Friday, 8 October 2021

When Time Went Crazy January Stones 2013

The Jenkins were not the sort of people to party all night, right through to breakfast. In their youth maybe, but not these days.  Nevertheless, there they were, eating brunch and wondering where the night had gone.

“Did we finish the wine last night?”

“I don’t think so. We didn’t play Scrabble either.”

It was a real puzzle. The last either could remember before they started breakfast was that they hadn’t quite finished their dessert from the evening before.

Something must have happened, though, because they were wearing different clothes now. 

“It’s really funny,” he said. “That lemon sorbet was making me quite full but I’m starving now. What’s going on?”

“It’s weird about the photos as well,” she replied.

They carried on looking at the shots of Gibraltar on his phone. They weren’t due to go there until the next day.

As the plane landed he shook his head. “I was looking forward to my beach day on Sunday. Now I’ve got to go to work tomorrow.”

A short while later they were lying on the sun beds at the beach.

“I think I must be dreaming,” he said.

“Well, so am I then.  But don’t you think it’s funny that we’re both having the same dream?”


“Anyway, don’t forget the photos.” She picked up his iPhone and started searching. “Oh my. It looks as if our Sandra will marry Tony after all.”

She handed him the phone. There was their daughter in a flowing white dress and Tony smarter than they’d ever seen him before. Judging by the colour of the leaves on the trees it was already autumn, but was that this year or another one?                   

Saturday, 25 September 2021

Weather Behaving Badly January Stones 2013

They talked about El Niño and La Niña. So we had quite a few years of proper summer unfortunately accompanied by drought. Then we had several years of miserable weather. They talked of Global Warming and then renamed it Climate Change because the Warming was actually making it cooler for the posh people. But we hadn’t seen anything yet. 

They made a film about a new ice age arriving suddenly. It seemed melodramatic. Then came Katrina and the film seemed more reasonable.After Sandy it began to look tame.

The stream winds started moving in the wrong direction. We got snow on snow followed by rain on rain and floods, followed by temperatures going up overnight. Two feet of snow fell and disappeared within twenty-four hours.

Yet, one morning soon after, there was thick ice on the windscreen and  cars sliding round the S bend though the temperature gauge said it was six degrees Celsius. Later, after the sun had shone all day and the gauge now said seven, there was, once more, ice on the car.

What’s going on?


Monday, 13 September 2021

January Stones When physics got sick

The Scientist carefully took the shards of glass out of the cupboard, dropped them in the sink, and watched underwhelmed as the tumbler formed itself. It seemed natural, as if it had happened a thousand times before. Yet his constantly questioning mind wondered whether this, this first occurrence of something quite extraordinary, marked the beginning of the end as the second law of thermodynamics was breaking down.

As he filled the tumbler with water he became aware that at the same time as being in his kitchen he was also upstairs and at the other side of the universe, so clearly Planck’s Constant had suddenly become somewhat bigger.

Later, examining the internal structure of protons, he found that they were indeed made of cream cheese and constantly mumbled nonsensical German so the label “quark” was actually extremely apt. Yet there was a paradox because surely the cream cheese itself was made of atoms, and they, in turn, of protons.

And yet.

There was no problem for Newton. Apples still fell merrily on the heads of those foolish enough to sit under apple-trees in the autumn. The big nuclear reactor in the sky still reacted. His home planet appeared to be carrying on its Maypole dance around its star and keeping up its complex ceilidh with the rest of the universe.

The Scientist paused for a moment and pondered. Perhaps the Humanities people were right after all. Every physicist knew that all of these laws did not work all of the time. Everything was relative anyway – Einstein had shown this. There could be a god, then. Or maybe the Matrix was not so far-fetched. It might even be the philosophers who had got it right – that life is but an illusion.


Scientific advice by Doctor Martin James who identified two subatomic particles, some ten years or so before the World Wide Web was born at CERN, thereby gobsmacking his children’s science teachers. 



