Wednesday, 9 August 2017

The House on Schellberg Street: Renate 22 December 2.30 p.m.



What on earth was the matter with Mutti? She hadn’t had any breakfast. Then she said they’d be going after lunch instead. She didn’t turn up for lunch. Neither did Vati. It had just been her and Wilma. And now Wilma was checking the contents of her suitcase for the hundredth time.
“What’s going on, Wilma?” said Renate. “There’s something wrong. Why was Mutti crying this morning?”
“I expect she’s just worrying about the packing,” said Wilma. “You know what a tizzy she gets into when she has to pack.”
Well, yes, that was true. “I suppose so,” said Renate.
“And I expect she’s a bit bothered about leaving your father on his own,” said Wilma.  “It’s not very nice, families being split up at Christmas.”
“Vati’s not coming to Stuttgart?” said Renate, alarmed. She had been looking forward to spending time in Oma’s rambling house on Schellberg Street, and the few days before staying with Hani. But Christmas without Vati?
Before Wilma could answer the door opened. It was Mutti.     
 “Renate, I need to talk to you,” she said.
There was something about the tone of Mutti’s voice that Renate didn’t like.
“You may have wondered, perhaps,” her mother began. “You may have noticed ….”  She folded her hands and closed her eyes and then started again. “Have you ever wondered if we might have Jewish connections?”
Renate couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What did Mutti mean? They couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Jews could they? That would mean … that would mean they would have to give up all sorts of things.  
“Yes, my dear, I’m afraid it’s true,” her mother continued. “I am Jewish, and so is Oma – but not your father. You and I and your Oma will have to leave Germany after Christmas and go and live in England.  A lot of very kind people have done all sorts of things to make it possible for us to go there. You will have to go first.”
“What? On my own?” cried Renate.
“Yes, I’m afraid so,” her mother replied. “But I shall be following very soon. Your uncles are waiting for you in England and will take care of you. But Vati won’t be able to come too – he won’t be allowed to leave Germany.” Her mother’s voice broke and she added almost in a whisper. “Go and think it over in your room. I… I want to be alone for a bit.”
Renate couldn’t move. She stared at her mother. They were Jewish? She and Mutti were Jewish? She knew that it was very difficult for Jewish people living in Germany and was getting worse all the time. Everything had been just the same as normal for her. Except perhaps Mutti’s strange moods. But they didn’t look at all like the Jews they’d seen down in town. Those men with the big hats and the long sideburns and the women always dressed in black. Mutti just looked like any other German woman.       
“Renate, I told you to go,” said Mutti. “I need to be on my own.”
Somehow she managed to will her feet to move. She left the lounge and set off for her room. As she crossed the hallway she caught her reflection in the long mirror. She could see nothing different.  She was not a racial disgrace or a contamination. That’s what they said the Jews were, didn’t they?  She pushed her shoulders back and held her head up. “I’m just the same as ever. I am not a disgrace. I am going to England and I shall like it,” she whispered.      
Her father came out of his study and stood beside her.  He put his arm around her shoulders. “It’s for the best,” he said.
“But I can’t speak any English,” said Renate.    

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The House on Schellberg Street Hani, 22 December 1938 11:30.a.m.



