Ice cold, p.3

Ice Cold, page 3

 

Ice Cold
 


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  – Just because you’ve been looking for someone in these parts for years …look, I know myself I did a stupid thing, all that with the girl and so on, what I did, I admit it, but I got nothing to do with them other cases, nothing at all. Prove that I did, you’ll have to prove I did. Yes, just you prove it. Show me your evidence. You won’t find nothing! Nothing at all. I got nothing to hide, nothing!

  Sunday morning

  Still half asleep, just on the point of waking up, she hears the voices. Far away at first, as if from the other end of a large hall. They grow louder and louder. The woman’s voice is not unlike her mother’s, hoarse, husky. Sounds from the kitchen, the clatter of crockery, now and then a small child whining. The sounds come closer, they’re more distinct. Dragging her further from sleep and into wakefulness. Kathie opens her eyes. The room is small, the curtains closed. However, enough light falls into the room through the thin fabric to illuminate it softly. She lies there perfectly still, on her back. Only her eyes move over the room. Wander along the ceiling, down the walls, turn to the window. It’s a small room, not much more than a cubbyhole. A wooden bedstead, a chest of drawers with a washbasin and jug on it. The wardrobe stands in the corner next to the door. The air in the room smells musty, slightly mouldy, damp. The walls are yellowed. Everything here is strange to her, for a moment she doesn’t know where she is, how she comes to be here. Slowly, very slowly, memory returns.

  Kathie sits up in her bed. She sees her clothes laid over the chair. The green coat, and over it her blue dress, her stockings. Just as she left them yesterday, before slipping into the clammy bed. She rubs her eyes, yawns. Knows where she is now, and how she came here the day before.

  She remembers the journey by rail with Maria. Frau Lederer meeting the two girls at the station. She was standing on the platform when the train came in. Kathie knew who she was at once. Even before Frau Lederer herself spotted the girls. She was the spitting image of Maria’s mother.

  A brief handshake by way of welcome, nothing more.

  She took the girls straight back from the Central Rail Station to Lothringerstrasse. They sat on the sofa in the combined kitchen and living-room of her apartment, Maria beside Kathie. They drank a cup of tea. Kathie sat there quietly, silently looking around the room. It was a bright, spacious kitchen. The dresser was painted white, with curtains at the panes of the glass-fronted cupboards. A picture in memory of someone dead was stuck between the glass and the frame. A birdcage at the window with a canary in it. The canary was yellow, and Kathie couldn’t take her eyes off it as Maria, beside her, talked and talked. Poured out words like a waterfall. Talked about her mother, Frau Lederer’s sister, who’d had another baby in the summer. About her stepfather the farmer in Merl, the hop harvest, falling prices, the village people. Told Frau Lederer who’d been married, who’d fallen sick, who had died. Talked and talked. All the gossip she knew in full detail. Kathie was already sick of hearing those stories. The bird hopped from perch to perch in its cage, ruffled up its feathers, started preening itself.

  Kathie looked away from the cage to Frau Lederer. She had an idea she wasn’t very interested in Maria’s chit-chat either. Was tired of the girl’s stories. But Maria never stopped talking.

  Kathie sat there with her little blue hat on her head. The hat with its white ribbons. A tea-cup in her hand. She held it like a fine lady, between just her thumb and forefinger, crooking her little finger. She’d seen that in magazine pictures.

  She dreamed her way over to the cage, through the window, out into the street. Dreamed of the city waiting for her, dreamed of her new life.

  Frau Lederer asked if she wouldn’t like to take her hat off. Kathie shook her head. Didn’t the ladies in the pictures always keep their hats on while they drank tea?

  She drank hers. The taste of the tea was soft and sweet in her mouth, that was the sugar and milk in it. Sweet as the life she was going to lead here in Munich. In the big city.

  She’d find a job and never go back to the country. It was much nicer here. She wanted to be a city lady. Luck lay about in the streets, she had only to bend down and pick it up.

  ‘Where are you going to spend the night, Kathie?’ asked Frau Lederer. Once again she tore Kathie brusquely out of her thoughts, brought her back to the kitchen and this table.