Tuesday, 31 August 2021

The House on Schellberg Stree Renate, 29 January 1939

 They made their way into one of the already crowded lounges. People sat on top of suitcases, on the floor, or squashed three to a seat on the uncomfortable wooden benches.

“You could go and have a look around the boat if you want,” said Fräulein Gottlieb. “Put your things in your cabin first. But I want you in bed within an hour.”

Renate was sharing a cabin with Adelinde, Christa and Irmgard. Jakob and Erich were sharing with two other boys.

“I’m tired,” wailed Christa.

“Me too,” said Adelinde. “Shall we go straight to bed, girls?”

Christa nodded. Irmgard didn’t say anything. She placed her hand into Adelinde’s and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

Renate felt wide-awake, though. “I’d like to have a look around. I’ll see you soon.”

“Give me your things, then,” said Adelinde. “I’ll put them in the cabin.”

Renate waved to the three other girls and set off across the crowded inner deck. She didn’t think she had ever seen so many people crammed into one space. Warm body odour and sea air made for a strange mixture of smells. She had never been on a boat as big as this – should she call it a ship? This ferry that was going to take her to England. People were still getting on. Would this – ferry – be able to hold them all?

It was hard to breathe in here. A slight breeze drifted from above her head. She noticed a staircase – which was more of a ladder made of steep steps with only air between them – which led to an opening in the roof above her. She made her way up the rungs.

Outside it was cold. The shore looked close. She shivered. It wasn’t just the cold, though; she would not see her own country for a long time and now she was going somewhere she didn’t understand. She still didn’t really understand either why she was going there, or what being Jewish meant.

The boat started to judder. There was a loud creaking and groaning, the sound of chains clanking and shouts from the men working at the side of the harbour. The town began to move backwards away from them. The breeze now became proper wind. Renate could hardly keep her balance. The boat rolled from side to side and then as it turned out of the harbour, it started to go up and down like a seesaw. One moment the line where the sea and the sky met seemed to be up above her head, the next minute she was looking down at it. She couldn’t work out where she was and began to feel dizzy. Perhaps it would be better if she sat down.

She made her way carefully down the steep steps which kept falling away from her then rushing up to meet her feet. Once she slipped and banged her hip into the rail at the side.

The warmth flooded over her as she arrived on the lower deck. For just a few seconds it felt good. Then the smell of the closely packed passengers made her feel slightly sick. Yes, she should go to the cabin. Perhaps if she lay down she would feel better.

She tried to push her way through the crowds. It was even more difficult now, as the boat was moving up and down and from side to side at the same time. She struggled to keep her balance.

“Watch what you’re doing,” shouted one man angrily as she accidentally trod on his foot.

“I’m sorry,” she managed to mutter as she then almost fell on a woman who was trying to feed a baby.

The boat lurched to one side and then rose up in the air, crashing down suddenly, then juddering for a few seconds before once more springing up. She saw a small door in front of her and hoped that that was what it looked like. And even if it wasn’t, at least she might be on her own in there so no one could see what she was about to do. The ferry veered to the other side. She pushed the door open and just made it in time into one of the toilet cubicles, where she vomited straight into the pan. Perhaps that would make it better now.

It didn’t. Time and time again, the acid yellow fluid came out of her mouth. Still the boat moved around in every direction. Then it got worse. And finally there was no more yellow fluid to come out of her stomach into her mouth but still her whole body went into spasm and she retched with every movement of the boat. This journey was going to take forever. Twelve hours, Fräulein Gottlieb had said. Twelve hours of this. The boat rocked. Her stomach retched. She wasn’t alone, she could hear. Then she could smell other people’s vomit. That made her feel even worse. Finally not able to hold herself up straight, she sank to the floor. With her chin propped over the side of the toilet basin, and even as the retching continued, she felt her eyelids close.

She must have fallen asleep for now there was a different sort of rocking. Somebody was shaking her.

“Renate! Renate!” she heard a voice cry. “Oh, you poor child. Why didn’t you come and find me?”

Renate looked up to see Fräulein Gottlieb’s bright eyes looking into hers.

