Marian Sanders sat on her porch. This was the time of year that she and Harry had always loved. If he were home. But her husband was dead now, gone to a heart attack at the height of the war.
If he were here they would sit on the front porch feeling the breeze off the river just two blocks away and watching the sun make patterns on the grass. He had always said that after the flag waving that July 4th brought was done and while the street was still trimmed in bright red, white and blue, was true summer. Now that the war was over, it seemed somehow brighter. But now there was no Harry to celebrate with and once more she was embarking on change.
It was time to have someone new in the house and maybe make up for things. Things she couldn’t bring herself to contemplate. Things she was hoping hadn’t happened.
She went in the house and gathered up her gloves, pinned on her hat and reached for her purse. Leaving the front door unlocked she headed out down River Road for four blocks and then turned right on Bridge Street coming to rest finally at the train station just five minutes before the train from New York City was due to arrive. Mrs. Schwartz had called her when she put Mrs. Sanders’ new boarder on the train and told her that the train, for once, had left Penn Station on time. She said that the girl seemed highly competent and she had every indication that she could make the train change in Newark.
As the train pulled in, Marian rose from her bench and mentally checked everything just once more to make sure. At times she felt she was too old for new things.
Everything had been timed just right and Mrs. Schwartz had done her part. As the train pulled in the conductor jumped out, turned around and handed down a girl in a faded flowered summer dress with no hat or gloves but with a wicker suitcase held together with leather belts, a less-than-stylish handbag and a trench coat draped over her arm.
The girl didn’t exactly look as if she had spent years in a concentration camp. Though she was thin she was not excessively so, in fact, to Marian, she looked quite fit. She did look exhausted and had a slightly otherworldly look about her a fact that was emphasized by the huge brown eyes that dominated her thin face under her very short brown hair. When Marian looked down at the girl’s hands, however, she knew she had hired a pianist, her fingers were thin and very long.
When Amalia Schwartz had visited Marian from New York City just last week and brought with her staples for the girl’s kitchen she had with her only the written report from the hospital. The girl was a Berlin native and had spent three years a concentration camp, finally ending in the last year in a DP rehabilitation hospital outside of Hamburg.
Mrs. Schwartz had told her that the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee were grateful for her offer of the job here in Shad Landing, playing piano at the High School. It was so fortunate that when Frau Steinberg had expressed a desire to immigrate, not to Israel but to the United States, that this job had become available. Then the AJD had dumped her on Mrs. Schwartz who was connected with the B’nai B’rith, leaving it up to her to resettle the girl.
Marian, for her part, had been instrumental in offering the job once she heard of the girl’s availability as she was on the school board and she also agreed to let her apartment, recently vacated by two silly girls from Wisconsin who had worked in the defense factory south of town during the war. A serious 26 year old had to be better than those two. Anyone had to be better.
The girl was walking toward her now. Marian examined her a bit closer. Could she actually have been married? She looked at once like a very old woman and a very young child. Her flowered cotton dress was too large for her. Her thin legs were encased in heavy woolen stockings which ended in sturdy brown oxfords with a low heel that had seen better days. She was clean and neat, graceful in movement and what her next door neighbor, Mrs. Smith would call “put together” but she didn’t look up. Her eyes were glued to the ground.
Marian approached her.
Helena looked up for the briefest of moments and Marian took the opportunity to flex her German.
“Ja. Frau Sanders?”
“Guten Tag, Frau Steinberg.”
Marian offered her hand.
The girl looked up for just a minute, she seemed startled but did not take Marian’s hand.
“Guten Tag, Frau Sanders. But I do speak English and would prefer it. Also please call me Fraulein Steinberg, I am using my maiden name.”
Marian smiled. There was only the slightest hint of German accent to her largely British English.
“Well, that certainly makes things easier as I’ve just about gotten to the limits of my German with that one phrase.”
Helena must have seen Marian’s surprise at the English accent because she said, “My mother was from London. I was born in London and Mama insisted I speak English without an accent.”
“I was wondering,” Marian said. “Your English seems perfect.
“Let me show you your new home.”
She reached for Helena’s suitcase but the girl did not relinquish it and they walked awkwardly the eight blocks back to the large Victorian house at 252 River Road, not speaking more than a few words and those were just about the train ride and the weather.
Marian showed her up the front steps and through the unlocked front door.
They walked between the dark oak parlor pocket doors on the left of the entrance and into a large, bright but sparsely furnished room.
“This will be your apartment. It’s small but two girls shared it last so it should be adequate.”
“In the back of this room, as you can see, I’ve added a small kitchen and back here,” Marian escorted her charge through the door in the rear of the parlor, “is your bed room and bath. The shower doesn’t work but the tub is just fine. That back door leads to the back porch and the yard. Of course you have the use of the porches and the yard.”
Marian studied the girl. She seemed to be interested in everything around her but she just wasn’t saying anything. There was a long, pregnant pause.
“This is much larger than I expected,” the girl said almost as if she felt obliged to say something. “And do not worry about the shower. I do not take showers.”
“I’ll leave you here for a few minutes to unpack then, shall I? When you’re done please come out on the porch for some lemonade and cookies.”
The girl nodded but now was no longer looking Marian in the eye. Marian perceived that it would take a lot to earn her trust.
Helena gazed around the room. She would be safe here. She knew she would. Outside she saw the shadows on the lawn and the American flags fluttering in the breeze. The houses were substantial and the people very friendly. Perhaps she would forget everything. Perhaps she wouldn’t pursue Hans. Perhaps she could create a new life for herself.
(c) 2013 Christina Wible