Ice cold, p.4

Ice Cold, page 4

 

Ice Cold
 


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  – I went on walking with her for a while because I felt sorry for her.

  – I told her men aren’t all the same, there’s lots of good fish in the sea. That made her laugh, because her granny was always telling her the same.

  – Then I saw her again a few weeks later, out bathing.

  – I recognized her at once, and seeing she was all alone again I sat down with her. And we talked all afternoon.

  – I took her home, she didn’t live far from me anyway. And we made a date for next Sunday.

  Or maybe it was the Saturday, can’t remember now.

  – We went out into the woods with our bikes.

  – Then we went for a walk. After a while we stopped for a rest, and she sat down beside me. Sitting on the grass. I offered her one of my cigarettes, and we smoked.

  – Yes, we talked. We was sitting there and, well, she was the one began necking.

  – But I never did get much out of just necking. So I, well, played about with her. She got wilder and wilder. I had an idea she liked it, honest, so I just went on.

  – She didn’t say nothing to stop me. Nor when I’d took her knickers off. She wound her legs around me. Wound them around me good and tight. And she said ooh, that felt so good. She started moaning. Well, kind of moaning and groaning. And she held me tighter with her legs. She was mad for it. Walburga was a real goer. Oh yes, a goer. I’d never been with a girl like that before. I enjoyed it. Honest, I enjoyed it.

  – After that it was a few weeks before I saw her again.

  – Not till she came to see me and said she’d fallen for a baby, then I saw her again.

  – So we married when she was up the spout again. Last day of December, 31 December 1937.

  – I asked around. I asked a fellow I know in the Party, and I asked at the Youth Office. They said it would be best to marry, seeing as I was the father of the children. I’d be better off that way. On account of the payments and that.

  – With the first kid she went and got my wages seized because I hadn’t paid up on the dot, and I didn’t want no more of that. So then, well, I married her.

  Walburga

  He didn’t come home from his shift till very late that morning, I remember that. Could’ve been around quarter to five. It wasn’t anything unusual, he was often very late home from work.

  Not that I asked why. It was fine by me, him coming home so late.

  His clothes were all dirty – ‘from work’, that’s what he told me. He undressed and washed at the kitchen tap. Then he sat down at the table to eat his breakfast. I’d made it by then, same as always. I mean, I knew what would happen once he’d finished his breakfast.

  He’d grab hold of me by the wrist, haul me over to the kitchen table, or the sofa, or just push me up against the door. He’d hold me there with one hand, press the whole weight of his body up against me so as I couldn’t hardly move, he’d grope under my nightie with the other hand. Spreading my legs, really rough-like. Push himself inside me without wasting no time. No feelings, no affection, so rough and violent I was getting worse and worse scared. Every time.

  I’d close my eyes and keep still, didn’t want to get him even more excited. There was times he let go of me, sudden-like, before he came. Then he’d slag me off for being so cold and not moving, no passion, he said, no wildness. He’d have to get his satisfaction somewhere else, he’d say, if he didn’t fancy just bringing himself off.

  When he was in bed that day, 30 September 1938, it was, I plucked up all my courage and asked him for more housekeeping money.

  The money simply wouldn’t stretch, I said. He’d have to give me more if I was to get all those things. Even the monthly rent for our little apartment comes to twenty-five Reichsmarks, and then there was instalments to pay on the furniture we’d bought, and the little boys had to eat too, they needed clothes. However careful I was with the housekeeping money, I said, however hard I watched every penny I spent, those twenty-five marks a week housekeeping just weren’t enough.

  All of a sudden he threw back the covers of the bed, shouting. Jumped right out of bed and went for me. I hadn’t expected it. I mean, I didn’t think he’d turn so violent. I just stood there. Couldn’t hardly move a muscle. I stood there hearing him shouting and carrying on.

  He never had a moment’s peace in this place, he shouted, what more did I want, wasn’t I satisfied with ruining his life already? Forcing him into a marriage he’d never wanted. And all because of that little bastard.

