Chapter 02.07

My heart pounds me awake.

I was dreaming again.   Of my past life, my memories.  The apartment had been bombed – my home for my whole childhood.  For some reason, my past cannot disentangle from me.  I cannot seem to leave it where it belongs – in the past.

Before the soldiers arrived, the Americans bombed our city.   Sirens wailed and we scrambled for safety.  But no place was really safe anymore.   The laughter and jubilation that once coated our city walls, shouts and glee leaping up from our outdoor pubs, were gone; they were replaced with shrieks of terror and sadness.  What had we come to?

It was Hitler.  It was the damn man who thought he could convince every one of us that we were a higher manifestation of God.  Well, fuck God and fuck Hitler.  We were hateful of our neighbors.  We reported each other’s crimes as acts of self preservation.

I never spoke those words.  A lady never would.  Nor would a man who feared for his life in those dismal days.  And everyone feared for their life.

Yet, we were neighbors.  And when the sirens wailed and the bombs screamed down upon us, we said prayers together to a God we did not believe in.

The explosion was nothing short of a cacophony of flying bricks.  Our building had been hit.

“Get out! Get out!”

“Fire!”

Neighbors from the upper floors pounded on our door as they ran down the stairs past our second floor loft.

Papa grabbed his cello.  Mutti grabbed her mother’s silver.  Lily grabbed the jewelry box.  I pushed on the piano.

I awoke gasping and panting.

Henry scoots closer to me and wraps his arm around my shoulder, pulling me close.   I allow myself to be comforted by him.

“What is it, Peach?”  That’s what he calls me.  He’s breathing deeply, still mostly asleep.

“I was dreaming about pushing my piano out of our burning apartment.”

He breathes in one great breath.

“I almost forget about your life before us.”

“I don’t know why you forget.  You were there.”

 

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Chapter 02.06

It’s three AM, and I’m drunk, sitting at my kitchen table, pleading with the room not to spin.  I trace my finger along the gold embossing on the cover of my green diary.  Most of the revelers have gone home, and are tucked away in the privacy of their own beds.  Edith and Bracks have passed out in the back yard, on a futon we dragged out there specifically for them.

Rachel is curled up on the couch next to William.  He has his arms around her.  He sounds the same when he sleeps next to her as when he sleeps next to me.

Lila is in her crib, and Henry is in our bed.

It was a good party.

When Rachel and I came out to greet our friends, I found that Henry had already lit the candle motifs along the lush pathway in our backyard.  There is magic in our space.   Orange hyacinths and lavender grow in humid clumps  along the path from our fence to the patio.  On the patio sit chairs and covered tables.  Freshly cut wildflowers lie in baskets at the center of the tables.   At first, only a few of our friends sat together, enjoying cocktails and each others’ company.  As Rach and I hopped down the steps from the house, everyone stood with open arms to greet us.   This is how we are.

We are warm and open and affectionate with each other.  It is exactly as I’d always dreamed of.   Briefly, I am happy with this simple facade.

Lila has already found Edith’s lap, and she traces stars on Edith’s cheeks with her chubby fingers.   Henry is serving bottles of cola and beer as he looks up to see me.  He still bares a light of joy for me.  I try not to be sad about how he’d hurt if he knew of my betrayal.  Our betrayal.

I don’t mean to be hurtful.

But as I sit here, alone and up in the middle of the night, drunk and tracing the gold flowers on my green book, I remember how he hurt me.  How he found the hiding place of the diary of a naive girl of sixteen.  How he watched me as I hid it away, wrapped in a roll of butcher’s paper, tucked behind the pile of lumber up against my father’s house.

I remember how he secretly snuck it out of there while I was helping Mutti prepare dinner.  How he read the words that I poured out as a giddy child playing the role of a young girl in love.

And how I found out because my sister’s new husband was the one who told me.  “We planned it.  And now I have your sister and you have your soldier. And we are happy now.  Why don’t you let it go?”

And with that knowledge, I still allowed him to slip my ruby ring onto my finger.  I was so young.  She seduced me.

 

Chapter 02.05

Henry and I throw parties every weekend.

It began as just a handful of us, enjoying each others’ company.  Of course we invited Rachel.  Then there was Bracks and Edith, Henry’s cousin and his wife.  And Henry’s best friend, William.  Now, however, every Friday has become a great ordeal.  Thirty people show up with bottles of liquor and their instruments.  I’m practicing my hand at the violin.  We throw excellent parties.

Lila loves the attention.  As an infant, Rachel and Edith just loved fighting over who was going to hold her.  Now she is nearly two years old, and she has really blossomed into quite the tiny social butterfly, just like her mother.  I love the little character she is growing into, and it’s nice that she seems to need me a little less.

Now that she’s talking, though, William and I decided it would be inappropriate for her to understand our secret.  It wasn’t such a problem when she was an infant, but no need to take unnecessary risks.

Tonight, I am running late to my own party.

Rachel finds me in the bedroom, pulling the straps of my shoes over my feet.

“Hi lovey,” she says.

“Sweet friend!” I holler over my shoulder.

“How was your week?” she asks, sitting down next to me on the bed.   A brief scent of sex wafts from my pillows.  I hold bite back a blush that threatens to burn my cheeks.

“It’s been good,” I say.  “Lila’s been into everything.”

“And Henry?” she asks.

“Oh, Henry’s fine.  He’s been very busy at work.  I believe he’s wrapping up another project here of late.  Perhaps we’ll be seeing more of him during the day for a bit.”

“Toni?” she pauses, “I have to ask you something.”

I love to hear my name spoken by someone other than William.  It’s so rare to hear it aloud.  It has a full flavor to it, something completely rich.  I like it.  She faltered, though, and so whatever she has to ask me must be important to her.

“Well what is it, Rach?”

