Astrid Hilse

by hargitai

"Hold me," she says and I hold her. She falls in my arms, her small back against my chest. It is night, late and cold, and we sit on the rough stone steps without our jackets. In the distance the blue lights of the barracks flare up, now and then a jeep passes by. The mess hall is slowly closing down, dinner is over and the dishes are put away. Inside the officers' club the dancing goes on. For six hours we've been on the allied army base with our adult education class, our host Captain VanPelt.

At five we watched a movie. Astrid and I sat side by side, moving little, just looking and waiting for something to happen, a touch, a move, for the movie to be over. Behind us, Herr Willkie translated the movie in a whisper. Now and then people laughed.

Astrid turns in my arms. I wait for her touch to shake me up but it doesn't. There is only the chill of the night, her shivering arms, her hunger, but no love at all. We walk back in the club and dance. The British soldiers move to the pool tables and drink beer in small private groups. The Germans stay on the dance floor. They linger politely, waiting for a signal to leave.

Astrid and I sneak out to the smoke-filled bathroom. We kiss again, hungry and hurried, still without love.

At last at midnight Herr Willkie gathers the class. The road home is long and the North Sea wind blows hard in our backs. Herr Willkie stays behind and waits for Frau Verkoneren. They walk slowly, hand in hand, unlike us, Astrid and I, being afraid to be seen.

Back on Oxen Strasse we drop in Hannen Alt. We drink two more beers and then walk home. In the staircase we fall heavily on the steps. Astrid reaches forward and guides my hand under her coat. She is warm, but very uncomfortable the way she is spread on the steps. Still, she opens her arms and pulls me on top, but then almost right away we get up and make it upstairs, make it to the bed.

Then she cries, a little embarrassed, she cries and points to her mutilated nipple. "My daughter bit it," she smiles, "She was a mean and angry baby. I bled for weeks. I couldn't nurse her anymore."

She slides down the couch and rolls down my pants. She stays there for a minute, breathing and not breathing. I like her touch, her fingers, her skin, the touch of her hair falling on my sides, but I am still cold, from the wind outside, from the many mugs of cold beer, most of all from inside.

At last I stop her and hold her face in my hands. "We can't do this. It is too late. It is time for you to take a taxi. Time to go home, to your husband, to your daughter, to your..."

"But," she protests, "It is so hard to just pick up and leave."

She cries. She cries a little, but then she picks up her things, her bra, her socks, her shirt. She zips up her zippers, covers her parts, her breasts, her mutilated nipple, her cesarean scar. Her naked parts one by one disappear under her smart middle class clothes. Her body, a shadow of a body, moves out the room, down the stairs, to hail a taxi, and to go, by way of Linden, home.

I don't move. I stay on the bed and get dressed under the covers. It is cold, just like outside the barracks of the allied forces a few hours ago. I walk to the window and watch the noisy tired crowd disperse from the pubs. It is four o'clock. Down below the Jurdigen Canal breathes its early morning fog.

Copyright © 1996
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