“It looks bigger now that all that junk’s gone,” said Rikki. “I suppose there will be room for the trundle-bed. You’d better put some of the spare curtains up at the side window. You don’t want anybody looking in. And I think I know where there are some extra blankets.”
“But nothing at the sky-light,” said Hani. “Because we’ll be able to look up at the stars then. It’s going to be so great.”
“I hope you two girls won’t catch cold sleeping out here,” said Rikki, frowning slightly.
“Oh, Rikki, you worry too much.” Hani put down her pile and gave her former nanny a hug. “Nobody’s going to catch cold. We’ve got feather beds, haven’t we? And that little stove is quite efficient. It’s going to be so cosy.”
“I don’t know,” said Rikki. “You do get some funny ideas. Wanting to sleep out here when you’ve got such a lovely room.”
“Yes, but it’ll be such an adventure,” replied Hani.
“If you say so,” replied Rikki, with a sniff. “Now, I’ll just go and get young Wilhelm to clear this lot up. Then he can go and get the trundle bed.”
“Nice cosy little den you’ve got here,” said Wilhelm a few minutes later, after he’d brought in the bed and she’d helped him to straighten it out. “You two’ll be set up just fine.” He pushed his wild blond curls from his forehead and wiped the sweat from his face.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” said Hani. She’d always liked Wilhelm. He always seemed more like an older brother than one her father’s workers. But now she just wanted him to go away, so she could get on with the room.
“Anything else I can do?” he asked.
“No, no, not at all, thank you,” replied Hani, gently stroking the curtains and blankets Rikki had sent down. Why wouldn’t he just go away? She couldn’t wait to get started making the garage room the cosiest of places.
Rikki had already swept the floors clean, done away with all the dust and polished the small window and sky-light until they shone. All there was left for Hani to do now was to make the room look pretty.
In no time, the bright yellow curtains framed the little window. On top of the normal bed-rolls she stretched out two red blankets. There were so many cushions she didn’t think she would be able to use them all, so she put three on each bed and dropped the rest on the floor.
This is really comfy, she thought. We can use the cushions as seats. It’s going to be so good.
But there was nothing more she could do now. It really was perfect.
The smell of cooked chicken coming from the kitchen was making her hungry. Fantastic!
Must be about half past twelve, she thought. And she’ll be here by two. I wonder whether Rikki has made some strudel. If not we could go to Kellerman’s on the way back from the station.
She really wasn’t sure whether she could bear to wait the extra hour and a half, but at least lunch might take her mind off it.
“Your mother says you’re to eat downstairs in the kitchen with me and Wilhelm,” said Rikki as Hani came out of the bathroom from washing her hands.
“Why?” asked Hani.
“She and your father have something to discuss,” replied Rikki.
“Do you know what?” asked Hani. Why didn’t they involve her in their discussions? She wasn’t a child anymore. Besides, she wanted to find out more about what was going on,because she knew it was something not so nice.
“Now take that frown off your face, young missy,” said Rikki, frowning herself. “You know your mother and father work really hard, and they don’t often have time to sit down and talk, let alone have a meal together.”
Hani sighed. “I suppose so,” she said. “Anyway, what are we having? It smells delicious.”
“Chicken casserole and dumplings,” answered Rikki.
“Now that sounds good,” said Wilhelm as he came through the back door.
“Yes, but not until you’ve washed that muck off your hands, it won’t be,” said Rikki.
“Look, I’m sorry if I was a bit impatient earlier,” said Hani. “Only, you know, I wanted to … well.”
“No problem,” replied Wilhelm. “I had work to do in the garden, anyway. Look.” He held up two muddy hands.
“Bathroom. Now!” hissed Rikki.
“Heil Rikki!” cried Wilhelm, raising his right arm stiffly out in front.
Hani shuddered. Rikki looked as if she was about to faint. Her face had gone quite white.
“Don’t you joke about that, young man,” she said quietly.
“No, sorry,” replied Wilhelm, darting out of the kitchen before Rikki could say anything else.
They ate in silence, all three of them looking down at their food. Hani felt strange. December was such a lovely time. The weather was just as it always was at this time of year – cold, but clean and fresh. Everything seemed so normal. Yet it wasn’t. There was something about to happen and Hani couldn’t be sure exactly what.
“That was great,” said Wilhelm as he wiped his plate clean with a slice of bread.
“Yes, there’s seconds,” said Rikki. “Though I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to say that.”
Wilhelm looked at Hani and winked.
“She’s coming round,” he whispered. “She likes me really.”
Hani watched Rikki ladle more of the sauce on to Wilhelm’s plate. She would have loved some more herself but she didn’t have Wilhelm’s excuse. He’d been working in the garden all day. She’s done very little – unless you counted the prettying up of the garage room, although Wilhelm and Rikki had done all the heavy work. If she didn’t lose a bit of weight soon, she would get another lecture from her mother.
The doorbell rang.
“I’d better go and get that,” said Wilhelm. “They won’t want disturbing.”
Rikki sat very still, just staring into space. Hani didn’t know whether she should say anything.
“It was the telegram boy,” said Wilhelm ten minutes later. “A telegram for upstairs.”
Rikki flinched.
“I don’t think it was anything too important,” said Wilhelm. “They didn’t look very worried when I gave it to them.”
“Ah, well, we’ll see,” said Rikki.
Hani hoped it wasn’t to do with Renate. Perhaps she was sick? That would be awful.
Oh, stop worrying, she told herself. It’s probably only something to do with one of their meetings. But the uncomfortable feeling would not go away. It was no good pretending things were all right. Things were just not all right at the moment.
She saw Rikki and Wilhelm exchange a look.
“What’s the matter?” she said. “Do you think there’s something wrong?”
They didn’t have time to answer before they heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Hani’s mother came in, holding the telegram in her hands.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “Renate won’t be coming.” There were tears in Frau Gödde’s eyes.
Hani’s heart sank. “What is it?” she cried. “What’s the matter with her?”
“It’s ... it’s nothing too serious,” her mother stammered. “She’s perfectly safe. Just come on upstairs, will you? Vati and I need to talk to you.”
If it’s not too serious, why is she crying? thought Hani.
It seemed to take forever to walk up the stairs to the main lounge. Her mother didn’t look back once, and it reminded Hani a bit of being shown into the dentist by Herr Schröder’s assistant. She never looked at you nor did she ever smile. At least mother smiled occasionally, but obviously not today.
“Sit down, Hani,” said Herr Gödde. “We need to talk to you about Renate.”
“She’s not ill, is she?” cried Hani. “What does the telegram say?”
Her mother raised her eyebrows and mouthed something at Hani’s father. He nodded. Frau Gödde put her hand to her mouth and handed Hani the telegram.