  Frau Lederer had room only for her niece Maria. Maria could sleep on the sofa in the kitchen, but it wasn’t big enough for two. Her spare room was rented to a lodger, she said, a gentleman.

  ‘I know where to go. I’ll go to someone I know in Ickstattstrasse, Anna Bösl. I can stay with her,’ said the girl, a touch defiantly.

  Did she know where Ickstattstrasse was, Frau Lederer asked? She, Frau Lederer, could ask her neighbour’s girl to take her there. Frau Lederer herself was afraid she didn’t have the time. So Kathie went to Ickstattstrasse. The neighbour’s daughter and Maria took her there. She had left her case with Frau Lederer, she’d come to fetch it when she’d found a job. Later. Frau Lederer had no objection to that.

  In Ickstattstrasse, Anna opened the door to the girls. She recognized Kathie at once. There were exclamations of ‘Hello there!’ and ‘How are you?’ and ‘Come along in. What are you doing in Munich? How long will you be staying?’

  Such a warm welcome, very different from Frau Lederer’s cool handshake. Kathie felt better at once. She said goodbye to Maria in the hall of the building, outside the apartment door.

  A little later she was sitting at another kitchen table, this time with Anna. This kitchen was smaller and not so bright, but that didn’t bother Kathie. And now she was the one who talked and talked. About the job she was going to look for in Munich, ‘because her father wanted her out of the house’. But she’d have left anyway. The village was too small for her, she’d felt that for a long time. She was going to live in the big city. Like Anna. That’s why she was here.

  She hadn’t been able to stay with her relations, she didn’t want to either, so now she was looking for a place to spend the night. Maybe Anna could help her.

  ‘That won’t be any problem. We’ll soon fix it,’ Anna told Kathie. ‘You just have to wait till my mother comes home,’ she added, and she, Anna, would make sure that Kathie could stay here for a few days.

  It wasn’t long before Frau Bösl did come home. She looked tired. Kathie assumed she’d been at work. She sat down with them at the kitchen table, and Anna said, ‘This is Kathie from Wolnzach. I met her at the Merl farm, her and her mother. She’s looking for a job in Munich and she needs a place to sleep. For now, just to start with. Later on she’ll see.’

  Frau Bösl didn’t like the idea of Kathie staying the night, and she didn’t bother to conceal it. There was almost nowhere to sleep in the apartment, she said. She was renting the only spare room to Fräulein Stegmeier. And she was sure she didn’t have to tell Anna how badly she needed the money since Anna’s father died. Too much money to die on, too little to live on, it didn’t stretch far enough anyway.

  No, she couldn’t let Kathie sleep in the bedroom either, because Frau Bösl herself slept there with her other two children, had Anna forgotten that?

  ‘Fräulein Steigmeier’s gone away for a few days. Couldn’t you let Kathie stay here for the next few nights? Until she’s found something else. She can’t sleep in the street.’

  After some humming and hawing, Frau Bösl agreed, reluctantly, but all the same she said: very well, Kathie could sleep in the spare room.

  ‘But only for the next day or so. After that she’ll have to find somewhere else.’

  Didn’t she have a case with her, asked Frau Bösl? She’d left it at Frau Lederer’s, said Kathie. But Frau Bösl didn’t seem interested in her answer. She rose from the table and went to the spare room. Opened the door and nodded in the direction of the doorway. ‘You can sleep in there.’

  But before that Kathie went out with Anna to the Soller inn on her first evening in Munich. To Soller’s in the valley.

  ‘Want to come al
ong?’ Anna had asked Kathie. It would be boring to stay here all evening with her mother, she added. Kathie was happy with that idea, so she went along with Anna to Soller’s.

  She met Mitzi Zimmermann that evening, and later on Hans too. Gretel, the waitress at Soller’s, sat with them for a while, ‘Because there’s not much going on here today, they’re all out on the Wiesn for the Oktoberfest.’ She was curious, wanted to know who Anna’s friend was, and Kathie told Gretel about herself.

  Gradually the inn filled up with guests. Gretel rose to her feet and served them. Kathie and Anna hadn’t been in the bar of the inn for long, maybe half an hour, when Mitzi Zimmermann came over to their table. Anna introduced Mitzi to Kathie. It seemed to Kathie that Anna knew everyone at Soller’s, and everyone knew Anna.

