíbor by then because both he and Ildikó were dead, crushed by the weight of plaster, bricks, and several tons of antique furniture they'd stored in the attic overhead. Karola stood for a moment, as if waiting for Zoltán to respond, and when he didn't she said, "Anyhow," and he could see the effort it was costing her to repress a sneer as she scanned the medals on his chest, "you don't seem to be doing too badly."

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There was something else, something other than scorn, in the way she said this, a quiet acknowledgment of what he'd come for, and at the same time a dismissal of the explanation he wanted so badly to make. "Vannay sent out radio messages to the Soviets," he whispered, and immediately regretted it, as if even now, in attempting to make amends, he was still looking out for himself. "They weren't taking any prisoners. I had to make them a sign of good faith," he said. "I was only 18!"

"Why are you telling me this?" she asked, and he noticed that even while talking to him she was gazing elsewhere – at the orchard, the flight of birds, a fence fallen to its side – unable to keep her eyes on anything for long.

"I killed two boys," he said. "I wanted to show that I had switched sides …"

"I don't know anything about what you're saying."

"You do!" he shouted. "I was supposed to have come here. Tíbor was waiting for me, for boys like me. But I couldn't get across the Russian lines!"

She shrugged. "We couldn't make it either. We were trapped inside Budapest. There were many people who suffered."

"I was part of Vannay's battalion. It was during the breakout. When I saw the Russians coming I killed two of the boys I was fighting with." He was shaking. He no longer had any control over what he was saying.

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"Then you are not welcome in my house," said Karola, and for the first time since she'd opened the door, Zoltán felt her gaze rest on him, and he realized, too, that she'd been looking away not because she was disinterested in him, but because her eyes had seen too much, absorbed too much, images impossible for her to contain, which made her look elsewhere for fear of passing them on. He felt ashamed then for not being able to do as she did, keep it to himself, or expend it by shifting his gaze to where it would do no harm – the birds, the fields, the sky.

"Then you do not deserve to come in here," she hissed, and slammed the door in his face.

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