|They Called me Ratte
Author: DictatorEuro PM
Germany 1944 MM He always new that his 'ailment' would be the death of him, but he never expected to pull his friends in with him. Perhaps a miracle is exactly what they all need.Rated: Fiction M - English - Tragedy - Words: 6,261 - Published: 08-17-08 - id: 2560430
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Re-doing all the old stories here xD
Hopefully this one will be better this time around
Chapter 1 -- A New Order
She had come from out of town. I remember well the first time that I saw her up close to discover that the rumors about her were as untrue as could possibly be. The other children at my school used to say that she was a witch who bewitched the minds of the youth, took them away at night and stole their souls for eternity. To us, this tale was confirmed the day that young Fritz Weitersen disappeared. The truth about his vanishing was because his father had to leave town for reasons I will not mention here. We even went as far as to assume that this woman was some sort of secret weapon the British had devised to wreak even more havoc on our struggling country. But as soon as I saw her in my families store that day I knew that she was innocent of all the crimes that we had pasted upon her.
She was small and lightly built, but there was a hidden wonderment about her and when I saw her I realized that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and probably will ever see. I was young, eight at the most; I remember my feet did not touch the ground as I sat on the stool behind the counter of my parent's hardware store. I had been reading, what I was reading I don't recall. I heard the tiny silver bell that hung on the door jingle as someone entered from the outside. I tore my eyes away from the words printed on the page to look up to see the woman looking around the store, the ghost of a smile played upon her ivory features. She came forward toward the counter lightly and gracefully. "Excuse me, young man." She asked timidly, "Could you tell me where the nails are?" I did not say anything right away because the all the stories and rumors had flooded into my head.
I did not answer, but before I could my mother came around the corner wiping her hands with a washcloth. "Oh," she exclaimed surprised to see another human being other than her son in the store. "Can I help you?" she asked as she shoved the washcloth into a pocket on her apron. The other woman looked from me to my mother, "I was just asking where you keep the nails" My mother motioned down the aisle that she had just come out of "down this way," the two women disappeared out of my view as I went back to reading, trying to ignore the stories of witchcraft and heresy that had stuck with me about the woman. I entwined myself in the story and it seemed like ages before my mother and the woman returned, talking like they had known each other from their youth.
I looked up at them from the book. "Thank you, Frau Dering." The woman said smiling, the box of nails clutched tightly in her delicate fingers. "Nein, thank you Fräulein Braun." My mother replied as Braun, smiling, exited the store. However, just before she left though the door I remember she came back and drew a piece of paper from her coat that she wore. The woman came back and handed it to my mother. "As I told you before I am a dance instructor at the old gymnasium. I teach dance to all ages. All kinds, ballroom, tango, tap…" I remember reading that flier afterwards and everything she stated was printed in block letters of all different sizes on the paper. My mother took the paper as Fräulein Braun continued "Would your son like to learn to dance?" she asked as she looked to me and smiled. I managed a weak smile back. "Ill have to ask him," my mother said as she looked to the woman. Braun bowed her head, "Could you hang this in the window for me? It would help a lot if people saw what I'm doing and it would help if they signed up."
My mother grinned as she nodded. "I shall," and with that final statement and a polite 'thank you' Fräulein Braun left the store. I looked to my mother, she simply handed me the flier and when back down one of the aisle again not saying a word to me. I drew the paper closer so I could see what was written on it. "Fräulein Jacqueline Braun's Dance Studio" was written in bold letters over the top. So that woman that had been labeled everything from a collaborator to a witch was really, in truth, a dance instructor. I wondered what it would be like to have her as a teacher.
My wonderment caused me the next day to slip out of school during our lunch to the old gymnasium that stood in a rather secluded part of our small town. It was rarely used anymore ever since the new school building had been built before the armistice when Germany had been better off. I stealthily crept down the streets, as quietly as I could, aside from most of the inhabitants being either at school or, if they were lucky, at work, I could not bring myself to walk out in the open for fear of getting in trouble. Music drifted into the streets, listening to it only made me more eager to see what was going on inside the building. I snuck up below one of the large windows that had cracks in it from the gym falling into disrepair before Fräulein Braun took it over. Slowly I looked over the edge through the window on to the inside and was amazed at what I saw.