Renate unable to come stop chicken pox stop

Hani felt the relief as a great stone being lifted from her chest as she read the telegram. Renate was ill, but it was nothing much. So she would be coming soon – when the spots had gone. She couldn’t very well go on a train all covered in spots.
“Well, she will come when she’s better, won’t she?”
Her parents didn’t answer. They just frowned. Why were they so bothered? It was just chicken pox, wasn’t it?
It was only later, when she was back in the garage room turning the telegram over in her hand and looking sadly at her cosy den, that she remembered. They’d both already had chicken pox. Here, when they were seven. You were only supposed to have chicken pox once.
Suddenly the winter had lost all its charm.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The House on Schellberg Steet: Renate, 22 December 1938 6.30 a.m.



Renate touched the water-colour of the Christmas rose she had made the evening before. It was meant for the inside cover of the exercise book. Was it dry enough yet to be stuck in yet?  It was so clever of Anika to think of this Rundbrief. Now that their school had to close, each girl was going to write a letter in the book and post it on to the next girl on the list. That way they could stay in touch. Renate had volunteered to start it off and had chosen a pretty little note book yesterday.
The painting was dry but she wasn’t too happy about the stem on the flower. She opened her paint box, dipped her brush into the jam jar of water on her desk and then into the green paint, and added a little more to her picture. There. That was better.
She opened the window and placed the painting on the sill, weighting it down with the candlestick she always kept there. The sun was just about rising. She stared out at the garden and the woods beyond. They still looked black. One of the dark days before Christmas, she supposed.
She reread the letter while she waited for the paint to dry. 
22 December 1938 