“Too sick,” murmured Renate. “Had to stay by the toilet.”

“My dear, I’m so sorry,” said Fräulein Gottlieb, helping Renate to her feet. “My poor, poor girl. Just look at you. Let me help you get cleaned up.” She tried to tug the creases out of Renate’s crumpled dress and coat. “When Adelinde wished me goodnight from the cabin, I assumed you were all there. Then I was busy with one or two others who were also feeling sick. On my break, I only meant to close my eyes for a moment … then the rocking motion of the boat, you know … it always sends me to sleep. Adelinde came to find me because you hadn’t got back to the cabin. She was worried.”

Renate noticed the boat was not moving so violently now –  just rocking gently, like a cradle; soothing. And she felt so tired ... oh so tired. She would love to curl up now and be in a soft, cosy bed but Fräulein Gottlieb was working at a vomit stain on the skirt of her dress, and the smell of other people’s vomit would have put her off sleeping.

“You should have come to get me,” said Fräulein Gottlieb, “if you felt so poorly. I’m supposed to be looking after you.”

 “Come on, let’s go and get some fresh air,” said Fräulein Gottlieb. “We ought to be able to see some land now.”

Renate had stopped feeling sick at least. But she was so weak, and her legs were wobbly. The ferry was going really slowly now, and the rocking from side to side had almost gone completely. They were just going up and down gently. Even so, she had to lean on Fräulein Gottlieb as they made their way across the deck. Other white faces looked at her and she was at least glad that she wasn’t the only one who had felt so bad. No one smiled and many people frowned. Were they all dreading arriving in England as much as she was?

“You go up first,” said Fräulein Gottlieb, when they arrived at the staircase. “Then I can catch you if you fall.”

It took Renate all her strength to haul herself up to the last step of the steep stairway. The cool wind took her breath away at first, but then she realized that it also made her feel better. The sun was shining now and there were no clouds in the sky. Perhaps this would be all right, after all. It was hard to believe it had been so grey and cold when they’d set out.

They really were not far from land. The first bit of the harbour wall was just in front of them. Renate could see some big cargo ships moored there. Cranes were loading huge crates on to their big decks. Beyond that, black shiny roofs and white buildings were gleaming in the sun. She had to shade her eyes to stop the glare.

“Well,” said Fräulein Gottlieb. “Here we are. Your new home. England.”

“Home?” said Renate. That sounded final.

“Your uncles will be there to meet you,” whispered Fräulein Gottlieb, “once we’re in London. They’ll know how to keep you safe.”

Renate looked again at the town. It seemed to offer her no welcome.


They’re welcome to you. You’re all filth. Haven’t even got sea-legs. A proper German would know how to sail. A proper Englishman would know how to sail. Not you. A Mischling. you’re not even a proper Jew. so you’re more than filth. 



Wednesday, 18 August 2021

The House on Schellberg Street Renate, 28 January 1:00 p.m.


Find a copy here. 


She was still standing on the station platform, waiting for the train that was supposed to have left just after eleven. It seemed as if the weather knew what was happening and sympathized. The bright sunshine had gone. She shivered as she looked up at the black clouds that blotted out the sun and threatened rain, not snow. It was bitter. At least it meant she was glad of all the extra layers of clothes under her thick winter coat. She still thought that at any moment she would wake up and find this was just a horrible nightmare.

At last, a train pulled into the station and stopped next to the platform where they stood.

“You all have your identity cards or passports, don’t you?” asked Fräulein Gottlieb. “Remember, if any officials get on to the train don’t say anything unless they speak to you. If they ask any questions, answer as simply as you can, and of course, politely.”

Oh yes, thought Renate. I wouldn’t be without it.

She’d had to say goodbye to Mutti and Vati in the waiting room as they weren’t allowed on the platform. The SS guards had told them that there was to be no hugging or kissing and no crying. Oddly, she hadn’t felt like crying. She’d done plenty of that over the last few weeks. Now it didn’t feel real. She wondered whether Mutti and Vati were still watching. She couldn’t see as there were too many other children on the platform.

