Read The Journey Back Online

Authors: Johanna Reiss

Tags: #Biography & Autobiography, #Personal Memoirs

The Journey Back (10 page)

BOOK: The Journey Back
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because we were back, Sini, Rachel, me. Slowly I walked into the living room, to the little chest with the brown-and-black-striped tea cozy on it. In the middle of the room were the chairs, the ones Mother had liked so. I pulled one closer, touched it. Prickly. I spread my jacket on the seat, so that it hung down over the edge. I sat down; it was perfect this way. Mother had been fight. Quickly I got up, putting the chair back exactly where it had been. I checked the time. Maybe I should sit on the sofa, wait there. It was comfortable. Too bad we’d have to get rid of that, too.

I curled up on it. What was that noise, the doorbell? Quickly I raised my head. No. I lay down again. Rachel was still on the train and would be for another, hour She’d arrive in time to join her “family”

and other families in town on the benches along canal for their evening chat. Sini might be patients’ temperatures right now. Or giving their peanut-butter snack, to make them Or she could be washing dishes. She could even with Johan and Dientje-who was like a


Now what was that? The bell? Nervously I listened. No, it was the wind, rustling leaves across our gravel path. Summer was over. School next week, at last. I turned on my back and closed my eyes.

Dark all around me, and I was sinking in it, deeper, deeper. What was that? Footsteps? Coming from the road? Boots? Yes, loud ones.

Soldiers’ boots. Coming straight toward the house, stepping high like toy soldiers, only real. German soldiers. They knocked down the door, stormed in, marching and stamping and shouting to the rhythm of their boots. Elm, z, wei. Elm, z’wei. Bayonets, aimed, at me. A hatchet, too, in Droppers’ hands. Where was Sini? Rachel? Father? No one answered.

Elm, z, wei. I turned my head, saw a closet. I tried to get up, run into it, but something kept pushing me down. Blackness. Or boots, what? Tried … eim … tried … zv. ei … couldn’t. “Johan,” I screamed, “help. ] oh aaa-a-a-a-” I woke up, shaking. I had had this terrible dream, and no one had been there, not even Johan.

A while later, I heard the rattling of a cart. I rushed to the door.

Yes, yes, it was stopping, in front of the house. Slowly I walked back into the living room, to the middle, to a chair. I glanced at

it, then I looked away. It doesn’t matter, Annie. It’s a chair, that’s all. Pick it up. Come. I carried it out the door, and lifted it onto the

Part Three




On the morning of the wedding a fine dr’v. zle was falling, dripping off trees and buildings as slowly as it collected. We were standing outside Town Hall, under the roof of the bicycle shed: Mrs. Vos, Father, Nel, Sini, who had come home yesterday, me-and most of Winterswijk’s Jews.

“That Ies de Leeuw is sure in a hurry,” a passerby called out. “Had to make up for lost time, I guess,” someone answered.

Father did not seem to hear. He was too busy looking down the street that led to the station. From the opposite direction two people were moving toward us. They got off their bicycles. Confused, they looked around. “J0han and Dientje,” Sini and I shouted, running up to them.

They had come! We hugged. Father had seen them, too. “Magda,” he said proudly, “These are the people who hid Annie and S’mi. They’ve come by bicycle all the way from Ussdo.” Briefly she looked at their faces, then, curiously, at the rest of them.

“How d’you do, Mrs. er-”

“Call her Magda,” Father suggested. “Hello,”

Mrs. Vos said, and turned back to the other guests. Bong, bong, bong-bong, the bell in the church clock began to strike. Father brushed the rain off his coat, then brushed his coat over again, even though there were no more drops. He walked to the corner, to check the street leading to the station again. But Rachel must not have changed her mind.

He came back, took Mrs. Vos’s arm, and started to walk up the steps to Town Hall. So did Sini and I, Johan and Dientje, and the other guests.

It was time. In the Wedding Room we sat down-Sini next to me, then Nel.

For a second I glanced behind me. Johan and Dientje were staring at.

Mrs. Vos. The’it faces were blank. The door opened-again.

“Isn’t it wonderful? How can she do it?” people were whispering as Mrs.

Menko came in, leaning on someone’s arm and holding a cane. She slowly walked to her place. A man in a black suit strode in after her, leafed through some papers, and without wasting any more time, began to speak.

