Chapter 33: BUTTERFLY KISS
June had historically been a beautiful time in Berlin. Despite the broken buildings and general lack of color, it had its possibilities, but you would have to pretend there is no wall, no soldiers, no guns, and no death.
Wild hop sprouted through cracks in the sidewalks. Common hop, an ingredient for homemade beer, flourished in between concrete building slabs. Wild berry grew against fences, and the open market would finally have tulips and daisies for sale. Flowers were a luxury few could afford; men would buy them for their wives to celebrate a jahrestag, symbolic of their years together, lovers would exchange them, and lucky for me, Frau Franke demanded fresh flowers throughout her home all summer long.
It might have been that nothing had actually changed around me, except now I viewed the world through rose colored glasses called ‘love’, but it did seem, overall, things weren’t as depressing as the previous winter had been. Even border shootings seemed to slow down for some reason, or we didn’t hear about them; either way, life appeared enjoyable again.
Despite my current interruption from pursuing freedom, I still often thought of my future. I had less than three months service due to the Frankes. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay on after my obligation was fulfilled or try something else, assuming another employer would hire me.
Since Stefan and I met so often in secret, it almost didn’t seem like a real relationship. Except the times we were truly alone. Those were the times I felt confident in his love and gained strength from his certainty.
“Keep your eyes closed, Ella. Don’t peek.” Stefan held my hand and guided me forward with every word. “It’s close. There are three steps coming up, be careful.”
I inched closer and felt the first one tap my shoe to a stop. “Don’t let me fall.” I put my free hand out, ready to catch myself if I did.
“I would never let you fall.” He reached for both my hands now and led me up to the top. My sense of smell came alive. A strong floral odor erupted all around me, but it wasn’t merely one type of scent. It was a mysterious mixture of many.
“OK, you can remove the blindfold.”
I reached up and pulled the handkerchief off my face. It took a minute for my eyes to readjust to the bright lights of a noonday sun. Instantly, color consumed me in every direction. The foliage and blooms were breathtaking as far out as I could see. I never knew such beauty existed within the borders of my limited world.
Stefan turned me slightly to the left where a white-columned structure emerged. I held my breath as my eyes gazed over its grand design. A dozen arched niches sheltered perfectly-chiseled basins as sculptures of children and animals appeared like lattice along a cascade of flowing water.
I remained motionless, except for my eyes. “Oh, Stefan, where are we?”
He smiled, seemingly pleased his surprise was successful.
“Volkspark. The Fairy Tale Fountain.”
A warm breeze picked up and kissed my face as I engraved the word into my memory. “Volkspark, . . .” I whispered. “It’s so beautiful!
Stefan wrapped both his arms around me as his lips brushed against my cheek. I could not imagine another moment that would possibly make me happier. Everything seemed perfect.
“It’s “Hansel and Gretel!” I pointed to the statues.
“Yes,” Stefan added, “and Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and
I brushed my hand over the spirited face and flowing beard of one of my favorite childhood characters, a story that flooded my mind with memories of Mama and Josef, the three of us huddled in delight over the mountain man’s adventures. I stopped suddenly.
“We are still in Berlin?” I caught sight of a brick building nearby.
“Yes, between Friedrichshain and Prenzlauer.”
“This is—” I inhaled deeply unable to finish my sentence. How could I have not known such a treasured gift was so close? The sweet smell of pollen encircled me in every direction. I squeezed Stefan’s hand.
“Thank you.” I reached down and plucked a cluster of forget-me-nots bundled in a flower patch. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled the last time I held them in my hands.
“The best part is yet to come, Ella.” Stefan winked.
It was hard to even imagine anything better. He held my hand again and led me away from the stone path.
“This mountain here” —Stefan pointed to a large hill dotted with chestnut trees and wild brush— “is called Mont Klamott” He smiled. “It’s not really a mountain, it’s Schutteberge.”
“Yes, as well as the smaller one over there.”
Stunned, I remained speechless. How could something so remarkable have come from such destruction? Stefan placed his free hand on my lower back and guided me past a heaping pile of rocks. The vegetation became much thicker the farther we walked.
