Jens was staring down at his plate in deep concentration as I poured him another glass of scotch. For a moment I thought I had undercooked the ham and he was going to chastise me that way he always did, softly, but sternly, with the disappointment of a loving parent instead of the wroth of a raging one. But he raised his knife in his right hand, stuck the slice of meat with the fork in his right, and cut through it. She watched him bring it to his mouth, sliding the silver from between his lips.
"Very good, Elsa," he told me, never looking up from his plate. I gave him a short curtsy, really just a bend of my knees, and put the scotch bottle back on the corner table. I returned to my spot at the table, to his left, and began serving myself silently. Jens always had me eat with him, but he never spoke to me, and I had vowed on the night my papa sent me to him that I would never be his friend. I answered him when he spoke to me, but it never went beyond that. I would never speak to him on my own accord and he seemed to sense as such.
I could feel Jens look at me as I tasted the ham. I grimaced slightly. It was not my worst meal. The first meal I had ever cooked for him had been charred and nearly uneatable. When I had placed it on the table in front of him I was positive he was going to yell at me, or hit me, or send me away, but he only smiled softly. He cut into it, tried to eat it, before raising a napkin to his lips and taking the food from his mouth.
"Next time will be better," he told me and I nodded. He asked me to get him a loaf of bread from the kitchen, some melted butter, and a small glass of brandy. That was the first time he ordered me to sit with him while he ate. He cut me off a large piece of bread, poured some of the butter over it, and placed it before me.
Jens Kappel was a handsome man a few years south of forty and he never seemed to have trouble brining women home, a different woman every time, while I hid underneath he floorboards. He did not do it very often. He knew I hated the spot he had made for me underneath the living room floor. He usually took them into his bedroom and I would hear her leave in the morning, reminding him to call on her soon.
He won't call you ever, I thought bitterly.
A few nights ago he did not take the woman into his bedroom. They sat on the couch talking, but then the voices stopped. It took me a moment to recognize the sound of kissing, and then the breathy sounds of pleasure the woman was making. My face burned in embarrassment as I listened. I could hear him grunting, her moans, and the sound as the couch scraped and thudded on the floor. The next morning when she left and he lifted the plank of wood off the floor to free me from my tiny coffin, I could hardly look at him. When I placed his breakfast in front of him I glanced up at him. He was staring at me, searching my face for a sign of anything. It was then I realized it was no accident he took her in the living room last night, right above me, right where I could hear. Ever since that moment I have been waiting.
On nights when he does not bring anyone home he comes and gets me from the floorboards. He tells me I can go to my room and he goes to sleep. I like those nights because I can sleep in a real bed. I can pretend that I am home again. But I do not sleep until Jens Kappel retires. He spends hours in his study and does not go to bed until very late. The first night I spent with him though I had been unable to sleep. I lay in bed for hours trying to keep my tears at bay. As the clock struck midnight I heard Jens Kappel's footsteps in the hallway. I paused, taking in a deep shuddering breath. My heart stopped when I saw his shadow stop outside my door. He stood there for what felt like ages, but in truth he passed before the one chime marking the time rang.
I stayed awake the second night, unable to get used to the unfamiliar sounds of his house. He did it a second time. He walked down the hall and stopped directly outside of my door. I waited for the door to open, for him to come in and crawl into my bed, the smell of his favorite scotch on his breath, but again he didn't. Four months have passed since I was given to him and every night I lay awake, waiting for him to open my door, and every night he passes by. But each day that passes his gaze turns a little hotter, his eyes linger a little longer.
"Your father is doing well," he told me suddenly, taking me from my thoughts. "He sends you his love."
"And I send mine," I said softly, tears coming to my eyes at the thought of him.
"I told him as such," he answered. He looked at me, waiting for me to add to the conversation but I refused. Ever since my papa's business was given to him by the government simply because he was a good German and not a Jew I had promised I would hate him. I did not care that he let papa work in the store, that he let papa keep all his money, that papa owned it in all but name. He took it from us.
"I only have bibles, but if you read the Old Testament –"
"It's not the same," I told him curtly, too curtly for a man I owe my life too, but he only fell silent.
"I have other literature, if you would like to read throughout the day," he offered in his soft voice.
"It is difficult to read in my coffin," I answered and he slams his fists down on the table, his fork and knife gleaming in the dim light in the dining room. I flinched at the sound of the wood creaking and glass shaking.
"I told you not to call it that," he said curtly, slowly, lowly.
Even when he was angry his voice was soft, a deep, smooth voice, but soft.