Fräulein Gottlieb and the other escorts started shuffling the children on to the train. Renate found herself in a compartment with an older boy, a pair of twins – one boy and one girl about her age – and a couple of little girls.

“Jakob, you’re in charge,” said Fräulein Gottlieb. “And you two older girls please help Christa and Irmgard if they need anything. Please all make sure your tags are visible at all times. And if anybody asks you about the violins, Adelinde and Erich, remember to tell them that you have passed grade eight.” She scuttled off to the next compartment.

The twins had very small suitcases with them. That must have been to make up for the violins. She wondered whether she would go to a family that had a piano. She didn’t play all that well, certainly not grade eight, but she would like to keep on trying.

Jakob stood up and opened the window. “Everyone’s on now,” he said. “I expect we’ll be going in a minute.”

Suddenly a young woman rushed up to him. “Please take her,” she said, handing a bundle to Jakob. “My sister will pick her up when you’re in Holland.”

“But—” Jakob went to protest.

It was too late, though. The train was pulling out of the station.

“What is it?” asked Adelinde.

“It’s a baby,” said Jakob.

Renate’s stomach did a somersault. Somebody had given them a baby to look after: a baby who was not supposed to be on this train. “We’ll have to hide it,” she said.

“Under a coat,” said Erich.

“But make sure she can breathe,” said Adelinde.

The baby was good and slept peacefully. Jakob kept her on his lap but carefully covered by his coat.

“Would you like me to hold her for a while?” asked Renate.

Jakob shook his head. “The mother told me to take care of her.”

The train was beginning to pick up speed. It didn’t seem that anyone wanted to talk. She was glad: she needed to think about all of this. It was too ridiculous. She couldn’t be Jewish. Neither could her mother or her grandmother. Besides, being Jewish shouldn’t mean that she and her mother had to move to a country where they didn’t even speak the language. Then she’d remembered what had happened back in November to the synagogue and all those shops and other businesses owned by Jews.

No, she didn’t want to think about that. She closed her eyes. The motion of the train soon made her fall asleep.


It was dark when she woke up. The train had stopped and Jakob was staring ahead looking rather worried. The baby was still asleep but making little whimpering sounds as if she would wake any moment now.

“We’re almost at the Dutch border,” said Erich. “I expect they’re making sure we’re not taking anything valuable out of the country.”

“If the baby starts crying, will one of you two start making a noise?” said Adelinde to the two little girls. Christa nodded then whispered something to Irmgard.

The compartment door suddenly opened.

“You will all show your papers at once,” said the official. “And open all cases and bags.”

Renate a shuddered as she saw the sinister black uniform. She avoided looking directly in his eyes.  

They took their suitcases from the luggage rack. Erich handed Jakob his.

“Can’t you get your own case?” the official asked Jakob.

“I’ve hurt my wrist,” said Jakob.

The official raised his eyebrows and shook his head. “What is in those cases?” he asked, pointing up at the luggage rack.

“Those are our violins,” said Erich.

“Show me,” said the official.

Erich took the two cases down and he and Adelinde opened them.

“They must be worth a mark or two,” he said. “Do you play them?”

“Of course,” said Adelinde. “We have both passed our grade eight exams. We hope to join an orchestra in England.”

“Show me,” said the official.

Adelinde and Erich exchanged a glance.

They took the violins out of the cases and carefully tuned them.

“Bach’s double concerto?” suggested Adelinde.

Erich nodded. “One, two three.”

They started playing. Soon the notes were dancing around each other. They were brilliant.

How did they get those notes out their violins? Renate had tried it once. It had sounded terrible. If she should be lucky enough to have a place with a family that had a piano she would practice for at least an hour every day.

Even the SS officer watched the twins open-mouthed.

Unfortunately, though, the baby also heard the music and wasn’t so impressed. She began to whimper more restlessly. Renate nudged Christa.

The little girl began to howl. “I want my Mummy, I want my Mummy.”