“There were Flak towers and bunkers built back here. Most of the bunkers were broken down after the war. You can barely recognize any parts of buildings anymore, but look at this—”
We entered the hidden center of a garden completely filled with Bishop’s weed. The wild flower was in full bloom. They can be found all over Berlin in the summer, but I’d never seen so many all in one place. Thousands of little white puffs of corn surfaced, intertwined with random splashes of red, blue, even green and purple.
“Oh, Stefan! This is breathtaking.”
He laughed. “Look closer.”
I stepped forward and brushed my hand over the top of the flowers when suddenly they moved; the petals started to fly away. It startled me so much I jumped back until I detected the flutter of the butterfly wings.
There were more than I could count.
I stood still. Some flapped above my head, others moved back to the flowers, while some were attracted to the bright-yellow shade of my dress. I lifted my arm gradually. I marveled as a sole butterfly stood completely still on my wrist. It moved its wings slowly as though it was more for balance than flight.
I had never been this close to one. The black antennas swayed with the breeze. The blue color spread across the wings matched Stefan’s eyes and extended all the way to the edge where only a small black streak outlined the magnificent spread. I wanted to cry. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I reached for Stefan’s hand. I knew my touch alone could convey the thrill I felt, but I gently squeezed so there would be no question. No other gift he could offer would ever compare. This was priceless.
We spent the rest of the day wandering through the extraordinary gardens Stefan’s governess introduced him and Katharina to when they were children. It was one of his favorite places in Berlin, and now it had become one of mine.
Along with flowers and simple pleasures, June also brought word from Anton and Josef—something I eagerly anticipated since my last letter went out in March. When Mama G gave it to me, I raced towards my room, ripping the long-awaited letter from the envelope, letting the excess fall to the floor as I dove with little propriety onto the bed. I had to stop myself from reading too fast, every word fueled a hunger for the next.
Dearest Ella, 8 April 1963
Despite your circumstances and our separation, you sound well. We were happy to hear you are employed and have friends. We have also had the good fortune to become well acquainted with some wonderful people here but none compare to my best friend, Ella!
I miss our walks and talks. I miss the way you wrinkle your nose and how your eyelashes flutter faster the angrier you get. I miss your fiery temper and the way you made me feel better when I was down. I know you said to be careful in our correspondence, but I need to know that you are trying to find a way here . . . home. I need to have hope you will be with us shortly. I’ll do all I can to assist you. Please let me know what I can do.
Josef misses and loves you. He has a girlfriend. He didn’t want me to tell you because he said you would be upset but I know you are only being protective. Don’t worry, Ella. He is a good boy and it is only a crush. I am taking good care of him. He is happy and does not lack anything. Imagine that, Ella, we have a home, food, and comforts. The only thing we are missing is you.
I have heard of places we can see over the wall-- would you meet us? Can we plan a day and a time that we will all be there? I know it takes a while to get a post so I am going to say watch for me across from Potsdamer Platz on July 3rd, 6 o’clock in the evening. I need to see your face, Ella.
I folded the letter and put it in my pocket. It warmed my heart to know they were doing quite well . . . then I felt conflicted. Anton’s pin never resurfaced. The thought of how careless I had been with his one gift crushed me. Anton would be hurt if he knew.
Anton . . . even his name started to sound foreign. Too much time had passed since I saw his face. So many questions . . . would I be as happy if I were in the west now? Things had changed. Stefan and I had now courted for two full months. It was the most joyful months I’d had in years.
I could never forget my life with Anton, but the memories were all I had. Yet, knowing his feelings are still strong and that he thinks of me too and wants to see me, worried me. Are Anton and I only meant to be friends, or am I supposed to seek my fate in the west? These thoughts clouded my mind; I tried hard to keep them hidden. I’m happy with Stefan.
I finally felt I had something worth living for.