  He kicked the cot where the baby was lying. He kept on kicking it and kicking it. It wasn’t till then I managed to move again. I ran to the baby. To protect him.

  That’s when the blow hit me. He punched me right in the face. I hadn’t seen him coming, just felt his fist punching my face, and the blood running slowly down my nose, all warm.

  It wasn’t till then the pain came. And my anger. The force of that blow had thrown me on the bed, I wanted to get up, I was trying to defend myself. But even before I was on my feet he hit me again. I fell back on the bed.

  ‘Next time you can bloody stay lying there. You won’t move no more, you and your bastards!’

  And with that he turned, put on clean clothes and went out of the house.

  All this time I just sat there dumbstruck, watching him.

  It was after that I packed up the bare necessities. Took the two screaming kids and left the place before he could get back.

  I went to my parents with the children. That same day I went off to Munich on my own to file for divorce. I didn’t care about the people on the train looking at me. Some of them kind of sideways, others staring straight at my swollen face. I couldn’t hardly see out of my eyes.

  Interrogation of Josef Kalteis, continued

  – Me, hit my wife? I never hit my wife, never.

  – Well, I may have given her a little push. Yes, I guess I gave her kind of a little push.

  –I don’t go hitting no women, if that’s what she said – did she say that? Did she say I beat her? If she did it’s a lie. It’s a bloody lie.

  –She kept wanting more money off of me. Kept on and on nagging, wanting more, said she couldn’t keep house with it. I mean, twenty-five Reichsmarks, anyone can get by on that, right? Twenty-five marks a week, that’s plenty. But she was always wanting more. Money, money, money, more all the time! So I clocked her. Nagging like that, it got on my nerves. Well, so when I couldn’t stand it no more I clocked her one. That’s all. Just to make her shut up. Just to keep her quiet.

  Walburga

  It was late afternoon when I got back from Munich on the train. I’d been to that office where you file for divorce, and I did it. The fellow there was nice enough not to look straight in my beat-up face when he was filling out the forms. I was really grateful to him for that.

  I had to go back to the apartment. I needed a few more things for the kids. And for me. Things I’d left behind, I’d had to leave them behind in the morning. I’d been so scared he might come straight back.

  I didn’t like to go into the apartment at once. Didn’t dare. So I went to my mum and dad’s place first. I waited there till I could be sure he was on the way to his night shift. Then I set off for the apartment. Late at night, it was.

  There wasn’t no light in the windows, the place was quiet. I’d waited outside the door for a bit, listening. I didn’t want to run into him. It wasn’t till I felt sure of myself I put the key in the keyhole and opened the door of the apartment.

  Just for a split second all my fears came back. I was sure, certain sure, I’d double-locked the door when I left in the morning. And now I’d only had to turn the key ever so slightly. The door wasn’t locked, it had just swung back on to the latch and snapped shut.

  He’d been here during the day. Noticed I’d packed up some of my things, then he simply left the door unlocked behind him. There wasn’t anyone in the place. I hesitated, then I went in.

  Everything was dark, there wasn’t no light except a little falli
ng into the corridor from the stairwell. I didn’t want to close the door. It felt safer that way.

  The door to the bedroom was closed, like the door to the kitchen-living-room. Suddenly the apartment didn’t seem familiar any more. It was threatening-like.

  I stood there in the corridor, didn’t know what to do, wanted to turn back. Hesitated. Made myself stay. Ever so carefully I opened the kitchen door. Didn’t dare switch on the light in there. The room was dark, there was only the light from the street coming in through the window. The curtains wasn’t drawn.

  The kitchen looked like usual, nothing seemed different since I left it.

  Everything was in its right place. Only the dresser drawer was open. I went over, took a look. Was there two knives missing? I couldn’t be sure. Decided next moment not to think about it. Packed a few things up.

  I had to go back into the bedroom, there was clothes I needed for me and the kids.

  I looked round the kitchen one last time, then I left the room. Crossed the little corridor to the bedroom.

