Thursday, 10 September 2020

A Gallery for Nick Chapter 2

 

Barney looked at his watch. If he cut through Tesco’s car park he’d just get back in time. He could still get home before his mother started calling his mobile. He started to jog.

As he got to the entrance of the store he realised how thirsty he was. Perhaps he could buy a bottle of water on the way through. Damn! There was a long queue even in the less than ten items isle. The kiosk was still open though and the queue there was slightly shorter. And he really couldn’t go on without a drink. Barney stood behind the others who were waiting.

It seemed to take ages. He glanced at his watch. Ten to ten already. It couldn’t be. He took out his mobile to double check. Oh no! It was out of juice. If he wasn’t back in ten minutes, his mum would be calling his mobile. And then calling Nick’s house if he didn’t answer. The man in front of him was almost finished. He started to slip his change into his pocket, but then turned to ask the sales girl another question.

“Hurry up,” muttered Barney to himself. “Come on, come on!”

“Can I help you, love?” asked another assistant who had walked over from the lottery tickets. “Only we’ll have to be quick. We shut in five minutes.”

“Yes. Can I have a bottle of water please?”

“Of course you can. What size would you like?”

“Oh, um, large.”

“That will cost you 17p. That shouldn’t break the bank, should it?”

“Oh. I em.” Barney fumbled in his pocket. He’d forgotten that he and Nick had bought ice cream down at the shore. Or rather, he’d bought them both an ice cream. He doubted Nick would pay him back.

“The small actually cost more,” said the woman. “The large bottlers are loss-leaders.”  She stared at him as if she thought he was a bit mad.

Barney blushed. Then, thank heavens, he found a 20p piece in his pocket.  

 “Yes, please give me the large,” said Barney offering her the 20p. 

The woman nodded and handed Barney the bottle of water and his 3p change.

As soon as he was outside, he pulled off the top and took a large swig of water. After two more mouthfuls his thirst was quenched. Should he dump the bottle or take the rest home with him? It was still quite heavy to carry. He really ought to get into the habit of carrying water with him, though, and if he kept this it might save him having to buy more. Then again at 17p it was hardly extravagant.     

“Hey, Barney,” he heard someone call. He looked round. Then he felt his cheeks burning. It was Cynthia Paridge and some her friends from school. Cynthia’s hands smoothed down her short tartan skirt and Barney couldn’t help looking down at her slim legs. He felt himself getting even hotter.

“You been round Nick’s?” demanded Cynthia, her mouth working hard at the chewing gum which slurred her words.

“Er, yeah,” mumbled Barney.

“The poor thing,” Cynthia almost spat. “Is he all right then?”

“Not too bad,” Barney murmured. But Nick was bad. And getting worse. How could he tell them that? 

“You should bring him down the park with us sometimes,” Cynthia suggested. “Do you good. And him. See a bit of life, like.”

Some of the other girls began to giggle.

Barney could imagine just what sort of life Cynthia meant.

“It’s a shame, a good-looking fellow like you, cooped up all the time with poor Nick,” Cynthia continued, “you need a bit of fun now and then.”

She was now standing right next to Barney, her head almost touching his shoulder. Barney moved away quickly. She stank of cigarette smoke.  

“Oh, what is it Barney,” Cynthia whined, “don’t you fancy me?” 

The others giggled.

“Er, I’d better get going,” said Barney, looking at his watch.  It was almost five past ten now and he had been due home five minutes ago.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” said Cynthia. “Has he got to be home with his mumsy-wumsy then?”

The others laughed again. Except for one. Sophie Gray was just staring at him. Sophie’s pale blue eyes seemed to be looking right into him. She wasn't wearing as much make-up as the others. She didn’t need to. She was gorgeous. Barney suddenly wanted to put his hand out and touch her long wavy blond hair. It looked so soft.

“Oh, come on then. Let’s go and find some real talent,” Cynthia called to her gang.

They all followed her laughing and joking. Sophie dawdled behind. She smiled at Barney.

“Isn’t he any better? Is he really getting worse? I mean will he…”

It was her turn to go red.

“Yeah. That’s about right,” said Barney.

“Oh dear. It’s so sad.” Barney thought she was going to cry. “But wouldn’t he like to come out sometime?”

“Well actually,” Barney began. Why didn’t people realise that he and Nick often went out? It was just that sometimes Nick would get tired. And sometimes people were embarrassed. Barney hesitated before he carried on. It was so hard to explain.