During our time together, Stefan continually searched for new ways to surprise me. Even though we had busy work schedules, there wasn’t a day I wasn’t reminded of him. Occasionally, I would reach onto my shelf at work to retrieve my apron and find a lily blossom or a stem of forget-me-nots. Stefan noticed the day he showed me Volkspark that with all the blooms I could take home with me, it was the stunning blue forget-me-not flower I clung to the longest.
While Stefan and I kept our affections hidden in the house, to not alert his parents, I couldn’t keep my positive countenance from Lena and Johann. I had become a different person. I still exhibited moments of sass, but rarely a day went by when I didn’t smile. Stefan made me happy. So happy, any possible thoughts of trying to escape again were set aside.
A week after reading Anton’s letter, I became unexpectedly detained late in the parlor. As I attended to the neglected stain from a recent business lunch, I contemplated my thoughts. I felt guilty. Josef is my brother. The one remaining family member I have left. I should be the one providing for him and caring for him and seeing him have feelings for a girl. The more remorse I felt, the harder I scrubbed, but the stubborn spread of the dated red wine against white plush carpet had made it nearly impossible. I tossed the linen into a bowl of cleaning suds, splashing the contents in all directions. I hate thoughts of regret. Am I being foolish these last eight weeks? Playing a role that has no possibilities? This was hardly the way I wanted to feel when I met Stefan tonight at Dafne’s. I glanced at the stain once more. Of course, if I can’t get this out, I might be here all night.
“Stefan! Where are you going?” Frau Franke’s sharp tone caught me off guard. I held my breath and moved closer to the door, unseen. She was in the hall.
“I have plans.” It was obvious he did not know of my delay.
“What plans?” I envisioned the way her lips curled as the words were spoken.
“Nothing is being delivered tonight, and the Huhn body is under process. I can’t do anything until morning.”
“This is the third time this week you have been out late . . . why?” I inhaled sharply. My face felt moist . . . does she know?
“I’m only meeting friends. I still have a life outside of the mortuary, mother.”
“But Markus is on his way here.”
“He’s not coming for business. He’s having dinner with you and father.”
“It’s always business, Stefan.”
“I won’t be gone long.”
“I want you here.”
“I’ll see you in the morning.”
I heard the front door close shut and knew Stefan was headed to Dafne’s. I also knew Frau Franke enough to know this would not settle well. Fearful she could somehow sense that her conversation was overheard, I moved slowly back to the floor. My mind whirled with probabilities, all with the same conclusion. She must know Stefan is seeing someone, but did she have her suspicions on whom?
I froze on my knees. Frau Franke was not finished.
“I need to see the new yard boy, Thomas. Send him to me immediately, please.”
I moved once again to the door at great risk. If she knew I was there, it could be my demise. The hair on my arms went rigid, just the idea that the destroying angel was so close was frightening, but I needed to know what she was up to. I bit my lip and waited. Within a few minutes, footsteps approached.
“Ma’am, you asked for me?”
“Yes,” She hesitated. I could not see them but assumed she was assessing him. “I have a task for you, but first, you must promise to keep this between us.”
I could sense the boy’s fear even without seeing his face. Frau Franke was intimidating and powerful.
“Y-yes, ma’am. What would you like me to do?” “I would like you to follow my son.” My face heated up. Am I imagining this?
She continued, “I want to know where he goes and who he sees.”
I cupped my hand over my mouth to stop myself from gasping aloud, but truthfully, I wanted to scream.
“Stefan?” the boy questioned, even though she only had one son.
“Yes, go now. He may only be a few minutes ahead. He likes to go to the cafes down on Pappelallee. Check there first.” I fought the urge to cry.
She must’ve handed him something, money possibly. I could hear him thanking her with a lift in his voice. It must’ve been ample to give him this much encouragement.
I immediately took a seat in the parlor and tried to process what just happened. She was having Stefan followed now, maybe only for tonight, maybe always. I wasn’t sure, but I did know that this changed everything.
Reaching for the handkerchief in my pocket to wipe my face, I glanced to the stain. It was no longer my priority as I pushed a chair slightly to the left for obscurity. Pacing the room, I waited a good twenty minutes before I grabbed the cleaning supplies and walked out. The hall was empty. The sigh I released was both for relief and composure as I entered the staff room, but something didn’t feel right.
