Welcome to the newest slot on my blog, the Sunday night Novel Nights In where I bring you guests’ novels in their entirety over a maximum of ten weeks. Tonight’s is the seventh instalment of the first novel in this series and features the first section of Book 3 (of three) of a novel by literary author, poet and interviewee Rose Mary Boehm.
For shorter pieces I would run the story then talk more about it afterwards but because this is a longer post (12,016 words), here is an introduction to Rose then the seventh part of her novel…
A German-born UK national, Rose Mary Boehm now lives and works in Lima, Peru. Two novels (‘Coming Up For Air’ and the follow-up ‘The Telling’) have been published in the UK, as well as a poetry collection (‘Tangents’). Her latest poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in US poetry reviews. Among others: Toe Good Poetry, Poetry Breakfast, Burning Word, Muddy River Review, Pale Horse Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Other Rooms, Requiem Magazine, Full of Crow, Poetry Quarterly, Punchnel’s, Verse Wisconsin, Naugatuck Poetry Review (contest semi-finalist), Avatar…
Her poem ‘Miss Worthington’ won third price in the coveted Margaret Reid Poetry Contest: http://winningwriters.com/contests/margaret/2009/ma09_epaminondas.php
You can find out more about Rose and her writing at her blog: http://houseboathouse.blogspot.com, and you can also read one of Rose’s short stories on http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com/2013/01/12/short-story-for-critique-003-mrs-boffa-by-rose-mary-boehm.
Coming Up For Air
A young girl’s struggle to take control of her life – click to read Book I: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3. Book 2: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. If you don’t want to wait the 10 weeks for the whole story, you can purchase Coming Up for Air at Amazon.com (just $2.95) Amazon.co.uk (only £1.87). The rest of the ‘adventures of Annie’ can be read in THE TELLING.
Book III: Spitting against the Wind (part 1)
I am slowly walking back towards the large room where so many people are typing, shouting into telephones and at each other, where machines clang and clatter, and where I have a small desk and a typewriter. I am still not quite sure what they expect of me and who exactly my boss is. Up to now they are all using me to run errands, make coffee or to tease me mercilessly. Between copy boy and cub reporter … but I’ll show them. Just because I am the first girl they have ever had in here, that doesn’t mean they can ignore that I have a brain! I’ll show them. But I need a break to show what I can do. There must be something I can do. It won’t happen until I make it happen…
The moment I open the door they all look up from whatever they are doing and stare at me. Then they hoot with laughter, and some slap their thighs. Yes, alright, I suppose I deserve this one. But I feel deeply embarrassed and stupid. How could I possible fall for this?
One of the reporters had sent me down to the typesetters to bring him back a Rasterpunkt – a matrix dot – one of the dots that make up a newsprint black and white half-tone picture, the same dots that are now counted to indicate resolution, as in, for example 300 dpi. This was one of the oldest jokes regularly inflicted on the latest recruits to the press room, and I dutifully walked all the way downstairs to the typesetters and asked for one. They had been warned by the jokers upstairs and had been ready for me. One of them made quite a performance out of putting something very small I couldn’t see (he used tweezers) into a relatively big box and handed it to me saying that I must handle it with great care. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. That at least was the moment when I should have tweaked. But no. I was too eager to please, too determined to make this work. I had promised myself that I’d run every errand, make every coffee, take any shit with a smile to make them like me and give me that chance I so craved.
Especially the editor-in-chief was intimidating. His office was halfway up the stairs. From there he could more or less control the editing room. He kept his door open and there was no passing his floor without being seen by ‘the führer’. Ernst Führing seemed old to me then, but he must have been a young man of around 36, built like an American football player. Weary brown eyes looked out from a frame of thick, rather feminine eyelashes, he had a large, handsome face, and his dark curly hair gave him a slightly dishevelled appearance. He only ever wore white shirts, open at the neck, his tie knot pulled down, the sleeves rolled up until his elbows. I usually saw him sitting behind his huge desk, either speaking like machine-gun fire into the black telephone, or ‘parking’ it between chin and pulled up shoulder when he was looking for some papers. When I brought him material to sign off he would normally ask me to wait and then he’d dump even more papers and photos into my arms with delivery instructions. Standing he must have been around 1.80 m but one saw the beginnings of a belly, and since his trousers where usually just belted below that slight protuberance, they took on a life of their own, cascading down to his highly polished shoes, the turn-ups at the back of the trouser legs disappearing beneath them.
He often stopped me when I was on my way up to the art department or asked in the press room for me to run an errand. Every time I was near him he’d make some comment, some sexual insinuation, some joke I didn’t get, or indicate that I should be doing something different, something that women do. I began to dread my contacts with ‘the führer’, even though he never made a pass, for which I was grateful.
The in-house photo reporter, Wald Radetzki, had quite some reputation. And I was fascinated by his urbanity. It wasn’t just that his name turned up on most news pages of the paper, he also photographed local society and was more than once the object of other photographers when he accompanied some of the famous (and the infamous) women to various events.
To everyone here he was just Radetzki, and when I first met him on the stairs, I felt considerable awe and worried immediately that I may have a shiny nose. The Radetzki I knew from photographs was far less impressive than the real thing. Blinded by my admiration for his local notoriety, I didn’t see a man of already middle years, with a lived-in, somewhat sloppily designed and cruel face, a man who desperately wanted to stay young by donning ‘beatnik uniform’: black tight trousers, black roll-neck sweater, black leather jacket and black leather cap, his cameras slung carelessly over his shoulder; I only saw what I wanted to see: an admittedly older but sexy male, tall, slim, and handsome.
I was on one of my never-ending errands from the pressroom down to the printers, just passing the dark room which I’d never seen open, when Radetzki came up the stairs, taking two steps at the time. He looked up.
“Hey, gorgeous, and where did they hide you? What, are you on your way to me? Lovely surprise.”
I stand still, desperately wanting to be the most attractive woman on earth, thinking Rita Hayworth, definitely not Doris Day. But all I can come out with is, “Oh, hi, I am the new trainee.”
“Well, well, well … turn around, would you? Let me check you out!”
I know I blush and I am angry with myself. I also hate the fact that I have absolutely nothing witty to say to this apparition. While he scares me a bit, he is also incredibly attractive in a forbidden sort of way. I know immediately that Mother wouldn’t approve of me being even near this man. That alone makes him irresistible. Not knowing what to do, I smile what I hope is a seductive smile and do a very fast turn on one foot, losing my balance just a little on the small step. Radetzki immediately reaches up and puts two strong hands on my hips: “Wow, little treasure, easy… mind you, you’re welcome to fall!” and he lets go.
“We’ll be seeing a lot more of each other. By the way, what’s your name? … Annemarie? That’s Anne for short, surely … Must dash, have just come from an assignment and they’ll want the photos like yesterday … until soon. I’ll make sure of it.”
He takes out some keys, opens the darkroom and disappears into it. Shuts the door behind himself. My legs are like jelly. I can barely continue my descent down to the basement. I feel his hands on my hips and I feel my insides knotting up.
