And by now she's reached the next house, and she makes her deliveries there.
In the meantime shop foreman Otto Quangel has taken the field post letter into the parlor and propped it against the sewing machine. "There!" he says, nothing more. He always leaves the letters for his wife to open, knowing how devoted she is to their only son Otto. Now he stands facing her, biting his thin under lip, waiting for her smile to light up. In his quiet, undemonstrative way, he loves this woman very much.
She has torn open the envelope, for a brief moment there really was a smile lighting up her face, and then it vanished when she saw the typed letter. Her face grew apprehensive, she read more and more slowly, as though afraid of what each next word might be. The man has leaned forward and taken his hands out of his pockets. He is biting his underlip quite hard now, he senses something terrible has happened. It's perfectly silent in their parlor. Only now does the woman's breathing come with a gasp.
Suddenly she emits a soft scream, a sound her husband has never heard from her. Her head rolls forward, bangs against the spools of thread on her sewing machine, and comes to rest among the folds of sewing, covering the fateful letter.
In a couple of bounds Quangel is at her side. With uncharacteristic haste he places his big, work-toughened hand on her back. He can feel his wife trembling all over. "Anna!" he says, "Anna, please!" He waits for a moment, and then he says it: "Has something happened to Otto? Is he wounded, is it bad?"
His wife's body continues to tremble, her mouth doesn't make a sound. She makes no effort to raise her head to look at him.
He looks down at her hair, it's gotten thin in the many years of their marriage. They are getting old; if something serious has happened to Otto, she will have no one to love, only him, and there's not much to love about him. He doesn't have words to tell her ever how much he feels for her. Even now he's not able to stroke her, be tender to her, comfort her a little. It's all he can do to rest his heavy hand on her hair, pull her head up as gently as he can, and softly say: "Anna, will you tell me what's in the letter?"
But even though her eyes are now very near to his, she keeps them shut tight, she won't look at him. Her face is a sickly yellow, her usual healthy color is gone. The flesh over her bones seems to have melted away, it's like looking at a skull. Only her cheeks and mouth continue to tremble, as her whole body trembles, caught up in some mysterious inner quake.
As Quangel gazes into this so familiar, and now so strange face, as he feels his heart pounding harder and harder, as he feels his complete inability to afford her the least comfort, he is gripped by a deep fear. A ridiculous fear really, compared to the deep pain of his wife, but he is afraid that she might start to scream, scream louder and wilder than she did a moment ago. He was always one for peace and quiet, he didn't want anyone to know anything about the Quangels at home. And as for giving vent to feelings: no, thank you! But even in the grip of his fear, the man isn't able to say any more than he did a moment ago: "What is it in the letter? Tell me, Anna!"
The letter is lying there plain to see, but he doesn't dare to reach for it. He would have to let go his wife's head, and he knows that this head there are two bloody welts on it from the sewing machine would only slump once more. He masters himself, asks again: "What's happened with Ottochen?"
It's as though the pet name, one that the man hardly ever used, recalled the woman from the world of her pain back into life. She gulps a couple of times, she even opens her eyes, which are very blue, and now look bled white. "With Ottochen?" she says in a near whisper. "What do you think's happened? Nothing has happened, there is no Ottochen any more, that's all!"
Excerpted from Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada. Copyright © 2009 by Melville House Publishing. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted 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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