Through A Glass Darkly, PG-15. Martha, Ernst(/Hanschen), Moritz. This is the price we have to pay for growing up, is all.


and I said, Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.
psalms 55:6

Her room is dark and quiet, and she hopes that it stays that way forever (or at least for tonight), without ragged breath and heavy footsteps and words whispered low and dangerous. There's creak in the hallway and a frantic prayer that it's her mother this time, or the cat, or her sister.

It never is.

xx

It's all shiny and gold, for a few moments, and words like love and happiness taste sweet on his tongue. He could stay like this forever, with his head on Hanschen's lap and Hanschen's fingers in his hair. The only imperfect thing in the world is evening is closer than he wants it to be, the sky painted purple and orange above him.

He lets his eyes flutter shut and smiles.

xx

The sound of Melchior's laughter haunts him in his dreams, more than the legs and labia majora. He doesn't know why he feels sick to his stomach every time he sees Melchior now, why Melchior's smile and laugh seem so wrong. They used to play a guessing game when they were children: sounds like...

Sounds like everything Moritz ever wanted to be, and everything he'll never become.

xx

Martha tries to wish the world away. She pretends that the rough hands on her aren't her father's, because her father is like anyone else's father, who's proud of his daughter.

She thought that maybe it would get better, after a while. Maybe the sting would go away; maybe it wouldn't hurt so much. Maybe, if she just played pretend for long enough, there wouldn't be dark bruises on her thighs and hips, maybe her father wouldn't smile in the dark when tears streamed down her face. Maybe, suddenly, she'd wake up and it'd all be a dream and she could run to her parent's bedroom and her father would whisper soothing words to her so she'd be all better.

Thinking like that is the only thing that keeps Martha alive. Her whole world becomes one of Ilse's make-believe games, and she pretends until her heart aches.

xx

Ernst's face is very close to Hanschen's, and his body is very warm under Hanschen's, and Ernst is very much Hanschen's, without stopping to think of how he ended up like this, breathing heavily and wearing nothing but his socks. Hanschen whispers filthy words into his ear and heat spreads out all over his body, twisting into his stomach and burning his cheeks.

This has somehow become part of his daily existence, something he never bothers to question, even when Hanschen's fingers are curled tight around his wrists, or the only answer to Ernst's I love you is a laugh. It takes a place along with eating, drinking, and school, this the two of us.

If it ever occurs to him that Hanschen never talks about the two of them together, never mumbles endearments without a my attached, Ernst pushes the thought aside. He is sixteen and in love; it's glorious to feel something.

xx

It pieces together slowly in his mind; legs climbing over the lecture podium, the gun his father polishes every once in a while, feeling like he's suffocating. Slowly, the realization that there's only one way out creeps up on him. For once, everything makes sense, and he can't shake his head of the thought.

He can see his reflection in his father's gun, pale eyes staring back at him. It's a heavy weight in his hand; the weight of the world pressing against him, bearing down on him until he can't take it anymore, he can't take anything anymore.

Moritz drops the gun suddenly, and the sound of it hitting his father's desk is too much like a gunshot for him to bear. He can't help the tears that drip onto his cheeks, just like he can't help that he wakes up in the middle of the night sticky and shaking.

He pulls Melchior's essay from his breast pocket, smoothes his fingers over it. Amazing how paper can be heavier than metal.

xx

Her breath comes quick and ragged. It seems like years pass before she finally hears the door close, a sound softer than any other sound her father ever makes.

It's become routine to her. Slowly, she sits up in her bed. Martha's hands shake as she pulls her nightgown back over her knees, ignoring the marks on her thighs that will be bruises in the morning, and buttons the collar up as high as it can go. This nightgown used to be her favorite, when fancy things made her smile and ruffles lit up her eyes.

This is the price she has to pay for growing up, is all.

Her room is dark, the lone candle snuffed out. She turns onto her side so she can face the window, and looks out at the stars. Sometimes, when she needs them to, they look like a glowing face with a gentle smile, mouth opening to say, It will be alright, Martha, it will.