“Yes, you see,” said Barney. “We do go out. We go and watch the boats in the harbour.” He suddenly realised he was almost shouting.

“Oh, good,” muttered Sophie. She was looking down at the floor now.

“Oi! You comin’ or not?” Cynthia was standing with her legs apart and her hands on her hips. She was still chewing and she was frowning at the same time.

Sophie shrugged her shoulders and set off. Barney wished he had said more, that he had tried to explain. Sophie seemed really nice. And that hair!

Barney looked at his watch again. Twenty past ten! There would probably be a row when he got in.

It  was raining when Barney got outside. It made it seem even darker. He pulled his jacket over his ears so that it almost covered his head. Then he ran . Fortunately it was downhill all the way to his house.

At least this running's good for my training, thought Barney as he pounded down the road.

The television was on in the lounge when he got back.

“Sorry I’m late, Mum,” he called. He could tell his mum was only pretending to be watching television. She wouldn’t normally watch horror films.

“Oh, and why are you late?” she asked. She was obviously trying not to sound angry.

“I stopped to buy a bottle of water. There was a bit of a queue,” explained Barney.

“You should think to take some with you,” said his mum. “That boy again. Always thinking about him and never about yourself. What you do for that boy!” She got up off the sofa. “Well, I’m going to bed now. And you should too. You’ve got to get into that pool tomorrow, first thing.”

Barney heard the study door open upstairs.

“Is that Barney?” called a deep voice.

“Yes!” answered Barney and his mother together.

“Well get to bed! You have got to beat your front crawl time tomorrow.”

Barney opened his bedroom door. The geography homework lay unfinished on his desk. But he would have to leave that. He felt very sleepy now. And there was that horrible early start tomorrow. Then he’d got to work on Nick’s pictures. 

He felt tired enough to go to sleep straight away. But then, after he had got into bed, he couldn’t stop thinking about everything that was going on. Nick was getting worse. He was never going to be good enough in the swimming lesson tomorrow. He couldn’t keep up with his homework.

 He remembered the scene in the supermarket. He had never really noticed Sophie Gray before. She'd always just been one of the crowd, and not one of the ones who stood out at that. But tonight she had seemed really special. And he had not known what to say to her.  He wished he knew how to talk to Sophie.

Sophie! That lovely soft hair and the pale grey-blue eyes. She was concerned about Nick. The others didn't seem to be. She was quieter than the rest of the girls as well.  So different from all of the others. AND the best of all was that she seemed just a little bit interested in him. Finally, he fell asleep.   

 

Saturday, 22 August 2020

A Gallery for Nick - Chapter 1




There you go.” Mr Fletcher carefully swung Nick into the wheelchair. Barney shifted from foot to foot. He never knew whether he should offer to help when Mr Fletcher was getting Nick out of the car. He always wanted to do something. But it was clear that Mr Fletcher knew what he was doing. 
“You can wheel him in if you like,” said Mr Fletcher.

“Oh no he can’t,” shouted Nick. He pulled the lever in the arm of the wheelchair and it whizzed forward. Barney went to open the front door. But he was too late. Nick somehow managed to drive straight at the door, so that it was flung open. Barney winced as it crashed back into the chair. Nick took no notice. He jiggled the controls again. He was frowning slightly and his tongue was poking out a little way between his teeth. Then the chair jerked forward so that it pushed the door again. He accelerated through.

“Come, on, what’s keeping you?” shouted Nick through the now closed door. Barney shook his head and grinned. Then he walked slowly in.

The wheelchair whirred along. Nick was already at the end of the long corridor when Barney got to the other side of the door.  Barney watched his friend stop the chair and then jiggle the controls on the arm rest. The chair pivoted to face the door to Nick’s room, and then Nick did the trick with the door again. This time, though, the door stayed open. The magnet on the wall held it in place. Barney stood and stared for a moment. How did he manage it?

“Are you coming then?” shouted Nick. "Come on."

Barney shook his head and then made his way into Nick’s room. Nick was already nudging the edge of the drawers with his wheelchair.

“In there,” he said, nodding his head towards the top drawer. “Close the door will you? I don’t want anyone else to know.” 

Barney opened the drawer. He took the sketch book out and the small tin of water colours.

“Get the water,” commanded Nick. 

Barney pushed Nick up to his desk. He spread the plastic sheet out for him and arranged the latest picture so that Nick could get to it easily. He unscrewed the tube of white and then opened the lid of the tin. 

