Chapter 35: “ARREST HER!”
For some reason, the next several weeks got very busy for all of us. The Frankes’ lower-level rooms had never been quite this clean in all the time I had worked there. From the crown molding on the ceiling to the smallest piece of China, I worked until my fingers bled. Then I started again the next day.
During this time, Frau Franke had also found countless rationale to be nearby. Her meaningless tasks in the rooms I cleaned were more out of annoyance than necessity. We rarely spoke, her silent scrutiny loitered in every corner. I knew she watched me, but now it didn’t matter. I had nothing to hide.
The chimneys for the crematorium smoked nonstop due to a larger than-normal delivery the day after Stefan and I got into our argument. It was a horrible smell. As the summer heat increased, it felt as though the smell was imbedded in my clothes the moment I stepped on the property.
Suddenly consumed by images of sorrow and death, the beauty I’d seen a short time ago seemed to shrivel up parallel to my crushed heart.
Now everything appeared empty; black and gray once again.
The social visitations also increased to where there was a dignitary once or twice a week. Congress was on hiatus for the month, therefore, a greater variety of guests made appearances in the Franke home. Some notables arrived from neighboring communist countries, yet the greatest number of representatives derived from local leadership. Regardless of their origin, the home had become the center of all extravagant entertaining.
The first time I saw Stefan after the quarrel was in one of those very lunches. I tried to prepare myself for such an occurrence, but truthfully nothing ever could. Despite my intentional avoidance of contact, I felt his eyes fall upon me. He watched my every move. It took all my strength to resist. I knew, if I returned his look, everything would break. My body and soul, barely held together by my skin, would dissolve in front of everyone. It was unbearably difficult. Outside of the parlor, I scarcely functioned. The pretense was a game I no longer wanted to play.
Day or night, I could think of nothing but Stefan. How could he profess such deep feelings for me then stop cold? Was he still angry, hurt, or just being careful? Did he know I was under the watchful eye of his mother, or had he found a way to move on? Inside the home, the few times we crossed, he appeared completely unaffected. His emotions were either well-hidden or easily cast aside. He never found a way to reach out to me or see me. Not at home, on the street, or even by letter. It was as if our entire existence together had been suddenly erased.
My fingers brushed across the number 74 shortly after I marked it on my mirror Wednesday morning, the 25th day of June 1963, . . . 74 days and I’ll be done. There was a time I considered staying on at the Frankes’ only to see Stefan. Now I realized it could never happen. He would find a woman who would turn his world upside down. He’d court her and marry her under the approval of his parents, and I could not be there to watch that happen.
As I prepared to leave the apartment that morning, I found Mama G huddled up to her radio, and the voice of a reporter announced loud and clear:
“A twenty-one-gun salute welcomes President Kennedy as he steps onto German soil; a chance for the American President to meet the German people on his four-day trip that coincides with unique international developments with Western Europe on the brink of political change as the east bloc falters in ideological disunity.”
“Disunity is correct . . .” I kissed her on the cheek before I walked out.
Once I reached the Frankes’, the whole staff was in heightened moods over the news of the American President’s arrival. I found it strange to be excited over something that had very little to do with us. Especially since he would not be coming to the eastern side of Berlin, all his speeches would be presented on the free side. Thus, no reason to celebrate.
I immediately went to work. The day before, I was advised we would have several honorable guests during lunch this afternoon. After I thoroughly cleaned the parlor, I met Lena in the kitchen and we set about the arrangements for another display of refinements. Today, it would be roast pork knuckle with creamy brown gravy, small potatoes, and cauliflower.
As I removed the Eisbein from the oven, Lena’s face lost color. I followed the direction of her eyes and there stood Stefan, just inside the kitchen door. I could not do this at work. I’d fought the urge to cry time and time again as I walked through this house every day since we argued.
Lena immediately excused herself. I shook my head and begged her not to leave. Stefan edged closer but kept his distance.
“Shouldn’t you be with your guests?” I forced emotion out of my voice.