Radetzki couldn’t be ignored. And I knew that he was one of the local ‘bad boys’ – if not the local bad boy. There isn’t that much room for bad boys in a provincial town, and there possibly isn’t that much on offer. He made a point of looking for me from time to time and the others teased me mercilessly. “He never came looking for any of us. Hell, he didn’t know we existed! Radetzki in the pressroom? You must be joking. And suddenly we see him regularly. Ain’t that strange. You’re going to fall for him, aren’t you? Bet? Who offers… I bet she will. One Mark (one German Mark) … two against? Done…”
I was flattered but also flustered by his attentions, and I dreaded the day when I would have to go to the darkroom on one of my errands. I was sure the ‘press gang’ would arrange this somehow – and soon.
Not long after bumping into Radetzki, the führer asked me up to his office. I sat down, straight, wondering, on the edge of the seat. He looked at me over his reading glasses, a smile at the corners of his eyes. “Hello Anne, I know we haven’t been using you quite the way you’d want to be used as a budding reporter. Have we now?” He didn’t seem to expect an answer, so I just continued to look at him, hoping to look serious and grown-up. “This is about to change, my dear. Tomorrow afternoon you’re going out with Radetzki to cover the Lehmbruck they are about to put up on the Green in front of the theatre. They just got it back from Paris. Dress warm, you’ll be outside a lot. Good luck.”
Oh, shit. That’s so sudden. I thought it’d never happen. And not only does it happen, is about to happen, but with Radetzki. What if I behave like a complete moron? What if I write a load of crap? What if… ooooooooh, hell… My art training comes in handy at least. I won’t have to look up much on Wilhelm Lehmbruck. I know. I even have a book on him. So far, so good. But who are the other guys who’ll be there? Who’ll give the speech? Did somebody buy the thing for the town? Why was it in Paris? Why has it come back? I daren’t ask my ‘colleagues’ because I don’t want them to know and start teasing me again, remembering their bet.
Rattling along in the tram on my way home, I am increasingly terrified. Did I think I could cut it as a journalist? Did I volunteer for this? I’d hoped for so long to get an opportunity like this. I’d even dreamed of being alone with Radetzki and having his attention. Oooh, yes. What an idiot. What am I going to do?
Despite of my growing panic, I kept myself together enough to look up the basics and recap: “Wilhelm Lehmbruck, 1991 – 1919. Sculpted the ‘Woman Kneeling’ in Paris in 1911. Branded by Hitler as ‘degenerate’, the sculpture became an international symbol for Europe’s free art… Lehmbruck revealed his expressionism especially in his drawings and his painting etc… killed himself in March 1919 at the age of 38. His work belongs to the great art of the 20th Century.” So far so good.
I was at least determined to do the best I could and show them. So far they’d given me some obituaries, and writing those – even though I’d felt hard done by – I actually learned quite a bit about what makes a story and how to tell it in a short and succinct way. For the moment was I able to forget about Radetzki and how much he worried me.
‘Tomorrow afternoon’ … that didn’t give me much time for anything.
“What’s the matter? What happened?”
“Nothing, Mum. Have an assignment tomorrow and must prepare.”
“They’re going to put up the new Lehmbruck sculpture in the Green, apparently it’s just come back from Paris, and Führing has asked me to cover it.”
“That’s important, isn’t it? No wonder they ask you… You have to wear your good coat … oh, and your beige dress …”
“Mum, don’t fuss. It’s an assignment for idiots, that’s why they asked me. Just leave me be and let me prepare.”
“How can you talk like that? You are so gifted, they must…”
“Oh, Mum, give me a break!”
Mother is making her ‘after-all-I’ve-done-for-you-and-you-aren’t-even-grateful’ face and shuffles back into the kitchen. I hide in my room and close the door. I can’t lock it. There is no key. I throw my bag onto the sofa bed and fall into the chair by the window.
All I can do is think about the fact that I’ll be going with Radetzki. Has he had a hand in that? Maybe. Maybe it means he fancies me. Maybe he’ll hate me being there and it’s just something the boss has cooked up. Maybe he thinks I am just a child. What am I going to wear? High heels? I can’t think of having seen a film where they had a woman reporter or perhaps I would know how to dress. The men wear trench coats and those gangster hats. Radetzki normally wears a long leather coat. I can’t put on my heels, that’ll be ridiculous and I’ll probably stagger along like a loonie. Have to be professional. I wish women could wear trousers. They do in the movies. At least some of them do. I think that Katherine Hepburn … And what if he makes a pass? I won’t have a clue what to do next. Do I want to do anything? Not really. Boy, am I scared. Do I just want the attention? Oh, it would be so cool to be seen with him. I wish I could tell Ruth.
I can hear Mother walking. Before she gets to my door I jump up and pretend to be busy. Sure, here she is. She opens the door.
Thinking about eating makes me sick.
“Won’t have time, Mum. Must look up some stuff for tomorrow.”
“But you must eat, Anne. Come now. Father’s home. It’s all on the table.”
I know I’d better go and eat or I’ll have her on my back all evening. Dad never notices anything unless we raise our voices, which is fine. I can deal with one of them, but not with both. I just want to be alone and think about tomorrow.
Radetzki pulled out his motorbike. That I’d have to go with him on his bike hadn’t occurred to me when I had dressed in my woollen winter suit: relatively tight skirt and fitted jacked (one of Hannah’s cast-offs – to my mother’s annoyance Ruth’s mother had made it a habit to keep me dressed smartly; never a problem because we were exactly the same size) in off white and discreet charcoals, black polo-neck sweater, my legs in nylon stockings with seams at the back and medium-heeled, black suede pumps – my best outfit. Even though Mother, who hated the fact that Hannah gave me clothes, which hurt her pride and made her daughter look too grown-up for her taste, had violently objected: “You can’t wear that to work, it’s for Sundays.” I cringed and won the day. I felt adult and terribly worldly. In the morning, on my way to the tram and rather worried about the size of my behind, I looked into every shop window to check it out, and each one reflected a different shape.
In my handbag I carried, apart from lipstick, eyebrow pencil and a compact, a hanky, my notepad, pencils and my fountain pen. They had only just introduced ballpoint pens, but most of them leaked terribly and I didn’t like them. Besides, with a biro I couldn’t do a decent shorthand.
Oh my God. I have to lift my skirt almost all the way up to get onto the back seat. Thankfully Radetzki is already on the bike; both long legs firmly planted on either side, he half-turns with a wicked grin on his face making me feel all stupid and clumsy. My legs are exposed almost to the beginnings of the suspenders, and I finally find a relatively secure foothold for those silly pumps. I am at his mercy and like it. I make sure my bag’s safe and, “Hold on to my middle. Tight. I want to feel you, girl. You’re ok? Let’s go.”
There were so many old men, most of them big, with bellies hidden under jackets and coats but sticking out because most folded their hands behind their backs. Some of them balding. All of them serious. Some looked in my direction, especially when they saw me with Radetzki. There was the Mayor. He was the only one I remembered from photos in the papers. Not everyone had a speech, but those who did delivered it with a sense of extreme importance, not so much of the event but their own. The Mayor lifted a canvas cover from the sculpture and everyone applauded. Even though I had seen photos of the sculpture, its relatively small size, its polished darkness and its elegant simplicity surprised and pleased me.