“Hurry up with that water, man!” Nick’s face was going red. That always happened when he got frustrated. 

Barney hurried over to the sink with the jar. He had just filled it and carried it back, when there was a knock on the door. Barney covered the picture with a sheet of kitchen paper. He opened the door. Mrs Fletcher was standing there with a tray of drinks and biscuits. 

“Thank you, Barney,” she said. 

Nick sighed.

“Mum. Do you mind? Barney and I have got things to do.” 

“You need to drink, love,” Mrs Fletcher replied, quietly. “Barney, do you think …”

“Yes, it’s all right, Mrs Fletcher. Really.” 

Mrs Fletcher nodded and smiled. Nick pulled a face. "I grew out of baby cups a long time ago," he said, pointing to the invalid cup. 

Barney walked over to the tray and took the cup. "Don't let it get to you," he said.  

Nick didn’t resist as Barney held the cup up to his lips. He even managed to lift his hand up so that it looked as if he was actually holding the cup. Barney tipped a little of the fluid into Nick’s mouth and then straightened the cup up as he waited to hear Nick’s laboured swallow. At last it came. Then he was able to tip a little more into Nick’s mouth. Slowly, slowly, the cup emptied. Barney took a few sips of his own drink to keep Nick company. 

Then Nick seemed to be struggling. There was a strange rasping noise in his throat. He was trying to swallow and couldn’t. He rolled his head from side to side in frustration. Barney pushed him forward and thumped his back. 

"Come on now," he shouted. "Swallow." 

Barney’s heart started beating really fast.  This was happening more and more often now. One day … No that didn’t bear thinking about. Then all at once, Nick hiccoughed and he was breathing freely again. He giggled.

“Stop doing that, you monkey,” said Barney, cuffing him on the arm. 

Nick giggled again. 

“Want a biscuit?” Barney asked.

Nick nodded. Barney broke a piece off one of the soft shortcakes.

“Here,” he said, placing it in Nick’s mouth. “Chew it properly.”

“Yeah,” mumbled Nick.

Barney moved the kitchen paper back from picture. He stared at the small boats which seemed to bob up and down in the wind swept harbour. How could someone like Nick do something as clever? In fact, how could anyone?

“Did you take the memory card out?” Nick asked.

“Yes, said Barney. “I’ll take it home and Photoshop the pictures for you. I’ll try to get them to you tomorrow?”  

“Fine,” said Nick. “But make them high res.”

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

The Tower: Imagining a Tower

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Enmerkar looked steadily at the stranger.
“What did the King say he wanted?”
“He says he wants to discuss a plan for a new building, something very big. Perhaps the biggest he has ever planned,” the messenger replied. 
The man’s clothes were covered in dust. He had obviously been riding a long time. In this heat as well.
“You must be tired and thirsty,” said Enmerkar. “May I offer you some refreshment?”
The messenger nodded and bowed slightly.
“Mariam,” called Enmerkar.
His sister arrived. Her eyes met his, she smiled briefly, bowed to the messenger and then lowered her eyes. Even with her head covered and even though her diamond-like eyes were no longer showing, she was more beautiful than any woman Enmerkar had ever met. No, he didn’t have any improper thoughts about her. She was his sister and you just did not think that way about your sister. But it did make it difficult for him to take a wife himself. His sister was setting a high standard. Besides, he had to look after her until he had found a husband for her and she was married. That was proving difficult.       
Enmerkar smiled to himself, though, as he watched the man’s eyes grew round. His sister always had this effect. No man between here and Babylon was able to resist her. Despite his tiredness, this man, Enmerkar could see, was aroused.
“Fetch some wine, some olives and some of our best cheese,” commanded Enmerkar. “And wear a full veil when you return,” he whispered.
“She is betrothed?” asked the stranger after Mariam had left them.
Enmerkar sighed. “No, she is far too fussy. Much too grand to elect a mere messenger from the king.”
The man blushed.
Enmerkar regretted what he had said straight away. He was not superior to this man. Yes, he was a master builder, like their father had been. They were a well-respected family and were quite wealthy now but they were after all just workers, servants almost. Someone from the king’s court would actually be a very good match indeed for Mariam.  
“Do you have any idea what he actually wants?” asked Enmerkar as he watched the man eat and drink.
“No, just that it is a big project,” replied the man. “A little crazy perhaps.”
“And there is no other builder who can do it?” asked Enmerkar.
The man shook his head. “He asked for you.”
Enmerkar sighed. “Well, I guess we should set off at sunrise tomorrow. But I warn you, I shall have to bring my sister.”          

