My aunt knelt to examine the wound, chiding her for her carelessness. Anneke closed her eyes and tipped her head back; with her free hand she stroked the hollow at the base of her throat with a contented smile. It was the look she wore when she crept back into our room in the middle of the night . . . flushed and deepened, rearranged.
I did not like Karl.
And then I knew.
"What have you done?" I whispered to her when my aunt left to fetch the disinfectant and muslin.
"Later," she whispered back. "When everyone is asleep."
There was ironing and darning to do, and that night it seemed to take forever. We listened to Hugo Wolf 's music on the phonograph while we did these chores, and I wished for silence again because for the first time I could hear how the tragedy of Wolf 's life flowed through his music. The beauty itself was doomed. When my aunt said good night, Anneke and I exchanged looks and went upstairs as well.
We washed quickly and put on our nightclothes. I couldn't wait another moment. "Tell me now."
My cousin turned to me, and I'd never seen her smile so beautifully.
"A wonderful thing, Cyrla," she said, reaching down to stroke her belly.
The cut on her finger had begun to bleed again; the bandage was soaked through. As she stood in front of me smiling and caressing her belly, a smear of blood bloomed across the pale blue cotton of her nightgown.
"I'm leaving. I'm leaving here!" Now Anneke could hardly stop talking.
"We'll get married here, at the town hall I suppose. Karl's family lives outside
Hamburgmaybe we'll get a place there when the war is over, with a garden for
children, near a park, maybe. . . .Hamburg, Cyrla!"
"Shhhhhh!" I quieted her. "She'll hear." It wasn't my aunt we were careful of, but Mrs. Bakker in the next house, which shared a wall with ours. She was old and had nothing better to do with her days than spy on people and gossip about what she'd learned. She sat in her front parlor all morning long and watched the goings-on of Tielman Oemstraat through the two mirrors attached to her windows. We knew from her coughing that her bedroom was next to ours, and we didn't think it would be beneath her to hold a glass to the wall. But I didn't really care about Mrs. Bakker at all. I wanted to stop Anneke's words.
I unwrapped her finger and cleaned it with water from the wash pitcher. "Change your nightgown. I'll go downstairs for more bandages." Out in the hall, I made myself breathe calmly again. I gathered the muslin strips, and also a cup of milk and a plate of spekulaasAnneke had hardly eaten at supper, but she loved the little spice cookies she smuggled home from the bakery. If I distracted her, I wouldn't have to hear her plans. And if she saw how much she needed me, she might understand that it was a mistake to leave. It was always a mistake to leave.
We sat on her bed and I dressed her finger; I couldn't look into her face although I felt her studying mine. "Are you sure? And how did this even . . . weren't you careful . . . ?"
Anneke looked away. "These things happen." Then she broke into her brilliant smile, the one that always disarmed me. "A baby . . . think of it!"
I wrapped my arms around her and laid my head on her chest, breathing in the scent she brought home to us from the bakery each daybaked sugar, sweet and warm, so perfectly suited to her. What scent clung to me, I wondered. Vinegar from the pickling I'd been doing all week? Lye from the upholstery shop?
Anneke stroked the tears from my cheeks. "I'm sorry, Cyrla," she said. "I'll miss you so much. More than anyone else."
Copyright © 2008 by Sara Young. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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