In which Marianne presents her world and meets an undesired man in Theresienstraße
Red. My dreams were filled with a red, sticky liquid. Blood. Hot blood surrounded me, stinking to death and murder.
Not only my dreams were filled with blood, but my everyday life too. I guess I should have grown used to it by then, but I still felt chills traveling down my spine when I saw Gestapo officials walking down the city. They were everywhere, really. I saw them when I walked to school with my friend Anya, or when I went out for a walk with my brother Leon. They were always there, with their spotless uniforms, rifles hanging from their shoulders, and smiling greedily at any pretty girl walking by. Dad said he wanted me to meet some boy from the Hitlerian Youths, some interesting man who could turn into a good husband. I wanted to go to university one day, but he would always refuse. He was already too mad at Leon for not entering the Army once he turned eighteen, so I decided I shouldn't press the subject for a while.
We were back to school after Easter break. April 1940 was bound to be one of the warmest in the city's history, and everyone seemed to get prepared for the nice summer warmth that was just around the corner. In three months I would be done with school. No-one knew what I was up to but Leon. My brother was more than just a sibling like my sister Ingrid, but he was also the best of friends. I trusted him with secrets not even my closest friends knew. I told him about my ambitions and hopes for the future, and I would secretly envy him for being a boy, because he got to study whatever he wanted, while I was meant to stay home, marry a fine Nazi man and give him plenty of little Nazi brats my dad was bound to spoil. And I definitely didn't want that. I had always been a free spirit, and I never liked anything meaning rules. Mother would often scold me for coming home too late, or giggling at stupid things, but they would always end up forgiving me. I was their little girl after all.
If you ever got to meet my family, you'd classify them into the sort of upper-medium class Nazi family. My father, Florian Schafer, was a Nazi colonel who was always working. We barely saw him home, actually. He was in the head of the Munich government for the Third Reich, and he didn't like anything more than sitting down with a cup of hot coffee and watch his little stuck-up soldiers beating up Jews, communists or homosexuals. Even though he hated these three kind of people, the first ones were the ones Colonel Schafer disgraced the most. His teeth would always grit when someone mentioned the race that he was bound to exterminate, and he would always start barking at me when I gave any faint hint whatsoever about defending the Jews. Then, he would clean his moustache with his cloth handkerchief and walk upstairs phlegmatically, ignoring anyone who didn't wear a swastika in their dresses.
My mother, Helga Schafer, was what you would call a resigned woman. She had once been a dreamy, sweet young woman whose youth love was torn apart from her when her parents found out. They forced her into marrying an older man, and that's how Helga Meyer turned into Helga Schafer. She loved us with all her heart, and by the time I was seventeen she was only forty three, while father was already fifty four. But still, I thought she was happy with us, her family. And mother never said otherwise.
I was the youngest out of three siblings. The oldest was my sister Ingrid, who was eight years older than me. My mom had her at eighteen, and she had grown up with an extremely young mother, an always-absent father and a maid who would turn into her second mother. My sister was efficiently educated to be an obedient, sweet wife, and she never questioned her future, not at all. At age twenty, when I was twelve, she married a young lieutenant named Kurt Wiess, and had a little daughter soon after, whom they named Hanna. My little niece was four when our story begins, and my sister and Kurt were expecting another child, who was to be named Bruno if it was a boy or Emma if it was a girl. My sister and her family lived just a few blocks away, and they visited our house almost everyday. Kurt and father worked side by side in projects they'd never speak about outside dad's office. None of us asked, really.
And last but not least, there was my brother Leon. He was just a few months older than me – he was born in late August and I was born in May of the following year – and we had always been inseparable. As children, we would always play together, but now we were confidents, friends we could rely on. Leon was studying Medicine in the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich's main university. There, he and his friends – most of them intelligent young men with a will to change the situation ruling our country – discussed about politics, History, philosophy and other subjects. He was a friend of Hans Scholl, who would grow to be a hero of German history, but his closest friend was a boy named Anton Müller, whom I had known since I was a toddler. Whenever he told me about the university and everything he learned there, I felt really jealous. I couldn't discuss anything with my school friends, other than stuck-up boys they had 'crushes' on, dresses and things I didn't give a damn about.
My best friends and I were going back home after a boring school day, in which Frau Lotker had given us a speech on racial differences and other stuff I hated people talking about.
