'Not so bad,' he said, with what had lately become his usual lack of candour. Was she just as reluctant to share her worries with him, he wondered. When they had found each other again in April, after more than three years apart, everything had seemed just like before, but slowly, over the succeeding weeks and months, a gap had opened up. Not a large one, but a gap all the same. He was often aware of it, and knew that she was too. But try to talk about it, as they had on several occasions, and all they ended up doing was re-state the problem.
'Solly has a couple of ideas he's looking into,' he told her, forbearing to add that his agent had seemed even less hopeful than usual. Since the San Francisco Chronicle had dispensed with his services in May, Russell had returned to freelancing, but pieces sold had been few and far between, and he sometimes wondered whether he was on some unknown blacklist. He had done enough to warrant inclusion on such a list, but as far as he knew no one else was aware of that fact.
And money was decidedly short, he thought, counting out the three shillings and sixpence for their tickets. Effi and her sister Zarah were earning a little from their needlework, but Paul's job with Solly was their only regular source of income. It was all a far cry from their affluent life in pre-war Germany.
They found two seats in the centre of the back stalls and watched the auditorium slowly fill. For Effi, such moments always brought back memories of her years alone in Berlin, when a darkened cinema was the only place she could meet with her sister. And she was also reminded of evenings with Russell, watching herself up there on the screen, back when she'd been a famous actress. It seemed several lifetimes ago, but lately she'd found herself missing the stage, and wondering if she would ever act again. Not here, of course, not with her English, but back in Germany? Several theatres had already re-opened in Berlin, and sooner or later her country would start making films again.
It would probably be later, she thought, as the Pathé News camera panned across the ruins of her home town. The streets seemed clearer than they had in April, but nothing much else seemed changed. There were no signs of new construction, only military jeeps and haggard-looking women weaving their way through a maze of perforated masonry. British servicemen looked up from their lunches to grin at the camera, but she doubted whether the locals were eating so well.
The 'B' movie had London policemen successfully rounding up a gang of black market spivs, something they seemed incapable of doing in real life. Russell missed the name of the film being trailed, but it involved a man and a woman sharing meaningful expressions in a railway station buffet, and looked likely to end in tears. Another wrist-slitter.
Effi's choice of main feature proved a good one, well-written, well acted and very atmospheric. Russell found the masculinity of the leading actress somewhat off-putting, but the California-by-night setting was wonderfully evocative, the storyline taut and involving. And something was definitely being said between the lines about a woman's place in the post-war world.
When they finally emerged from the cinema the fog had grown much thicker. They crossed Camden High Street and walked arm in arm past a crowded pub - the beer shortage was clearly less severe than advertised. The interior looked as murky as the streets, blue cigarette smoke merging with greyish fog in the light from the nearest lamppost.
'So how was your day?' Russell asked.
'Good. Rosa had a good day at school. And Zarah had another flirt with the man downstairs.'
They were speaking German now, which won them curious looks from a couple walking in the other direction.
'And you?' Russell asked.
'Oh, I queued for bread, made dinner for everyone. I read this afternoon - three whole pages of Great Expectations. But I'm still looking up one word in three, or that's what it seems like. I was never any good at languages.'
Excerpted from Lehrter Station by David Downing. Copyright © 2012 by David Downing. Excerpted by permission of Soho 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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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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