“I, as the regis tear of this Town Hall, will marry you in accordance with the civil law of the Netherlands.” I looked out the window at the hands of the


church clock. It would take fifteen minutes, had said. Soon it would be over; but then Sini we go back to Enschede. She had been home for whole day, though. Almost one day anyway, last night she had not gone anywhere, either. had sat on my bed instead, talked. She loved be a nurse. As long as the patients weren’t too si I shook my head. That Sini. I moved a little clo., “Magda Vos and Ies de Leeuw, may this remain an unforgettable one for both of you for all who are dear to you.” Then solemnly slowly the registrar pronounced them man wife. Now I looked. He was giving Father a pen, t Mrs. Vos, and Mrs. Menko, who was a witm Before he picked up his papers, the registrar sigu Father was married.

I had not gone over yet to congratulate them kept hiding behind people who already had. Fat[ was coming toward me, I saw. To talk to me again No. He put his arm around my shoulder and me. “Well, Annie? Shall we go?” Wait, wait, not so fast. “Ies,” Mrs. Vos called. “Come here.” I smiled at Father’s back. Now I had time to dc little more thinking. I had seen a great deal of h during the last few days. She had wanted so much done, and done perfectly. I had a problem there, she said. I sighed. Sometimes she acted strangely. As she had when I showed her the dress I was going to wear today, the one Dientje had made for me with the little checks. It made me look like a peasant, she said. Nel had thought so, too.

Carefully I smoothed down the dress. And outside, before the ceremony, with Johan and’ Dientie. She had turned away from them. They had not liked it. They’d looked embarrassed. She must have been nervous. It was not easy for her, Father had said. I should be patient, and it would all come. What was I going to call her though? Aunt Magda, as Sini did? Mrs.

de Leeuw? No. Mother? I wiped my face. It was hot in here. I could not wait any longer. I had to speak to her. She was standing alone. That wouldn’t last long. “Excuse me,” I said. “What d’you ‘want me to call you?” Tensly I waited. Would she say it herself? “Call me whatever you want to,” she answered smiling.

“Mother,” I whispered. She touched my cheek. “Mother.” I repeated it as I walked away, but to myself. I’d have to get used to it again-Mother, Mother. After all, I didn’t have to say it every time

‘3 fall AND WNTR

I talked to her. Mother. I ruined. Was she looking at me? No. She was pretty, I had to admit that. So was her dress. “It’s an old one,” she had said and laughed. Still … it had tucks and pleats, and lace around the throat. No wonder Father had been in such a hurry. Nel would not be living with us. She was going off to finishing school. As early as tomorrow. Far away … to Amsterdam, on the other side of Holland. There would only be me at home. I took another look. She was beautiful. I could already see myself walking into town with her. “Is that her mother?” people would ask. I was lucky. With my face burning, I joined Sini and Johan. It was still drizzling. Silently the drops were sliding off the coats of the people who were waiting in line outside Town Hall.

They were there to get forms allowing them to buy hot-water bottles, pots, pans, blankets. Johan and I were waiting for Sini to go. She had to leave early, to get her ride back to Enschede.

“Goodbye,” we said. “See you soon.”

“It’s too bad she couldn’t stay longer,” Johan said as he collected their bicycles. “If you ask me, nothing’s gone right today.” Nothing? It had not been so bad for me!

Pretty. good, in fact. “I must say, Annie, it was a shock when the letter came. I’ve got to be hone. I didn’t know what I was reading at first. “Getting married?” We didn’t even know your father was seeing anyone. We couldn’t sleep that night from worrying about it. “Fui-fui,”

Ma kept saying, ‘that little Annie.” She wanted me to go and see the woman right away. “We’ve got to make sure she’s right for her,” she said.” He shook his head. “How could I have done that, Annie? It was already too late. We only got the letter a few days ago. The mail still doesn’t get delivered right.”

“Johan.” Excitedly Dientje was coming down the steps. “I just had a nice talk with Ies. He took me into a corner and said, “Dientje, what d’you think of my wife.” Ja, he wanted me to tell him. It made a difference to’m to know, I think.”

Quickly she added, “She’s a good-looking woman, Johan. That, I had to say.”

“Good4looking, good-looking.” Johan sounded angry. “She’d better be good to Annie. That’s wmt. matters, Dientje. Nothing else. I wish Ies would’ve asked me. That’s what I would have told him.”

“You sometimes make mistakes, too, Johan. When Ies came to see us that time, you never opened your mouth. If you had, we would be a lot

“What do you mean?” Johan asked.

“You know,” Dientje said, looking at me, her face getting red. “But it wouldn’t be right to say-not today.”

“All right, woman, all right. We didn’t come to ruin Annie’s day. We’re making her all upset. Come, Dientje, here.” He handed her the bicycle.