It worked. The music and Christa’s whining was louder than the sounds the baby made.

“All right, all right,” said the official. “That’s enough noise. You may keep your violins.” He scowled at them and moved on to the next compartment.

It was easy enough to stop the music, but the baby was another matter; Christa wouldn’t be able to keep up the noise for much longer.

“Try putting your finger in her mouth,” Renate said. She’d often seen mothers do that to crying babies and it seemed to sooth them.

Jakob pulled a face but did as she suggested. It calmed the baby a little but she still grizzled quietly.

Some children were made to get off the train and carry their suitcases into one of the waiting rooms.

Renate hoped the officers weren't going to make them stay here. She wanted the train to start moving again now. She wanted to get out of Germany.

At last, though, the children came back.

“They’re all there,” said Adelinde. “I counted – twenty went out of this carriage and twenty came back.”

“I wonder if they’ve been allowed to keep all their stuff, though,” said Erich.

“Get in quickly, scum!” shouted one of the SS officers.

Renate held her breath as she saw one of the girls drop her suitcase. It came open and her clothes fell all over the platform. She stopped to pick them up. The SS officer kicked her.

She yelped.

“Get on with it, you piece of filth,” said the officer. “Or you’ll have to stay here.” He pushed the girl on to the train.

The suitcase and most of its contents remained on the platform. The officer picked up the case plus a handful of the contents and threw them into the carriage. The doors were shut and the train started to pull out of the station. A broken doll was left behind.

“At least they should be friendlier at the next stop,” said Jacob. “We’ll be in Holland in a few moments.”

The door of the compartment opened again. It was Fräulein Gottlieb. “Well, done,” she said. “You all handled that very well. How is the baby?”

“You knew all along?” said Jakob.

“Of course,” said Fräulein Gottlieb. “I told the mother to give her to you, but I forgot to give you her milk and spare nappies. I’ve been so busy with some of the smaller children who have been very upset. Some of them don’t travel so well either. But here they are now. Can you try and get her cleaned up and fed before we hand her over to her aunt?”


The incident with the violins and the crying baby had really broken the ice. It turned out that Adelinde and Erich had left a baby brother behind and knew all about nappies and feeding babies.

“At least she’s a girl so she won’t pee in your eye while you’re changing her,” said Erich.

“True,” said Adelinde. “But this nappy is not too nice.”

“Give it to me,” said Jakob. He opened the window and threw it outside. “I hope it lands on  some Nazi scum.”

They all giggled.

In no time, they were chatting away with the baby gurgling contentedly. It turned out that Adelinde and Erich were also very good at singing and soon had them all joining in. Renate didn’t know the words to some of the Yiddish songs but she soon picked up the tune.

“So you’re not really Jewish?” said Jakob.

Renate shook her head. “I’d always thought I was German and Catholic.”

“But the Nazis didn’t,” said Jakob. “Because you have Jewish blood.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me that you’re not kosher.”

“No, we’re all in the same boat,” said Erich.

“We soon will be, quite literally,” said Adelinde.

Half an hour later, the train stopped again.

“I expect it will be the Dutch officials now,” said Jakob.

Renate’s stomach did another flip.

“I expect they’ll be kinder than the Germans were.” Jakob pointed out of the window. “Look, we’re actually at a station. I’m going to get out and find this little one’s mother.”

Then he and the baby were gone.

Renate heard the doors of the compartments opening one by one. She could hear women talking softly rather than the harsh voices of border officials.

Theirs opened. A lady appeared with cups of hot chocolate and another held a tray of little cakes. A third carried fluffy blankets and a fourth had some cute teddy bears. The four ladies made a fuss of them, handing them the drinks, cakes and blankets and a couple of the teddy bears to Christa and Irmgard. They seemed so kind and friendly, although Renate couldn’t understand a word they were saying.

The chocolate was delicious. The cake was like nothing she had tasted before – so sweet and spicy – making her realise how hungry she was. She was glad of the blanket, too. It wasn’t that she was cold with all the layers, it was rather that the softness of it was so soothing. However, she couldn’t stop the tears pricking at her eyes.