Radetzki was lazily taking his photos, walking around like a big, feral cat. Compared to the worthy group of city fathers, he seemed like a being from outer space. I avoided looking in his direction but couldn’t resist a glance from time to time.
It was cold. There had been some onlookers, shoppers, passers-by who’d wondered what all the fuss was about and had stopped to stare. After the sculpture had been ‘unveiled’, the important men moved away and the sparse crowd dispersed.
Radetzki takes my arm. “Let’s get something warm inside us before we go back to the grindstone.” He cocks his head to one side, grins, and says, “You would like something warm inside you, wouldn’t you?” After saying, “Yes”, I get the double meaning and feel myself blushing again. And the more I blush the more I hate myself for being such a simpleton. He throws back his head and laughs out loud. He puts his arm around my waste, slings his cameras over his left shoulder and steers me to the nearest coffee shop. “You’re blushing! How refreshing. Come on!”
He pushes at the heavy swing doors and opens the heavy winter curtains that are supposed to keep out the draft, holding both open for me. He then proceeds to a corner table by the window, nodding greetings as he goes. He is famous and I bask in his glory. People are gawking. Before he pulls out one of the chairs for me he makes a gesture to take my jacket. I try to open the buttons with hands that have become blue and stiff from the cold – after all, I couldn’t very well write with winter gloves – and manage the top one with difficulty. “Let me …” and he pushes my hands away to open the other two, stroking my belly lightly with his fingers. “There. Now let me hang it up.” I have an instant reaction to his touch. The bones in my legs are melting rapidly and I must sit down or else, I am quite sure, I’d soon slide to the floor. The sensation is between absolutely wonderful and exceedingly scary.
“Hello, Radetzki… a new girl friend? Won’t you introduce us?” A big bear of a man has appeared at our table. The voice is gentle. I look up at a handsome face framed by greying hair. He wears a heavy greatcoat. A held-out hand is expecting mine. When I put my hand into his, he makes a movement that hints at a bow, says what I hear as “Weidenfeldt” and holds my hand for a moment longer than necessary. Radetzki looks peeved, but does what he can’t avoid:
“Annemarie, let me present Udo von Weidenfeldt. Udo, Annemarie Becker, my new young colleague at the paper. Aspiring journalist. We just came in from the cold. The new Lehmbruck on the Green. Boooooooooooring. Anne, this is the kind of man you want to stay away from. He eats young girls for lunch. Besides, I saw you first.” Radetzki doesn’t look at all inviting. But there is a third chair, and Weidenfeldt takes off his coat, hangs it up and sits down. “Hope you don’t mind, Wald. What are you having?”
I look from one to the other. They obviously know each other well. Radetzki looks out of place in this rather posh café because his looks (he must have had a broken nose – boxing?) and his black roll- neck sweater and slacks cry out ‘bohemian, unruly, won’t fit into your bourgeois world’, and Weidenfeldt doesn’t fit because he’s just too big for the place, even though he wears a relatively conventional dark-grey suit. He’s not fat… he’s big as in tall and broad-shouldered. Robert Mitchum type. He grins at Radetzki and looks rather pleased with himself. Radetzki can’t bear it: “Udo, why don’t you just piss off?” I swallow. “But Wald, I’ve only just arrived. Coffee, Annemarie?” His hands are surprisingly long-fingered and elegant.
“Anne, this man is not to be trusted. See how he pushed his way in? Udo von Weidenfeldt, sought-after graphic artist, playboy and, hear me well, MARRIED!”
“Now, now, Wald, that was completely unnecessary… Annemarie, your virtue is safe in my hands. I am not so sure about our friend Wald here. You obviously haven’t known him long, have you?”
As the banter between those two attractive men continued, I began to understand that I had never felt so good. Two grown-up men, not boys, were doing their verbal strutting over me, Annemarie Becker. As they pawed the ground and lowered their horns, it vaguely dawned on me that they gave me power, and I instinctively knew that I would grow on that power and that I would learn to use it shamelessly. However, this was not a clear, honest ‘eureka’-moment, just a rather myopic sizing up of future possibilities, based on my need to be recognised, admired perhaps and approved of. Loved? It did not occur to me at that moment that I may be looking for ‘my daddy’, that I desperately wanted to feel protected, safe. And only quite a bit later would I learn how addictive this kind of power is and how high its asking price.
For a while we hung out with Udo von Weidenfeldt, then Radetzki suddenly got up, lifted my jacket from the coat hanger and called the waitress over to pay.
“Sorry, Udo, we have work to do.” Udo followed us to the motorbike. When I, much emboldened and with exhibitionist instincts, lifted my skirt and slid onto the backseat like an old motorbike hand, holding on to Radetzki as though I’d done it all my life, Weidenfeldt let out a sharp whistle and grinned again. “We’ll meet again, young Annemarie, have no doubt on that score.” Radetzki kick-started the bike and we were off.
Before we separated at the paper, he to disappear into his dark room and I to write my first piece, maximum 500 words (Führing had said), he held my arm for a moment. “Come down in about an hour and chose the photo for your piece, ok?” I nodded and run upstairs.
When I opened the door to the pressroom, every head turned towards me.
“Hi, reporter, all’s well?”
“Did I win my bet?”
“How was the Mayor?”
“Did you get to ride the bike?”
I just looked at them with what I hoped was disdain, and trotted off to my desk and my typewriter. They continued with their ribbing, laughing amongst themselves, big boys all, throwing paper balls and paper clips, some voice asked for quiet.
In an hour. Radetzki. The dark room. An hour. I tried to think and sort through my copious notes. I would write the most intelligent article on Wilhelm Lehmbruck and what the return of his sculpture meant for German art in general and our town in particular. I would cleverly inject the most salient sentences from the various speeches. The boss would be so pleased with having given me this opportunity… but how could I do all that in 500 words?
By now I am no longer on a high. I have almost finished. More than an hour has passed and I knock shyly at Radetzki’s door. “Come in!” and, quickly, “Before you come through the curtain, shut that door behind you. I can’t have any light yet…” I do as I am told. Once inside I can’t see a thing and remain standing where I am. A lonely light bulb emits a dark-red almost light. Slowly my eyes adjust. “Come on over here. Move slowly. Here, I’ll help. Can you see my hand?” When I grab his hand, he suddenly pulls me into his arms, his mouth is on mine, his other hand on my breast, and his pelvis is pushing me against the wall. Instead of pleasurable excitement, so long anticipated, I feel only shock and a desire to hit him. Perhaps he has sensed my rejection and sudden fear. He turns me around to face the wall, uses one arm to hold both of mine in front of me, and with the other tries to pull up my skirt. There is fury in the touch. Now I feel the strangest physical sensation inside my pelvis. Organs contracting. Waves of pleasure from navel to toes. But my head screams ‘No!’, and the position gives me the advantage. With my right heel I step back and find his foot. The sudden pain makes him yelp, forces him to let go. By now I can see enough in the red dark-gloom and make for the curtain, through the door, bang it shut and stagger to the bathroom. I am breathing hard, my heart is nearly bursting out of my chest. Holding on to the washbasin I look into the mirror and see only some strands of hair out of place. Nothing more.