It was her. She came from behind.
I pretended I did not hear her and fumbled around in my box as I reached for nothing.
“Fräulein Kühn?” The tone was louder and firmer.
I turned, but did not look her in the eyes. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Have you seen Fräulein Kerner tonight?”
“Lena?” I barely choked out the name.
“Yes! I need to speak with her immediately.” I wondered how Lena played into her plan.
“I—I think she left when her shift ended. I didn’t see her though. I had a job I, myself, needed to complete.”
“Very well.” She scanned me as if she could see through me. I shifted in my stance.
“If you see her in the morning, make sure she knows I need to speak to her.”
“Yes, ma’am, I can.” It came out quietly, almost a whisper, but she didn’t flinch.
She continued to stare. My breath caught in my throat until she spoke again.
Something is definitely up. She’s never said goodnight to me before . . . ever. Does she know? Will she interrogate Lena for answers? Questions consumed my thoughts. I was sure she could read my mind.
Discouraged, I stepped outside. It was impossible to see Stefan without being exposed. If this boy had already located Stefan at Dafne’s, I could not risk showing up only to tell him he was being watched. Making my way to the street opposite the café, I stayed far from the street lamp and watched with jealously as patrons moved in and out.
I did not see Stefan, but imagined him inside wondering where I was. I did not see the spy either, but I only had a faded memory of him when we were introduced a month ago. Taking a seat on a nearby bench, I felt like crying. I knew my relationship with Stefan was fragile, I just didn’t want to admit how much.
I rubbed my sweaty hands on my dress and stood up from the bench. My head hurt from all the thinking. Frau Franke had to suspect something, but does she know it’s me? That’s probably why she wanted to talk to Lena.
Inga Franke is very smart and very manipulative. If she had been born a man, I imagined her in charge of Stasi instead of Mielke. She had a gift for terror and coercion. My head dropped heavily into my hands.
After another miserable thirty minutes, I noticed a man and woman approaching my direction. They held hands as they strolled along the sidewalk. This was it. Maybe I could ask them to pretend they were Stefan’s friends, at least for tonight. It was imperative I get a message to him somehow. If he didn’t see me here, he might feel the need to go to my apartment and then such info could go back to Frau Franke as well. I didn’t think she knew where I lived, but again, her little spy could be tasked to find out who does.
Completely out of my element, I stood in their path. “Excuse me?”
I murmured just enough to draw the couple’s attention as they approached.
“Ja?” The man held the woman back apprehensively. His body subtly wedged between us. My petite form was hardly threatening, but size didn’t necessarily mean anything here, deceit had no standard in the east. They stopped directly in front of me.
“I’m so sorry to interrupt.” My apology was genuine. It could have been the pleading in my eyes or the quiver in my voice which induced sympathy, but as I explained my predicament, they were more than happy to help.
After giving them Stefan’s description and the message to be relayed, they disappeared inside Dafne’s. I wanted to wait and hear the result of the exchange, but frightened it would all lead back to me somehow, I quickly left the area and boarded the bus home.
Completely disheartened, I entered my front doors alone. This routine had become part of the excitement as we dated. Stefan always made sure I arrived home safely, and even though we didn’t like saying goodnight, the moment was anticipated all day.
This morning when I awoke, a completely different scenario was pictured for tonight. I hated the outcome. Once inside, without a word to Mama G, my dampened spirit fell hopelessly in bed. How will I ever see or talk to Stefan again without getting caught? Everything I trusted about my relationship with him seemed to suddenly swallow up and disappear.
The next day, I woke up physically sick and spent most of the morning at the base of the toilet until there was nothing left to heave. I knew being late or absent was not an option—on top of everything else that was happening—yet, I could barely lift my head.
“Please, Ella, go back to bed.” Mama G held my hair back as I puked air once again.
“Mama,” I groaned and laid my head against the basin. “I can’t.
I’ll lose my job.” Mama moistened a piece of cloth and wiped my brow.
The chill was a nice contrast to my rising temperature.