It had all been such a shock. Finding out she was Jewish and that she had to go away. Then realising that she wasn’t all that Jewish. Yet there were people being kind to her: the Dutch women and Adelinde, Erich and Jakob who had had to leave parents and brothers and sisters behind. At least her uncles would meet her in England and her mother would come over later. But what about Christa and Irmgard? Would they be allowed to stay together? They were so young to be away from their parents.

The Dutch women collected up the mugs and waved cheerily to them. No Dutch officials at all got on. The train began to pull out of the station even though Jakob had not got back.

The tears began to flow freely. Renate could not stop them. Adelinde put her arm round her, Christa held her hand and Irmgard patted her arm.

The compartment door opened and Jakob was there.

“Hey, Renatechen,” he said. “You didn’t think I’d deserted you did you?” He held up a bag bursting with fruit and sandwiches. “She wouldn’t let me go and she’s given us enough food for an army.”

“It’s all right, Renate,” said Fräulein Gottlieb, now standing behind him. “It’s good to cry. You’ll probably feel better.”

She really began to sob now.

“On the other hand, I could tell you one of my jokes,” said Erich, “and that might make you laugh.” He frowned. “Or perhaps not.”

Now she was alternatively laughing and crying. Fräulein Gottlieb was right. It did make her feel better. In no time she was only laughing and the rest were joining in.


Saturday, 7 August 2021

The House on Schellberg Street Renate, 28 January 1939 9:00 a.m.

 Hans Edler suddenly roared with laughter. “Well, well. That spotty little Hitler-fan might have actually saved your life by being so pedantic. Or maybe even our dear Father Brandt, the old soak.”

“Hans!” Mutti said sharply.

“Well, getting a new passport now, you know—”

“Ssh!” her mother said.

He just shrugged his shoulders, then looked a bit more serious and said “You take care now.”

Renate had had her passport for two years now, since she went on a school trip to Italy. She remembered going with her father to get it.

“But the birth certificate is wrong,” he’d argued with the official. “The fool of a priest who christened her was drunk at the time. She is supposed to be Renata Clara – Renata ending in ‘a’, not ‘e’ and Clara with a ‘C’ after both of her grandmothers. Not Klara with a ‘K’. Renate with an ‘e’.”

“Well, you should have found a priest who wasn't drunk,” said the young official.

Renate remembered his eyes: blue and lifeless. He’d looked beyond them, not at them.

“She was born in a thunderstorm, six weeks early. We didn’t think she would live,” her father replied in a raised voice.

The younger man hesitated for a moment. Then he slapped the application form down on the table. “Oh, go round the corner and get her an adult passport. She’s old enough anyway.”

“One of Hitler’s trumped-up youths,” her father had mumbled as they joined another queue in the passport office.

When they were eventually shown into the office, Vati recognized the official. He was Herr Müller, one of his old school friends.

“But Hans,” said Herr Müller slowly, “even if the birth certificate is wrong, we must put on her passport exactly what it says there. Of course, in the privacy of your own home and amongst your own family and friends, you can call her what you like.”

“Yes, you’re right of course.” Vati sighed. “But I just can’t stand the attitude of Hitler’s young bully boys.”

“Yes, I know, I know,” said Herr Müller. “But we still have to obey the rules.” He turned to Renate and winked. “Now, the passport will be ready very soon.”

Three weeks later he personally handed the passport to Renate. “There,” he said. “Your very own grown-up passport. That should last you quite a long time. You’ll be a pretty young woman by the time you need a new one, I’ve no doubt.”

Then Herr Müller had looked at her father and said quite seriously. “You know, I think it was a good thing to get her an adult passport. You never know how useful that might be one day.”

Renate hadn’t understood what he’d meant then, and still didn’t now, though she supposed it was useful for this trip.


“That’s the biggest we’ve got that you’ll be able to carry,” said Mutti. They were putting the last of her things into the suitcase. Renate was wearing her best dress under two extra jumpers.

