Anna's mother hung out the washing on Monday afternoons- as a child, Anna knew the days of the week by her mother's household activities. Monday morning meant laundry stewed and boiled in the rusty metal tub on the lawn. Her mother would scrub each item with her raw, bony hands and then pin them up on the line behind the cottage. The clothes would flutter in the breeze- dripping petticoats with white ribbons held down by water, scratchy off-white stockings, and gingham dresses with faded seams. Her father's clothes went on the other side of the line and were dark and heavy. They all seemed to be black or grey and woolen. Anna traced her fingers over the outline of his Sunday pants and collared shirts that dangled in front of the Keifmann house.
Tuesday was candle-making, which Anna enjoyed unless she burnt her fingers in the hot, greasy wax and pig fat. She held the sticks, dipping their tied-on strings into her mother's bucket of wax, letting the drips harden and turn yellow. She never seemed to be able to make quite as nice a shape as Mutti, who would press her fingers into the hot, soft candles until they formed nearly perfect cylinders. There would always be enough leftover wax for Anna to ply into thumb-sized dolls and toy furniture until it dried and became brittle.
Jam and preserves were always made on Wednesday, so it was quite a tasty day. Of course, Mutti would scold her if she stuck her fingers into the freshly mashed fruit which was sweet and always a little gritty with seeds. Sugar was expensive so Anna's mother used honey, which was nice anyways. Anna got to pour it out, thick and golden from the sticky jar. Mutti bought honey from the Jan Waldorf and his wife, who owned a farm out past the church. Their fields always buzzed with insects so the village children constantly dared each other to stand out in the strawberry patch and let the bees land on them without flinching. Anna thought bees were disgusting but she loved honey almost as much as August peaches and plum preserves.
On Thursday Mutti had the other housewives over to discuss baking, the bible and mysterious problems that Anna was never allowed to hear about, so she was ushered into the yard to play with the other girls. Anna strained her ears and tried to peek into the windows but all she heard was a few mentions of Mr. Gauss and a woman who worked in Frankfurt tending to "restaurant" customers.
Anna liked playing house with Thea alone but being with other girls was harder. Wendla was the prettiest and the most developed so she got to be the leader, which Anna thought was unfair. They always had to play what she wanted to play, even if the other children didn't want to. Thea was skinny and short and was forced to be the baby. Martha, being the tallest, always had to be a man, which she hated, especially when she had to play a father. Wendla, of course, got to be the pretty, youthful mother and Anna was shunted off to be the old maid teacher who didn't get to say much.
Ilse was brought along, but she was two years older than the other girls and didn't have to listen to Wendla. She was already eleven but hardly taller then Anna. Ilse was differently shaped though, with wider hips, stumpy breasts and heavy thighs. All the girls wished they could look like Ilse already instead of having to wait two whole years. Ilse herself was not interested in playing house. Instead, she wandered by the house, picking daisies and whispering to herself. Later on she told the other girls stories, tales they almost didn't believe but wanted to. Stories about boys and blood and everything forbidden by Ms. Schagen, the Sunday School teacher. Anna, who had never heard of such things, listened intently in paralyzed disgust and fascination. She didn't know how Ilse could understand these stories but somehow she knew they were true.
Anna hated Friday. She and Mutti had to clean the house in preparation for Sunday. All the cracked wooden furniture had to be dusted, windows wiped clean with drippy rags and the floor swept and mopped until it sparkled. It was Anna's job to beat the dust out of the carpets that her mother hang outside by the clothes line. She would take a stick and hit the rugs, taking out all her frustration, watching the dirt cloud up and disintegrate into the air. This task was particularly difficult in the winter, with chunky boots on and the freezing air biting at her fingers. The carpets were never deemed clean by Mutti until she herself gave them a few final whacks with her broom.
Saturday was alright. Her father was home from his blacksmith's shop and he sat by the big table, wresting his elbows on the wood and sipping home made beer from a cracked lager. Anna and Mutti spent most of the day baking and cooking for Sunday and serving food and drinks to Anna's father. He never helped with the roasting of the turkey or the chopping of vegetables for soup. Anna got to make the cookies on her own. They were always shaped like a cross and dusted with the special powdered sugar saved for Christmas and Sundays. Her mother would learn over Anna's shoulder, drying her hands on her patched apron and make sure Anna was cutting out the shapes right. They didn't have cookie cutters so Anna used a knife, which she was extra careful with.
Sundays were stiff, formal and itchy. Anna wore her special black tights, which were heavy and hot with her Sunday green calico dress which had a bow at the back, attached to her sash. She didn't wear a pinafore, but did have to wear her thick navy wool dress coat, with brass buttons that never seemed shiny, no matter how much saliva she rubbed against them. Anna and her parents walked to church, which was uncomfortable in her tight black formal shoes, but Mutti would not pay for a new pair from Mr. Osterhagen, the shoemaker, because she only wore them once a week.
Sunday School was fun, though. The children sat in a circle around Ms. Schagen, the boys on one side and girls on another. All the girls looked around observing each other's formal wear. Martha's braids were as tight as ever, but she had a less ragged grey dress instead of her usual red one. Thea wore her hair loose and flowing; Wendla's mother let her put red pigment on her cheeks. The boys' hair was combed and pushed back, and they dressed nicely, not wearing their usual suspenders and knickers. The boys themselves squirmed and were unable to sit still.
After church, Anna and Mutti would eat the Sunday meal with Anna's father. Her parents would speak to each other formally, her mother talking softly and her father cruelly in guttural German. Anna was quiet, speaking only when spoken too. She would cut her meat up into tiny slivers, push potatoes around her plate, tangle her fingers in her white hair ribbons and wait for the torturous meal to be over.
Years went by, fading into routines and schedules, chores and lessons that blended together while Anna's childhood slipped by unnoticed. She grew out of the green calico dress, her feet became too large for the shoes. Her pinafore soiled, ripped and were patched, she received gold earrings from Frankfurt and her parents became colder and more distant to each other.
So the seasons went by as predictably. Anna pressed her nose against the damp windows in winter, watching the snowflakes swirl around the tress before settling to rest against the naked branches. She splashed in puddles in spring, picking early tulips that stood out bright pink against the dirty grass. Summer went by in a rush of butterflies and inside jokes until school started again in fall. Mr. Bergmann gave Wendla and her friends a ride through the fields in the carriage pulled by Hübschen and Erdnuß, his two prized mares. They galloped past the Arzts' house and the apple orchard, kicking up brown leaves and dusty manure.
Anna quite loved living in Nördlichendorf. She thought it was quite a pretty village, with deep fuchsia sunsets and everlasting gold fields. But adolescence comes and threatens to dump the truth on all of us, turning our fairy tales asunder and showing our picturesque neighbours for who they truly are.
The snowflakes melted, Ilse ran away, Moritz killed himself and Wendla died under circumstances that were never explained. Love bloomed and rotted away while she sat watching from her vantage point on the cottage roof. Anna grew up and saw her world fade into grey, the village torn at the seams and ragged at the corners.
And all shall fade
The flowers of spring.