Clara gives an agonizing cry and covers her mouth with her hand. She stares at the coded message shoved through the threshold of her apartment moments ago. Despite solving thick books of variety puzzles, Clara has not touched a cipher in fifty years, and now this tiny piece of paper has flung her into a whirlwind of cutting emotions.
She grasps at her sanity as memories swirl around her mind. Tina and Clara giggling over a magazine picture of Clark Gable. Clara and Tina painting each other’s nails. Tina and Clara huddled under a rickety umbrella, splashing through the thundering rain. Tina and Clara, Clara and Tina, always. Best friends, friends so close they could read each other’s minds. Soulmates. Children, who, playing at being spies, had devised their own cipher, and would leave coded messages for one another to find. And then… the War.
A sob escapes Clara’s clogged throat when Tina’s face shines in her mind, only to be torn to shreds by her last coded message: “leave the building”.
Clara pants as the memories of that hectic flight flood her mind, the air-raid siren blaring in her ears, the sound of hasty footsteps cramming into the bunker. Clara’s muffled voice calling out for Tina, Tina! Tina! And the spiraling world as the ground shakes and the lights go out.
Clara weeps into her hands; she closes her eyes, which still burn with the image of Tina’s charred remains buried in the rubble of her mind.
Clara takes a deep breath. It took her seconds to decode this new message; she recognized their cipher right away. Clara’s blurry, tear-stained vision focuses on the paper. Her lips form the words that crawl over the page: “Clara, help me”.