King Nimrod slowly paced up and down as he talked. He waved his long arms every time he spoke.
“It will have to be the grandest building ever made. It must be glorious. It must speak to God!” He turned to look at Enmerkar. “You will have your chance, my friend,” he said, “to show off your fine building skills. To use your little baked bricks. It will be your moment of glory.”
Enmerkar shuddered inside. The type of building project Nimrod seemed to be talking about would take years. He only had a few skilled men who knew how to make the bricks and how to slime them together. Even training up others would take months. And he daren’t use unskilled workers.
And Nimrod was being so vague about exactly what he did want.  
“Is there really no other builder you can use?” asked Enmerkar. But he already knew the answer. He was, after all, the master builder.
Nimrod stopped pacing. “I will even accept your sister as a wife for my youngest son,” he said. “Without a dowry.” Then he laughed. “Though with what I propose to pay you for this project you could give a handsome dowry for a dozen sisters.”
That would be something, Enmerkar supposed. Get Mariam off his hands. Surely she would not object to marrying a prince? Even if it was not one of the heirs to the royal title. In fact, Nimrod’s youngest son, Joshua was far pleasanter than the twins, Hunor and Magor.  He’d even seen Mariam talking to him and laughing – without her face veil, the hussy – so perhaps already something was there. Perhaps this young man could make her happy.
He would have to accept this challenge. The building was going to be difficult. At least his sister would be settled and maybe he too would have time to seek out a wife. Maybe a fine one, here at the court. And with the sum Nimrod was prepared to pay, he would never have to think about money again.
“Very well,” he said. “But only if I have full control over the design, the choice of materials, the choice of workers and the pace at which the work is completed.”
“Indeed, my friend,” replied Nimrod and embraced Enmerkar.
The king was a tall, muscular man and immensely strong. Enmerkar could barely breathe as Nimrod squeezed him.
“Now let us send for our young relatives and let them know the good news,” said the king, finally letting Enmerkar go.    

It was even hotter here at the palace than at home. Enmerkar was finding it difficult to think straight. He dreaded baking the bricks for such a project. Would it be easier to have them made at home and transported here? It would be cooler there. A little at least. 
Home. Ah! This would be his home now. For years. Yes, years, not months.
There was one consolation. Mariam had accepted Joshua as a husband with only a little protest. “Oh, but why not Magor or Hunor? Think, brother, your sister as a queen!” In the end, though, she’d settled for Joshua. And he’d been right; they were falling in love. He’d even caught them lying together and had had to play the angry brother – though not too much so, because he was dealing with the king’s son. Secretly, though, he was pleased. So, a wedding had to be planned too. The sooner the better perhaps, if that couple were to carry on being so promiscuous. A prince’s bride should not be with child when she marries. Planning a wedding anyway was a welcome distraction from planning this impossible tower.  And there was something further that was also occupying his mind: the friendship he was enjoying with Naomi, the king’s niece. Could it be… would she be the one? She didn’t excite him, hardly aroused him even, but she was certainly pretty enough. Good company, in fact. He presumed love would grow …
But now he must get back to the tower. If he made it 5433 cubits, if he made it taper… then surely the bricks at the bottom wouldn’t collapse. He wanted it to be a sort of Ziggurat, Nimrod had said, but much bigger than normal. Just how many bricks would that need? How much clay would he have to find and how many men would he need to fetch the clay, shape the bricks and then put them together? He had some calculations to do now. He must not be distracted by the thoughts of weddings and of women.   
Soon he was absorbed again in his mathematics. The base was going to have to be huge so that the tower could taper and still be useful at the top. No one had been able to tell him - not even the sages Nimrod had asked in for advice – just how high he would have to make the tower so that it would touch the sky. But if Nimrod really wanted a true Ziggurat… well the spiral pathway up the tower would be so wide that he would be able to place small lodgings at the sides… maybe even small fields for the animals. And of course, people walking to the top or travelling by ass would need places to rest and take some refreshment. It wouldn’t just be a tower. It would be a whole city.
The noise of someone clearing their throat broke his concentration.
“And so how is it going, my fine friend?” asked Baltuus.
Enmerkar recognized the man he had dined with the night before. He was one of the sages who knew a lot about mathematics
Enmerkar sighed. “It is going to take a lot of clay, a lot of fire to bake the bricks and a lot of men. And no end of time.” He looked down at the notes he had made. “Seventeen years. And only then if I can find enough good men to train and if their training works.”
Baltuus shook his head. “Why must he build the tower so high? What does he hope to gain by it?”
“He wants to show what man can achieve,” replied Enmerkar.
“But why not just build a fine city?” asked Baltuus. “Won’t that do just as well, be more useful, and in fact much easier to build?”
“He wants to stretch it to Heaven, so that even Yahweh will have to admire how great man is,” replied Enmerkar.
Baltuus shook his head, as he examined Enmerkar’s calculations. “That will never work, my friend.”
“The bricks won’t hold, you mean?” asked Enmerkar.
“No, no, no, not that,” replied Baltuus. “Your calculations are correct. I’m talking about trying to impress Yahweh. Look around you. Look at the mountains and the seas. And the trees and the beasts. Now that is an impressive creation. Your tower is nothing in comparison.
“Now if you said that you were building the tower so that you could talk more easily with Yahweh, that might be a different matter,” said Baltuus.
“It would make him angry,” answered Enmerkar. He could just picture Nimrod’s answer to that.
Baltuus nodded his head and tapped Enmerkar’s shoulder. “Take care, my friend,” he said. “You are right. This tower will cause anger.”   
Despite the heat, Enmerkar shivered.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Girl in a Smart Uniform 23 March 1932 : food fight?



