It was early on Saturday afternoon at the Müller house. Chloë closed the door quietly after her boyfriend left, turned and slumped back against it. She exhaled the deep breath she had fought to hold onto for the past few minutes which quivered and trembled with pent up emotion as it was released and dispersed into the hallway. She had known this day was coming and had determined not to show her true feelings. But it had been nigh on impossible and she’d been forced to pretend that she was going down with a bit of a cold to explain the reddening of her eyes and the slight cracking of her voice as she spoke.
Brought up in a comfortably well off family environment Chloë had never wanted for much and, with her studies at the local veterinary college going really well, she had a clear picture in mind of how she wanted her future to pan out. Having already discussed the possibilities with her father, after gaining enough experience in local practices she was confident of investment from him to enable her to build her own veterinary practice in the not too distant future. It had always been the pinnacle of her ambition. Her plans had certainly not included settling down with a man for a good few years yet, definitely no children and certainly didn’t involve upping sticks and moving to another country.
She and her older sister Ronnie were as close as sisters could possibly be and she had trusted Ronnie’s judgement when she had been introduced to this young English soldier, a close friend of Ronnie’s fiancé Dave. Disappointingly, although not bad looking Peter had turned out to be quite uncouth. She’d expected someone similar to Dave who was quite well educated, from a good family who lived in The Isle of Wight. Dave’s father, now retired had in fact spent his life as a parish priest. Although none of the Müller’s had ever been to the Isle of Wight, the impression given by Dave of his upbringing was one of happy, middle class homeliness in a picture postcard environment. Peter though, had come from far more humble, working class beginnings. Despite his best efforts he gave off an aura of being a real rough sort, a ‘straßenkind’ obviously from the wrong side of the tracks but he had something about him that piqued her interest and his wickedly sharp sense of humour never failed to get her laughing. It was also obvious to her that despite the shortcomings of his formal education, he was nobody’s fool.
At first it had just been good fun, no ties or talk of anything too serious. She had developed a strategy to prevent things getting complicated by not trying too hard to communicate verbally. Conversations consisted of single words from a limited vocabulary or stilted, broken sentences which had to be translated by others. Chloë had even fooled Ronnie when she raised a quizzical eyebrow by blaming her lack of comprehension when it came to Peter’s English on his strange Hertfordshire dialect. Although he was doing his best to at least learn some German, things proceeded at her own pace and under her complete control. They had enjoyed some wonderful times together but no serious relationship was given a chance to develop for Chloë wasn’t going to risk being hurt badly again, or so she had thought.
She understood far more English than she let on and over time had become more and more infatuated with Peter, seeing past the rough edges, foul language and barrack room banter, realising those things were unimportant and that in fact he was a decent, honest and bright young man. Now the time was fast approaching when he would be leaving for good. When he had brought her the news today it had been like a hard slap in the face. She now realised that she didn’t want him to go but it was probably far too late to change anything. She came to the conclusion that there was no choice but to leave things as they were and in time hope to get over it. Easier said than done.
I had arrived back at Chloë’s house about six thirty in the evening by prior arrangement having already spoken to her earlier in the day when I’d called in and broken the news about my imminent departure over lunch. As expected, ice maiden Chloë hadn’t been surprised and hadn’t appeared overly concerned at all to me. I hadn’t stayed long as she’d been a bit under the weather but I’d made the arrangement to come back later to speak with her father who had been having a day on the golf course.
Ronnie and Dave were already there when I arrived and once we had been joined by Herr Müller I went into great detail about Peter the Kraut’s proposal, expressing my need to get an opinion and advice from them all, especially from the girl’s father.
I’d not managed to get to know Max particularly well. He was a naturally quiet man, always overshadowed by his bubbly wife and beautiful daughters. Whenever I was invited over he just sat and got quietly plastered while the rest of us enjoyed each other’s company. More often than not he eventually fell asleep in a chair and left the rest of us to get on with it. From that point on in proceedings I spent as much time fending off the attention of his wife as I did making advances on the lovely Chloë.
However, that evening, once the usual pleasantries were over and I had laid out the plethora of paperwork in front of him that I’d brought along, Max seemed to come alive. Although still involved in some businesses in which he retained a financial interest therefore maintaining many of his old contacts, he obviously missed the day to day cut and thrust of the world that he’d eased himself away from in order to relax in a life of comfort with his family. Bright eyed and crackling with energy, rubbing his hands together like some sort of dastardly villain masterminding his next heist, Max appeared genuinely interested in the proposal on offer and with a serious look on his face, settled down to work.
Our meeting lasted for several hours as every aspect of the proposition was analysed, discussed and commented on by all six of us. I added as much information as I was able to and the more I spoke the more I began to develop an enthusiasm, even excitement regarding the new life that possibly lay before me spread out there on the table in black and white. At the end of the evening, Max put everything into a briefcase along with the copious notes that he’d been scribbling onto a pad and suggested that I leave it all with him while he spoke to one or two associates. He indicated to me though that his first impression was that everything looked in order and that it could be a goer as long as I was happy to risk giving up the life I was accustomed to and start a new and very different one abroad. I got the impression that he was a little worried about my relationship with his younger daughter and how it might affect the plans for her future. So I took into consideration the fact that he might be a little biased and keen to see me on my way. But I didn’t think for a moment that he would sell me down the river.
That night in bed back at the barracks I lay awake into the small hours, restlessly turning everything over in my mind. Although I loved and missed England, I had no real ties and in fact very little to lose at all and the prospect on offer was far more interesting than returning home and having to find humdrum work in a local garage or even some godforsaken factory. I knew deep down that I was not the sort of person who would be satisfied with settling into a rut. I needed to find myself a more worthwhile and interesting path to follow but had no idea where to start. Although this situation on offer would mean the continuation of my life as a mechanic, the fact that it was located in such a distant and remote part of the world made things far more attractive to me and of course there was the added bonus of being able to work for myself to a certain extent, rather than start again at the bottom.
I’d known others who had left the army before me but kept in touch for a while. People with similar aspirations to mine but who had soon found themselves joining the dreaded rat race and falling into a life of mediocrity. Some had been unable to settle down at all and actually rejoined the army. I had no wish to spend my life getting older and fatter, living off memories of my glory days. The more I thought about it the easier the decision became. By the time I eventually dozed off at about three thirty in the morning, I was pretty certain that as long as Chloë’s father didn’t come back to me with some unforeseen, insurmountable problem then I would soon be heading off to the Northern Cascade Mountains of Washington State to accompany Peter the Kraut on our joint venture.