Dear All,
This is such an exciting idea! I’m really glad you asked me to be the first. I had thought of waiting a week or two, until I’d got something to report about the Christmas holiday and the new school. But in the end I couldn’t wait. The sooner I send it on to Anika, the sooner it will go round to the rest of you. And the sooner I’ll get it back to read all of your news.
It’s going to be a glorious Christmas this year, anyway. Two weeks of snow, in Stuttgart, they say.  We are off to stay there with Oma for Christmas as usual.  I’m looking forward to those walks through the hills again- it’ll be such fun in the snow.  And I’ll be seeing my cousins and my friend Hanna.
We lit the Adventskranz at coffee time yesterday afternoon. Wilma had made a really lovely one with fir branches and nice fat white candles. Mother had baked one of her famous Apfelkuchen. She makes them so nice with big chunks of apple and lots of cinnamon. My favourite.
I love this time of year.  Even father seemed in a brighter mood than usual. Both he and mother have been so serious-looking recently. There’s something wrong, I think, and they won’t tell me what. Do you remember all that fuss mother made about me going to Mostviel last summer? Well, it’s gradually got worse. Father looking more and more worried, and mother cancelling dinner-parties and refusing to go to the opera. I hope they’re not falling out or anything.  
 But yesterday they got into a bit of the Christmas mood. I almost choked, though, when the telegraph boy came round.
“Heil Hitler!” he said.
And my father replied “Heil Edler!” Thank goodness the boy didn’t notice. But I was going redder and redder with trying not to giggle. After he had gone I almost spat the whole mouthful of Apfelkuchen out.
That scene repeated itself at dinner. Father knows very well that I hate spinach. And that I just hide it in my mouth until I can get rid of it later. He kept trying to make me laugh. Then it happened. A great explosion of green all over the white table cloth. Mother made a terrible fuss and muttered something about young ladies in her day. Wilma was trying not to laugh, I could tell! Father just roared.
It’ll be funny in January, all being in different places. I’ll see you some of you at the Gymnasium, next autumn. I’m looking forward to hearing all about what the rest of you do at your new schools and about your Christmases. 
So I’ll finish now and get this in the post!
Love to you all,
Renate Edler
Yes, it was going to be a lovely Christmas. She smiled when she thought of Hani! She would have appreciated the Apfelkuchen. She liked her cake – and it showed. Renate looked down at her own thin arms and tutted. She looked so bony!  If only she could curve a bit, like Hani. Oh it was going to be such fun staying with her for the few days before Christmas.
The picture was dry now. Renate carefully glued it into the little exercise book. This was exciting. She placed the book into the brown envelope and neatly wrote Anika’s address. Then she made her way down to the kitchen.
Wilma was there, preparing the breakfast.
“Are there any stamps?” asked Renate.
“On the shelf in the hall. Why don’t you leave that, and Johann can take it when he calls?”
“Oh no!” replied Renate. “I have to take this myself. It’s special.”
“Well, don’t be long. Your mother says you have to pack. And wrap up warm. It’s bitter out there.”
“I’ve done my packing,” replied Renate. She’d decided to wear most of what she was taking. Layers that she could peel off. The train was always so cold at first, and then, usually when they were almost there, it would get unbearably hot and stuffy because by then it would be absolutely packed with people. 
 She walked quickly to the post-box at the end of the street. It was such a promising day. The sun was getting higher in the sky now. Something ran in front of her, into the nearby woods. It was much too quick for her to see what it was.
So some of you aren’t hibernating, then, she thought.
She felt like skipping but thought that perhaps she was a bit too old. Nothing could spoil this day, though. Not even the huge swastika on the fence opposite.
The house was oddly quiet when she got back. No wireless. Her father was not arguing loudly with the newspaper like he usually did and Wilma was not singing in the kitchen. She could hear her mother and father talking softly but urgently in the dining room. The usual smell of strong black coffee and warm bread greeted her as she went into the room. But the coffee cups were empty and the rolls were still in the basket. Both of them jumped when they saw her. They stared at her, then looked at each other and then back at her. Her mother looked straight into her eyes and opened her mouth to say something. Her father looked away. Her mother’s lip wobbled and tears formed in her already red eyes.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Veiled Dreams Chapter Five: The White-Tiled Room



Chapter Five
Christina watched the bus turned round and make its way down the opposite side of the road. She could see Paul's red jacket. He was sitting about half way down the bus. He was just staring out through the window at nothing in particular. She waved frantically. Neither Paul nor the bus-driver saw her.

‘You absolute tow-rag. Typical!’ she muttered.

She had told her Paul that she would be late, that she had a detention, but that she would still be in time for the second school bus. There were always plenty of seats on the second, and they didn't mind the locals using up the extras. Now there wouldn't be a service bus for another fifteen minutes and by then she wouldn't be able to use her school bus pass as the rush hour would have begun. And she didn't want to use her own money because she wanted to go and raid Pandora’s Potions .  Why did you have to have younger brothers? They really were no use. He could have asked the driver to wait.  Oh shit! She would just have to walk.

