"Oh!" the man says, just a deep "Oh!" from the core of his heart. Without knowing what he's doing, he's let go his wife's head, and has reached for the letter. His eyes stare at the lines, without being able to decipher them.
Thereupon the woman grabs the letter from him. Her mood has swung round, furiously she rips the piece of paper into scraps and shreds and fragments, and she shouts into his face: "What do you even want to read that filth for, those common lies they always write? That he died a hero's death for Fuhrer and Fatherland? That he was an exemplary soldier and comrade? Do you want to hear that from them, when you know yourself that Ottochen liked nothing better than fiddling about with his radio kits, and that he cried when he was called away to be a soldier? How often he used to say to me when he was recruited that he would give his right hand to be able to get away from them? And now he's supposed to be an exemplary soldier, and died a hero's death? Lies, all a pack of lies! But that's what you get from your wretched war, you and that Fuhrer of yours!"
Now she's standing in front of him, the woman, so much shorter than he is, but with eyes sparkling with fury.
"Me and my Fuhrer?" he mumbles, stunned by this attack. "Since when is he my Fuhrer? I'm not even in the Party, just in the Arbeitsfront, and everyone has to join that. As for voting for him, I only did that once, and so did you."
He says it in his slow and cumbersome manner, not so much to defend himself as to clarify the facts. He still can't understand what induced her to mount this sudden attack on him. They were always of one mind ...
But she says heatedly: "What gives you the right to be the man in the house and determine everything? If I want so much as a space for my potatoes in the cellar, it has to be the way you want it. And in something as important as this, it's you who made the wrong decision. But then you creep around everywhere in carpet slippers, you want your peace and quiet and that's all, and not come to anyone's attention. So you did the same as they all did, and when they yelled: 'Fuhrer, give us your orders, we will obey!' you went with them like a sheep. And the rest of us had to follow you! But now Ottochen's dead, and no Fuhrer in the world can bring him back, and nor can you!"
He listened to her without saying a word back. He had never been a man for quarrel and argy-bargy, and he could also tell that it was her pain speaking in her. He was almost glad to have her scolding him, because it meant she wasn't giving in to her grief. The only thing he said by way of reply was: "One of us will have to tell Trudel."
Trudel was Ottochen's girlfriend, almost his fiancée; she called them Mother and Father. She often dropped in on them for a chat in the evening, even now, with Ottochen away. By day she worked in a uniform factory.
The mention of Trudel straightaway set Anna Quangel off on a different track. She glanced at the gleaming clock on the mantel, and asked: "Will you have time before your shift?"
"I'm on from one till eleven today," he replied. "I've got time."
"Good," she said. "Then go, but just ask her to come. Don't say anything about Ottochen. I'll tell her myself. Your dinner'll be ready by midday."
"Then I'll go and ask her to come round tonight," he said, but he didn't leave yet, but looked in her jaundiced, ill-looking face. She looked back at him, and for a moment they looked at each other, two people who had been married for almost thirty years, always harmoniously, he quiet and silent, she bringing a bit of life to the place.
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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