This is the eighth part of a fiction serial, in 1462 words.
Watching Pablo sleep was so boring, I had a wander around his cellar to see what sort of things he had stashed away there. Every small sound from above made me jump in alarm, and I had visions of vicious gangsters about to smash their way in through the trapdoor. After what seemed like an eternity, I checked my watch for the hundredth time. I had been there for almost six hours, and would soon have to think about heading home. But that would mean leaving the trapdoor unlocked, and Pablo vulnerable on the bed.
I decided that I would have to wake him up.
No amount of shouting made him stir. I took to shaking his shoulder instead. He felt very hot, and though he was quite obviously still breathing, I could get no sense out of him, and his eyes remained closed. I went over to the wash-stand, and rinsed the blood off my hands with water from the jug. Then I took the revolver, and placed it in his hand, wrapping his fingers around it. At least he would have it to hand if anyone broke in. In case he could still hear me, I spoke to him, adopting a casual tone. “I have to go now. I hope you feel better soon. Sleep is obviously the best thing for you. I have left your pistol in your hand, and you have my word that I haven’t taken any of your things while you have been sleeping”.
At the top of the ladder, I opened the bolts, and peered through the trapdoor, open just enough for me to see out. There was nobody around, so I raised it higher, and slipped out. I left the courtyard hurriedly, relieved to be away from any further trouble. I also decided that I would stick with my earlier story, and tell Mummy that the job had gone because there was no truck.
No doubt about it, I was too young for a life of crime.
For the next few weeks, I was nervous. I expected Pablo or Leo to show up at our house, angry that I had left him, and annoyed that I hadn’t turned up on any other weekend. But my growing fondness for Helga took my mind off those worries. It turned out that she liked chocolate a great deal. But she refused my gift of the nylons. “Oh, Manfred, I am too young to wear those. My mother would think it scandalous”. But she blushed at the idea that I would like to see her in them. After the third bar of chocolate, she let me kiss her. Not on the lips, but on the side of her face, close to the edge of her mouth. And she held my hand as far as the corner of the street where she lived, letting go hurriedly as a neighbour passed by on the other side of the road.
There was no reason for me to go back to Pablo’s cellar, and I never heard from him or Leo again.
That was a good summer. Parts of the city began to return to normal, and there was news of new apartment blocks being built on the outskirts. People started to get regular work, and the Black Market gangs were not so evident on the streets. During the school holidays, I had to look after Inge while Mummy was at work. So I walked around with her, rather than be stuck in the apartment all day. I soon noticed that quite a lot of local people were no longer around. Familiar faces had gone, and this continued as the weather warmed up. One evening, I mentioned this to mummy, when Inge was asleep.
“Ah, you noticed, Manfred? Yes, talk is that many have left for the American and British sectors. Anyone who has relatives there has mostly gone. I think it’s a good thing. We don’t need those people in our new country. If they think life will be so much better there, let them go. They will soon find out that it is no easier over there”. I had a lot more questions, but I got the feeling that was the end of the conversation. At the end of the holidays, Mummy told us she had good news. “I am to be promoted again. I will become the head of my department. And we will soon have a better place to live. Next year, I will be eligible for one of the new apartments being built. Good news, eh children?” I smiled and nodded, but inside I knew I would miss our street, and knowing the local people.
In December, Mummy received a letter, and she waved it excitedly. “My sister is coming to visit for Christmas. Your auntie Greta is coming to stay. How about that?” Inge smiled. “I have never seen her, Mummy”. I could hardly remember her at all. I had seen photographs, and Mummy told me that she had seen me as a little boy. But she lived in Prague, married to a rich German businessman who had interests in that country. When we had taken over Czechoslovakia, he had done well, and soon became an important man. Mummy filled in more details. “Uncle Theodore has died, and as they had no children, Greta is at a loose end. The factory has been taken over by a committee, so she is thinking of coming back here to live. I will try to find her somewhere in the new year, but for now she will stay with us”.
Aunt Greta was a revelation. Although four years older than Mummy, she was so glamorous, like a film actress. She arrived in our small apartment like a perfume-scented whirlwind. Lifting Inge up, she showered her with kisses, leaving lipstick marks all over her face. Then she hugged me so tight, I could feel every curve of her body, and the soft lips planting kisses everywhere. I could tell from her expression that she was unimpressed with our accommodation, but she was too polite to say anything nasty. “Oh, little Inge, such a beauty. And Manfred, what a handsome young man you turned out to be, a real heart-breaker”. I confess that Inge and I had been expecting that she might bring us gifts. But nothing appeared. However, she did produce a lot of large sausages from her suitcase, as well as a jar of mustard, and two large tins of sauerkraut.
We ate very well that evening.
At times, it seemed to me that Mummy resented her sister. When she showed us jewels and brooches that she had kept, Mummy sniffed at her. “Nowhere to go dressed up like that, Greta. You would do better to exchange them for some sturdy shoes, and more food”. My auntie ignored her, and winked at me instead. She slept on the two armchairs, pushing them together at night. I offered her my bed, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to disturb us. Her free spirit fascinated me, and her habit of wandering around the apartment in her underwear made my eyes bulge at the sight of her.
Mummy didn’t seem to care. Maybe she was unaware that I was growing up, and noticing such things.
On Christmas Eve, we got small gifts. I received a fountain pen from Mummy, and for Inge there were new knitted gloves with small rabbits woven onto the backs. It seemed that we had nothing to give Aunt Greta, so I went into the bedroom and got the nylons. I knew Mummy would have something to say, but I resolved to present them to Greta anyway. She shrieked when I handed them over to her, quickly unwrapping one packet. Mummy gave me a quizzical look, and I hurriedly made up a story. “I found an old suitcase lying in an alley off the main square, auntie. All that was in it were those two pairs of nylons. I think a Black Market man must have run away from the police, and left them there. Mummy doesn’t wear such things, so I thought you would like them”.
Mummy walked over to the fireplace to put some more coal onto the fire. I sensed that she didn’t believe me, but wasn’t about to spoil the evening with an argument. Greta removed the wool stockings she had been wearing, and rolled the nylons up each leg in turn. When she had attached them, she lifted her dress and paraded around in circles, with Inge clapping delightedly. As I watched her, I started to feel uncomfortably hot.
And when she walked over and kissed me full on the lips, I thought I might pass out.