The doorbell rang. I didn’t want to get up and answer it straight away. I was too absorbed in my history project. Whoever was there rang again and again. Then they kept their finger on the bell. It got louder and louder and started to hurt my ears. All right then. I opened the door, and there was Thomas standing on the step.
“Will you do something for me?”
“What? Why?”
“My mother’s expecting a parcel and I‘ve got to go out.”
“Why can’t you wait for it?”
“Because we’re going on a hike, and we’re going to build a campfire and cook on it.” His eyes were shining.
“Well I hope you don’t mess up your lovely new uniform.” I felt a bit mean as soon as I’d said it.
“You could join the Jungmädel.”
Hmm. Herr Silber kept saying he would buy me the uniform and Kurt thought it would be a good idea. Bear, though, said I would have plenty of time for those sorts of things later. Mutti just smiled and shrugged her shoulders every time the subject came up. Anyway, back then, I wasn’t sure I was thant keen on creepy crawlies and sleeping outside. I wished, though, that I could enjoy things like Thomas did.
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“Well, can you take this parcel or not?”
“Yeah, I guess. Just leave a note on the door.” 
“Well I hope you don’t get the hook-nose.”
“Hook-nose?”
“He’s a Jew.”
“So?”
Thomas rolled his eyes. “Don’t you know anything? You know. Jesus-hater. Home-wrecker. Work-stealer.”
What was he talking about? “Oh, just put a note on the door and tell him to come here.”
            Thomas jumped on the spot and clapped his hands. “Thanks.” 
I shut the door and returned to my project. What an idiot! Getting so excited about going out into the countryside with a load of other idiots. 
Soon I was once again trying to work out who German people were really supposed to be. Herr Lindemann was always going on about how we should be proud to be German and we should look at all the history books to see how great Germans really were. But we’re not. We’re poor and we keep losing wars.
Then I heard Bear coming down the stairs.
“Hey, Giselchen. Are you doing your homework on a nice sunny day like today? You should be out getting some fresh air.”
I smiled to myself. I knew why he was in such a good mood. He’d come back on leave last night and he’d gone for a walk with Helga Brassel. Maybe they’d kissed. I was a bit jealous in a way. Maybe when he came home now he wouldn’t have so much time for me. Never mind, though, I was glad he was happy. He was so nice, my big Bear brother. Especially when he was cheerful. And that always made it nicer for me as well.
He leaned over to see what I was writing. “Oh, oh, oh. The glorious German people. Do you think so, really?”
“It’s what Herr Lindemann says.”
 “Well, if it’s what your teacher says, I suppose it must be true. Or at least you’d better pretend to agree just in case.”
As if I’d ever not do what my teacher told me. What was he thinking?
The doorbell rang again. Before I could get up out of my seat Bear had rushed to the front door and opened it. It was the parcel man. I could tell by the conversation.
“That right Giselchen? You’re to take in a parcel for Thomas’s Mutti?”
Did he have to call me that in front of other people? I quite liked it when we were at home together as a family. But I was growing up now and ought to be called by my proper name. “Yes,” I called.
A few moments later he came back into the kitchen with a large brown box. “I wonder what they’ve been buying? It’s not very heavy.”
“Was it the hook-nose?”
“What?”
“The hook-nose.” What else had Thomas said? “The Jesus-hater?”
“Now then.” Bear’s eyes were flashing. I’d never known him be angry before. Well not with me, anyway. Sometimes when he and Kurt argued perhaps. “Do you mean was he Jewish? Yes he was – is. They’re just people, Gisela. Remember that. Just people.”
I felt my cheeks burning. I didn’t know what to say. 
Bear made himself some breakfast and sat reading the newspaper. He was really cross with me and I didn’t really understand what I’d done wrong. Okay, so Thomas had been a bit cruel in what he’d said but hadn’t Herr Lindemann said almost the same thing? That the German people were good and it was others who were making life difficult for us. Didn’t that mean the Jews?
About an hour later Bear stood up. “I’m going for a walk.”
I would have liked to go with him but something about the way he looked at me told me that that wasn’t an option this time. 