“This is my father’s meeting. I need to talk to you.”
“I . . .” Stefan was more flustered than I’d ever seen. “I need to explain myself.”
“I’m working.” My response was cold.
“I know, but Ella . . .” He leaned sideways, trying to make eye contact with me. I kept arranging the plates. This was too hard.
“Please look at me.” He moved forward.
I turned my back.
“Why are you being stubborn?” he questioned, tersely.
I stood in front of the ice box for a moment. I could feel myself losing strength, yet I said nothing.
“I know I can be a jerk sometimes, but you are being cruel.”
I swung around quickly and faced him. Angered by his words, I motioned to contradict. “You are taunting me.”
“Not intentionally.” Stefan moved closer but sensed I wasn’t ready. “I was hurt you believed we didn’t have a future, Ella, and then I feared you would try to leave again and . . .”
“I was jealous of Anton.”
“Because . . .” Stefan’s eyes fell, “Because I know you share something special with him.”
In silence, I felt my irritation begin to melt away.
“Please, Ella.” His voice matched his pleading eyes, now burrowing in me.
My breath skipped, moved by his confession, but halted by reality.
“It’s too complicated, Stefan.”
“It’s worth the fight,” he appealed. “You’re worth the fight, Ella!”
I studied his face carefully. He was sincere, and I felt my heart tear in opposite directions. “I don’t know what to say,” I cried, conflicted.
Lena entered the room again.
“They’re ready for us, Ella.” Lena peeked in tentatively. I stared anxiously at Stefan.
“We shouldn’t be talking about this here anyway . . . please go,” I whispered.
Stefan reached for my hand. I hungered for his touch. My eyes filled quickly.
“Promise we will talk later, Ella. We need to talk.”
I nodded yes when I really meant no. I could never resist him.
“And El,” he whispered, “I’m going to tell my parents today.”
My eyes met his. I wanted to believe this would make everything better—to trust that what we shared was stronger than our opposition, but I knew the truth. I forced a smile, and even though he matched mine, I knew in my heart once he told them about us, he would never be mine.
Before Stefan left, he reached into his pocket and pulled something out. He held my palm open and placed Anton’s tinnie pin in the center. I cried at the sight of it, and Stefan leaned in to kiss my cheek and walked out.
It took me a few minutes to compose myself after he left. I was a mess, torn between the return of both the shield and Stefan’s presence at the same moment. Lena held me as she often had in the last few weeks. Sobs racked my body. I knew I needed to pull it together, but I could barely stop shaking. I couldn’t think straight or focus. This was a terrible way to begin a work lunch.
“El, I will do the lunch, please sit down.”
“No,” I insisted stubbornly. “I can get through this. It’s too big for one person.”
I had very little energy but pretended I was fine. I clasped the tinnie pin on the inside of my dress and gripped it tightly on the outside. If ever I needed its strength, it would be this very moment.
I grabbed the tray of drinks and entered the dining room, my thoughts distracted. Why did Stefan come right then when he knew I needed to serve? Maybe he doesn’t realize how much his proximity affects me . . .just being next to him, smelling his cologne, and feeling his touch.
He made me defenseless.
Suddenly I felt relieved knowing that Herr Franke himself was conducting this meeting. It was comforting to assume I wouldn’t see Stefan’s face again so soon.
Balancing the crowded drink tray, I pushed the door open with my back, my thoughts still far from reason. As I turned and took one brief glance at the nearest guest, terror choked me and before I could compose myself, the platter slipped through my hands and crashed alarmingly to the floor. The deafening sound of shattering glass and gushing liquid erupted in all directions amidst the cry of the one who took the brunt of it all.
I quickly fell to my knees to retrieve the shards of broken glass that littered the ground.
“Please forgive me, sir,” I begged. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be, fräulein!” The man who stood before me, growled as he examined his stained uniform.
“My sincerest apologies, sir.” I continued to reach for broken pieces of crystal as I felt the weight of every eye in the room.