The old Gymnasium had never been a large building, but what the dance instructor had done with it, it seemed bigger than it was in reality. I saw that the once cracked concrete floor had been replaced by a newer wooden one, in those days during the inflation I wondered how she got all the money to do the renovations that she did. In the center of the room was where Braun stood. She moved perfectly in timed to the music and I could not help but stare in awe at her. She twirled about the room almost inhumanly perfect, other than her there was no one in the building so I assumed that she did not teach classes at this point in the day. I gasped and quickly ducked down behind the window when she threw a glance in my direction. I crawled away from the building and dashed toward the center of tow because going back to school would be foolish for the lunch hour had long expired.
Over the next few weeks I timed my sneaking away from school to watch the enchanting Braun better. One day I did not go home after school, I came back to the gym instead of helping my mother at the store that afternoon. I came to the window and peeked through it once more, just I had done so many times before, but this time I saw that there were other people in the studio with her. Three girls and two boys all appeared to be the same age of me. I was so curious about these new individuals that I did not notice Braun see me, so I did not duck out of sight. I heard the door to the right of me swing open and the Fräulein come out into the street with a look of friendly questioning on her face. I fell to my side in surprise as the sound of the door hitting the wall cracked through my eardrums.
"Herr Dering?" she said for she must have recognized me as the son of the store proprietor. I forced an innocent smile for I had been caught spying, "Guten Tag, Mein Fräulein," I said trying to mask what I had been doing, the Fräulein, however was not buying my charade. "What were you doing?" she asked me. She was toying with me, but back then I did not know that so I tried my best to think of an excuse as fast as I could. Being my age I was not that adept at making excuses that were plausible. "Well, I… I…" I stuttered trying to find something to work with, but nothing openly presented itself. "Well, I was just looking at the window," I gestured toward the window and found that the giant crack opened up a path way for my excuse. "Well the window has a crack in it and… and… I… well I was thinking that perhaps I could help you with that."
She came beside me and looked at the crack in the window. "Do you think you could?" she said. I nodded, believing that I had saved myself from a rather awkward situation. She then crossed her arms in front of her; "I know you've been watching my class for the last few weeks, Herr Dering"
I felt my stomach drop out; I had been discovered. "I am sorry, Fräulein Braun." My eyes fell to the pavement as I kicked a stone aside with my foot. She tilted her head to one side, "would you like to learn to dance?" she asked me, and to my surprise I nodded unconsciously. Braun smiled, "Come inside, we need one more gentleman." She led me inside and almost instantly the other five children who were in there looked to me, the new comer. I felt myself going red as I tried to hide behind Braun, I was never much of a public presence and I probably would never be, even as I look back, I did not exhibit the skills that made one extraordinary. It was a wonder I even was interested in Dance because Dance was a performing art. Braun called over that extra girl that I had seen earlier, "Gretel, you shall be partnered with Herr Dering for the waltz." Gretel was small of stature, but most dancers are but she seemed to be exactly the same small delicate build as the teacher and it made me wonder if there was any sort of relationship.
Gretel skipped up to me, unlike myself, she was not shy. She had come right up to me and held out her hand towards me in greeting "hello," she said grinning. She had the brightest blue-gray eyes that I have ever seen which strangely complimented her red-brown hair. A dappling of freckles played across her face. "I'm Gretel" I bowed my head. "Gustav," I mumbled as I took her hand timidly in a handshake. She kept a grip on my hand and pulled be out on to the dance floor. Fräulein Braun smiled, "Now that we have everyone paired, we can being." The other two couples were hesitant about being with or even next to each other. When you were that young every boy had a disease and every girl had a plague, so you stuck with people of your own gender. But Gretel, she seemed to show no fear of this infection that I did not know I had; the other couples were looking at her with amazement a though she had just broken the cardinal law of being a second year in grade school.
"The waltz consists of a three beat motion," as she spoke she demonstrated by herself what she meant. The other couples attempted to follow her example, but only managed to fail miserably. Gretel however copied the steps perfectly, dragging me along with her. She laughed as I tripped over my own feet. Braun then continued "The man shall lead and women shall follow, now I shall count out the beats and you shall walk forward three steps and then backward for three steps." Braun glanced at the couples to se that none of them made a move toward each other except for Gretel and I, More Gretel than I. The Fräulein smiled "you are going to have to hold hands," she came toward the first couple and positioned theirs hands correctly and then se moved to the second couple and helped them. However, when she came to Gretel and I, the girl had already taken the liberty of correcting where my ands went. Braun looked surprised, "Well done, you two."