  I slowly pressed the handle of the bedroom door down. Didn’t want to make no noise. Opened the door just a crack at first. It creaked ever so slightly. I stood still, listening in the dark. Everything was quiet. I took a deep breath, pulled myself together and opened the door wide.

  Just as I was feeling safe I heard that noise.

  It was a soft hissing noise. You couldn’t hardly hear it. But it came from inside the room. I was sure it came from inside the room, from the corner by the bedroom wardrobe. With only the open door and a few paces between me and it. I stopped, held my breath, didn’t move a muscle.

  I didn’t dare go a step further. That sound, that weird sound had brought back all the fears I’d been controlling so carefully.

  I slowly backed out of the room without so much as a squeal. Backed along the corridor. Never taking my eyes off the open bedroom door, I reached for my bag. I’d left it beside the kitchen door. Still without a sound, listening for noises in the dark – oh, I felt that strung up – I snatched up the bag and made for the open front door, still walking backwards.

  It wasn’t till I was in the stairwell I turned round and ran down those stairs as fast as I could go. Ran on and on, all the way back to my parents’ place. It wasn’t till I was back there I calmed down and the fear ebbed away.

  Then I didn’t hear no more from him for weeks – weeks after I’d left the apartment on 30 September. I was back in my old room at my mum and dad’s, with the children. Then there he was all of a sudden, beginning of November. The doorbell rang, I opened the front door, and there he was in front of me.

  He looked terrible, he said he was sorry for the whole thing.

  I was to stop the divorce going through, he said, and come back home with the kids. ‘It won’t do,’ that’s what he said. And he wouldn’t beat me no more, he’d promise me, he’d swear by the Holy Virgin. He’d swear never to beat me again.

  I’ll admit, I wasn’t too sure at first. But the way he kept on at me, trying so hard to persuade me, well, I let him bring me round to the idea after all. I mean, I knew I couldn’t stay in my old room at my parents’ place for good, not with the two boys. And there was something I hadn’t told anyone yet: I knew I was up the spout again. So I packed my things, put the boys in the handcart and went back to him and our old apartment.

  Then I went and lost the baby a few weeks later. Can’t say I was too sad about it. This way the poor little mite’s been spared something, I comforted myself.

  He fell sick early February this year, 1939. He was off work for the whole of the second week in February, hanging about at home, even had to stay in bed for a couple of days. He kept on at me, finding fault, didn’t have a good word for me. The longer he was stuck in the apartment the worse it was for me.

  There was no bearing it, he was so restless, worse and worse every day. Pacing around the apartment like a wild animal in its cage.

  When I was just a little kid, my dad brought a fox-cub home one day. He kept it in a little kennel down in the yard. It was ever so trusting. Then, when the fox got older, it kept on going up and down in its prison. Up and down, up and down, over and over again. It turned vicious and tried to bite. Until at last one day my dad killed it.

  I couldn’t help thinking of that fox when I seen him pacing up and down in the apartment like that. Up and down, over and over again, like the fox. Getting more and more restless all the time.

  If the kids didn’t clear out of his way straight off, he shouted at them. Kicked out at the little boys.

  On Carnival Saturday he told me he had to go out, nothing was going to keep him cooped up at home no more. He had to go out and find himself some fun.

  I couldn’t have cared less what he meant by that, I was sick and tired of his coarse talk and his hints. I hardly listened to him no more.

  After that, I was ever so surprised when he said he’d go to the cinema with me. He even went in, too. We watched the newsreel. Then we left before the main film. I was so tired, I didn’t want to see it after all, and I didn’t want to leave the kids alone so long neither.

  It was a clear, cold winter night. I looked up at the stars, and the sky was sparkling away. We didn’t go straight home, not the shortest way. We walked around for a bit because it was such a lovely evening. I was pleased he’d taken the time. I thought maybe everything might work between us yet.

  We were home about nine-thirty. I was so tired, what with walking in the cold air, I undressed and went straight to bed.

  He was off for a beer, he said, couldn’t stand it here at home no more. He put his jacket and coat on again and went out. That’s the last time I saw him.

