As we got to the end of the room, Gus stopped and said, “You okay?”. I nodded. He gestured back toward Anne’s picture. “The worst part is that she almost lived, you know? She died weeks away from liberation.” Lidewij took a few steps away to watch a video, and I grabbed Augustus’s hand as we walked into the next room. It was an A-frame room with some letters Otto Frank had written to people during his months-long search for his daughters. On the wall in the middle of the room, a video of Otto Frank played. He was speaking in English.
“Are there any Nazis left that I could hunt down and bring to justice?” Augustus asked while we leaned over the vitrines reading Otto’s letters and the gutting replies that no, no one had seen his children after the liberation.
“I think they’re all dead. But it’s not like the Nazis had a monopoly on evil.”
“True,” he said. “That’s what we should do, Hazel Grace: We should team up and be this disabled vigilante duo roaring through the world, righting wrongs, defending the weak, protecting the endangered.”
Although it was his dream and not mine, I indulged it. He’d indulged mine, after all.
“Our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon,” I said.
“The tales of our exploits will survive as long as the human voice itself,” he said.
“And even after that, when the robots recall the human absurdities of sacrifice and compassion, they will remember us.”
“They will robot-laugh at our courageous folly,” he said. “But something in their iron robot hearts will yearn to have lived and died as we did: on the hero’s errand.”
“Augustus Waters,” I said, looking up at him, thinking that you cannot kiss anyone in the Anne Frank House, and then thinking that Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love.
“I must say,” Otto Frank said on the video in his accented English, “I was very much surprised by the deep thoughts Anne had.”
And then we were kissing. My hand let go of the oxygen cart and I reached up for his neck, and he pulled me up by my waist onto my tiptoes. As his parted lips met mine, I started to feel breathless in a new and fascinating way. The space around us evaporated, and for a weird moment I really liked my body; this cancer-ruined thing I’d spent years dragging around suddenly seemed worth the struggle, worth the chest tubes and the PICC lines and the ceaseless bodily betrayal of the tumors.
“It was quite a different Anne I had known as my daughter. She never really showed this kind of inner feeling,” Otto Frank continued.
The kiss lasted forever as Otto Frank kept talking from behind me.
“And my conclusion is,” he said, “since I had been in very good terms with Anne, that most parents don’t know really their children.”
I realized that my eyes were closed and opened them. Augustus was staring at me, his blue eyes closer to me than they’d ever been, and behind him, a crowd of people three deep had sort of circled around us. They were angry, I thought. Horrified. These teenagers, with their hormones, making out beneath a video broadcasting the shattered voice of a former father. I pulled away from Augustus, and he snuck a peck onto my forehead as I stared down at my Chuck Taylors. And then they started clapping. All the people, all these adults, just started clapping, and one shouted “Bravo!” in a European accent. Augustus, smiling, bowed. Laughing, I curtsied ever so slightly, which was met with another round of applause. We made our way downstairs, letting all the adults go down first, and right before we got to the café (where blessedly an elevator took us back down to ground level and the gift shop) we saw pages of Anne’s diary, and also her unpublished book of quotations. The quote book happened to be turned to a page of Shakespeare quotations. For who so firm that cannot be seduced? she’d written.
Do you think it’s appropriate for two young cancer patients to kiss at the Anne Frank House? How do questions of propriety link stories about cancer and about trauma, such as the Holocaust?
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The ICU was created by Brian Lobel and Complicite, in collaboration with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. Web design by Chipp Jansen, films by Simon Eves and design by StudioThreeSixty. It was made possible by support from the Cultural Institute at King's College London, the Wellcome Trust and the National Theatre.