"Hey, I heard there's this new Clark Gable movie on the cinema," commented Inge, who loved movies more than nothing. "I'd like to go watch it!"
"Huh, I'm not really into those yankee movies," grunted Eva, who held her Jules Verne book under her arm. Eva was the book lover in our group.
"Well, I certainly would go watch it," said Margot, who was always against everything Eva said.
Eva mumbled something about Margot, and they both started arguing as always. Nothing had been the same ever since they both fell in love with the same boy, a young man named Ralf Fischer, who was now Margot's boyfriend. Eva felt sad about it, but it wasn't Margot's fault either, but the two girls simply couldn't get to terms.
"Hey, girls, calm down," Anya asked. Out of my group of friends, she was the closest to me for sure. "And Eva, next time try not to put your finger into Margot's eye. You don't want to poke her right?" she spoke to them as if they were five-year-olds.
"That's what I tried to do," mumbled Eva.
Anya, Inge and I giggled softly, and the five of us kept strolling down the busy Munich streets. It was 1940, and we were in the midst of World War II, but still the city felt like a little peaceful bubble protected from the rest of the world. Other than the antisemitic conflicts, the city was still the same as always.
As we walked down the Theresienstraße, we found a group of young Gestapo soldiers sitting down in a bench with their common greedy smiles on their faces. I recognized one of them. His name was Joachim Priesteroth, and he was one of my father's colleagues' son. He was about my brother's age, but had given up studying to enter the Army. He was this kind of young man who does nothing but sit and boss people around. I cannot say he wasn't handsome, but speaking about his inner self, he was just a conceited jerk.
"Oh please, don't let him come close, don't let him come close..." I whispered as we walked by the group of soldiers.
"Hey, Marianne!" he greeted me with an annoying smile. The young man bolted up from his seat and run to me. "Finished school I see?"
"I wouldn't be walking home otherwise," I mumbled between my teeth, faking a smile at Joachim.
"You and your bitter humor Marianne," he laughed as he wrapped his arm around my shoulders.
My friends looked at me giggling softly, and in that very moment I considered suicide as a very tempting option. Why did that young Nazi touch me? I know I should have been looking forward to someone like him feeling attracted towards me, but since the war started I've realized how wrong Nazi beliefs are. People get beaten up for their religion, or even their parents' or grandparents' religions. It's not fair, not at all. Above all religion, races or political ideas, are we not all human beings?
"I guess that's me," I muttered.
"Of course, that's you," Joachim laughed eloquently. "And I like it very much. I'm looking forward to seeing you tonight!"
Tonight! I had completely forgotten about the dinner my father had arranged with Colonel Priesteroth, Joachim's father. Kurt, Ingrid and Hanna would be there too. Leon and I were forced to assist, although neither of us wanted to. After a boring dinner with men praising the wonderful Nazi system and women telling each other boring gossip, we would move on to the living room, where Joachim's sixteen-year-old sister, Amara, would start nagging me with joining the Hitlerian Youths, something that has always ticked me off.
"Uh, sure, I'll see you tonight," I answered. Then I faked a smile I thought Joachim would never buy. "Well, I have to go now. You know, tons of homework and such."
"Oh, sure," Joachim said, unwrapping his arm around my shoulders. Finally free! "Well, I have to go back with my mates anyway. Glad to see you, Marianne."
"Glad to see you, Joachim. Bye."
The young soldier walked away, his greedy smile appearing once again in his face. As me and my four friends walked away, I pressed my eyes close and burned holes on my shoes. Why did he have to find me in the middle of the street? Munich is big enough to allow us not to jump into each other every Monday after school. Maybe I should find another walking route back home.
"Whoa, the boy was certainly good-looking," Anya noted as we kept on walking.
"Almost as handsome as Clark Gable," Inge whispered dreamily, clasping her hands together and letting out a deep sigh.
"He looks like an idiot," Eva said. "I'm sure the only neuron inside his brain feels as lonely as the one in Ursula Heller's dumb-blonde head."
"He looked good, but nothing compared to my Ralf," Margot said happily.
"Girls, I don't even like him," I protested. "He's a jerk."
"A hot jerk," Anya insisted. "You should go for him, Annie! He's in the Gestapo, any soldier there will have a good future. He's charming and seems to like you. What else do you need?"