  Sunday

  On Sunday morning, before church, old Frau Bösl puts a mug of malted coffee down in front of Kathie. ‘Here, drink that. You’ll be on your own here all day. I’m going over to Haidhausen with the children after church to visit family. Our Anna will come for you.’

  So Kathie sits all alone at the kitchen table, drinks her coffee, indulges in her thoughts. She stands up, goes over to the window and looks out. For hours on end. When she just can’t stand it any more she goes into the bedroom and lies down on the bed, fully dressed. Closes her eyes and waits, waits for Anna to come to Ickstattstrasse and fetch her. And while she lies there she doesn’t even notice she’s getting more tired all the time, until the moment comes when she falls asleep.

  In her dream, snowflakes are falling slowly from the black night sky. Little flakes dancing down, shining brightly. Kathie is a little girl again, she looks up at the sky, putting her head right back. Her woolly cap almost comes off. She sees the bright flakes falling, feels them cold on her face, she opens her mouth wide and tries to catch them in it as they fall, but they melt in the little girl’s warm breath before they can touch her tongue. Kathie reaches both her gloved hands out to the snowflakes. Sees them settle like stars on her woollen mittens. She feels the hand on her shoulder, large and heavy. Hears her grandmother’s voice close to her ear, a hoarse whisper. ‘Come along, Kathie, we’re going home now.’ She trudges home through the snow, holding her grandmother’s hand.

  At home she shares a room and a bed with the old woman. The bedroom is small and draughty, with only a thin partition to divide it from the rest of the attic. Frost-flowers, made by their breath as they sleep, grow on the window panes. On many stormy winter nights, small snowflakes fall through the poorly insulated roof. They fall in and settle on the wooden floorboards without melting. Those were the nights that Kathie liked, nights when she always lay very close to Grandma. Felt the old woman’s warm body and closed her eyes, listened to the old lady’s stories. Endless tales of ghosts and nightmarish spectres, angels and wonders. She felt safe when her grandmother’s warm body was very close. Safe and warm, even now in her dream.

  The old woman’s body was bony in her old age. Bony from all the work she had done in a life of deprivation. Kathie’s grandmother had borne ten children, all of them
boys. She saw four of them grow up. The others died, some at birth, others before they learned to walk. Poverty was her constant companion. Kathie’s father was the first-born. He and his family lived in the little house now. The old woman moved into the attic room when the house passed on to him. Kathie had shared a bed with her as long as she could remember. She came into the world far too soon, did Kathie, premature, a poor little mite, she wasn’t even as big as a beer-mug at birth, so the old lady told her. She took the little mite into bed with her and kept her warm, and so they went on. There were many nights when Grandma coughed and gasped so badly that Kathie lay awake and couldn’t drop off to sleep. All the same, she never wanted to move out of the room. She couldn’t imagine, didn’t want to imagine not sharing her bed with the old woman, the only member of Kathie’s family who wasn’t cold and forbidding. Her mother always out and about with her pedlar’s wares, her father cross and grumpy or coming home from the inn dead drunk. Those times he often fell down in the corridor and stayed there, sleeping it off. He’d sold off what little land belonged to the house, bit by bit, and drank or gambled the money away. If it hadn’t been for the money from the pedlar’s trade, they’d have had to sell the little house itself long ago. They’d have been broke, as the old woman often said crossly, they’d have been on their beam ends.

  Kathie’s grandmother warmed her, and Kathie felt good. But there were also nights when she was afraid of the old woman. Nights of full moon, when Kathie opened her eyes and the old woman’s face was very close to hers. In the faint light and the shadows the old lady seemed to be staring at her, wide-eyed. With her gaze fixed on the girl. Moonlight falling in through the window had made the toothless old skull into something sinister. As if Grandma were asleep with her eyes open. Frightened, Kathie would sit there, staring at Grandma until she couldn’t bear it any more, and plucked up all her courage. She shook the old woman until she woke up, shook her with both hands. ‘Grandma, wake up!’ she would cry. ‘Grandma, wake up, I’m scared of you!’

 
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