“How’s the knee?”

“It doesn’t maixer, Johan,”

“Damn. If only the buses were running … Well, we’re going to the house anyway. You can take it easy there.

We’ll keep Annie company, talk with her, for a couple of hours. We haven’t seen her for over a month. We’ve got things to say. Eh, Dientje?” She began to smile a little. I let out my breath. Maybe we should go right now, not wait here another minute. Except for Mrs.

Menko, who had already gone home, everyone else was getting organized to come hack with us. “Wait for me, Bernard.”

“Put up your collar, Berrie.”

“Come, Johan and Dientje,” I urged. Wre wouldn’t want to miss any of the party, either. All the way hack from Town Hall, Father kept turning around. He was still looking for Rachel.

Another cart and another farmer had brought it all, Mrs. Vos’s furniture, in many trips. “You’re really making our road look beautiful, Ies,” Maria had said, holding her goat back and watching as one piece after another had been carried inside: the sofa and chairs with carvings of fruit and flowers on the arms, the mahogany sideboard, the china cabinet, the rug, with flowers, too. Dientje did not have to tiptoe in our house. You could not hear footsteps anyway. Here, I’d prove it to her. Firmly I led her across the rug, arm in arm. “It’s something, Annie, this rug. For the feet yet. It’s so fancy.” That’s what the guests were saying about the dinner table. They were all crowded around it. “It’s spectacular, Magda.” There was awe in their voices. “How did you manage a whole platter of cookies?”

“And all those eggs.”

“They’re stuffed.”

“Look, look, with-What are those brown flecks in them?”

““Sardines,” she just said.”

“Sardines? I don’t remember what they taste like.”

“And bowls of salt and mustard the likes of which I haven’t seen for years. Magda, how did you do it?”

“You have to know the right people, that’s all,” she said and hughed.

“Annie, get the xz7 VA,.L ASD

Gently she pushed me toward the kitchen. “Hurry,” she said. “And don’t break them, they’re delicate. Better make several trips.” Break them?

Of course not. Did she notice how carefully I was bringing them in?

They weren’t trembling or sliding around the tray even a little bit.

Father looked proud, I saw. He probably had not thought I could do it.

It was nice to come into the living room and hear cheerful voices. It was really a party! I had never been to anything like this before. I liked it. “Excuse me,” I warned a man who was taking a step back.

Holding my breath, I lowered the tray to this table. There, the glasses were in place, and all in one piece. Mother went to the closet and opened it wide. She pulled out a dark green bottle and began to pour small quantities of red wine into each glass. “Magda, how is this possible?” everyone asked. “There isn’t any in the stores yet.”

“I hid it with my furniture,” she explained, “so it’s really aged, you rrdght say. But it was already a fine botde-929, an excdlent year. My first husband knew all about wines. Remember the wed, cling?” she asked.

“How de gant we all looked then! You, Bettie, wore a long pink gown with ruffles, and satin shoes.” Thinking about it made Betfie smile. “And you, Bernard, a real matching suit.” Sheepishly Bernard grinned at his blue pants and brown jacket. “If you ask me,” Johan said, looking around the table, “I’m the only one here who’s dressed right. I’ve got my wedding suit on.”

“This is not Ussdo,” Mother informed him. “Remember,” she said in a softer voice, “how many guests there were? Almost every Jew in Winterswijk came to the wedding-close to three. hundred I count twenty now.”

“Please, Magda, don’t talk about that,” Father said. Silently they all raised their glasses. “To all of us here,” Father said solemnly, “but especially to Johan and Dientje Oosterveld. If it had not been for people like them, none of us would be here now.” Lovingly Johan looked at me. “It was worth all the danger, Ies,” he said. “And there was a lot, believe me. But I’ve never had wine before as far as that goes.” He tilted his head back and finished it. “Awfully sour, Dientje, watch it.

But wait a minute, how old did you say this was, Magda. 19297 No wonder!

It’s gone stale, I bet.” Gratefully everyone looked at Johan as they began to laugh. He joined in, looking puzzled though. “It’s called dry, Johan,” Mother mapped. “What was that, Magda? Dry?” He wiped a drop Off his chin and showed it to her. “I always say you have to get up a lot earlier to kid a farmer than to kid anyone else.” He laughed again, not looking puzzled any longer.

People began to mill around, their wineglasses in their hands. “You come, too, Dientje,” Johan said, no glass in his. She did not want to.

BOOK: The Journey Back
9.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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