She picked up her bag. It weighed a ton. All those IB text books.  That was another thing too. She had plenty of studying to do.  The exams were only a few weeks away. She really didn't have time for this.  But she must go to Pandora’s Potions . There was nothing for it but to walk.  Perhaps Mum would be in when she got back and could lend her the tram fare. She could pop up to Calverstraat quickly and be back for a long evening of study.

As if it wasn't depressing enough, being stuck here in Buitenveldert. She loved Amsterdam. But not this particular part. The concrete jungle. Little boxy houses, all the same. The grey, depressing, university! That's where her parents wanted her to go and study after IB. The hard pavements which hurt her feet every time she missed the school bus and she did that often enough. Worst of all, the International School.
She liked it at first. She made lots of friends very quickly and she'd enjoyed the work. She'd been a bit upset about leaving Greg back in England, but she'd soon had a good reason to forget that. Until Susanne Richards came on the scene!

It had been worth it, though. Christina smiled as she thought about the fight.
This was the last detention and this was the first day she was allowed out. She smiled to herself when she remembered Susanne's bruised face. And the broken nose. She ran her tongue across her own newly capped front teeth. They had actually been an improvement on her old ones and a reminder of her triumph. 

Now she had a new smile. Thank you, Susanne!

Jan would appreciate that. Oh Jan! Just thinking about him made something in inside her jump.
Susanne.  What was she doing now? No hard studying for her.  Life of luxury, no doubt.  Watching DVDs all day. Staying in bed if she wanted.  Or perhaps she was with Jan.

Hot, angry tears poured down Christina's cheeks. She walked faster, her heels clipping the pavements noisily. Step after step. Faster and faster. Angrier and angrier. Gradually stamping out her rage on the hard pavements. She was leaving the concrete suburbs and soon Beethovenstraat would be in sight. As the tall dark brick buildings with the shiny, squeaky clean windows came into view. It began to rain. A cool summer ‘motregen’. The sort that can soak you if you stay in it long enough, but you don't notice at first. Certainly it dampened her fiery anger just a little.

A number five tram was at the terminus. Christina had a bright, a wicked idea. She would travel ‘black’ up to the city centre. She knew how to recognise the secret inspectors. Look out for anyone with a brief-case. And even if they did come up to her, she rehearsed in her mind looking through her pockets for the ticket. Turning on the tears. That would be easy - think about Jan. Showing her school bus pass. The tram rattled off and its slow jerky journey began. Up Beethovenstraat, round by the Concertgebouw, over the Leidseplein. All those places she loved so much. Christina watched the doors carefully every time they stopped. No sign of any inspectors. The tram arrived at Spui. Almost disappointed at not being able to go through her little act, she trotted out of the tram and made her way through the little alley that lead into the Calverstraat.

Although it was almost summer it already looked dark. The sky was black and the rain was getting heavier. The road between the shops in Claverstraat was quite narrow and the buildings tall. Lights shone from all of the shop windows.

It seemed like Christmas. Christina loved to scavange through the displays looking for the item of clothing, the piece of make-up or jewellery which would transform her from dowdy school girl into fairy-tale princess. But she never found it. And she had to buy something, or she felt bad.

She took out her purse. Two euros. Not even enough for a lipstick. But she would go into Pandora’s Potions anyway. She could try out all the testers. She could decide what she could buy when she had some more money. She would miss the thrill of seeing her purchase wrapped, giving over her money, going home, knowing she had achieved something and looking forward to the improvement in her life the gift to herself would bring. But that thrill never lasted very long, anyway. And it seemed like months since she had been able to browse.

It was cool and bright inside. The mirrors all around reflected the light backwards and forwards. Christina tried to count how many times she could see her reflection. One of the assistants smiled at her.
Christina started her assault on the pots and potions. Mango Body Butter sounded good. She smoothed some into the back of her wrist. Or Antique Gold Eye Definer. She took the small tester wand out of its case and drew a little squiggle in the middle of her forehead. She giggled to herself. Some exotic princess she would make! She never had been able to draw.