I enter one of the cubicles, lock the door and sit on the loo lid. When I am calmer I get up, check my stockings, straighten my skirt and re-do my ponytail.
My colleagues called off their bets. I didn’t see much of Radetzki again for which I was grateful, but I also felt a little bereft. My 500 words were cut down to about 60, accompanying an extra-large photo of the ‘Kneeling Woman’ and the usual small credit upside down on the side: ‘Picture by W. Radetzki’.
A little later I met Hasse Olafson.
I soon found out that Hasse had a small studio at the back of the building and was his own man. A freelancing graphic designer, he was often asked to work for the paper. The first time I saw Hasse was downstairs in the big office at street level, the advertising department. While many voices mixed with others and the ringing of telephones, the door opened and a short, bearded, blond man opened the door, letting the street add its noise to the unholy din that was the norm in advertising. He supported himself with a walking stick, moving carefully, swaying a little from side to side. He was dressed in beige roll-neck sweater and brown corduroys, a tweed hacking jacket with patches at the elbows, an unlit pipe in his other hand and a grin on his face.
“Hello Hasse…” came the answer from behind most desks. I had gone down to chat to one of the girls (there were quite a few girls in advertising) who had befriended me. We would sometimes escape in the lunch half-hour and sit on the only bench in the little square near the paper’s offices, sharing our sandwiches.
Hasse stopped his relatively slow progress when he passed the desk where I sat next to my friend. “Hello, guten Tag my dear. And who may that be? New?” My friend said teasingly: “Hi, Hasse, this is Annemarie Becker, she is our first female cub reporter. Has been here for some time, but they keep her hidden up there. She only came down from Olympus today because she knew you were gracing us with your presence.” He looked at me, smiled, showing somewhat pointed, gappy teeth, put his walking stick into his left hand that held the pipe and offered me his right hand which I shook. “Guten Tag, Annemarie Becker, welcome to the madhouse. The name is Hasse Olafson, ex Viking, no more pillaging and plundering (he nodded down to his leg). Come to my den at the back to visit so we can get to know each other. As you have noticed, I am known and loved!” My friend giggled. “Off with you, don’t you start. Anne is a nice girl!” “Just what I need, after dealing with you lot …” I liked him immediately and knew that here I just might have found a friend. I decided there and then that I would take him up on his offer and visit ‘his den’.
He soon told me that he lost the lower part of his leg when he stepped on a landmine in the War, “I was the lucky one,” and that he enjoyed his way of life, his profession, but especially his independence. “It wasn’t always easy, you know – especially at the beginning. But now I have enough regular clients and the paper needs me almost every day.”
One day Hasse showed me some of the designs he did for the paper and other clients. “What I need is someone to help me occasionally. Do you know anyone who can do illustrations? The paper wants illustrations for their short stories and I can’t draw.” I hesitated, wondering whether this was a good idea, but the temptation was strong, especially since upstairs they still didn’t give me much that was interesting or challenging. “I draw, Hasse. Why don’t you let me have a go?”
Every Saturday the paper brought their readers a short story, and from then on, every Friday afternoon, I drew the illustrations. Hasse told me what he wanted and I delivered as best I could. On Saturday mornings I couldn’t wait. I was thrilled to see my drawings in print. Sometimes I wished I could tell everyone, but my contract stated clearly that I was not allowed to indulge in any other activity while I was in apprenticeship to the paper or else the paper would call the contract ‘null and void’ and feel released from all obligations.
To this day I don’t know who ‘told’. I had never said anything to Mother and Father about Hasse and the drawings. I never told them much at home. I knew better than to unleash hours of recriminations. I had told my neighbourhood friend Ingrid Barlow, but she and I had no common friends in connection with my new life, and Ruth, whom I had sent clippings by mail, was far away in Switzerland. But one day my father received a letter from the paper asking him (and me) to come urgently and meet with Ernst Führing. Father was very serious and I was very worried.
In the tram, on the way to the meeting, I tell Father what I fear has brought this situation on. I confess my ‘crimes’, at the same time I explain that the paper, to my mind, hasn’t used me well, and that illustrating for Hasse Olufson made me happy and also a little proud. “Can’t think of anything else, Dad.”
Führing has actually put on his jacket. That’s serious. He doesn’t look at me, but at my father. “Herr Becker,” he says, holding onto his desk, stretching his arms while leaning back into his chair, “the paper sees no other possibility but to terminate the apprenticeship contract you and I have signed. Your daughter has not kept her side of the agreement.”
I am surprised by my father’s calm. It’s also the first time I actually see a tall, dignified man, not just ‘Dad’. Dressed in somewhat threadbare elegance from yesterday, he reminds me suddenly of the father we left all those years ago, waving a white handkerchief until we had disappeared around the bend, and my throat tightens.
“Herr Führing, would you care to explain how my daughter has sinned so much that you cannot see your way to keeping her under contract?”
The boss looks out of his window, now he looks at me for the first time, then he addresses my father, his eyes not quite meeting Father’s: “Not only has your daughter worked for someone who is a provider to this paper, but she has indulged in sexual relations with this man during office hours.” Now he looks up. It’s amazing how I am no longer Anne, but ‘your daughter’, and the accusation shocks me and fills me with dread which is immediately followed by total frustration and the furious thought ‘how unfair … how can he …’ I am about to open my mouth in protest, but Father must have seen something in my face and, with a movement of his hand tells me to be quiet.
Father gets up and so I, too, stand. My legs are butter. “Herr Führing, my daughter owned up to the drawings. She never received any money, she just enjoyed the one creative job she could do for the paper, however indirectly. I am sure your paper was much the better for her contribution to it and perhaps you do owe her some money. As to you accusation of sexual relations, if I had the means I would sue you for slander. As it is, I am delighted that as of today my daughter is no longer under contract to you. Auf Wiedersehen.”
When Father and I walked back to the tram, it was dark by then, and a drizzly rain had set in, I was close to tears and filled with gratitude and love. My father had shown total trust in me, protected and defended me, had taken ‘my side’ just on the basis of ‘my word against theirs’, and he didn’t even know anything about me any more – not that I knew much about myself either. For a brief moment my father had made me want to be whole, undamaged, ‘good’, the daughter he so much wanted me to be.
And Mother? It’s difficult to look with honesty at the feelings I harboured against my mother. They can only be called ‘bordering on hatred’ after loving her so unconditionally throughout my childhood; even though I can understand both myself and her today, with the 20:20 vision hindsight offers, and even though I have made my peace with this brave and tortured woman who was my mother. We suffered from a complete lack of emotional co-ordination. My hunger for what I imagined would be the life was all-consuming, when she had set the highest standards for me. But while Mother lived in the whole world of ‘Little Women’, I had aspirations to become ‘Gilda’. Where Mother hoped to have me safely married off, preferably to a ‘nice young man’ from a ‘good’ family, I wanted … well, I wasn’t sure what I wanted. I only knew that I had to get out of what I perceived as a small-town, small-minded world and a life that made me feel as though I was tethered to a lamppost while the walls of the buildings were slowly moving in on me.