Braun then continued talking, though she saw the couples were none to happy even about holding hands. "The men will start on the left foot and step forward and the women will start on the right and step backwards." I remember she helped everyone except for Gretel and I. Gretel's vast knowledge of Dance made me wonder if she ever had any experience before, I decided to ask her. "Gretel…" I asked timidly. "Yes?" she squeaked. "Have you… y'know, ever danced before?" She tilted her head and giggled. "Nein," she replied simply "But my mother used to dance when she was little, so I thought I'd try it" I smiled at her, "My mother runs a hardware store, and I help her sometimes." Her face showed interest in what I had to say. "Really?" she mused as I nodded in reply. "What do you do?" Before I had a chance to answer I realized that Fräulein Braun had been conducting her students the entirety of my conversation with Gretel and that I know had lost track of what I was supposed to be doing.
As soon as the instructor started to clap out a beat I instantly stepped forward on my right foot, the wrong foot. Gretel quickly corrected me, I however was embarrassed but to my delight I was not the only one who made that mistake. Braun still kept the beat a grin of amusement sat upon her face, I was sure she had expect this to happen. Eventually every couple had done exactly what she had requested and then she made us repeat the procedure several times so that we had got that memorized. The entire time my conversation with Gretel became more relaxed as she I and I discovered common ground between each other. As the dancing lesson continued Gretel asked me a question that I was unprepared for, "What does your dad do? My Dad works in Berlin, I only see him on Sundays." She was proud about the achievement of her Father; I had no reason to be proud of what mine did. I fell silent; Gretel must have sensed this change for she immediately tried to repair the damage. "I'm sorry."
I just nodded. Time afterward seemed to go faster after that statement, soon Fräulein Braun then called the six children together to talk to them about the day after tomorrow's lesson. I realized that I had been at the studio for three hours and it was now six o' clock at night. I just stared at the clock on the wall of the gymnasium. My mother would be furious when I got home, if she was already not worrying out of her mind about me. I quickly told the Fräulein about my predicament. She said that I could leave earlier and so not to disappoint her I grabbed my schoolbooks and dashed out of the gymnasium and toward my home, which, conveniently was situated right next to the store that we owned. I quietly came around the back door so not as to draw attention to myself as I entered my home, far past my curfew. The backdoor lead right into our kitchen, which was occupied by the appliances we could afford to run and a sink. A table with four chairs sat in the center of the room. On the opposite wall from the door was an arch that opened up into the salon. On the wall next to the entry way to the salon opened another arch that continued into a short hallway that contained two doors that lead to the cellar and a spare room, in that order, and a final door at the end, which, was where my parents room was. In the salon was a staircase that leads to a simple second floor. The stairs lead to a landing which split into two rooms, the right was a library-like room and the to the left was my room. No room in the house had much furniture, just the essential that made the room part of a home.
I looked around the kitchen; I could hear no yelling or cursing coming from any part of the house, which lead me to believe that my father had not come home that night, again. It made me happy in a way that I almost never saw him because whenever he was lucky enough to leave the bar with enough coordination left, my parents always fought and it almost always ended in tears. As far as I knew right now, my father was spending his monthly weeklong stay behind bars at the local jail. It did not bother me that I had a drunken fool for a father because I never had the chance to grow attached to him as a child.
I quietly crept passed the table in the kitchen but just as I was entering the salon my mother came from down the hallway "Gustav!" she exclaimed. "Where have you been?" he voice was strained with emotion, a mix of relief, fear and nervousness. "I have been looking for you all over town." I hung my head in shame, "I'm sorry," I apologized; my mother was having none of it. "Where have you been?" she asked again. "I was at Fräulein Braun's dance Studio" she took me in her arms and embraced me deeply. "Oh God, I'm just glad your safe." She tried to catch her breath for she sounded as though she had just run several miles. She held me for a lone time and after the time I tried to squirm out of her grasp, she then held me at arms length. "What were you thinking?" she asked me, "I had no Idea where you where, something awful might have happened." I did not look her in the eyes as I apologized to her once again. I slid the book bag off of my back and tossed to the side of me at the feet of one of the chairs at the table. I could tell unconsciously that I was soon to be receiving a lecture.