Martha imagines, as she clutches at her blanket, a cool hand on her forehead, gentle and soft. She imagines a girl with her hair in braids who knows everything without asking. She imagines a hand to hold when her cheeks are salty-wet with tears. And when she shakes with how much growing up hurts, her friend whispers soothing words until Martha can fall into a fitful sleep.

xx

Hanschen stares at him intently for a moment, his cool blue gaze making Ernst shiver, then looks away. Months have passed like this, Hanschen never quite looking at him like he used to. Ernst doesn't want to admit (no, never, he can't, he can't) that Hanschen looks bored, lips not even willing to twitch into a leering smile.

I'm sorry sounds so strange coming from Hanschen's mouth in his even tone, like he's commenting how the grape harvest looks this year, or reciting passages in Latin.

Ernst swallows hard, ducking his head down. He can't stop himself from asking but why? in a strange, strangled voice.

Eyes cold and steely, Hanschen just shakes his head and tells Ernst that they both knew this wasn't the sort of thing that would go on forever. They are grown up now and have to think about bigger things than half-closed eyelashes and half-opened lips.

And Ernst knows this, of course. It's always lurked in a corner of his mind, drifting across his thoughts when Hanschen ignores him or the kisses they share don't feel much like sharing. The truth is cruel and brutal; he'll suffer the same fate as Melchior, Moritz, and Wendla, hurting and lost. He's a fool to the world for believing that there was some shred of hopefulness somewhere out there (in their little corner of the vineyard).

xx

The sound of his feet against the ground is the loudest sound in the world. Maybe it's how heavy the gun feels in his pocket — one bullet gone would make it so much lighter. He crashes into the woods, arms all over the place, and he can hear the river flowing on and on forever. Black spreads out everywhere around him, tinged with purple and blue of nighttime. The forest looks strange like this; so unlike the place where he played pirates with Ilse and Melchior when he was a child.

He jumps when he hears Moritz Stiefel! called out into the dark woods, like it's God's own voice condemning him.

Moritz has never seen Ilse like this, color staining her lips and wearing nothing but a man's shirt. Only her smile is the same, glowing in the blackness, and he thinks, for a moment, that if he can see this shining light in the dark, he's found another door.

It would be so easy (too easy) to let her take his hand, let her brush his hair, let her pretend that they're children again. When he closes his eyes, he can pretend; it's looking at her that's the problem, legs and lips and breasts and dozens of other parts he doesn't know what to call.

He doesn't know why he lies to her (he doesn't know why he doesn't anything anymore). He watches her run away like he's outside of his own body, and doesn't realize until she's gone that the door is closed, now, and the only thing he's left with is wanting and feeling.

The metal tastes bitter, but, then again, so does regret.

xx

The only good part about night is that it's followed by morning, sun creeping up over the horizon and into her window. It feels warm on her skin. She tries not to think of the night and instead thinks of someone else far away, waking up like she is, stretching her arms out in the sunlight.

Martha never faces the mirror when she dresses in the morning, pulling stockings up over her legs as fast as she can. The sleeves of her dress are always tugged down as far as they can go. She fancies her hair looks so lovely when it's falling over her shoulders and down her back, brushed so it's silky and she can run her fingers through it. She almost laughs when she thinks of what would happen if she just walked down the stairs to help her mama with breakfast like that, but then cold sinks into her stomach.

She hopes that, somewhere far away, the someone else that smiles like she does is running with her hair streaming free behind her.

xx

He always walks home alone now. The path is the same as ever, dirt under his feet and his whole world in front of him; criss-crossing streets, neat houses, a river to the east, the vineyard to the south, the Church steeple looming over everything. The tiny shapes of Anna and Martha walk arm-in-arm, Thea just a bit in front of them. He has to look twice to remind himself that Wendla isn't skipping along beside her, or that Melchior's arm isn't slung over Moritz's shoulder.

It'll never occur to him that there's a world beyond these streets he knows so well, a tangible world that isn't only in his geography book. Everything else seems like a fairy-tale to him, just as fantastical as Ilse's pirate ship.

Hanschen walks up ahead of him, stride still stiff and confident even though Ernst's is more fumbling and shuffling than ever. He wants to call out to him — his whole body aches with the want — but he doesn't.

It's a learning process, this being alone.

xx

There are flowers on his grave every spring.