One of my mother’s worst fears had already been proved justified. We both knew it, but never talked about that night. Still, it remained forever present and she was perhaps hurt more deeply than I. While I tried to push it far away into a Pandora’s box of my own collection of ills, it made Mother even more determined to protect me from myself, while I had every intention to become an object of desire.
In the meantime I tried to shrug off the slowly receding pain, pretending that, as long as the wound wasn’t touched, it would heal by itself. That the rape never happened. The 50s and 60s was not the time of rape centres, psychological help or social workers; there were no friendly police women. Rape was a shameful secret, internalised and encapsulated like a tumour. Even Mother probably thought in some deep, dark recesses of her soul, “She’s been looking for it.”
Only much, much later would I become aware that my first experience of sex had in fact affected me deeply and marked my relationships with men.
The ad had said, ‘Austerlitz Photographic Studio seeks apprentice. Excellent future. Will learn everything about photography. Great opportunity for the right young person.’ It had been the only ad that took my fancy. I was still determined not to fall into the trap of living my life as an office slave. And since – apart from not wanting to – my parents couldn’t afford to send me to University, I had to be creative and use my head and my talents as well as earn some money of my own. Every penny my mother gave me was connected to a condition, and I felt tied hands and feet to this ‘old woman’ who intended to make me just like her – as I saw it, hand-knitted and sitting at home, a mouse, worried about absolutely everything.
I go to the interview alone. Mother has agreed to stay at home, probably walking up and down the kitchen floor like a caged tiger, being sure (a) I’ll be ravaged, (b) I’ll say all the wrong things, (c) I’ll be ravaged, (d) it’s a trap for innocent girls … just think ‘darkroom’ together with ‘bohemian older men’ (what else could one think of – a photographer just wasn’t a bank manager). During the tram ride, while looking out of the window at my town, all these thoughts cruise through my head. No matter where I am or what I do, I am obsessively at war with Mother.
When I reach my destination, I get off the tram, still having to walk for a few minutes. It’s early spring. I can feel my ponytail bobbing up and down and I regret not having chosen my red high-heeled peep-toes on which by now I walk well. Now I am in front of the shop. I daren’t study my reflection in the window – something I would normally do – in case someone observes me from inside. Suddenly my heart begins to hammer and my lips feel dry, even though I made sure I slapped some lipstick on. Red mixed with white crayon, pastel pink, the very latest. (Mother told me I looked cheap, well, she would, wouldn’t she.) Forward is the only direction to go, so I quickly make sure my belt is knotted just so, pat down my hair and enter the dark shop. A bell rings somewhere. As my eyes become accustomed to the lack of light, I hear footsteps clattering down what must be wooden stairs, the backdoor to the shop opens and a tall man extends his hand: “Guten Tag, you must be Fräulein Becker. Please, upstairs.” As I turn towards the back door, he holds it open. “After you, after you …”. I am self-consciously aware of this man following me up the steep wooden stairs. There is a handrail. I hold on to it with my left hand, while my right clutches my cheap leather handbag.
The Austerlitz Photographic Studio occupied what once was an old smallish warehouse at the back of the shop. The shop itself opened to street level. Above the awnings it said in very important writing “Austerlitz Photographic Studio”. The small shop window housed a collection of naked babies on white fur, deliriously happy young couples looking at the camera with puppy faces, and sheets of passport photos – all in black and white. Some of the large portraits and wedding photos had been coloured in sickly pastel shades. In the shop a mini studio had been set up with various backgrounds, some props, a couple of chairs, a variety of potted plants, photographic spot lights aimed from different directions at the chair where the person would sit, and a huge camera on a tripod, always ready, its back covered by a large piece of black cloth.
They needed help with the ‘real’ photographic work: publicity and catalogue photography, darkroom work, colouring and retouching… for all of which the brothers used that back-room studio across the inner yard behind the shop, one rickety wooden flight of stairs up. A window overlooked the yard and anyone sitting by the window could see who was about to come up.
Of course I got the job. The pay, as always, was minimal. But pay it was, and I found I actually liked my new life. I learned to load the huge camera’s negative container with 10 x 8 film packs, to light still life compositions for catalogues (especially difficult was silverware which had to be lit with great care to avoid reflections); I retouched and coloured, and delighted in darkroom work when I began to understand the art of adding or withholding exposure to all, or parts of, a photograph and thus enhancing the end result, in some cases creating almost totally new images. The most exciting treat was developing the first colour photos – Agfa had developed a complicated system of colour filters for the professional darkroom. Developing colour was difficult and the results could be breath-taking.
The brothers Austerlitz seemed as though they had each come from a different tribe. Nothing at all could be detected that would give them some family resemblance … not even the odd gesture. The older brother, Bernhard Austerlitz, looked like a caricature of himself: every physical aspect was slightly exaggerated. He was a tall man but seemed shorter because he stooped, and then he slumped an extra bit more because of his rounded shoulders. His face was long rather than round but appeared even more elongated because of his long nose and downward jutting chin. He had a high forehead from which he brushed greased black hair straight back, keeping it longer than was common at the time; and the shoulders of his invariably dark-blue suits where always generously sprinkled with dandruff. His feet were naturally pointing outwards, and when he walked he had the aspect of a long-legged duck.
Bernhard Austerlitz, unimaginative photographer of architecture and portraits of brides, grooms and little girls in white at their first Communion, had founded the Austerlitz Photographic Studio where is brother, Johannes, aspiring to greatness as photographer of the provincial theatre and jazz scene, had found a home he partly resented. Johannes Austerlitz looked very much like a fat little hamster with a mop on his head. His hair was curly and blond, and he had lots of it. All his teeth were rather large, but the two front teeth dominated in a round mouth that smiled a lot. When he smiled his eyes became almost invisible and his little button nose moved. Johannes was short, and the upturns on his trouser legs accordioned on top of his shoes. What drew my attention was how deftly he handled his cameras – always without the slightest doubt.
I am sitting by the studio window, retouching a stack of different portraits which are due to be picked up in a few days. I am retouching spots that show up on the positive, caused by dust that got onto the negative or the lens. Shouldn’t happen, of course, but it always does. There are constantly mountains of those to do. It’s repetitive work and I ought to be bored, but I like what I do, it allows me time to think. For example, about what am I going to do regarding Bernhard Austerlitz…
Yesterday he showed me again how to filter colours – we’d just come back from photographing a brand-new factory for a client – and, as he leaned over me, I could feel a bulge in his trousers pressing against my bottom while his hand moved over mine ostensibly helping me to pull out the correct filters.
I had frozen, appalled. Not again, please. But nothing more had followed. For now. Was this how things would continue? Wherever I went, whatever I did, would I have to fight wandering hands and eager pricks? Do I bring this on myself? Is this power? Is this normal and does it happen to every girl everywhere all the time? I need help!
I couldn’t talk to my parents. My brother was stewing in his own real and imaginary problems and, besides, he and I had never been very close as we got older. The eight years age difference began to make itself felt. We were now a long way from the times when he taught me Morse code in the shelter, or when he made kites for me and helped me to get them off into the air, or let me listen to his cigar-box radio. As soon as we’d returned from ‘The East’, Ditmar was working during the day, doing night school in the evening, spent the weekends in the local rowing club (developing his small heart on our family doctor’s advice) and had a girlfriend who took up the time that was left. As I had foreseen, I was rapidly outgrowing my ex school friends as well as those from the neighbourhood – we were all on different tracks now and anyway, having originally been thrown together by accident, those friendships had not been the result of choice and preference. The only true friendship, based on love and trust, re-enforced by many hours spent laughing, crying, needing each other and trying to understand the adult world, was my friendship with Ruth. And Ruth had been shipped off to Switzerland. We wrote.