Mama G insisted I stay, even as I pulled my coat on in 80-degree weather. She did not know my dilemma or Frau Franke.
“I’ll go tell Frau Franke myself.” She stomped her foot with both hands on her hips. Even as weak as I was, this made me smile. Mama G was barely five feet tall, but her spirit was the height of a giant.
Knowing this would only make things worse, I declined, but accepted her licorice tea and a mother’s kiss on my way out.
I arrived to work nearly an hour late, but once Johann saw my appearance, he knew it was unintentional. My face was as pale as someone with my skin color could get. My eyes were dull and clouded. My gait appeared slow and unsteady, but I was here. I hoped with all my might that I could get through the day without having to face any Franke, including Stefan. I didn’t want him to see me under such unappealing circumstances, . . . and I especially did not want his mother to see us together at all.
I worked slowly and steadily. By midafternoon, I realized I had fallen a good two hours behind. I hadn’t seen Lena since early morning when I passed on Frau Franke’s request, and I was curious as to why she was absent. It hurt my head to think, so I didn’t dwell on it long. Entering the library, I started in on my tasks but was unaware someone watched me from the shadows. As I reached to turn on a lamp, hands appeared, and I was swiftly transported to the veranda. Startled, I couldn’t even scream.
It was Stefan. I broke down crying, my body nearly collapsing from the stress.
He quickly closed the door and held me close. I did not want him to see me this way, but I also yearned for his touch. Without saying anything, he simply let me cry.
When I finally raised my eyes, I didn’t see the face of a man who was disappointed or repulsed; but one whose own eyes were full of worry and concern.
“Ella, we will be OK.”
I couldn’t get a single word out before starting to cry again. It was as though every thought, every feeling, every discouraging moment of my seventeen years came out in that one instant. Stefan pulled me in tightly. He rubbed the back of my head gently with his hand, his touch soothing and kind.
“You need to go, Stefan,” I whispered. “We could be watched right now.”
“I don’t care, Ella. My only concern is you.”
“I’m not ready to lose you, Stefan, please go.”
Stefan cradled my face in his hands and forced my view upward. “Ella, you will never lose me.” I started to cry again. His lips kissed my eyes. “Please don’t cry. It will all work out somehow. Meet me Saturday night at Harald’s in Prenzlauer Berg.”
I lowered my face. “We can’t.”
“I will lose the spy, Ella. I’ll make sure no one knows where I’m going. We’ll figure things out then.” Stefan lifted my chin, his lips brushed across my cheek where they ended next to my ear. “Promise me you will be there, Ella.” His whisper tickled, but did not bring the same fluttering of my heart as previously. The heaviness in my chest refused to let me enjoy it.
“I promise.” It was a weak attempt, yet I wanted it as much as he did.
Stefan’s lips lingered on my cheek. “Stay here, love. Wait a few minutes after I leave before you return.” He squeezed my hand then he was gone.
It was more than a few minutes. My limbs were futile and weak, caused nearly as much by the illness as the woe. By the time I walked to the bus stop that evening, it was well after dark—my chores were complete.
When Saturday night arrived, I had fully recovered physically, but my emotional state was still in turmoil. I stepped into Harald’s shortly after 7pm. My hat was pulled low and tight over my ears. The pub wasn’t crowded, but I felt safe enough to remove it and wandered to a quiet corner near the back. I knew Stefan would find me.
It was nearly 7:30 when a grungy-looking man in a ripped coat twice his size slid into the seat across from me. When he went to remove his poor excuse of a hat, I could see the man’s hands and face were caked in dirt.
“I-I’m sorry, the seat is . . .” A familiar pair of blue eyes stared back at me from underneath the blonde tousled hair. My surprise turned to a half-smile, half-laugh. It was the first time I’d felt this way since this whole nightmare began. Stefan grabbed my hands across the table and squeezed.
“I told you I would lose the spy.” He winked.
“I think he’s still waiting for me to come out of the bathroom back at the S Bahn. I took two buses and a sidecar to get here . . . and a romp in
the dirt.” Stefan grinned wider. “I promise, Ella, we are alone.” I sighed, with guarded relief.
