This is the ninth part of a fiction serial, in 1190 words.
Aunt Greta stayed for a lot longer than Christmas. Mummy got her a job through one of her connections, and she became a book-keeper at the Office of Pensions. She went to work every day, and when she got back in the evenings, things cheered up a lot. She had stopped sleeping on the armchairs, when a work colleague had found her a small folding bed that she slept on in the living room. Every morning it was tidied up, and stored in my room until bed time. Other things started to appear too. A small radio came first, and then a reading lamp, given to me for my room. I suspected she was selling off her jewellery, but it was never mentioned.
My attraction to her grew out of all proportion, soon becoming an obsession.
I sat close to her whenever I could, and took every opportunity to gaze at her when I thought she wasn’t looking. I delighted in seeing her dancing around the apartment, or watching her wash at the sink. One day, she called me “My handsome shadow”, and kissed me on the lips. After that, Mummy must have said something, because she never appeared in her underwear again, and stopped lifting her dress when she was dancing. I was confused by Mummy’s attitude, and her seriousness sometimes put a damper on the evenings.
It wasn’t unknown for me to go into my room and have a sulk.
On one of those occasions, Mummy came in and sat on the edge of my bed. “Manfred, I am aware that you are growing up now. I think it is time that you stopped calling me Mummy. Mama would be better now, don’t you think? And you should call auntie Greta by her name, not just ‘dear auntie’. When she is washing, you should stay in here. You are too old to be looking at ladies in their underwear, son. Besides, I am sure we will be moving out soon, into our new place. So you will have to get used to her not being around”. I didn’t know what to say, so just nodded.
Because of the attention I had been giving Greta, I had all but forgotten about Helga. There was only one bar of chocolate left in my hiding place anyway, as I had been saving it to try to bribe her for a kiss. Then one afternoon after school, I saw her walking home with a boy called Rudi. He was fourteen, and had a bicycle. I was shocked to see him place an arm around her shoulders, and had to face the fact that I had lost her. Then later that week, Greta arrived home with a man. His name was Ernst, and he was the brother of one of her work colleagues. He was introduced to us all as her new ‘friend’, but I knew what that meant. I shook his hand, and then went into my room, fighting back tears.
It felt like my world had ended.
To ease my heavy heart, I threw myself into my studies. I continued to learn Russian, and started English classes too, staying on late after school finished. After Easter, we got a new teacher, Herr Obermann. He had a false leg that dragged when he walked, and a nasty scar down one side of his face. But he turned out to be a kind teacher, and very encouraging. When I told him of my intention to become a policeman, he agreed it was a worthwhile job. “But complete your studies first, Kraus. Then when you go into the police, you will be able to get promotion, and not just walk the streets in uniform”.
I thought about what he said, and decided it made sense.
That September, Greta moved out to live with Ernst. I was shocked to discover that they were not to get married, but nobody else seemed to care. Mama said that they would live in the northern suburbs, where Ernst had rooms. She could see that the news made me sad. “We can go and see them sometimes, and she will visit occasionally. She has to live her own life, Manfred. Ernst is a good man. He is a member of the Socialist Party, and has a good job. He will look after her”. She put her arm around me, and squeezed hard. It felt like the old days again.
Inge was growing up fast. I was surprised how tall she had become, and she excelled at sports. One afternoon, we went to see her in a gymnastics display at the school, and she got the second prize. Mama was very proud, and I felt good for my sister too. Not long after that, she stopped playing with dolls and toys, and spent most of her spare time with the sports coaches. As the year ended, it felt as if we were both putting our childhoods behind us. Inge also started to use the folding bed left behind by Greta, and no longer slept in bed with Mama. She walked to school with a group of her friends, and I was not asked to look after her anymore. I thought she was still very young to be so independent, but nobody asked my opinion.
The news really excited Mama. The allocation of our new apartment had come through. It was further east, but still within walking distance of school, though a long walk. We went to see it on that Saturday morning, when Mama was to be handed the key. A man from the newspaper was there, and he took photos of the first families to get the keys, as we lined up outside the building. It was on the top floor, the fourth floor. Lots of concrete steps led up to it, and it felt strange to be in a place that was so empty. It seemed huge inside. We each had a bedroom, though they were very small. There was an inside lavatory, with a shower fixed over it, and a wash-basin to one side. This was unimaginable luxury to me, after so long living at Frau Winter’s.
The living room and kitchen was combined, but it was big enough for a table and chairs, as well as our armchairs. It was heated by electricity, so we would no longer need wood or coal. Outside, there was a small communal grassed area, with swings and space to play football. It had a funny smell in the apartment though, and some of the doors didn’t seem to close properly.
The next weekend, a man came to our old apartment with a flat-back truck. He and his teenage son carried all our furniture down as Mama packed our clothes into two big suitcases. I was going to ask why we were allowed to take Frau Winter’s things, but thought better of it. Mama got in front with the man and I sat on the edge of the back of the truck with Inge and the teenager, as we drove to the new place.
Sadness overwhelmed me as we turned at the end of the street.
I was going to miss my neighbourhood.