Why aren’t you here and why don’t you write more often? I miss you terribly. Not only because I love you, but because I’m up shit creek without a paddle. Well, almost. You’ve always been my shining light, old cynic. Where I was ye olde cuddly idiot, begging for a crust, you always knew where to put your feet – normally right where it hurt! Now, hearyeme… I have tales of woe: you know all about the paper, Führing, Radetzki, Hasse and the mess I got into because I did those drawings. Father has been a rock. Mother’s probably sure ‘I did it’, even though she won’t say. But I can see it on her face.
Now old carbuncled (probably) and dandruffed Austerlitz the Elder has made a move. Where else but in the dark room. Not much yet, but, learning on the job so to speak, I think that was just an overture for the next instalment.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would be a good journalist (and I haven’t given up on that by any means), I believe I would be a good photographer … well, all things taken into account, anything faintly ‘artistic’ is my turf, but I even have a good head for business (I think). What I mean is – and we’ve chewed that one over enough, you and I – I am talking about me here, about this person called Annemarie Becker, this person with certain talents who could make a contribution to the big wide world.
Alright, so I’m female. What do I have to do to get them to keep their paws off? Yeah, well, I know. You said it loud and clear, my little analyst: I’m still making up for not having had my father around for those years during the War, and you also said that I was overcompensating for all those years when Mum couldn’t (and wouldn’t!) buy me some fashionable clothes and I felt I looked like a horse’s arse… I trust you because you are you and because what you say makes sense, even though you know how I feel about psychoanalysis! (When I get a runny nose and a fever it’s because my Mother didn’t love me when I was three. Well, you know…)
But I am not really coming on to these guys. I am too shy, I think, especially since I can’t stand the thought of being rejected. I’d rather die – you know that. So Radetzki was a kind of dangerous older man who, for a while, was kind of glamorous, and I am sure he knew I was easy prey. Still, I think that he’s convinced he’d score with just about any female, especially with one as naive as I was (am?). And Austerlitz must be around 40 or over and has absolutely nothing going for him except that he is another ‘old man’. Even Johannes who I’d thought immune – or just plain decent – is brushing up against my tits when he thinks I am not looking (joke!). Well, when he’s showing me the ropes of colouring in and retouching. Curiously, he’s never made a pass when we are ‘on the town’ alone, when we do the jazz scene. He’s very good ta that, by the way. His theatre photos are exquisite, but he really is the master of sparsely lit bars, cigarette smoke curling up towards the barely lit dark faces behind shiny brass instruments… He sells some of his stuff even to the national papers and is thinking about creating a coffee-table book. He should.
Alright, the question is, what can I do to change things? Do I give off whiffs of ‘I am yours for the fondling’ smell? I can’t undo my childhood. I can’t undo Wolf. I don’t know how to gain some self-esteem and there is no way I am able to get ‘turned on’ like all of you guys. What do I do? Not earn a living in a profession I like? Dress like an old frump (I’d rather jump off the nearest water tower) or go into a nunnery?
The worst is that I like men and I like how they look at me. I like knowing that they want me. Makes me feel better about myself. Gives me a little high. I just don’t want to be poked. Not like that anyway. And should there be a man (yes, probably an older man) whom I could fancy AND trust…
Boy, what a letter. On day, when you’ve finally read it, please write or, better still, when are your hols? You coming up? Thank God for you – you’re the only one I can talk to. Always, loving you, your mixed-up friend,
Before I had an answer to my cry for help – perhaps the letters we wrote to each other where in lieu of the confessional or an analysis session, and just being able to let off steam in a setting of total trust was half the battle won – Austerlitz fell off the world as far as I was concerned; he simply lost importance.
I was again sitting in my spot by the window that overlooked the inner yard, when I heard steps. Seeing a man I hadn’t forgotten, but certainly hadn’t expected to meet again, especially not chez Austerlitz, I jumped up in shock, overturning the table and spilling the photos I’d been working on as well as the retouching gear. What did Udo von Weidenfeldt have to do with the photographic brothers? And did he know I was working here? And did he even remember me?
I pushed up the table and then went onto my hands and knees to pick up the photos and all the utensils. This took longer than I’d thought, and I was still under the table picking up bits and pieces when Udo von Weidenfeldt entered. “Anybody home?” I couldn’t believe it, I was again in a situation of total mortification. Still crouching under the table, my face blushing, my ears throbbing, I blew some of my hair that had slipped from the confines of my pony tail out of my face, and forced myself to answer, with a somewhat feeble voice, “Yes, me …” Weidenfeldt looked down, let his tall body down to sit on his heels and grinned from ear to ear: “Oh, dear me, a mouse!” We both had to laugh. I grabbed the last few photos from the floor and took his outstretched hand to be pulled up. He hung up his coat and sat down by the table looking as though he was here to stay.
“Thank you, Herr von Weidenfeldt. How can I help you? Bernhard Austerlitz will be back in a short while, Johannes has taken the day off.” At least I’d found my voice again and tried to be business-like. “Oh cut out that Herr stuff. I am Udo to you, young Annemarie Becker – that’s right isn’t it? See, I said I’d see you again, didn’t I?” He just looked at me with the expression a cat would have after it ate the budgie. Again I was beginning to feel excited and a bit nervous.
“Alright, Udo…” to call him by his first name feels daring, “… have you come to see Bernhard Austerlitz? As I said, he’ll be back soon-ish, he’s gone to see a client. Would you like a coffee?” I need to move, do something. “Yes, coffee would be just the thing. But, no, I actually came to see you. I do work with the Austerlitz’s from time to time, but just the other day I bumped into Johannes in one of the jazz joints, and he told me about that lovely new apprentice they had … long legs, lovely figure, pretty as a picture, called Annemarie Becker. And all of a sudden I remembered that I saw you first!”
While I was making coffee in the small kitchen just by the side of the darkroom, Udo leaned into the doorframe, watching me. I had hoped I could be on my own for a moment. We heard the downstairs door open and shut and then Bernhard Austerlitz’s heavy steps traipsed upstairs. His face showed irritation.
“Hi, Udo … what are you doing here? Do we have anything outstanding?”
“No, Bernhard. Just came to welcome the young lady. Friendship visit. We knew each other from before, you know.”
“Met her when she worked for the paper.”
Austerlitz nodded somewhat absent-mindedly when I offered him a coffee.
