Disclaimer: Obviously not mine.
On certain nights, just as winter is giving way to spring, Ilse often finds herself nostalgic for days gone by. It's more than just a little pang of reminiscence, a fleeting memory that brings a sad smile to her face; those plague her all too often.
No, there's something unusual about those nights when the seasons turn. She recalls the long afternoons spent playing with the other children, the elaborate games that distracted them from their lessons. Some of the boys would always bring their schoolbooks along, but they'd end up forsaken in the grass right next to their scarves, their hats: any last vestiges of winter protection they longed to shed. These days were special, the rediscovering of nature after a cold winter spent indoors, the exploration of old favorite haunts and the finding of new spots – the stretching of winter-achy arms and legs, the beginnings of a new beautiful season of joyful play.
It wasn't so warm that they'd lose their winter skins completely: coats would often stay around their shoulders, and many of the girls would still be in their heaviest dresses to keep the last of the cold from touching them. But nonetheless they could feel the change in the air, the flowers getting ready to bloom, the sky growing bluer, and it changed the way they moved, the way they played: where in the winter games were often slow, purposeful, these spring games were light and hopeful, fanciful. Their imaginations thawed out with the grass and they ran carefree throughout the woods and fields, squealing with delight until the sun began to set and their mamas called them in for supper.
Ilse remembers kicking off her stiff black shoes, unrolling her woolen stockings; feeling the dewy grass between her toes, on the bottoms of her feet. She remembers Thea scolding her for showing her bare legs and Martha warning her to be careful; she remembers Anna fretting she'd catch cold, and Wendla asking her about the purple bruise on the inside of her calf (oh it's nothing, not at all; I knocked into the side of my bureau, careless and clumsy as always). She remembers having hell to pay when she came home, up to her ankles in dew and mud; she remembers keeping her stockings on the next day, knowing she wouldn't have an easy excuse this time.
Oh, God, those hours of play. Sometimes with the boys, sometimes without; sometimes pirates (that was with the boys) and sometimes princesses (without). Hours of being unafraid, of affection; hours spent running races with Melchi, or telling secrets with Ernst, who would always listen attentively. Hours she would have gladly lived over and over.
And sometimes, after supper, as the sky grew darker and the stars began to shine, they would go out once more. Maybe if some of them stopped to call for Georg, they'd hear a snatch of his piano practice; stopping to call for Anna would almost certainly end in small cups of her mother's warm tea to keep them toasty inside while they played in the evening chill.
With the dimming sky, their imaginations grew brighter still: sometimes they'd tell stories, Martha always spinning the best fairy tales of all the girls, and Ilse would love to interject with spooky thoughts to make poor Thea squirm. Or else they'd go admire the night sky: she'd spend the evening laying on the riverbank with Wendla, giggling over some girlish thing, or in the wigwam with dear Moritz, setting her head on his shoulder as they stared at the stars.
When she's overtaken by these vivid memories, and it seems to be happening so much more often – the days are growing longer, the nights warmer – Ilse falls into herself. She misses those days more than she can ever say, misses her friends (some of whom will barely have anything to do with her anymore; and even those who will rarely cross her path) and misses – well, she's not sure what to call it exactly, the hopeful promise in the air in those winter-to-spring days of her childhood.
But the longing and the remembering, and sometimes the crying, can only last her for so long; and when she's done, or she tells herself she must be done, she sings louder than ever, she dances barefoot through studio and tavern alike, and at the peak of night when even that cannot seem to assuage her loneliness, she clings to the arm of a man she doesn't love, silently imagining the words he whispers are someone else's, she lays her unruly head on their shoulder and prays it can support the weight of her treasure trove of memories. She cannot have them back, no matter how hard she wishes, but she can't stand to face the night alone; she has no choice but to settle for who she has, and who will have her.