It was February 27th, 1933 and it had been almost five years since I started taking lessons from the wonderful Fräulein Braun and it had been five years the Gretel and I had been dance partners in just about everything that Braun taught us. Most was because Gretel was a natural and Braun seemed to believe that I was the only boy in her class that showed the kind of promise that she wanted. She had informed her class of now ten members that she was to be having a showcase at the end of this month and each couple would perform the style of dance of their choice. Gretel and I looked to each other as we wordlessly debated with each other about what we would want to display for the town. Braun had given us a few minutes before the class began to discuss. I met Gretel off to one side of the dance floor to discuss our options. "I believe we should do the waltz," she suggested, I shook my head and gestured to another couple on the opposite side of the floor from us. "I know those two, they will choose the waltz because that's their best dance." Gretel fell silent as she thought about another choice.
"Perhaps the tango?" she said, I thought about this. This was definitely an option for no other couple was obviously going to choose that as their choice, because as desirable the Tango was, almost every couple at the dance studio was not advanced enough to make it worthwhile. I then had a sudden thought spring to mind. "Perhaps," I said as I caught Gretel's attention. "Perhaps we could do tap? I think that would definitely be unique, and I hear its all that everyone is dancing over in America." Gretel giggled, "Well, Gustav, we aren't in America are we?" I shook my head, "But still, we could do that." I looked to her because I had always preferred tap to all the other styles of dance that Fräulein Braun taught. She gave me an encouraging smile, "Alright, we'll do tap," she then held up a finger sternly "But I refuse to be the one choreographing what we perform." I laughed, "Nein, I believe we'll leave that to Fräulein Braun"
After we had told Braun exactly what we wanted to perform, lessons that night continued the same way that they always did. They also finished the same way that they always did, with the final group discussion with the Fräulein before everyone left for the night. Gretel ad I left together for we had discovered early that we both lived relatively close to each other. We left down the street together, I held my arm around her shoulder for the night was cold and she had misplaced her sweater. As we walked, we held conversation with each other about absolutely nothing that would have related to anything relevant at the moment. With each breath that I took a cloud of vapor was released into the air of the chilly night. I was lucky that I had remembered my own coat for a cold breeze played around the city and slithered its way around the two of us.
I liked Gretel, she was committed to what she did and she was good at everything she committed to. I thought about this for a moment and though that if she continued like this she probably could become one of the most prominent women in Germany. The conversation between us suddenly dropped and a silence found its way between Gretel and I. "So," she tried to break the soundlessness that had shrouded them, "How is your mother?" I looked to her with a sidelong glance. "Why do you ask?" She shifted her weight uneasily, "I heard from around town that your father is trying to clean up his act." I drew my arm away from her. "Trying is the key word in that sentence." I said sarcastically, Gretel was unfazed by my snide comment. "I also heard that he is living at home with you." I did not want to admit it but the rumors that she had heard from her mother were indeed correct. Over the last month or so my father had been trying to become that father that he should have been years ago. I still hated him for never being there when I needed him. Though he tried to integrate himself into the established family that my mother and I had, he failed most of the time and the tension between him and my mother was growing.
As we continued walking Gretel took my hand in hers. "Gustav, if anything ever goes wrong, I'm here for you." For some reason Gretel's statement of welcoming reassured him that there was someone in the world who had that much compassion left in them. "Danke," I said as I dropped my eyes to my feet. Gretel kept my hand in hers as we kept walking toward our residence, for some reason I did not feel anything out of the ordinary, but Gretel was acting differently though I did not notice it at first. The farther along we continued the more evident it became apparent to me. She spoke about what we could do for our dance showcase I only half listened to her. I almost did not realize that she was looking at me after she had finished her monologue about tap steps. She still had her hand entwined in mine and started to feel strangely about that. In one motion she wrapped her arms around my neck and pressed her lips against mine. I instantly stiffened in shock. Everyone at that age was going through their session with raging hormones, but some showed this more evidently than others and to my disdain, Gretel had fallen victim to it.