The three of us sat around the window table. I worked, and the two men talked about business. Udo von Weidenfeldt sat opposite me and kept looking at me while he talked to Austerlitz. A couple of hours or so later, Austerlitz stood and said he had dark-room work to do and asked me to come and help. We both thought that Udo would take the hint – Austerlitz quite clearly wanted to get rid of him, and I thought this was the natural end of a casual visit. However, Weidenfeldt made absolutely no move towards his coat and the door. Strange. And when we had finished developing some large black and white paper prints, and after I had loaded negatives into the big Linhof camera and stepped out of the darkroom, squinting in the daylight, I saw Udo aimlessly wandering around the studio area, making it look small. Bernhard Austerlitz followed a couple of minutes later and didn’t look a happy man: “Udo, for God’s sake, why are you still here? Don’t you have to go and earn a crust?”
That was the first day of many weeks, when Udo von Weidenfeldt became an unexpected fixture in the Austerlitz Photographic Studio. Sometimes he’d even wait for me at the tram stop in the morning. He almost invariably accompanied me to the tram in the afternoon. Udo had moved in, and the brothers Austerlitz were not amused. When Johannes took me to dress rehearsals or first nights in the theatres or jazz clubs (the films had to be developed immediately afterwards and taken to the papers before make-up), Udo would often be there, waiting, much to Johannes’ annoyance. It was a siege and I was ready to fall. I also was more and more comfortable in Udo’s company and after one more pass in my direction, Bernhard Austerlitz had given up on me, which was a bonus.
Udo and I were often alone in the studio, and I soon took his presence for granted. We talked a lot about absolutely everything, and he opened new worlds for me. From politics to poetry to classical music to jazz, painting and graphics, film and the theatre, he knew, he’d read, he’d seen and could recite by heart. And I felt my power growing, even though he never made a pass. Not even held my hand. One day he simply said, “Anne, that’s enough. I want to make love to you. Badly.”
Of course this didn’t come as a surprise, but it still shook me out of my complacency. I’d known that this was a moment I had to face sooner or later. In some hidden corner of myself I’d been waiting for it. Now I had to think what I wanted. Here was a man with whom I’d learned to feel safe. I trusted him and liked him. I also desperately wanted to ‘lose my virginity’, well, what was left of it. Obviously even I knew by then that I was no longer ‘intacta’, but I had never experienced ‘making love’ and had decided some time ago that in no way would I be a sad, left-over female, embittered and defeated by life before it had actually started. But I was scared.
He sat there and just looked at me. This wasn’t really the approach I felt comfortable with. It meant I had to make a conscious decision, had no excuse. No swooning required, just a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I wished he’d just kissed me, held me, allowed me to hide in his embrace – or did I? What on earth did I want? I wasn’t even ‘in love’, I just liked his company, trusted him and revelled in his obvious adoration. I said, “Udo, give me some time.” He looked a bit helpless. “Anne, you’ve had all the time in the world. I have never courted anyone before as I have courted you. I have waited and can’t wait any longer. Darling, I’ve fallen head over heels! I promise I’ll do what I can to make it work for us. Please.”
“Pick me up tonight, when I finish.”
“… I want to. But can you just not expect anything from me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know what to do…”
He throws his head back and laughs. “Oh, darling, sweet, sweet darling, I am not laughing at you, I am laughing because I am happy! You don’t have to do anything, I promise! Just don’t worry. Just leave it all to me. You’ll see, we’ll make the perfect couple. I didn’t know you’d never …”
“Well, it’s not quite, well… I was ‘done’ once. Didn’t want to. Since then I haven’t … oh, this is sooo embarrassing.”
He finally kissed me and, indeed, I didn’t have to do anything, and lovemaking with Udo turned out to be a gentle game with hidden passions. True to his word he was tender and delicate. I sensed that he held back but had no idea what to do about it or, for that matter, whether I wanted to do something about it. While at first I was grateful for his loving consideration, I soon began to be hungry for more, but what ‘more’ I wanted, I couldn’t tell.
Ruthie dearest, my very own psychiatrist,
Thanks for your letter. It came too late. Things have a way of happening here kind of overnight. The mail is too slow.
I am glad you’ve made friends and I won’t be too jealous as long as you promise not to forget about me. I wish I could be there with you and we could talk the nights away. That would probably sort me out.
Today’s letter, just in case you didn’t guess, is about Udo. He finally got around to getting me into bed. Hurrah, I hear you shout as you are reading this. Yes, well, hurrah it is, perhaps, in a way. At least I am beginning to understand what it’s all about. But it’s not quite what I thought it would be. Well, I didn’t really know what to think. No matter what you did, you never explained anything anyway, except for the mechanics.
He asked me and I said ‘yes’. That wasn’t really the kind of romantic beginning I’d hoped for. Still, it was high time. If I wanted to join the human race, I had to jump into the water, and it may as well be with him, I thought. Yeah, perhaps too cold-blooded, too brain, no getting all fluffy inside, but I figured all that would come. Know what? It hasn’t.
I know he loves me to bits. That’s rather satisfying. It also gives me a feeling of security. And I like him a lot but he doesn’t ‘excite’ me, and I’d thought that excitement and lovemaking went hand-in-hand. Something is missing, and from time to time I feel that he holds back – perhaps he doesn’t want to scare me off – there is violence in him … or frustration? which I can see at the periphery of his tenderness. I wish I knew how to let him know that I am ready for big, bad passion. Well, I think I am…
However, life has taken a turn for the better since I have known Udo. It’s as though he’s filling a void I didn’t know I had. He also helps me get over some of my worst hang-ups, and we do have fun. He has a tremendous sense of humour. There are moments when we roll on the floor laughing.
Have you read Tucholsky? Or the satirical poems by Erich Kästner? Eugen Roth? Get those books, you’ll not only enjoy them tremendously, but we can share them when you get back. They clearly weren’t part of our education (but should have been) and their heydays were before our time. I’ll fish you out the titles.
Mother is beginning to suspect that I have fallen into the gutter. She’s forever having goes at me, “Where have you been?” or “You are late again.” There’s no way I’ll tell her anything and have her spoil my life again. Besides, she’d be so shocked.
Oh, Ruthie, will there come a moment when I’ll be like everyone else? Able to enjoy it when a man just wants to fuck me? Even though ‘desperately being wanted’ turns me on, when it happens I get scared and bite; but then I get a bit bored by gentle sex and tenderness. Does it work like this for you or do I need analysis after all?
By the way, Udo is 36 and married. They don’t live together, but they haven’t divorced. It doesn’t bother me because I have no intention of marrying him. He makes occasional noises in the direction of ‘sorting out his life’ which I hope remain just that, ‘noises’.
God only knows where my life will have taken me by the time your answer comes. Never mind. You’ll be informed.
Always a bit behind,
Every day, on my way to the studio, I passed a little boutique. They changed their shop windows once a month and displayed the most exciting dresses, suits, skirts, jackets, coats and little nothings. Most of the time I’d stop there and dream about what it would be like to be able to buy one of their chic little numbers, something just perfect for me, instead of having to rely on Hannah’s expensive hand-me-downs which were tailored for an older woman and not exactly the latest in style.
