Our Father of Nerve Gas Sends His Best

Amber Sparks

Back then I was studying chemistry at Braunschweig. We were all full of ideas, rivers of forward. We bubbled over like test tubes. Visionaries, scientific housekeepers; we swept up cobwebs knitted across thresholds of thought. On weekends we would walk for hours in the Altstadt, before the bombs ripped apart the wooden structures, left cracks stamped in like aimless arrows zinging the streets.

Back then we fought world hunger, starved for praise. Our passion for the people—der Volk!—led us to research disposal of crop-eating pests. Back then we were learning to interrupt the functions of the insect's nervous system. Making muscles seize and stay. But that winter, a mistake: a single drop of gas spilled onto a lab bench. We fell, faces smooth and dead as the grey tile. Choked off, it took us three weeks to recover.

They built me a Wehrmacht laboratory In Wuppertal-Elberfeld, down in the Ruhr valley. While I worked, the Cathedral in Braunschweig was named a national shrine. Fires lit the turf around it; it was a strangely antique hero in the story of progress we made. It makes me laugh like anything to think of it now. I find myself chasing inward, days backward, to when we walked along the banks of the Oker River. We picked wildflowers, and you sent them floating downstream. You said you meant to telegraph our joy to the ships sailing in the North Sea. You said you always meant to send a nice message home.

Amber Sparks's work has appeared in or is forthcoming in various places, including New York Tyrant, Unsaid, PANK, Bust Down the Door and Eat All the Chickens, and The Collagist. She is the fiction editor at Emprise Review, and can usually be found on the intertubes here.