"See. It's over," said Hans. He held up his bouquet of cigarettes. "I knew it was far away."
"They haven't sounded the all clear," said Liesl.
"But you know it's over," said Hans. "We can't even hear any planes."
Liesl listened, waiting for the drone, the crash. Ani whimpered into her waist. His head was a warm soft ball. "It's so cold," he said in a muffled voice.
"Grow up." Hans raised his free hand and whacked Ani across the back of his knees.
"Stop," Liesl said, suddenly beyond exhaustion. She took a breath to shout at Hans again but her voice didn't come. She couldn't even look at him, this stubborn, angry, miniature Frank, so she held Ani and Jürgen closer. "It's safe to go back to bed now," she said gently.
"I want to be with you," Ani said. "Please, Mutti?"
At the word "Mutti," her heart stuttered. She saw Hans dart a look at her. It was the first time either of them had called her any name but "her" and "you."
"You can all sleep in my room," she heard herself say in a buoyant voice. "In our room. You can have Vati's bed."
Ani clapped his hands. Hans's eyes narrowed, his lips shriveling as if he tasted something bad.
She couldn't stop herself. "Or we can push them together and make one big bed," she added. Heat filled her face as she stared defiantly down at the boy. His expression did not change but it hardened and pulsed.
"Hurrah!" Ani cried and grabbed his eiderdown. "I want my own blanket."
"Moving the beds will mark the floor," said Hans. "Vati will see the scratches."
"Nonsense," said Liesl. "We'll be careful." She touched his shoulder. He flinched.
"We'll be warm! I want to keep Mutti warmy-warm," said Ani. "You're not the baby." Hans twisted away from her, pushing ahead of Ani to get into the bedroom first, his bouquet of cigarettes still held high.
Air raids unsettled Liesl's stomach, so she set Jürgen in his cradle and left the boys alone to go to the bathroom. Frank jokingly called it "the Icebox" because its temperature was always several degrees colder than the lined metal cupboard where they kept their milk and butter. She felt her way to the frigid toilet and sat down.
Frost caked the lone window in the Icebox. The pane was small and Frank had covered it poorly with blackout drape, so she could see out a crack to the closed shutters of Herr Geiss's house. Liesl wondered what she would find there tomorrow. Herr Geiss had lost his only son to friendly fire more than a year ago. His wife had died years before. He lived in the villa alone, three floors all to himself, and rarely entertained any guests. Even Frank told her that he had not entered the Geiss house since Frau Geiss had passed. What would the rooms be like? How would she possibly finish cleaning them?
A loud continuous moan broke her reverie: the all clear. As she clumped back down the darkened hallway to the bedroom, she resolved to tell the boys the plan was off. They could sleep in their own beds now.
"We made a bad scratch," Hans said from inside.
Hans stood at the foot of the beds, holding the sputtering lantern. Ani had already claimed his spot in the center of the two mattresses, his eiderdown pulled up to his chin. Jürgen dozed in his cradle. Liesl hesitated, her order dying on her lips.
"We made a baaaaad scratch," Hans said again.
Liesl couldn't see anything on the boards but dust and some long, fine, golden strands. Susi's hair. She fought the urge to wipe them up. "Save the kerosene. We'll attend to it in the morning," she told Hans, and tucked Jürgen's blanket tighter around him. Then she climbed in next to Ani. Bone-tired. She slumped back on the pillow and shut her eyes. Her lids blinked when the room went black.
Excerpted from Motherland by Maria Hummel. Copyright © 2014 by Maria Hummel. Excerpted by permission of Counterpoint Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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