I saved the money I received from the Austerlitz’s as best I could. There wasn’t much left after I had given Mother what she deducted for ‘food and board’. One day, when I passed the boutique, my dress was beautifully displayed. There had been many I’d coveted, but this one was quite obviously made for me. There was no doubt in my mind: if I ever wanted to be the elegant, attractive young woman that I knew lurked somewhere in me, I needed to have this dress. Counting my meagre savings I realised I needed one more pay. But pay day was still two weeks away, and the dress had already been on display for around a week. I suffered the tortures of the damned thinking that someone else may buy it before I could scrape together enough to make it mine. Powder-blue, of the finest and softest woollen cloth, gently dropped, low round neck, square shoulders with just a hint of shoulder pads, three-quarter sleeves, belted high with a belt made from the same fabric, and the skirt falling in a tulip shape to just below the knee – it was the very latest. It was tops. Elegance by the mile.
Every morning, on my way to work, and every late afternoon coming back, I’d approach the shop with a heavy heart fearing the worst, and gave a sigh of relief when I saw it was still there.
They day I was to get paid I took my savings from home feeling rich and ready for the big moment. All day my thoughts wandered. I was on a formidable high of anticipation. This was going to be the day, the day when Annemarie Becker would finally turn from an ugly duckling into a beautiful young swan!
The dress fitted perfectly. I flirted with the mirror and admired what I saw. The dress kept its promise. I could see the difference: I was new, attractive, elegant and a few years older. I looked at my worn-out shoes, and suddenly the dress without matching shoes amounted to nothing. But I didn’t have enough money for shoes. Hang on a moment, of course I did. I had the money I should give to Mother, didn’t I? Could I tell Mother I’d pay her next month? Even she must see that I had to have matching shoes. Even she must see how perfect the dress hung, how it made me look. I couldn’t really explain how it made me feel, though.
How could I not… of course I bought the shoes. Three-inch heels, blue-grey, deadly. I had kept the dress on to buy the perfect shoes for it. And now, in the shoe shop, I saw the result. Stunning. Had I been a peacock I’d have made a glorious wheel and my crown would have grown an inch or two.
On the tram, with my old clothes in the bag from the boutique, the new shoes in their box in a bag from the shoe shop, my conscience was giving warning signals and on my forehead was written in capitals: GUILT. I began to fear going home and giving my mother the news that I had spent this month’s contribution to her housekeeping.
However much of a coward I was when it came to Mother, the new dress and the shoes gave me strength. And I had earned the money, hadn’t I? And I had never before missed to pay her. And it was just a question of her lending me the money until next month.
Mother didn’t disappoint. She frowned when she saw the bags. She slapped me when I told her about the money. She didn’t speak to me for many days, and Father, as always, didn’t (or didn’t want to) notice that anything was amiss. This time, though, I was too happy to care. I always wished I had a mother who’d delight with me, but I had done without for so long that I barely missed the complicity amongst women I had so often seen and envied in my friends’ families.
I couldn’t wait for Udo to see me. The next morning I made up carefully. Instead of my usual ponytail I gathered my hair into what we used to call a ‘French roll’. When I slipped on the dress, I shivered with a kind of ecstasy. Made sure the seams of my stockings was straight before putting on the shoes and sadly had to wear my coat over all this loveliness … after all, it was still winter. Father wasn’t there and Mother didn’t speak with me anyway, so I left the house without saying goodbye.
The moment I had turned the corner and was sure that Mother couldn’t see me any longer (I could feel her eyes boring into my back) I began the proud swan walk. I wasn’t just anybody. I was Annemarie Becker, mirror, mirror on the wall, the most beautiful of them all. When Bernhard Austerlitz looked up after I hang up the coat, he whistled – to my great satisfaction. Johannes came in later and made a face.
“Wow! And all this is for him?” I didn’t even blush this time. My dress and shoes gave me all the confidence I’d ever wanted. I managed to smile and get on with my work, getting up every so often so that both men could admire the new me in its full glory.
Udo was due to pick me up in the afternoon, but he called to say he couldn’t make it because he had to deliver some ads to an agency around that time. Would I please meet him in town, in our usual coffeehouse, just around the corner from where he lived?
He was already sitting at ‘our’ table when I got there. As always, he got up to take my coat. He looked at me and swallowed.
“You look amazing. God, you are so beautiful…” His voice was a bit hoarse and, for the first time since being with him, I felt the famous butterflies in my innards. He turned back to the coat hook, picked up my coat, kept it hanging over his arm, and led me out into the street with a new urgency. “Can’t wait. Can’t. Have to have you. Have to take off that dress. Now!”
He kept my hand in his, pulled me along the pavement, nearly didn’t find the right key, pulled me upstairs, another door he nearly couldn’t open, he ‘lost’ his coat and mine on the way to the bedroom. He fumbled with the belt and the buttons at the back of my dress until it just glided to the floor. He didn’t wait for me to take of my stockings or my shoes, he threw me on the bed, unzipped and, without taking time to undress, entered me with the violence I had suspected in him but never experienced.
Waves of almost pain. My body seemed to be a bundle of raw nerve ends. I hadn’t known that we have contracting muscles inside our pelvis. I hadn’t known that pain could be delicious. He slid his hands beneath my buttocks, lifted me up and, with increasing strength, thrust deeper and deeper. His hands clawed my flesh, he bit my nipples through my bra. I was rising on a beam of light. Higher and higher, until I convulsed for what seemed an eternity and exploded into a void. Udo fell on top of me, breathing hard, his face bathing in our sweat. Suddenly he rolled off, leaned on his elbow and looked at me, let out a whoop and then he laughed and slapped my thigh. “Wow, we did it, my darling, didn’t we? We actually did it! Boy, do I love you!” I didn’t want to move. I felt lazy, replete and, strangest of all, grateful. Joy was washing over me in generous waves.
Reluctantly I got up to shower and fix myself up. Udo would normally be there, fussing, dancing around like a puppy, then put on some clothes to see me to the door. This time he stayed in bed, just watching me. When I was dressed, he said again, “Wow. My beautiful girl…” I kissed him goodbye. When he made a move to accompany me I pushed him back, “Stay. I have just grown into a woman. This once I can see myself out.” Udo grinned and blew me a kiss when I looked back before walking out. I felt just a bit wobbly, as though my muscles were on strike.
The second part of book 3 will be published here next Sunday then the concluding instalment of Rose’s novel the following Sunday. The rest of the ‘adventures of Annie’ can be read in THE TELLING.
If you’d like your novel to be considered, please see https://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/novel-nights-in.
** NEW!! You can now subscribe to this blog on your Kindle / Kindle app!
or http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B008E88JN0 for outside the UK **
You can sign up to receive these blog posts daily or weekly so you don’t miss anything. You can contact me and find me on the internet, view my Books (including my debut novel, which is being serialised on Novel Nights In!) and I also have a blog creation / maintenance service especially for, but not limited to, writers. If you like this blog, you can help me keep it running by donating and choose an optional free eBook.
For writers / readers willing to give feedback and / or writers wanting feedback, take a look at this blog’s Feedback page.
As I post an interview a day (amongst other things) I can’t unfortunately review books but I have a list of those who do. I welcome critique for the four new writing groups listed below and / or flash fiction (<1000 words) for Flash Fiction Fridays. For other opportunities see (see Opportunities on this blog).
The full details of the new online writing groups, and their associated Facebook groups, are:
Morgen’s Online Non-Fiction Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Novel Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Poetry Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Script Writing Group
Morgen’s Online Short Story Writing Group
We look forward to reading your comments.