What felt worse, how normal things used to be, or how terrible they became?
I laughed when they came. I did your job, I told them. Laughter was the best medicine, but it
wouldn’t cure the gaping hole in my chest, self-inflicted agony, from where blood oozed like
the toothpastes they gave us. Just a little pressure, and it all came rushing out.
How could you laugh when you might break at any moment?
The fog is going to be terrible tonight. Uncle won’t come. Some birthday! Annalise was
dismal. The cake was ready, and Mama rushed past the simmering Sauerbraten to hide it, as
Annalise entered, her face flushed poppy-red due to the freezing wind. The velvet curtain
behind her concealed Vati, his breath hushed, lest the curtain flutter.
They were both going to pretend that they had forgotten her birthday. It was a terrible
strategy to duplicate so frequently, but it always seemed to work.
‘Mama, what- ‘
‘Now, now, Schnuki, Vati will be home soon. You wouldn’t want to go to bed hungry, would
you? So, let me make dinner peacefully.’
‘But, Mama- ‘Annalise's protest was feeble. But her voice had the slight tremble in it that
preceded crying. As she turned, her parents shared a glance and thought together:
‘Happiness before surprises.’
Suddenly, she looked up. ‘Is that- Uncle! Uncle!’ Annalise bounced with joy. Uncle was Vati’s
friend, and her favourite person in the entire world. She hadn’t expected him to come
tonight, he was so busy.
As he appeared, the cold wind whistled in. Something seemed to be amiss. His kind face
looked downcast, resembling her own, when she didn’t want to eat her vegetables but was
trying to please Mama. It was probably because of the stress of the police job he had been
Vati emerged from behind the curtain- So they hadn’t forgotten after all! - with balloons full
of candy and éclairs. It will be fun to pop. He and Uncle looked at each other, talking without
words. Vati’s face, wrinkled with smiles and tension, suddenly sagged.
‘You said you’d tell us days beforehand, Warin!’
‘I did tell you about the inspections! I told you that all the Jews from Vienna have left, but
you insisted on staying! I can take Anna, but- but-’
‘That won’t be necessary.’ Vati’s voice was icy.
‘What? You can’t- ‘
‘Dan! Warin!’ Her voice softening, she turned to Annalise. ‘Let’s see the decoration!’
The candles on the cake flickered with the wind. Mama smiled, but she looked like Ms.
Boesch had when she had given them the Speech.
First, Miss had said that the special kids had left school. After a few seconds, she added that
the Jews were special too, so they couldn’t attend school anymore. Now, Uncle taught her.
She could still hear him shouting at Vati.
‘Mama, why is Uncle speaking in the forbidden tone? Is it related to the disappearances?’
Every night, more of their neighbours were disappearing. All their belongings were intact;
they were the only elements missing from the houses. The street was almost empty now.
Mama and Annalise spent many nights trying to solve the mystery. Whenever Vati saw
them, he pursed his lips in a disapproving manner. It was probably because Vati hated the
‘They are inhuman, greedy, cruel mercenary villains. You shall never join them.’ His tone
suggested not that she couldn’t, but that she wouldn’t be able to.
‘What do those big words mean?’
‘I’m afraid you’ll know soon,’ Vati had said sadly, but why would learning the meaning of
words be sad?
Maybe his hatred for the police was why Vati and Uncle were fighting?
A cacophony shook the walls. Mama stopped Annalise from rushing out, but she fought her
way out. What if Vati disappeared too?
She saw the curtain first. The beautiful velvet, the one thing Mama had asked for on her
birthday, was ruined due to red drops. Vati smiled and beckoned to her. Blood, blood,
blood. Pain, suffering, agony. He smiled as he clutched his chest. ‘Ich liebe dich, meine
I love you, my little princess.
He winced as he lay down and closed his eyes.
When she turned, Mama smiled, even as Annalise took in the blood pouring from her, the
way love did. Behind her, Uncle was sobbing quietly, a small device in his bloodstained
hands. A gun. He did something with his fingers to it-
‘Happy birthday, Lisa.’
Was this his present?
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