She hesitates and I can tell she’s struggling with how to form her words.

“Do you think I’ll ever find a Henry like you did?”  She doesn’t mean my Henry, of course.  She just means a husband.

“Don’t be in such a hurry, love.”

“But I am, Toni.”  My name again.  I savor it for a moment and then carefully pick my words.

“Rachel, you are beautiful in every way.  You will find someone, and when you do, make sure it’s for all of the right reasons and not because you’re desperate to find a man. I promise you’ll find what you are looking for. It’s just that you must quit looking.”

“Do you think it’ll be William?” She spits out the words so quickly that I can hardly react before I reach for the broom and pan to sweep them up off the floor.

I laugh.  But not too obviously.  William throws everyone off of our trail by charming every other lady in the room.  It doesn’t make me jealous.  It amuses me.

“Well, Rachel…” I start, but pause to find my words.  “Maybe not William, but maybe someone better than William?”

“Maybe,” she takes a breath.  “Or maybe it’ll just be William.”

 

 

 

Chapter 02.04

William asks me again to run away with him.

A pain from deep inside my chest forms a shell around my heart.  Why can’t it be so simple?

“If I could run away, my love,” I whisper back, “I would have a long time ago.”

But I cannot.

His brown pools for eyes implore me, questioning me why.

“William, I could not leave.  I have set my word, and that is what I must do.”

He laughed.  A little too loudly.

“Oh, and you call this keeping your word?”

He pushes me away forcefully.   Swings his feet over the side of my bed.  Our bed. Henry’s and my bed.

Of course he is right.  This is not really keeping my word.

But Mutti will never know about this.

She’s a whole world away, and as far as she knows, I am happily married to the man whom she insisted I leave home to be with.

“You gave him your word,” she said.

After months of his absence, while I waited in my parents’ home for him to send for me, I decided I was not interested in keeping her.  I took her off every day – though she would cry for me, so I put her back on.  I would tell her she had no power over me and that she could not make me marry Henry.  She said nothing, but sparkled back at me.  I knew she was winning, but I had no idea that Mutti would actually put her foot down.

Of all the blasted things to insist for me!

And I had thought of the two, it would be my father who would be most stubborn.  But he was not.  He hardly acknowledged my predicament.

In fact, even in the face of my admission, in the face of me asking his forgiveness for accepting the ring, he laughed.  I still can not process the disdain he had for such a childish decision.  I wonder if he now misses me.

Mutti, I’m certain, misses me.  We were close, even for mother and daughter.  And Lily.  Yes, Lily misses me, and I’m guessing she frets for not knowing where to find me.   Of course, Lily frets over every little thing.  I hope she is alright after her miscarriage.

I still don’t know exactly why my mother did not allow me to send back the ring.  She repeated to me over and over, “You gave your word!” and I suppose that must be enough for her.  Though it clearly isn’t enough for me, yet knowing that it would break my sweet mother’s heart for me to go back on it, I stay.

 

Chapter 02.03

Art classes.

All this time, I have been a wilting flower, thirsty for something to be passionate over.  And now, I have found two things: William and art classes.

Rachel and I are like giddy school girls in class.  Our teacher, Mrs. Pudge (as I call her), wobbles around the room, pressing our fingers down into the clay, yelling at us in her guttural whisper, “Put your soul into it, girls!”  So I do.

I pour every ounce of my soul into our creations.  Where there are pencils to draw with, I find my heaven.  Bursts of color from the tips of paint brushes send me catapulting into the clouds.   I can safely escape here.  There is no baby, no Henry, and only the great wide open universe.  So I create.

Rachel “ohh’s” and “ahh’s” over my pieces.  I try to do the same for hers, though I suspect the one thing she is capable of making is very beautiful abstract patterns.

In this gift, I have found alternate worlds filled with fairies and pixies and mythological creatures.  My sister would be proud.  I must remember to ask Henry for enough extra postage money to send this to her.

Also, I must remember to thank him for the gift of these classes.   I already know how he’d most like me to show him my gratitude.

Chapter 02.02

My father was the first cellist in Hitler’s orchestra.  I wonder if he ever got back around to playing. Mutti was an incredible cook and mother to us.  I wonder how she’s moved on without me.  My sister, well, she’s probably just as painful to be around as she ever was.

I received a letter yesterday, with news of everything but what I needed to know.

Your sister and her husband conceived four months ago.  She lost her baby.  You father misses you.  How are you?  How is the baby?  Have you learned any new recipes?

Love,

Mutti

Hot tears grace my cheeks when I read it.  How I miss my mother!  And yet, upon receiving her letter, I am dreadfully disappointed to find nothing of substance.  Why does she break my heart like this?

Henry insists I must do more.  He sends me to art classes.  I drag Rachel along.

Rachel is my best friend.  I met her on the boat from Europe.  She is a Jew, and she spent many years in hiding.  Now, she has been reunited with her family.  Her olive skin and dark hair is a stark contrast to my pale skin and blonde hair.   I like contrast.  It reminds me to appreciate what I have when it is only half good.

It is a lesson I must remember quite often in this new life.

Chapter 02.01

Lila forces me out of my daze with her shrieks.

“Oh, Lila,” I whisper.  Please stop screaming, I think.

She is often an easy baby.  I think she hates him, though, because when William comes over, she is unruly.  Naughty baby.

Being a mother to her is difficult.  She, like the ring, reminds me of how I may never leave my husband.   So I remain in this limbo: a husband and a lover.

These are the secrets I must keep from everyone.

Neither my parents nor my sister nor my best friend would understand.

So I remain silent and allow my daughter to shriek for me.

“Why is she acting like that?” William asks.  His tone is not kind.  I suspect that Lila reminds him, too, why he will never have me completely.  We are united in our resentment for her.

I feel terrible for stating it.