“Surely it won’t be that cold there?” Renate said as she pulled on even more layers.

“It is a damp place, surrounded by water,” explained Mutti. “Not that all these clothes will keep out the coldness.”

“I’m not really Jewish, am I?” asked Renate.

“Wear your blue sweater on the boat,” Mutti said. “Even with your thick coat on you’ll be cold.”

Grab your copy here 

Wednesday, 28 July 2021

The House on Schellberg Street, Hani, 22 December 1938 11:30.a.m.


“It looks bigger now that all that junk’s gone,” said Rikki. “I suppose there will be room for the trundle-bed. You’d better put some of the spare curtains up at the side window. You don’t want anybody looking in. And I think I know where there are some extra blankets.”

“But nothing at the sky-light,” said Hani. “Because we’ll be able to look up at the stars then. It’s going to be so  lovely.”

“I hope you two girls won’t catch cold sleeping out here,” said Rikki, frowning slightly.

“Oh, Rikki, you worry too much.” Hani put down her pile and gave her former nanny a hug. “Nobody’s going to catch cold. We’ve got feather beds, haven’t we? And that little stove is quite efficient. It’s going to be so cosy.”

“I don’t know,” said Rikki. “You do get some funny ideas. Wanting to sleep out here when you’ve got such a lovely room.”

“Yes, but it’ll be such an adventure,” replied Hani.

“If you say so,” replied Rikki, with a sniff. “Now, I’ll just go and get young Wilhelm to clear this lot up. Then he can go and get the trundle bed.”

“Nice cosy little den you’ve got here,” said Wilhelm a few minutes later, after he’d brought in the bed and she’d helped him to straighten it out. “You two’ll be set up just fine.” He pushed his wild blond curls from his forehead and wiped the sweat from his face.

“It’s great, isn’t it?” said Hani. She’d always liked Wilhelm. He always seemed more like an older brother than one her father’s workers. But now she just wanted him to go away, so she could get on with the room.

“Anything else I can do?” he asked.

“No, no, not at all, thank you,” replied Hani, gently stroking the curtains and blankets Rikki had sent down. Why wouldn’t he just go away? She couldn’t wait to get started making the garage room the cosiest of places.

Rikki had already swept the floors clean, done away with all the dust and polished the small window and sky-light until they shone. All there was left for Hani to do now was to make the room look pretty.

In no time, the bright yellow curtains framed the little window. On top of the normal bed-rolls she stretched out two red blankets. There were so many cushions she didn’t think she would be able to use them all, so she put three on each bed and dropped the rest on the floor.

This is really comfy, she thought. We can use the cushions as seats. It’s going to be so good.

There was nothing more she could do now. It really was perfect.

The smell of cooked chicken coming from the kitchen was making her hungry. Fantastic!

Must be about half past twelve, she thought. And she’ll be here by two. I wonder whether Rikki has made some strudel. If not we could go to Kellerman’s on the way back from the station.

She really wasn’t sure whether she could bear to wait the extra hour and a half, but at least lunch might take her mind off it.

“Your mother says you’re to eat downstairs in the kitchen with me and Wilhelm,” said Rikki as Hani came out of the bathroom from washing her hands.

“Why?” asked Hani.

“She and your father have something to discuss,” replied Rikki.

“Do you know what?” asked Hani. Why didn’t they involve her in their discussions? She wasn’t a child anymore. Besides, she wanted to find out more about what was going on, because she knew it was something not so nice.

“Now take that frown off your face, young missy,” said Rikki, frowning herself. “You know your mother and father work really hard, and they don’t often have time to sit down and talk, let alone have a meal together.”

Hani sighed. “I suppose so,” she said. “Anyway, what are we having? It smells delicious.”

“Chicken casserole and dumplings,” answered Rikki.

“Now that sounds good,” said Wilhelm as he came through the back door.

“Yes, but not until you’ve washed that muck off your hands, it won’t be,” said Rikki.