He removed the filthy layers and stuffed them under the table. “I paid some obdachlose for this,” referring to the coat. I couldn’t imagine it even being worth a pfennig to the homeless man either. It smelled awful.
“Stefan?” I went directly to the point. “Do you think she suspects it’s me?”
Stefan said no, but his head tilted the wrong direction. My face twisted confused. He continued, “I don’t think so, Ella, but . . .”
He said it before he realized how it would affect me, “My mother is quite sharp.”
The panic on my face returned. I already knew this.
“What if she set us up?” I peered around frightened. “What if she only made us think she had one spy but really has several?” I fought the tears from coming. All the happiness from being together seemed to dissolve in a matter of minutes.
Stefan scooted his chair around next to me, “We are safe, Ella.” His arms found their way around my shoulders and pulled my body securely next to him. My heart wanted to stay, but my head told me to leave.
“I’m sorry, Stefan . . . this is too hard!” I stood up. Stefan reached for my hands, but I pulled them away.
“I can’t live this way.” I rushed to the door before he even realized what happened.
“Ella!” His cries faded as I ran harder. I wasn’t even sure what direction to go, just anywhere away from him.
Once again in the security of the only place and people I knew were real, I locked myself in my bedroom. Only Mama G wasn’t about to let me have an additional day of pity. She knocked on my door until I opened it then proceeded to sit on my bed and vowed to stay there until I told her what happened. She had always been a great listener.
“Two buses, a sidecar, and a disguise! What kind of life is that?” I cried, frustrated by the end of the story. She patted her hand on my knee.
“Two buses, a sidecar, and a disguise? That tells me someone tried very hard to be with you tonight.” She sighed and then walked out. I buried my head into my pillow. I want to be with him too.
The next morning a note was in my box, folded very tightly in a sealed envelope, so I knew it hadn’t been tampered with. I set it in my pocket and waited until I was in the bathroom before I read it.
I cannot tell you how much it breaks my heart to not only see you discouraged but not see you at all. These last couple months have meant so much to me, and I can’t imagine a day goes by where you are not in my every thought.
I know this relationship is difficult. I asked you once to not lose faith in me regarding my duty, but I ask again about us as well. I am doing what I can to make changes. I can’t disclose the details yet. I know I have no right to ask you to be patient or wait this out, but I’m hoping you will. Know that I love you and am faithfully yours.
The letter was not signed. I understood why. I wanted to believe Stefan. There was such little good in my life, it was difficult to suddenly imagine that would change.
“Ella.” Lena caught me the moment I walked out. I folded the envelope tightly in my fingers.
“Ella, I need to talk to you.” She gently pushed me back in and closed the door behind us. Her face confirmed what I already knew.
“Frau Franke has suspicions,” she whispered tensely. “You know when you told me she wanted to see me?” I nodded. “Well, she was asking all sorts of questions about you . . . personal questions.”
My throat was dry. I couldn’t speak as she continued, “I told her I didn’t know anything, and I’ll never say, but you two—you need to be careful . . . she is . . .”
“I know, Lena . . .” I wiped my forehead. “I know.” I opened the door to walk out, but Lena grabbed my wrist.
“She has something of yours.”
“What do you mean?” My eyebrows curved with confusion. How could she have anything of mine?”
“She has your . . .” Lena pointed to my dress. “She has Anton’s pin.”
I rapidly closed the door again and moved closer. “How do you know? How did she get it?” I peppered questions angrily, not realizing how it appeared to Lena.
“Ella, stop.” She grabbed my arms softly. “I don’t know, she just held it up when she was talking to me and said she found it in the mortuary and was sure it belongs to the woman who is seeing Stefan.”
“I told her I didn’t know anything.”
I leaned against the wall. I was suddenly very sick. “She knows.”
“Maybe she’s guessing, maybe it’s why she hasn’t come to you yet. She’s not sure.”
“She knows,” I repeated then walked out in a daze.
I knew what had to be done but could barely face the thought. Stefan and I can no longer be together.