  A little later in the evening Hans arrived. Kathie liked him at once. As soon as he came through the door with his grey felt hat, and his black moustache. He came over to their table. Mitzi jumped up at once and hugged him. Hans pushed her away when he saw Kathie. He wanted to know who she was, kissed her hand as if she were a fine lady. Kathie went quite red in the face when he looked at her with his dark eyes. He sat down on the empty chair beside her, moved really close, and Kathie liked that.

  Where did she come from, he asked, and what was she doing in Munich? She told him all about it. All the ups and downs, the trouble with her father, and how she’d come to Munich to look for a job.

  Finding a job wouldn’t be easy, he told her, but he’d help her. After all, he knew plenty of people, and a pretty girl like Kathie was sure to find something.

  ‘Oh, go on with you, don’t talk such nonsense to the girl. You don’t have any work yourself, like most who come here to Soller’s, you live off Mitzi and the dole. As for the kind of work you have in mind for her, there’s many young girls have come to grief that way.’

  ‘Don’t talk such nonsense, just you get on with your own job while you still have one.’ And Hans dismissed Gretel’s objection with a scornful gesture.

  It was a fun evening at Soller’s. At some point Anna began to sing. All the street ballads that she and her father used to perform when she was little and they went about from inn to inn. And in the course of the evening Hans moved closer and closer to Kathie. He put his hand on her thigh. Kathie didn’t push it away. Mitzi didn’t notice, or if she did notice she didn’t let it show.

  Now Kathie slowly puts back the covers. They’d stayed late at Soller’s, and it was well after midnight when Anna took her home to Ickstattstrasse.

  Kathie was a little surprised that Anna herself didn’t stay, just brought Kathie back to the apartment. Anna herself left again, but Kathie was too tired to wonder why. They’d fixed to meet again this evening and go to Soller’s in the valley together. Anna would come for her.

  Kathie pushes the covers right off, gets out of bed. She feels the cold floor under her bare feet. Goes to the washbasin. What is she going to do until six o’clock, when Anna comes to fetch her?

  She takes the jug, pours water into the basin, dips both hands in the cold water and washes her face.

  Walburga

  When exactly did I meet Josef ? Can’t remember now. We’ve known each other for ever. Since we were kids. Over in the railwaymen’s apartments on the housing estate, that’s where we lived. My dad’s with the railway. Same as his too. Everyone there works on the railway. And they all have ever so many children. Us kids, we always met to play in the yard. Mostly it was girls playing one game, boys playing another, but then with cops and robbers, that was different, we all mucked in together then. Boys too. That’s how come I knew Josef. We were out of doors all day. Didn’t go home until our mums called us in, or the street lights came on.

  As a kid myself I always thought him a bit odd. When he was on our side he’d sit under the cherry tree, just sat there with his legs crossed, waggling them. Hardly ever said a word. Then sometime we kind of lost touch.

  That was up till the summer of 1935.

  That’s when I met him again, bathing. Well, I really had a date to go bathing with Erich. I was walking out with him then, but did he care about me? Not him. Spent the time playing cards with his mates. Over on the benches by the kiosk. So suddenly Josef turns up, I see him standing there.

  ‘Hello, remember me? I’m Josef,’ he said. I had to squint into the sunlight, so I didn’t recognize him straight off. Only when I looked closer.

  Erich, he didn’t have time for me anyway, so I just spent all afternoon talking to Josef. It was nice, but I didn’t fall in love with him, no. He was kind of, well, like, there, see?

  He sat on the rug with me. Told me how he was working on the railways as a shunter. Just like his dad. Shift work. ‘So what do you do?’ he asked. And I told him about my dressmaker’s training, how I don’t really fancy the job, but what else would I do? I’d need to be better at sums to be a salesgirl in the Co-op or work in an office. So there wasn’t much left, was there?

  In the evening, he walked me home, pushing his bike. It was an old Dixi, with balloon tyres. I remember it, yes.