She made her way through the rows of little bottles. It was the containers that fascinated her here. So simple. But with such exciting names. Someone's home-made dream. Then she saw the green scrunchy. If she was not mistaken, it would match her eyes exactly. And it would look so good next to her dark hair. She lifted it up to her head. She was right! It was superb. It would look great. She looked at the price label! €1.75. It had been reduced from €3.50.  She could afford it.  Excitedly she held it up to her head again.
There was a strong smell of peaches. The mirror in front of her seemed to wobble and waves formed in it surface. She felt dizzy and slightly sick. Then the glass and her head cleared and she caught her reflection smiling at her. But she was wearing chiffon veils, in that very same green as the scrunchy, around her head. In her hand was a jar covered in jewels. The reflection held the jar towards her and took off the lid. The smell of peaches became stronger. The reflection nodded.

‘Are you all right, Miss?’ It was the assistant who had smiled at her earlier.

‘Er, yes. I think I'll take this.’

She followed the girl to the till and handed over the scrunchy.

‘It goes really well with your eyes,’ said the girl. ‘It will look lovely.’

‘Yes,’ said Christina, pleased. She made to leave the shop, but could not resist taking one last look at skin care products. ‘Hydrating Moisture Lotion, made with peach kernel oil,’ she muttered as she took the lid off one and took a sniff. It was that smell again.

The dizziness came back, and there was that strange reflection again. The girl in the mirror nodded. Christina then saw the odd looking jar amongst the bottles of moisturizer. It was the very one that the girl had been holding out to her. She meant her to take it. But who ... ? Why... ? Christina knew she must! But it would be shop-lifting. She quickly looked round. All of the assistants were busy serving clients or re-stocking the displays. The only customers were at the tills. She quickly put the jar in the bag with the scrunchy and hurried out of the shop.

She hardly noticed the journey home. She had to take the tram again, as now the rain was torrential. And she had to travel ‘black’ once more. Jan, you're making me wicked, she thought. The fight. Travelling without paying twice in one day. And now shop-lifting. No, that was not fair. Jan had shown her everything. They had been to hard-edged Rotterdam and elegant den Hague, the magical Efteling theme park and across the dramatic Afsuiltsdijk, which cut the North Sea off from the Ijsselmeer, into gentle Friesland. He had shown her where the drug scene was and how to observe but avoid. They had gone into the brown cafés and the tea-shops where you can buy cakes laced with marijuana. They had gone into bars where his biker friends smoked pot and got drunk, but the most he ever did was drink a small beer, and she was allowed nothing but cola or mineral water.

‘You are underage,’ he always said. ‘You must know these things exist so that you can avoid them.’ 
And when it got too dangerous he would whip her away. Saint Jan, she thought, but not unkindly. He had only kissed her properly once, very recently, as they had sat by the Amstel one warm evening in the Bos. Then he had pulled away.

‘Too tempting,’ he said. There had been cuddles, and holding hands, and little kisses. Nothing more. But neither of them had minded. It was like electricity between them. She tingled whenever he touched her. It had only been like that with Greg right at the beginning. Then he had become comfortable and familiar. Jan was always exciting, full of surprises.

The tram stopped at a red light. Christina looked inside her bag. The green scrunchy seemed to glow and made her eyes go funny. She pushed it to the bottom of the bag. She undid the jar of moisture lotion. The smell of peaches overwhelmed her again.

She went dizzy. Oh, god, she was going to be sick. She rushed forward to the front of the tram, school bag and shopping bag clutched in one hand, her other hand over her mouth.
The tram driver got the message, and opened the doors. She rushed down the steps and vomited onto the road beside the tram tracks. Then her knees gave way and she crumpled.
She was in that strange space again. The room from which there was no way out. The tight band was round her head. She could feel her whole body rocking rhythmically to and fro and she could do nothing out stop it.  
‘Oh my god!’ she heard a woman’s voice say.
She heard the car screech to a halt and she was aware that her head was knocking repeatedly into the front wheel. She knew she would soon be in the white-tiled room.