I pulled away from her slowly; she still hung around my neck. I felt strange, nothing stirred within me, as a normal person would have felt, I felt strangely violated as though some deep secret within me had suddenly become apparent. Gretel's eyes and mines met and we held each other's gaze. "Do you love me, Gustav?" she asked timidly and almost so quietly that I could barely hear it. It hurt me to answer her, "no," I felt as though I had just committed a crime against humanity by turning a girl like that away. Her facial features fell, "is there anything?" she asked. My eyes tore away from her gaze and wandered on their way toward the starless sky overhead. I pulled Gretel's arms from around my neck and let them go and they dropped limply down to her side. "I'm sorry, Gretel," I said and slipped passed her almost rudely without another word. I could only imagine that as I walked away from her that the dejection on her face would have driven anyone to tears
I had to get away from her. Breaking into a run I dashed from her around the corner so I would not have to look at her. I trotted to a slower pace as I saw the lights of my home glimmering at the end of the street. As I neared the house the sound of raised voice met my ears and I instantly came to a full stop. Why? Why did my parents have to be quarreling again? I knew that no matter how hard I tried I would be drawn into it. Dropping the expression from my face I entered through the back to come face to face with my mother brandishing a frying pan in front of her to ward off my red faced intoxicated father. Their fight lost momentum as soon as I entered the room. Neither of my parents said anything as I hung my book bag on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. I then also hung up my tap shoes, which I had tied the laces together so that I would not get them separated from one another. My father let out a low growl as soon as his bloodshot eyes saw the shoes. "Back from that pansy class?" he said harshly. I tried not to let it show how much his statement had stung me. I nodded my head as I passed him, "Yes," I had barely enough time to finish saying the 's' when my father grabbed my by the shoulder and wrenched me around to face him. "Don't give me that sort of attitude…" My mother tried to pry his grip from my shoulder, "Don't, Alonzo," she said with venom in her voice. I twisted my arm away from my fathers. "Yes, Sir." I emphasized the sir, though I doubted my father would notice.
He dipped his head, "that's better, … you need to learn to respect your elders… your class doesn't help with that." He turned to my mother, "Why did you even let him do that? This boy needs military…" "Nein," my mother cut in sternly, though she was still backed into a corner with no way out if my father went through on of his fits. "He is too young." He gave her a hard look, "nonsense, woman, I was enlisted when I was his age." Even I doubted that, my father probably would have dropped his weapon and ran at the first sign of battle if he ever engaged in battle at all. "Damnit, woman, this dance thing… it's not natural for a boy." My mother's face was expressionless, "I don't want to see my son prancing around in circles." I was angry and I was not afraid to show it, I shook my head. It was not my father's choice on whether I wanted to dance or not, I was going to defend my choice of past time against him. "I like dancing." I said simply, a look of dread washed over my father's expression. "You…like it?" he choked out, his red face draining of color. The way my father reacted to it I though I had just told him I had some sort of infectious disease. He suddenly became angry, the color flared up in his cheeks.
In a sweeping motion my father lashed out at me and struck my head squarely above my right eye slamming me into the wall, the shock and pain were instantaneous as the fear and rage that I had reserved for so many years for him welled up within me like steam in a kettle. The shriek my mother let loose was so horrid, that my father turned his attention from me and rounded on his wife. He dragged her down the hallway and threw her into their room. I was so stunned about my father's erratic actions that I did not make a sound. Locking my mother in the room, he came thundering back for me. I was still so stunned when my father lifted me clean off the floor and rammed me into the other wall that I did not fight or struggle. My legs instantly crumpled underneath me as my father released me from his grasp and backed away, "prove to me." He panted, "Prove to me, that you can still fight…" I felt something warm running in my right eye, which I tried to open but could not. Nothing, I felt nothing, no serge of adrenaline that would have caused me to succumb to my father's wishes. "Now!" my father bellowed making me start in panic.
"Prove to me that you aren't turning into one of them…" I did not comprehend his sentence. Slowly I pushed myself to my feet though my legs were still shaking, the reason was beyond my knowledge. My father had become inpatient with waiting for my response, so he decided to prompt me once more. Swinging wildly at me, I dodged out of the way and attempted to run toward the door, but he managed to grab the back of my vest and threw me back into the room. "What?" I yelled at him from the opposite side of the table than him. "What am I turning into?" He swung at me again, but I ducked to the side. "As if you didn't know." He chuckled. I shook my head, "I don't know…" my Father growled in frustration as he lunged at me. I screamed in surprise as I unconsciously threw myself toward the door. Pushing my way through the back door and broke out into the cool night. My feet pounded against the ground as m legs carried me far from my house, I could hear my father's last words as he barked them out at me. "I never want to see you back here again, you hear that…" I did not slow down "…No son of mine!"