"Perhaps to like him back?" I asked, rolling my eyes. "Anya, I'm not really into this whole soldier thing. I just don't like them."
Anya rolled her eyes in disbelief as we kept on walking. Soon, we arrived to the cross of streets in which most of us left to our own houses.
"I have to go to the park, Ralf and I are meeting there in half an hour," Margot cheered happily, a wide grin spread all over her face.
Our friend untied her school tie and let her soft blond buckles fall down to her arms. She unbuttoned the first two buttons of her blouse and rolled up the sleeves to her elbows. She pulled the skirt drastically up and tightened it to her waist using the uniform belt and folded down her knee-length socks to her ankles.
"How do I look?" she asked, messing her curly blonde hair a little.
"You look perfect," Inge said, giving her a thumbs-up. She was followed by both Anya and I, who smiled in approval.
"You look like a bitch," Eva scoffed blatantly. "It's disgusting."
"You're just jealous," Margot said, sticking her tongue out at Eva. "I'm going to have a great time with Ralf and you're going to stay home with your stupid novels."
"Go fuck yourself," Eva mumbled as our friend smiled happily.
Margot ignored our friends' comment and planted a kiss on each of our cheeks and walked away joyfully. The three of us turned to Eva, who had started walking away to her own house.
"What's wrong with you, Eva?" I asked, holding her arm. "Ralf likes Margot, get over it. She's just so happy and you just want to ruin everything! He's her first boyfriend, for goodness sake!"
"Leave me alone," Eva mumbled. "You don't know what it is like to be in love with someone who doesn't love you back, Marianne. None of you do."
"I'm in love with Clark Gable, and I know he will never love me back," Inge joked.
Eva glared at Inge, who decided it would be best to keep herself silent. Then Eva glanced at Anya, who shrugged her arms in a signal of surrender. I tried to argue my friend's words, but I simply couldn't. As every other teenager, I had felt slight crushes on boys I had met, but I had never experienced love, or at least the kind of love Eva meant. I just shook my head.
"I know you feel sad about Ralf, Ev," I said. "But you have to move on. You and Margot have been friends since kindergarten, and it would be just wrong if a boy torn you apart. You guys have always been best friends, and now you're going to go around insulting her? I don't think that's fair. It was Ralf's decision, not hers. And I honestly don't think Margot would have done what you're doing if Ralf had chosen you instead of her."
Eva ducked her head. I tried to look at her little, shiny blue eyes, but she wouldn't lift her head up. When she did, I saw tears streaming down her face uncontrollably. I looked at Inge and Anya worryingly, but the next thing I saw was Eva hugging me tightly and sobbing her eyes out.
"I know I'm being stupid," she moaned. "But I can't help it. I love Ralf, and it feels so frustrating to hear Margot talking about him all day and night. It hurts me, you know..."
"I know, Ev, I know," I whispered, rubbing her back soothingly. "But you have to calm down. You're seventeen, smart and beautiful, and I'm sure you'll find another man who will love you. You have to be happy for Margot, she's your friend and she's finally found love. And don't forget Inge, Anya and I will always be there for you."
Eva looked up at me with a shy smile. Then she embraced me tightly.
"Thank you, Marianne," she whispered. "You're a great friend."
I smiled soothingly, and then Inge said she would walk Eva home, since they lived in the same street. Anya and I said goodbye to the Clark Gable lover and our little reader, and set off down our street.
"I feel so bad for Eva," I commented. "I know it isn't Margot's fault, but she shouldn't go around talking about how wonderful Ralf is."
"You're right," Anya said. "Perhaps we should talk to her tomorrow. You know, just for Eva's sake. All of us know she had a crush on Ralf before Margot did."
I sighed, "Yes. We'll tell her tomorrow."
When I arrived home, I didn't expect anyone to be there, other than our cooker, Horst, and the maid, Gisela. But I was gladly surprised by a voice calling me from the living room.
"Hey, little maus."
I found Leon sitting in the living room. He had always called me 'his little maus', which is the German word for 'mouse'. It's always been sort of my nickname. At first it ticked me off, but then I grew used to it with the pass of time. He read Der Stürmer, The most well-known Nazi newspaper in our country. Of course, he didn't read it because it went along with his political thoughts, not at all – if he ever told father half of what he told me about his hate to the Nazi ideology he would be thrown out of our house. But there he was, mocking at the newspaper father had bought that very morning.