“Look, I’m sorry if I was a bit impatient earlier,” said Hani. “Only, you know, I wanted to … well.”

“No problem,” replied Wilhelm. “I had work to do in the garden, anyway. Look.” He held up two muddy hands.

“Bathroom. Now!” hissed Rikki.

“Heil Rikki!” cried Wilhelm, raising his right arm stiffly out in front.

Hani shuddered. Rikki looked as if she was about to faint. Her face had gone quite white.

“Don’t you joke about that, young man,” she said quietly.

“No, sorry,” replied Wilhelm, darting out of the kitchen before Rikki could say anything else.

They ate in silence, all three of them looking down at their food. Hani felt strange. December was such a lovely time. The weather was just as it always was at this time of year – cold, but clean and fresh. Everything seemed so normal. Yet it wasn’t. There was something about to happen and Hani couldn’t be sure exactly what.

“That was great,” said Wilhelm as he wiped his plate clean with a slice of bread.

“Yes, there’s seconds,” said Rikki. “Though I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to say that.”

Wilhelm looked at Hani and winked.

“She’s coming round,” he whispered. “She likes me really.”

Hani watched Rikki ladle more of the sauce on to Wilhelm’s plate. She would have loved some more herself but she didn’t have Wilhelm’s excuse. He’d been working in the garden all day. She’d done very little – unless you counted the prettying up of the garage room, although Wilhelm and Rikki had done all the heavy work. Besides, if she didn’t lose a bit of weight soon, she would get another lecture from her mother.

The doorbell rang.

“I’d better go and get that,” said Wilhelm. “They won’t want disturbing.”

Rikki sat very still, just staring into space. Hani didn’t know whether she should say anything.

“It was the telegram boy,” said Wilhelm ten minutes later. “A telegram for upstairs.”

Rikki flinched.

“I don’t think it was anything too important,” said Wilhelm. “They didn’t look very worried when I gave it to them.”

“Ah, well, we’ll see,” said Rikki.

Hani hoped it wasn’t to do with Renate. Perhaps she was sick? That would be awful.

Oh, stop worrying, she told herself. It’s probably only something to do with one of their meetings. But the uncomfortable feeling would not go away. It was no good pretending things were all right. Things were just not all right at the moment.

She saw Rikki and Wilhelm exchange a look.

“What’s the matter?” she said. “Do you think there’s something wrong?”

They didn’t have time to answer before they heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Hani’s mother came in, holding the telegram in her hands.

“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “Renate won’t be coming.” There were tears in Frau Gödde’s eyes.

Hani’s heart sank. “What is it?” she cried. “What’s the matter with her?”

“It’s ... it’s nothing too serious,” her mother stammered. “She’s perfectly safe. Just come on upstairs, will you? Vati and I need to talk to you.”

If it’s not too serious, why is she crying? thought Hani.

It seemed to take forever to walk up the stairs to the main lounge. Her mother didn’t look back once, and it reminded Hani a bit of being shown into the dentist by Herr Schröder’s assistant. She never looked at you nor did she ever smile. At least mother smiled occasionally, but obviously not today.

“Sit down, Hani,” said Herr Gödde. “We need to talk to you about Renate.”

“She’s not ill, is she?” cried Hani. “What does the telegram say?”

Her mother raised her eyebrows and mouthed something at Hani’s father. He nodded. Frau Gödde put her hand to her mouth and handed Hani the telegram.


Renate unable to come stop chicken pox stop


Hani felt the relief as a great stone being lifted from her chest as she read the telegram. Renate was ill, but it was nothing much. So she would be coming soon – when the spots had gone. She couldn’t very well go on a train all covered in spots.

“Well, she will come when she’s better, won’t she?”

Her parents didn’t answer. They just frowned. Why were they so bothered? It was just chicken pox, wasn’t it?

It was only later, when she was back in the garage room turning the telegram over in her hand and looking sadly at her cosy den, that she remembered. They’d both already had chicken pox. Here, when they were seven. You were only supposed to have chicken pox once.

Suddenly the winter had lost all its charm.