I ran as fast as my feet could carry me away from my house. My mind was clouded over at the pain started to become more intense with every step that I took. I tried to think of someplace that I could go, some place to run to now that my own home was not safe, but nothing openly presented itself in my mind. Tears started welling up in my eyes, but I could not wipe them away for a jolt of pain shook my cheek when I tried to. I did not realize where I was going until I felt something catch my foot and I vaulted over myself and ran my head into the ground. After, I did not bother to raise myself from the ground. I also did not realize that I had run myself straight into the Jewish part of town. It was normal human nature to gather with people who believe in the same ideals, and that was why the place that I had grown up in had divided itself into sections. Crawling forward, my hand brushed up against a wall that had grown in front of me and, leaning my back to it, I drew my legs to my chest and sat there.
I rested my chin on my arms, which I had crossed over my knees. The tears created minute rivers on my face and created dampness on the sleeves of my shirt. "What?" I asked myself out loud, "What am I doing wrong!" Crying to the night sky, I did not expect anyone to answer my question. I remember gingerly touching the gash on my face with the sleeve of my shirt. Drawing it away to look at it I saw, with my one eye that had not swollen shut that it was dyed red. I dropped my arm to my side and let it rest on the ground limply beside me. A slight breeze started to pick up and I shivered, but only partly because it was cold. I suddenly heard a crash to the left of me and I quickly turned my head in surprise to try and see what had made the unexpected sound. The figure of a man came into my sight. "Oh, I wasn't expecting to see another…" they said as they picked up a bucket from the ground that at one point might have been filled with water. I realized that when the man had seen me he had dropped the container in surprise and that was what had caused the sound to echo in the night.
"I'm sorry," I apologized, though I did not move from my seated position. "I did not mean to trespass." The man kept staring at me that made me shift slightly, but after my rapid apology he held up his hand. "This Synagogue is a place for anyone who needs shelter." I tried to breath but my breath only came out in short breaths and gasps. "Yes…" I said not looking at my new companion. He came to stand in front of me and only then did he manage to see the state that he right side of my face was in. "Goodness, what happened?" he said as he produced a handkerchief from his vest pocket and handed to me. As I took it I finally got a good look at whom I was talking to. He was tall and processed a broom-handle build. A newsboy hat covered his scraggly brown hair and he had a short beard to match. He did not appear to be much older than twenty-four or so. I nodded my head in thanks as I put the cloth to my head.
"I had… a… uh…" I tried to answer him but nothing about what had just happened to me made much sense. When I was that young I did not understand what had happened but now that I look back I understand very well what my father had said to me. The Jew did not push me for an answer because I think he had known what had happened to me. There was a silence between us as I managed to get the bleeding under some kind of control. "Keep the handkerchief," he said. Once again I nodded with gratitude. "You need it more than I do," he chuckled. "Thank you, friend." I whispered, as I looked to him, for some reason the exchange of just those few simple words made the mood lighter and more enjoyable. I had calmed down considerably since when I first entered into the shadow of the synagogue and for that I was thankful. "I am Mendel, by the way," the man said after a few moment of space between our sentences. "Gustav," I replied through my arm which covered part of my mouth because if the angle I held the cloth to the wound. Mendel suddenly because serious, "Gustav," he said staring me straight in the eyes, or rather eye. "What really happened?" I became defensive and irritated by his persistence. "What is it to you?" I snapped at him, he was not taken aback. "Nothing really, its just that that," he pointed to the gash which I had covered with the handkerchief. "That doesn't look like an accident."
I let a breath out through my nose as the hand that held the handkerchief fell to my side. "I'm sorry… it's just everything happened so fast… I didn't know what to say…" Mendel did not say a word to signal that he was listening. I almost did not continue for I thought he was going to say something metaphorical because he appeared to be the type of person who would find a quote from Shakespeare for every moment. Continuing I began to tell him the entire story.