"Ilse, get up! You'll be late!"
Ugh. Another day of utter shit. I want to stay curled under the blankets forever, but if Mama comes upstairs, jerks me out of bed... she can't see how I am now. So I sit up, slowly so I don't get dizzy. That's been happening a lot. Button up my school dress even though it's tight and painful against my chest, wash my face, brush my teeth, and hurry downstairs.
"Hurry and eat while it's still hot," Mama tells me, pointing to my plate. Bread, tea, and slices of peach. Those are fine. But... oh god... there are two fried eggs.
Can't can't can't.
Mama moves behind me with the hairbrush. "Sit down and eat, I'll do your braids."
I wolf down everything but the eggs and jump up, grabbing my satchel from its spot by the door. Maybe I can be gone before she looks at the table...
"You sit yourself down and finish these eggs!"
"Mama, I'm not hungry, really!"
"We do not waste food in this house! Besides, your health has been so poor, you ought to be eating eggs every day."
"They make me feel sick!" I'm whining now, a dangerous thing to do, but I can't help it.
"Ilse..." When her voice gets that edge I know resistance is futile.
Ten minutes later I'm out the door, a horrible taste in my mouth and a scowl on my face.
Wendla Bergmann is running up the street after me.
I don't want company, but I can't run and I'm too tired to argue with her. We fall in step, and she grabs my hand, grinning.
"Where have you been, Ilse?"
"Don't know what you mean," I growl.
She gives me an "I'm-not-stupid" look. "You never come to play anymore and you're so quiet at school! We miss you."
So I'm missed. I squeeze Wendla's hand, returning her grin, and we start talking about school and the boys. It's going to be a good morning; I just know it.
But then everything goes wrong. A horrible feeling crawls through my stomach up into my throat, a feeling I've grown to know so very well. I yank my hand away from Wendla's and fall to my knees over some bushes, bringing up those stupid eggs. I expect Wendla to run away, but I feel her pull my braids away from my face, hold my shoulders steady as I retch and retch.
Finally I'm done, leaning back into her. "Sorry," I mutter. I think I might cry, I'm that ashamed. She shouldn't have seen me that way, so weak and exposed.
"Why would you be sorry? You can't help being ill." Wendla pulls me to my feet and picks up my satchel. "I'll walk you home."
"No, I just need to rinse my mouth out and I'll be fine."
"Ilse, you're not fine!" Wendla cries. "You should go home!"
"My stomach's sensitive, my breakfast didn't agree with me!" I'm pleading now, desperate not to face Mama.
Wendla looks shocked at my attitude, then seems to understand. "Are you worried about falling behind?"
Well... I nod, glad for an excuse.
"I'll bring you the homework tonight, don't worry about that! And if it's too hard we can help you, me and Thea and Martha and Anna." She's so genuine, so sweet and concerned. I want to tell her... but no.
"Thanks, Wendla," I say, taking my satchel back from her. "That's... thank you. You better hurry, you'll be late. I can get home myself."
She gives me a last smile and wave and runs off.
I make my way home, slow and defeated, ignoring the questions passersby thrust at me. "Shouldn't you be in school?" "Why so serious?" "Does your mother know you're not in class?"
My feet find the familiar walkway, my hands turn the knob.
Mama hears me come in and hurries to the mudroom, wiping her hands on her apron. "Ilse, what are you doing home?"
"I got ill on the way." I don't dare look at her as she feels my forehead.
"No fever. Does your throat hurt?"
"No. I feel fine." Except for the headache that never goes away, the weariness that weighs down my limbs, the tenderness and swelling of my chest...
"What's the matter, then?" She's worried now, unable to believe there is a malady she cannot diagnose.
"I told you, Mama. Eggs make me sick now."
She looks suspicious, but lets it go. "Hm. Well, go up to your room and rest until lunch."
I go upstairs and into the bathroom, brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth over and over until the harsh, burning taste of bile goes away, before entering my room and throwing myself across my bed.
I can't tell anyone the secret. I thought I would only ever have to keep one secret; Papa's secret, the beating and touching. But now there's a new secret to keep bottled up inside me and I think keeping it will tear me apart.