"If I had a home in the country I would move us there. You would not need to be hidden so often in the country," he told me. I looked at him and my lips parted. I hesitated. I wanted to ask him a question, but that would be initiating conversation. He looked at me and waited. Finally I spoke, despite my desire to speak to him as little as possible.
"When can I go back to papa?"
Jens looked down at his plate.
"Not for a long time," he answered. I felt numb.
"I've heard rumors from friends in the East…" he fell silent and shook his head. "Be patient Elsa."
I bristled. I did not like it when he used my name. He had used it a lot the night he came for me. Germans were outside our shop below our home, breaking windows and stealing things. Papa had come into my room just as I woke up throwing a suit case on my bed. I had packed as quickly as I could but I was not even given the chance to put on a dress. Papa put a coat over my shoulders and brought me into the living room where Jens Kappel waited. I had only known him as the man that had taken Papa's store. When Papa told me I was going away with him I had cried and begged my papa to let me stay with him.
"You must go with Herr Kappel now," papa told me.
"Where?" I cried.
"To the other side of town," Papa told me. Jens took me out the back door and brought me down the back streets, away from the Jewish part of town. People were screaming and breaking windows. When I slowed he reached back and took my suitcase form my hand, grabbing onto my hand. He pulled me along the alleys.
"Come along, Elsa," he told me. He glanced back at me as we came under a lamp and I saw realization in his eyes. He stopped us and yanked at my coat. I watched in fear and confusion as he ripped the star off of my coat. "You aren't a Jew anymore, Elsa."
He took the star and threw it on the ground. As he pulled me along the street I stared back at it, watching it fade away into darkness. I am a Jew and I'll always be a Jew, and neither Adolph Hitler nor Jens Kappel can ever take it away from me.
"You father told me your birthday was this coming Friday," he said.
"Is next Friday March 18th?" I asked. Jens nodded. "Then it is."
"Seventeen," I replied. He nodded slowly.
"I will buy a cake from the old Brimmel bakery. You liked those cakes didn't you?"
"When Herr Brimmel owned it," I said. Jens nodded.
"I will buy a cake," Jens said and picked up the Scotch glass. I watched him knock it back in a single long gulp. He stood and reached into his cost pocket, pulling out a pack of cigarettes. He took one out and lit it on a candle on the table.
"Clean this up and you can go to bed," he told me and left the room. I nodded and began bringing the dishes into the kitchen. I have reduced to a type of slavery. My existence has turned into nothing more than seeing to it that Jens was well fed, that his house was kept clean, that his things were fetched when he called for them, and that his scotch glass was always full.
But what made me hate him most was not that he took my papa's business, not that he took me from my home, and not that he made me work as his maid, his slave. It was that I had a choice to leave. I was never in chains; no threats were ever leveled against me. I stayed because I needed him. I stayed because I knew that whatever was happening outside of my prison walls, whatever it was that Jens Kappel was shielding me from, was worse than anything he could do to me.
Even when the time came, and he stumbled into my room drunk, I would lay there beneath him and let him do as he pleased. I would wake up the next day and make him his breakfast and say nothing. The front door would be open, all I had to do was walk outside, but I wouldn't.
I jumped when I heard his voice from his office. I wiped my hands off soap suds on my apron and walked in to see what it was he needed.
"Yes, sir," I asked him when I came to stand in the room.
"I forgot my scotch glass," he told me. I nodded and I went back into the dining room to retrieve it for him. He always drank from the same glass, despite the many he owned. I placed it on his desk and waited. Another bottle of scotch was on his desk in front of him but he made no move to pour it. I stared at him defiantly but he stared back, his brown eyes chillingly calm.
He reached for the bottle and poured him his preferred amount. Once I had finished he reached for the glass.
"Good night, Elsa," he said softly and I turned away without returning the sentiment. I finished clearing the table and cleaning the dishes and went into my little room. It was a guest room, and small and cramped, but I was thankful for it. Thankful to God, not Jens.
Tonight as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, waiting for him to come to my room, I thought about my papa. The only one left I had in this world and he was gone now too. I had seen the look in his eyes, though I had tried to ignore it. I would not be seeing Papa again. I knew it in my bones. But I did not let myself cry. I wouldn't.
The clock was chiming two when I heard Jens in the hall. I waited as his footsteps pause at my door. My heart pounded in my ears. The clock had stopped chiming and he was still there. I heard the sound of the handle wiggle, as if he had rested his hand there. I could hear my heart beat in my ears. I had my eyes screwed shut, so I could not immediately tell if I had imagined the sound of my door creaking open or not.
A/N: I hope to update Roses so Pale soon, but I wanted to write this. Feedback would be very very welcome! Thanks in advance!