Not long after I’d done as much as I could on the history project. I was getting confused, anyway. It didn’t really make sense. Nobody seemed to like the Germans because of the war but Herr Lindemann had kept telling all of us in our class how great the German people were. And the Germans didn’t like the Jews but the Jews were some of the cleverest people around – good business men, doctors and lawyers. I was worried as well that Bear might still be cross and that he wouldn’t want to spend time with me – especially now that Helga was on the scene. Is that where he had gone now? Was that why he hadn’t wanted me to go with him? What could I do to get back into his good books?
I saw his boots standing in the shoe rack. They were pretty dirty. That was it. I could clean them for him.
I put out newspaper and organised the shoe-cleaning things. I brushed off the loose mud and rubbed the polish into the stiff leather. Then I brushed the boots vigorously until they began to shine, finally polishing them really hard with a duster. Goodness, they really gleamed now. I was enjoying this. There were other shoes that needed cleaning as well; Mutti’s working shoes, the ones I wore for school, an old pair of Kurt’s and even some that Vati had left behind. I polished until my arms ached and I had polish all over my arms. I guessed I probably had some on my face as well because I had to keep pushing my hair out of my eyes with my mucky fingers. I was determined now to make sure that all of the shoes really sparkled.
I was just finishing the last pair when I heard Bear whistling.
“Goodness,” he said, as he opened the door. “Somebody’s been busy.”
He definitely seemed in a better mood. He picked up his boots. “You’ll have to join the army if you can shine boots up like that. Where did you learn to clean shoes so well?”
It wasn’t really that clever, was it? I’d watched Vati do it hundreds of times.
“Did you see Helga again?” I couldn’t believe I’d just said that. It was none of my business.
He blushed then grinned. “Yes. I took her some flowers.”
Had they kissed again? Had they even kissed yet? I would have loved to know but didn’t dare ask.
“That’s nice.” Would somebody bring me flowers one day? Herr Silber often brought them for Mutti.
“Actually, do you fancy coming into town with me on the tram? We can go and have coffee and cake? At that nice little place near the synagogue.”
“Now? What about lunch?”
He shrugged. “The portions are big there, I’m told. They’ll make up for not having lunch. And they’re not too expensive, considering. Herr Silber gave me some money last night.”
“Yes, but don’t you want to save it?”
“Helga and her mother are going there this afternoon.”
“So wouldn’t you rather go on your own?”
“You’d be my excuse for going.” 
            I shook my head and then nodded. Why should I argue? I liked cake, didn’t I? It wasn’t often I got taken to a nice café.    

