MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Martha Wiesberg was a woman of strict routine: Sunday, church; Monday, lunch with her neighbor; Tuesday, book club; Wednesday, laundry press; Thursday, aerobics—all at exactly the same time each week. Even a slight deviation was destructive to people like Martha. She needed routine like air to breathe. Only those who knew her very well—and they were far and few—knew why: it was her way of numbing her mind, of silencing the past and calming the voices that would remind her that life could have been so different, if only …
It was four thirty in the afternoon. The sunlight was fading slowly, the way it does when the cold of early autumn starts to creep in. Martha had just fixed herself her daily afternoon cup of coffee (decaf), sat down with her daily crossword puzzle, and put on the television to watch her daily show. But her show wasn’t on. Instead, a special program in honor of Germany’s recently created Tag der Deutschen Einheit, “German Unity Day,” was airing. Martha immediately switched off the TV.
The silence in the room engulfed her like a dark blanket, allowing the voices in her head to become louder. This time it wasn’t simply the interruption of routine that got to her; it was the most recent milestone in Germany’s history: the reunification. Most of the population seemed happy about it, chatting about it in interviews on the TV, about what had caused the separation in the first place: the war, a dark chapter. For her part, Martha had moved on, or so she liked to think. But of course, there were the memories. Her mind was just about to dive deeper into that muddy lake of painful remembrances when the doorbell rang and jolted her from her thoughts.
Martha opened the door and stared into the face of her postman, who had been delivering the mail to her for over ten years. The setting sun was breaking through the heavy clouds one last time, providing a backlight that gave him an almost ethereal appearance.
“Grüß Gott, Frau Wiesberg,” he said with a nervous smile. Martha had never liked that salutation. Greet God? Okay! She sang to herself, I will when I see him! She had always felt a bit out of place in Munich. She was a Zugereiste, after all, an “outsider” not born there.
“This is for you,” the postman said with outstretched arms. Martha had never been too fond of him, partly because she suspected that he was reading her mail, as letters would often arrive torn open on the side. His curiosity, too, had become a staple in her diet of routine.
Martha took the letter, wondering why the man had bothered to ring the doorbell rather than simply leave the letter in her mailbox. She was about to close the door when he gently tugged her back.
“Well, in the name of the German Federal Postal Services, we would like to apologize very much for the delay.”
Confused, Martha studied the envelope, which had been—or appeared to have been—ripped open by the transport, the letter sticking out one side. Adolf’s face in the upper right corner looked out at her sternly. She brought the envelope closer to her eyes. The postmark read December 27, 1944.
“Are you joking?” she asked, and looked up at him.
“No, Frau Wiesberg, believe me, you are not the only one. There are a couple of others who have also been affected.”
She gazed down again at the envelope, chills running up her arms. “Affected by what?”
“The wall?” he said, surprised. “This letter was held up, and,” he started to explain, “now that the wall has come down, it finally found its way to you.”
Martha was still staring at the letter when it slowly began to dawn on her.
“The German Post will of course not charge you any delivery fee.”
He giggled, and Martha glared at him.
“I mean the German Post stopped charging so little postage a long time ago,” he went on.
“I understood that the first time. I just don’t find it at all funny,” she told him.
The grin on his face died suddenly, and he shuffled his feet nervously.
“Is there anything else I can do for you?” Martha asked impatiently.
“No, no. Have a great day.”
He was about to turn around when Martha heard him mumble something else.
“What now?” she barked.
“Who is Wolfgang Wiesberg?”
Martha slammed the door.
Leaning against the inside of the door, she shut her eyes. She felt like a huge wave was breaking over her. Memories were flowing back into her mind, making her dizzy.
She stared at the handwriting on the envelope. Wolfgang Wiesberg. Her twin brother. How she had suffered when she and Mother had been informed of his death, when the war had ended. Yet she and Wolfgang hadn’t been close at the end. In fact, she had probably wished his death at some point. What was there to say, forty-six years later? Whatever was in that letter couldn’t turn back time, couldn’t bring back the love that life had held in store for her only to have cruelly snatched it away.
I don’t want to remember, I don’t want to remember, I don’t want to remember, she told herself over and over again, like a mantra. Martha started to tremble uncontrollably. She had always known that the secrets were only sleeping. Now they had finally woken up and come back to haunt her.
Up and down, open and close, they were moving in unison in the summer heat.
“Martha, you are always a little too fast.” The rebuke came from the beautiful long-legged Else, her blond hair done into two thick braids. She was sitting next to Martha on the floor, performing the same leg movements. From above, the circle of young women was supposed to resemble a flower that opened and closed as it reacted to sunlight. A gymnastic practice.
“Sorry,” Martha mumbled, her skin itchy under the shorts that barely covered her upper thighs, and the white shirt of her uniform.
Else shook her head. “What are you always thinking about?”
Before Martha could respond, Else got up and stopped the music, then waited for the other girls to gather around her. “We still have the chance to be selected to perform for our Führer at the Party Day in Nuremberg in September! Clementine zu Castell herself will soon come and assess us!” Else’s words were met with great enthusiasm. Clementine zu Castell was the new Führerin of the organization Faith and Beauty, which Hitler had initiated in January for women between the ages of seventeen and twenty-one. Martha was the only one in the group who didn’t join in on the cheers. Else’s eyes lingered on hers, just long enough. But by the time Martha had forced herself to bring the palms of her hands together, it was too late, and her clapping got lost in the midst of the departing girls.
As she walked over to her bike, Else caught up with her. “I ask myself every time why you keep coming to these meetings,” she hissed at Martha. “You know you don’t have to.”
“I know,” Martha said to Else as she mounted her bike. “I’ll see you at Traudl’s.”
She sensed Else’s eyes following her as she drove out of the park.
Copyright © 2018 by Daniela Tully