  The bike was stolen afterwards, at least that’s what he said. But that was much later. So he took me home, and when he made a date with me for the next Saturday I didn’t say no.

  And it was then it happened, I mean that Saturday. We’d gone out into the country, we went to Himmelreich on our bikes and when we were sitting on the grass he kissed me. It wasn’t romantic, rough more like. But I didn’t mind that. And then he wanted to go further, and I didn’t say no then either. So well, that’s when it happened.

  I’m not very choosy that way, never was.

  But when I never set eyes on him for several weeks afterwards, well, that did annoy me. All the same, when he suddenly turned up one day I went to bed with him again.

  ‘What’ve you been up to all this time?’ I asked.

  ‘Had a lot of work on,’ was all he said, and I couldn’t get any more out of him.

  I left it at that, didn’t ask no more questions. I mean, the whole thing hadn’t mattered to me all that much. Why would I want to ask more questions?

  Then in autumn that year I found I was up the spout.

  I’d hoped he’d take more care of me then, stick by me. But not him. Far from it. He didn’t change his ways one bit, dropped in whenever he fancied, then he neglected me and the baby too later. Hardly even looked at him. Let alone talking to the kid or playing with him.

  And when the maintenance payments stopped one day, just like that, I went to the Child Benefit Office. My mum and dad had persuaded me that was what I ought to do. At the Child Benefit Office they had his wages seized. Well, I needed the money, didn’t know what to do. Josef was angry, furious he was. That’s the first time in my life I was real scared of him.

  He was sitting on the bed in my room at my mum and dad’s when I got home from work. Waiting for me. Beside himself, he was. Threatened me and called me names.

  ‘How do I even know I’m the father? You could’ve just palmed the kid off on me.’

  I simply stood there crying. If my dad hadn’t of come into the room, if he hadn’t chucked Josef out of the place, well, I can’t say what I’d have done.

  So that looked like the end of it. ‘We’ll bring the kid up between us all,’ my dad said. So I didn’t see no more of Josef for a few weeks. He never came next or nigh me. And when I found I was up the spout again, it was me went to see him. I just didn’t know what else to do.

  *

  We married on 31 December 1937. It was snowing all day long. Why did I marry him? I’m not so sure myself. I guess I just wanted someone who’d pay for the baby, and I was more scared of being on my own than being married to a man I didn’t love. I mean, who’d want me now, with one bastard kid and another on the way?

  He agreed, said we’d get married. Didn’t want no trouble with the Youth Office or the Benefit Office. He knew about all that from a mate of his in the Party. His mate had told him getting married was the simplest
thing. For him, for all of us.

  It was the Saturday three weeks after we got married he beat me for the first time. I can’t remember what for, can’t remember a thing about it. Except for the bash on the back of the neck he give me. I’d just turned my back on him. I can still remember that all right. Then he grabbed me by the throat and pressed hard.

  Seemed like for ever before he let go of me again. After that I just wanted to get away, file for divorce and that. But the way he sat there, his face in his hands, telling me how sorry he was – well, I had to think of the children, poor little things, they needed their father, after all, and I stayed. I stayed against my better judgement, wouldn’t listen to the voice inside me.

  Interrogation of Josef Kalteis, continued

  – My wife Walburga, she comes from the same place as what I do, she’s from Aubing too. Her old man is with Reich Railways, same as me.

  – When exactly did I get to know her? Can’t rightly remember no more. She was in the same class as my sister at school, she lived in our neighbourhood.

  – One evening, I was at an inn, having a drink after work. So on my way home I see this girl in front of me. I kind of felt I knew her, so I walked a bit faster, wanted to see who it was. When I’d caught up with her I saw it was Walburga. I thought to myself, where’s she off to, then?

  – Yes, I was curious. So I went on following her. When I saw she was crying I spoke to her. I hate to see a woman crying. Never could abide it.

  – Anything wrong, I asked her, what was the matter? She told me to leave her alone. But she didn’t try to shake me off, I just went on beside her. Well, I says to myself, you can’t let the girl alone now, not crying like that. So then she told me about it, it was love troubles. How she’d been walking out with a man and she’d quarrelled with him that day. He was forever blowing hot and cold. That’s why she was crying.

 
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