I’d never been into this café before. It had always looked too smart. It was in one of the old buildings right in the middle of the town.
“Come on then,” said Bear pushing open the heavy wooden door.
It was a bit gloomy inside at first but my eyes soon got used to it. It was so elegant.  There were white table cloths and pretty china and silver cutlery. There were candles and a small vase of flowers on every table.
There was such a strong smell of coffee and the coffee machine whooshed and spluttered all the time.        
It was quite full. I thought everybody must have a Herr Silber who gave out money, then. The other people there weren’t like us, though. They were all smartly dressed. Some of the ladies were wearing fur stoles even though the weather was so warm.
It was the cakes, though, that astonished me, the most. There were large tarts, covered in fruit, big gateaux smothered in cream and fancy individual ones very cleverly iced. I had no idea which one to choose.    
“Have you decided yet?” Bear was actually frowning as he studied the display.
Then I saw it though.  My favourite. “Can I have some baked cheesecake?” I said.  
“Good choice. Lemonade to drink?”
I nodded.  I really would have liked a coffee, though but Bear would probably have said I was too young.  I wasn’t, but I never wanted to argue with him. 
Bear gave our order to the lady at the counter and a waitress in a very smart black dress and a starched white apron showed us over to the table. Bear gave her our ticket. 
“One black coffee and a lemonade,” he said. He sat up very straight. I think he was trying to look smart. I found it hard not to giggle.
She wrote in her little notebook, smiled at me and then went towards the counter at the back of the shop.
Bear looked around. “Do you like it here?” 
I nodded, though actually I wasn’t all that sure. I felt out of place.  
A few more people came in. All of them were really well dressed. I had put my own best frock on – Bear had said I should. But it looked very dowdy compared with the ones other girls my age were wearing.
“Oh. Here they come.” Bear blushed bright red and looked away. “Don’t stare at them and if they do see you looking, pretend to be surprised.”
“Didn’t you tell her you were going to come here?”
He shook his head.
I quickly looked at Helga and Frau Brassel. Helga was wearing a pretty white dress that had a pattern of pink roses over it. Frau Brassel had on a grey silk dress with a hat and a fur stole to match. Would I ever be able to dress like that? 
At that moment the waitress arrived with our drinks and slices of cake. Bear rubbed his hands together. “This looks good.”
The lemonade was delicious. The cake was rich and creamy. He’d been right; the portions were so big that it more than made up for not having lunch. By the time I’d eaten half of my slice I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to finish it all.  
“Is the coffee all right?”
“The best I’ve ever tasted.”   
“Will you go and talk to them?”
  “Maybe, when we’ve all finished. If I get the chance.”
Suddenly somebody knocked on the window. I jumped. Kurt’s face was staring at me. What was he doing here? He hadn’t written to say he would have some leave.
He mouthed something at Bear and frowned.
“I think I’d better go and talk to him,” said Bear. “You wait here.”
I watched him walk out of the café and into the street. He and Kurt stood talking on the pavement. I couldn’t tell what they were saying. 
I toyed with the last of my cake. I just couldn’t manage it. I pushed the plate away.
“Are you all finished here?”
I nodded. The waitress cleared away the plates, the cup and saucer and the glass. “Would you like anything else?”
I shook my head. “My brother will be back in a minute.”
The waitress smiled and nodded. “Take your time. It’s fine.”
He didn’t come back in a minute, though. Nor in five or ten. He and Kurt were talking for ages. Suddenly Kurt started shouting. I could hear him now all right. So could everybody else in the café.
“You should not be mixing with the scum like that. Don’t you know they’re taking our jobs and stealing our homes and businesses? This café should belong to a good German family, not people like them.”
Bear was shaking his head.
Kurt suddenly stared waving his arms around.
Bear started shouting, though I still couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Then Kurt leaned forward and punched Bear on the nose. It began to bleed. Bear swung his arm at Kurt and made his nose bleed in turn. Then they were on the ground. Punching and kicking each other.
“Help, somebody. Please stop my brothers fighting.” I shouted as loud as I could but everyone just stared at me as I ran out of the café.
“The bill?” said the waitress as she passed me near the doorway.
“It’s all right. We’ll take care of that.” Frau Brassel stood up and waved the waitress over to her.
By the time I got outside two men had pulled Bear and Kurt apart. Kurt shrugged himself away from the man who was holding him. 
“If you’re going to defend that sort of scum you’re not my brother anymore.” He picked up his cap and walked off.
I punched Bear in the stomach. “Why do you and Kurt always have to fight?”
He looked such a mess. His best white shirt was covered in blood and dirty marks. There were some cuts on his face.
Helga and Frau Brassel came out at that moment. Frau Brassel shook her head and raised her eyebrows.
“Helga…?” Bear walked towards her. “I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Helga stared at him for a few seconds, frowned, linked arms with her mother and turned her back on him. The two women walked away towards the centre of the town.
I guessed he wouldn’t be kissing Helga anytime soon. He didn’t say a word on the tram journey home.