“You intentionally harmed an officer of the law!” Rage had surfaced in the man’s tone.
“It wasn’t intentional,” I cried, barely able to look his direction. “It was an accident. I’m sorry, I tripped.”
I knew I hadn’t tripped. It was the dreadful scar I’d hoped to never see again in my life staring back at me. I stood to wipe the man’s coat with my apron when Colonel Anker roughly grabbed my wrist. My trembling hand dropped a fragment of glass.
The dining room had suddenly swelled with more occupants as the angry sounds amplified through the house. Stefan and Johann arrived the moment Colonel Anker shoved me backward to the floor.
Stefan stepped forward, his jaw protruding as his eyes flashed between me and the Colonel. I subtly shook my head no. He stopped.
Johann came to me and helped me back up to my feet. I wasn’t hurt, only concerned that all the attention had now been shifted to me.
“Don’t go to her!” Colonel Anker bellowed. “I’m the one she offended.”
“It was an accident,” Stefan spoke up. His father shot him a strong look.
“It was on purpose, young Franke. You were not even present.”
Johann quickly knelt and picked up the remaining pieces of glass cluttered around the Colonel’s boots then noticed one small piece had lodged into the Colonel’s hand.
“You are bleeding, sir.” Johann pulled a linen napkin off the table and handed it to him. He snatched it heatedly.
“I want her arrested!”
Stefan immediately moved in front of me, his feelings became apparent to all. My body shook relentlessly, both from shock and fear. “No!” he yelled. “She did nothing wrong.”
Herr Franke slowly stood up from his chair and began to process the situation. Lena entered the room followed by Stefan’s mother. Inga’s face instantly changed colors. She too seemed to realize what was transpiring.
“Stefan!” she demanded. “Come over here!”
He didn’t even acknowledge her as he retained his protective stance in front of me. Her lips curled as she stomped furiously from the room.
The Colonel’s eyes squinted. He wiped the blood from his hand even though it continued to trickle. He smiled. It was the smile of a snake.
I was sure his forked tongue would protrude as he spoke.
“I see . . .” He walked toward us. I lowered my head. I could not watch him. Stefan’s eyes followed his every movement.
The Colonel stood next to us. He touched my sleeve and left a bloody fingerprint on the edge. Stefan’s body nudged me back further behind him. The Colonel laughed. “So” —he examined me with venomous eyes then shifted back to Stefan— “she has become your dessert.”
He referenced the horrible dinner over a year ago . . . he did remember me.
Stefan’s face turned red. It took everything he had to hold himself back. His fists curled at his side as he placed himself fully between me and the Colonel.
Colonel Anker laughed again then turned to the two Volkspolizei present and calmly said, “Arrest her.”
They immediately moved towards me. Stefan pushed one of the soldiers away as Herr Franke grabbed Stefan and held him against a wall. “Verdammt du Arschloch!” Stefan screamed expletives at the Colonel. Never had I seen him that enraged before.
“I will have you arrested as well, boy! Learn your place!”
Colonel Anker spat on the floor. Herr Franke continued to hold him back, but pleaded, “No, please, Colonel, let me manage him.” He then motioned for Johann to help him the moment Anker waved them off.
Together they physically dragged Stefan out of the room.
Lena stood there completely helpless, her face turned ashen. Tears filled her eyes as one officer pulled out a pair of cuffs and placed them on my wrists. I started weeping. Escorted through the house, we passed Frau Franke who remained still near the front entrance.
The sight of contempt on her face appeared as though she now realized her suspicions were true. Her revulsion was evident, and she made no attempt to intervene. I was sure this was exactly where she believed I belonged. As the Polizei guided me down the front steps, people on the street stopped to watch.
Everyone could hear the angry sound of furniture and glass being broken from inside the house. The noise faded the moment I was placed in the back seat of their vehicle. I glanced back to the windows where Lena and Johann’s faces pressed against the front windows in horror. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the last I would see them . . . any of them.