This takes a lot on faith, as it were, but it's somewhat connected to "The Letter" and "Sickness." There are further parts to it, and be warned, it's upsetting.

Spring isn't mine.

***

The whole of Priapia has elected to revel tonight; Lenz has sold a painting – shockingly – and he treats his fellows to drink after drink. Ilse and one or two of the other girls – women, really, they're much older than her, but poverty has kept their figures painting-perfect – are dragged along, and wine poured down their throats in a guise of celebration. The other models dance and drink right along with the men, easily as always, but Ilse feels somehow wrong about it.

Even still, she finds herself swallowing the cheap, bitter wine, glass after glass, and she feels herself swept up in each of the men's arms, their hands covering the terrain of her body. When she can no longer tell them apart, she can taste their mouths on hers; each in turn, twirling her about the tavern, grabbing her, pressing her to the flimsy wall, putting their hands between her legs… she's certainly too drunk to protest, although it's hardly the first time it's happened.

Padinsky mutters what a good sport she is, laughing; Adolar says they ought to bring her along more often. If they were a different sort of woman, the other models might pull her aside, dash a comb through her messy hair, keep the men off of her until she'd recovered a bit; as it is the best she can hope for is for one of them to steer her outside when she shows signs of being sick.

"Aw, little girl's gotta get some air, don't she," one whispers to the other, cackling.

"Oh, come back, pretty Ilse," one of the men shouts, but she stumbles out the tavern door, yanking her body out of the grasp of all the blurry, faceless arms and running across the street, collapsing, falling to her knees and retching. It's cold, so cold; she's not dressed for this weather or hour (though when is she ever, anymore?) and she feels like she could very well just stay here a while…

But she forces herself to sit up, and she braces herself against the storefront behind her. Her palms are scraped from falling on them so hard; her cheek is beginning to swell from where Fehrendorf hit her (how many hours ago?) – she must look a fright, but at this hour, who'd see?

She's not sure how long passes before someone appears in the distance. One of the models, sent to track her down, she thinks, and return her to someone's bed – Nohl's, or Gustave Baum's, perhaps. But they'd march right up and grab her by the hair, yelling at her to stop running off like that and sober up (they don't like having to mother her, if you could call it that; they resent it) and whoever is coming keeps their distance.

She gasps, seeing finally who it is – Wendla Bergman, and her mother. Looking none to happy, either one of them: Wendla's face full of confusion, and her mama's angry resignation. She drags her child along by the hand, walking furious fast; Ilse hears her old friend exclaim, "But where are we going, Mama?"

Ilse turns and retches again. She knows the answer to Wendla's question.

She remembers.

She's paralyzed with fear, rooted to the spot; she sees Wendla and her mama coming closer. What to do? Hide, run? Climb quickly into an empty bed and take solace in a pair of practically anonymous arms? Or can she run into the road, stop Wendla cold, tell her… but what would she tell her?

She knows where Frau Bergman is leading her daughter, so secretively, so late at night.

Yet all she can do is stare – half praying Wendla sees her, half hoping she doesn't. What could she really offer? Truth, salvation? (Are those things synonymous?) Warnings?

It's too late for warnings.

They're closer still, Wendla becoming more alarmed. (Does she realize?) Her mama purses her lips, stoic, ashamed.

It's on account of Melchior, Ilse knows. Who else? Who else for sweet Wendla? Once a pirate and his maiden – a childish affection gone awry.

It's not always on account of that, Ilse knows. Sometimes, sometimes it's…

The door opens, and there is a man: shadowed. He murmurs something, takes money from Wendla's mother. "Mama!" Wendla shouts, alarmed; the same words rise up in Ilse's throat instinctively.

"I'll be there with you every moment," her mama says.

"I'll be there with you every moment," she hears her mama say.

Every moment?

Yes, child, of course.



The chorus of whispers has returned with a shattering vengeance. Ilse jams her wounded hands to her ears to keep them at bay.

She sees a young girl in the doorway below the tavern. (Above her, the artists continue to revel and reel: unaware of what transpires below, or ignoring it.) A man ready to take her in, to fix her mistake. (Never anyone else's: she's the one who'll carry signs of shame.) The girl's mother, a liar, ready to run.

The girl disappears, almost –

The new hollowness in her abdomen will not.

"Mama!" she cries. "Don't leave me! MAMA!"

No! NO! MAAAAAMAAAAAA!!!!

What's real, what is only memory?

Wendla turns, and she sees her mama bolt up the block. She sees Ilse across the street – or is Ilse imagining that she sees her? – her lips part as if to scream. Ilse wants to say something to ease her; but what can be said when one is facing hell, facing the kind of pain unknowable to those who haven't felt it? The girls' eyes meet – or so Ilse thinks; her vision is still blurred from the wine and the beginnings of tears – the man shoves Wendla inside.

Ilse feels the hands on her shoulders, too, as rough as before. The door slams shut.

"WENDLA!" she shouts, running to the locked door. "WENDLA!"

Another man unlocks it long enough to shove her away, saying, "Ain't I seen you before? You ain't supposed to be here, girl, get on, move it!"

She falls to her knees, crying; she feels the pain so sharp, shooting through her body. She weeps, "Oh, Wendla, what have they done to you?"

The man at the door tells her again to scram – he pulls her up, this time really pushing her away, away from the door, away from the unthinkable memories -

She hears the scream, echoing, mixed in her mind with so many others – but it stands above the rest, purer, sharper. A long, long scream – shriller than her own. A scream that'd last forever. A scream of something gone horribly, horribly wrong.

So much blood. Rivers of blood.

She could have done something more – she could have saved her -


She waits around the corner, still sobbing, until the screaming fades to a finish. And she knows that she must keep her promise – to come again soon, to see her old friend; she knows that Wendla's story ends differently than her own.

Her tears rent the quiet night. She knows that it was goodbye and not farewell.