The Other Side of the Fence

The Other Side of the Fence

A Story by spence

An old man returns home to the scene of a crime from his youth.


On the other side of the fence by the roadside an expanse of silver birch flashed by, casting a carnival of shadow across the speeding passenger vehicle. The two-tone woodland glowered golden over slate in the January sun, leaves, months fallen were lost beneath swathes of snow and ice; tendrils of branch and twig splayed upwards and outwards like tentacles reaching to grey and amber skies.

Looking out from the coach window in contemplation of what lay ahead, Eugene Kolowski squinted into the fluctuating effervescence. Presently he turned to David, his 32 year old grandson and companion throughout this transcontinental trek back to his homeland. ‘I used to play here.’

David smiled up from the book he was reading, ‘You were thirteen when you left, yes?’ Eugene sighed and looked back out to the glare, ‘Yes- sixty-eight years ago today.’

     Having left here in the most acrimonious circumstances imaginable, on the day he came of age no less, he’d vowed never to return, but here he was, a mere three kilometres from his former abode on his 81st birthday.

It’s funny how things turn out.

Eugene wouldn’t see his next birthday, the cancer would see to that- so it was a case of ‘now or never’.

‘It hasn’t changed much- everything is very much as it was,’ Eugene added.

David nodded respectfully even though his grandfather spoke without looking his way. The old man stared into the sun-swathed forest, immersed in thoughts that more innocent minds could scarcely contemplate. Throughout the journey David had been indulged with the history of his Grandfather’s exploits. He was suitably humbled in the knowing.

‘Legendary’ would be an understatement of his opinion with regard to times long past. ‘Trepidation’ was an underestimation of his feelings about the immediate future.

The tree line dwindled to where developments had taken place over the years. New homes, places of commerce and industry, pavements, road signs, streetlights- even the fashion of the occasional morning walker, had realigned the aesthetic, but Eugene still recognised the blueprint of the land of his birth as if he had never left it.


Tears brimmed at Eugene’s eyes as he projected the place name onto a landscape of modernity that stood where his village had once been, in another lifetime.

‘Are you okay, Grandfather?’

Eugene nodded to signify the affirmative. He could not speak for fear of weeping. The coach would soon deliver him into the arms of everything that driven him away in the first place. The memories were already hurting.

With a scraping of ice and gravel the coach lurched to the right. The sight that came into view through the coach window brought Eugene from sorrowful reflection to sombre awareness in an instant.

Tears had never done him any good here before, so why would they now?

Eugene retained this composed poise admirably all the way toward their destination, but began to shake nervously as the coach pulled into the parking allotment outside of the visitors’ centre and gift shop. The adjacent museum obscured the entrance to the place he’d lived and worked for five long years, but Eugene knew it was there; awaiting his return.

Once the coach came to a halt, David and the driver helped Eugene from the coach and into his wheelchair before David pushed him toward the barb-wire fenced encampment. The old silver birch tree was to the right, slightly ahead of the gateway, exactly as he remembered, although the mix of restoration work and tourists trumped the authenticity somewhat. It looked as if an artist had added contrast and colour to his memories and created an animated caricature of truth.

The gate was different too. Eugene remembered reading how the original had been stolen on behalf of a Swedish nationalist ‘collector’ in 2009. Even though it was recovered by the Polish authorities the replacement remained indefinitely to prevent any similar incident occurring.

It made a profound impression nonetheless; tears rolled freely, silently now as David steered Eugene toward the slogan. It pledged emancipation as recompense for those that toiled within its confines, but more than a million people who passed beneath it discovered ‘freedom’ meant death.

Being one of only seven thousand survivors Eugene prayed that January 27th 2013, the anniversary of his Bah Mitzvah and the liberation, portended release from past torments.

As he passed through to the other side of the fence Eugene whispered hopefully the promise wrought into the iron gateway,

Arbeit Macht Frei

© 2013 spence

Author's Note

Did you guess where he was heading before he got there?

My Review

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Hi spence,

A well-written, heart-wrenching piece. Didn't guess right away, but 2/3 in, I had my suspicions and knew before the end. There are few things that can affect a person so much. This is clearly one. This is a good write and a story of which we must continually be reminded. Kudos and thanks!


Posted 7 Years Ago

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Added on June 24, 2013
Last Updated on June 24, 2013



Grimsby, United Kingdom

Just returning to WritersCafe after a couple of years in the wilderness of life. I'm a 40 year old (until December 2013, at least) father of two, former youth and community worker, sometime socio-pol.. more..