Fragile Bird

“There would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness, too.  That was writing.”  Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Some stories won’t go away until they are written, this one’s for my brother and my sister.

The story of “The Standover Man”  has been very present in my thoughts since I  read it  in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief.  The Standover Man is a story within a story, written and drawn on ripped out pages of Mein Kampf  that have been painted over with white paint, because that’s all the character Max had to write on.  Max is hiding in a German family’s basement,  in grave fear for his life.  He is Jewish, it’s 1942 in a small town in Nazi Germany.  Death is the narrator.  

It’s a story of great fear and anxiety, but also of hope and of those fleeting kindnesses and loves that define us in the end.  The images and words of The Standover Man resonated so strongly with me  and, maybe because I live inside my own head a lot of the time, it never occurred to me that anyone else would have had such a profound reaction.  Then  I started writing this story.  I took pictures of the book pages, like the ones below and uploaded them.  It was such an intensely personal experience and I never thought to look outside my own reality.

Then in the course of writing this blog I put the name into Google and was astonished to find that I am not the only one who fell completely under the spell of The Standover Man.   “Zoe” put her heart into this mesmerizing animated video.

My Standover Man:   I dreamed a dream for many years.   When I woke, I never knew if it was a blessing or a curse.  The heart stopping fear of the dream, or the heart stopping fear that stalked me even on waking.   I dreamed a house, a black house.  A big, dark, shuttered black house.  I am  inside, but I don’t see me,  I am just there.    And something is outside, trying to get in, to get to me.   Running, heart pounding, from window to door, furiously closing and locking all entrances, but in the way of dreams, it is  never enough and  there is always one left unlocked, one forgotten.   Upstairs, downstairs, no matter fast I run, how many doors I slam and lock, how many windows I close and shutter,  there are always more.   Waking up, drenched in sweat,  paralyzed by fear;  heart pounding,  trying to silently catch your breath, eyes battened shut, terrified to move.   Willing the darkness away.  Forcing yourself to move, to get out of bed, but closing all the windows and drawing the curtains closed.  Sitting in artificial twilight until reality interposes itself,  the darkness and the terror slowing draining away,  tension unraveling out of muscle and sinew.  Breathing an imposed act of will, finding movement,  slowing weaving commonplace actions back into the dreamscape. 

“Man… is above all the plaything of his memory.”  ~Andre Breton, “Manifesto of Surrealism,” 1924

Two other favourite pages.   Max pictures himself as a bird, but the girl says he “looks like something else” and when he dreams of his lost family, he dreams of people, not birds.


I have hated the words and

I have loved them,

and I hope I have made them right.



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