"I'm warmy-warm next to Mutti," Ani announced.
"Sorry, Ani," said Hans. From the placement of his voice, Liesl could tell that he was still standing at the edge of the bed. "You've got the crack."
"I'm next to Mutti," Ani said again, and she felt one of his small fists push into her eiderdown and softly brush her shoulder. She kept her eyes closed.
"It's still the crack," said Hans. "In the middle of the night, you'll fall through."
"Hans," said Liesl.
But the older boy's voice went on. "You'll fall down through the floor and the cellar and all the way to the center of the earth where there is a big-nosed, hairy dwarf who will cook you in his stew."
"Will not," said Ani, but his voice was uncertain.
"Enough," Liesl said wearily. "That's an awful story."
"And then he'll take your skin and wear it," Hans said, his voice sly.
"Enough!" Liesl sat up and glared in his direction. She could barely make out the slump of his shoulders.
Instead of complying, Hans crawled onto the bed, over his brother's body, leaning close to his ear. "When you wake up, we'll think your body is you, but inside you'll be a big-nosed, hairy dwarf," he said rapidly.
"The real Anselm will be dead."
"GO TO YOUR ROOM," Liesl shouted, surprised by the force and volume of her voice. Hans scrambled off the bed. Ani whimpered under his blanket. Jürgen began to cry. With a curse, she threw herself out of bed and fumbled toward the baby, to rock him.
The room filled with the baby's aggravated sobs. Ignoring the other two boys, Liesl sang and danced with him until her shin slammed the bed. Pain jolted up her leg and she yelped. The baby cried on as if he'd been hit.
She heard Hans grab something on the bedside. A match hissed, struck, the flame making his face flower in the darkness. He glowered, motionless.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," she said to him. "Don't they have enough to give them nightmares?"
Hans didn't answer.
Liesl turned away from him, stroking the baby's sturdy, muscled spine. She walked to the shuttered window where she always looked down on the garden, and paced back again, bouncing and shushing.
"Please go back to your room," she said to Hans.
He cast his eyes downward at the cigarettes on the table. His long lashes brushed his cheeks. Then he gave a tough little laugh and scooped up the white handful.
"I'll sell these for you," he said in Frank's jocular, teasing voice. "What do you want, a new dress?"
Later, alone again, Liesl tossed on her bed. She'd shared the room with Frank for only thirty-six nights before he was ordered to serve in Weimar. For thirty-one of those nights they'd slept across the room from each other, her breath whispering, Frank's soft snores rising. Thirty-one nights before she'd woken to him sitting at the edge of her bed, like a father watching his sleeping child. She'd opened her blankets and taken him in. Is it all right? he'd whispered when she'd shuddered at his touch. Yes. It's all right. Yes. Five nights with their bodies moving against each other, awkward at first, then falling into pattern, into sleep afterward, legs twined like roots below soil. Had she disappointed him in comparison to Susi? Frank had always returned to his own bed by morning.
They'd never spoken about it. They'd rarely spoken aloud about anything but the house and the children and the war. Of Frank's childhood, she knew little. Of hers, he knew only the name of a town, a pleasant description of a farm. They hadn't reminisced about their brief courtship at the Hartwald Spa, where she'd run the Kinderhaus and he'd treated the minor ailments of Nazi officers and their wives. She supposed Frank didn't think about the past or the present because they were too mixed up. He was grieving, and then he was married, and then he was drafted. And then he was gone, and still grieving, and still married. When he went to sleep at night in Weimar, which wife did he miss?
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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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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