"It's ridiculous," he muttered. "There's an article about how Jews have been scientifically proved to have an average IQ twenty points lower than the German average. It's ridiculous! I've met many Jews in my life, and I can tell you they're certainly brilliant people, all of them. Witty, and difficult to outsmart. That's what ticks Nazis off. And of course, the article is signed by Julius Streicher. How reliable."
When it came to talking about Nazism, Leon's words were always filled with sarcasm, which some caught – mostly his friends and I, really – and some didn't – for instance, our parents and all of father's friends. It wasn't easy to find Leon home before dinnertime, even less outside his room. But today he had surprised me by sitting down in the living room, criticizing antisemitism at plain sight, where anyone in the house could hear him. It was funny to hear him talk about 'the Nazis', he being son of a Nazi colonel, without including himself in the group. I guess Leon and I had grown to being pretty unattached to the Nazi beliefs and political ideology over the pass of years, from when Hitler came to power during the late twenties – we were only children by then, anyway – and during the last decade, in which we had seen the antisemitism of Nazis worsen and worsen with every day that went by.
"Don't read it, it will fill your head with nonsense crap," I told him. "If I were you, I'd talk to some of your great friends from university."
Leon looked at him and raised an eyebrow with a playful smile.
"Is little Marianne jealous of her big brother?" he asked teasingly.
"I'm not!" I protested. "And you're not my big brother, you're just ten months older."
"I'm still older," he laughed. "But hey, just wait. In three months you will be done with school and who knows? You might end up coming to university."
"I doubt so," I sighed. "I don't think dad will allow me to study. I would like to become a writer, but he doesn't give a damn about it. He just wants me to be the perfect Nazi daughter who plays piano, cooks delicious food and is dressed like an angel."
"Uh, well that's going to be hard," Leon muttered. "Every time you play the piano I feel like a cat screeching in my head while jumping up and down the keyboard."
"Oh, thank you so much, Leon," I deadpanned, punching him playfully. "Jerk."
"I love you too," he retorted, grinning.
I threw a pillow at him, and he threw it back. We started screaming and laughing, throwing pillows at each other. It had always been this way, ever since we were children. Leon and I had always been one. I guess it might have been the little age difference, our similar political ideas, or the fact that we felt like strangers in our own family. At least we had each other.
"I'M GOING TO KILL YOU ONE DAY, LEON SCHAFER!" I screamed after a pillow hit my arm. I jumped to the sofa, but he started tickling me. I couldn't stop laughing, trying to hit him in the face with a pillow so he would stop.
We suddenly stopped playing around when Helga Schafer came into the room.
"Kids, please," she scolded us. "You're not babies anymore. Why are you screaming?"
"Oh, nothing mom," I quickly answered. "You know, Leon and I were discussing about some articles in the newspaper and you know, frustration-"
"You shouldn't be arguing about politics, Marianne," she told me with a severe expression. "You're a fine young lady, not a man. Go to your room and do your homework."
"Why should I do my homework?" I scoffed. "Why should I go to school, anyway? I won't be doing anything after it. Eva and Inge will be going to university, mother. Inge is going to the United States, mother. The States! And I will have to stay here doing nothing. And Anya will be a teacher, and Margot a nurse."
"Don't talk to me like that, Marianne," she scolded me once again. "I don't care what your little friends will do. We've always raised you to become a fine young woman, not a butch. And fine women stay home, learning how to handle a house. Don't you understand?"
I gritted my teeth. "No, I don't understand."
Mother looked around, exasperated.
"Well, this is it!" she exclaimed. "You're going upstairs to do your homework, no arguing. And pray for me not to punish you for this attitude, young lady."
I let out a long puff, but finally obeyed. I grabbed my school bag and waved my hand at Leon, to say goodbye. He waved back, not daring to say anything. I walked out of the living room, always followed by mother's hard glare on me. I hated my family, I definitely did. Had it not been for Leon, I'm sure I would have ran away years ago.
And I didn't even know the worse was yet to come.
So that was chapter one! Liked? Disliked? Please let me know! Reviews are welcomed, as long as they're not flames :) Chapter two will come soon!