My grandmother lived four floors up. It took her a long time to climb
all those stairs. She had to pause at each turn to gasp for breath. She
lived in the shadows. A narrow corridor lead to the windowless hall and
from there to the kitchen. Ivy and wisteria grew around the windows in
her kitchen and from the high acacia tree the squirrels would visit her
often and steal the food she had left lying on the table. The bathroom
had neither windows, nor a shower, and the odours that emanated were
those of old people who had lived in this place for a long time without
airing it. She once had shared her flat with two elderly sisters and
their parrot. But they were all long dead.
Whenever I visited my grandmother's home, I was received like a little
princess. She cooked for me delicious meals and spoilt me by refusing
all help afterwards with the dishes.
Her stories were never drying up. I relished them. She told me about
her youth, when she had to share an egg with one of her sisters, the
games and charades her numerous family played in the evenings, their
recitals of Schubert Lieder, and the illnesses of long dead relations.
She never though forgot my favourite, the sad tale of my grandfather,
the scoundrel, whom she unfortunately had married after an engagement
of a long seven years.
When he ran away with a washer-woman, he did not forget her savings,
but left her his souvenir, a young child, my father.
These were like anecdotes for me. I knew nothing else as that these
people had passed a long time ago. As for me, they had lived and died
on another star. What I felt, however, was not in the past, but was at
work now. In my own mind they were still part of me, All those folk my
grandmother remembered so clearly, lived right within myself. I felt
close to the scoundrel and tried to capture his thoughts about
anything. I talked to him often and strangely, sometimes even received
My grandmother adored it when I stayed overnight.
We slept in the same room, I on the sofa by the window, she in her old
fashioned bed in a dark corner, with the silver-framed picture of my
father looking down on her and her Bible in reach on her bedside
On cold days she insisted in making me hot water bottles. I liked
sleeping in her place. It felt cosy and reassuring listening to the
never altering bell chime of the French clock on the mantelpiece. It
had a golden angel holding a torch in one hand and with the other one
was protectively spreading his star-studded mantle over a guilt globe,
our world. Its lovely tune at each half hour, day and night, always
calmed me. It sounded as if to tell me that time was held back and our
unchanging world was safe and in order.
The Story of the Scoundrel
"It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul. Let me not name it to you,
you chaste stars" W.Shakespeare 1564-1616
Hans was eight years old when he lost his mother. A sensitive boy, the
youngest in a family of four, good looking and affectionate, he had
been pampered and spoilt, especially by his much older sisters who now
competed in mothering him. Whatever he asked for with his dimpled
smile, he got.
When a soldier in the first Great War, he wrote them begging letters
asking for luxuries like cigars and cakes. When he fell for the young
sister of a schoolmate, he tried his utmost to woo her into bed.
But there was no way, Else would have followed his invitation. She came
from a highly religious family. When her father was dying, her mother
and all the children filed past his bed to say their last good-byes.
Else, one of the youngest was lifted up to him for a kiss. Her father
tearfully told her, she would be next in heaven.This weak and sickly
child, he was sure, would follow him soon.
As if to proof him wrong, she grew up healthy and slender and many a
suitor fell in love with her. As her father was now dead, Else's oldest
brother took the role of the family head. Hans did not meet his
expectations, when he asked this brother of Else's hand in
The answer was:
"You are nothing, you own nothing. You are wasting my time and yours.
Go out and learn a good trade that pays you well before you ask
Hans, humiliated, left to try his luck far away in the north of the
country, as an assistant in a bookshop. There, lonely but determined to
show this man what he was capable of, he spent some years in near
isolation, writing countless letters to his fiancee and imploring his
sisters to send him food parcels.
Three years later he again tried his luck. This time he was questioned
Do you go to Church? If you do not and do not follow our Lutheran
belief, you can forget marrying my sister".
"I am a child of the same God like you" Hans argued.
" And I am sure he loves me too".
It took another four years until Hans finally persuaded the family,
that he did not let go easily, that he was able to earn his keep and
was the right husband for Else.
One should think seven years are a long time for an engagement, Abraham
had to work seven years for his uncle to proof his love for Rachel. Yet
when Hans was married, he did not have to proof anything any more. Else
had been the toy he had longed to have. Once in his possession, he lost
interest and made life miserable for his new wife.
He still charmed her and his crowd of friends, loved partying till the
early hours of the morning. He dreamt of being an actor, an impresario,
or a great poet.He spent his money to go to the theatre or out to drink
and smoke with his mates.Silly presents he bought for Else but there
was often no money for bread.
Else was for him his "wiflet", blond, clinging and too religious for
She still was playing the role of a virtuous bride and abhorred all
mention of sex. Love-making became an ordeal for both. She preferred
cuddles and little romantic gestures, he was throbbing with lust and
looked for quick self- satisfaction.
He humiliated his wife by preferring the company of his friends. She
spent many evenings and nights alone at home with her young child,
crying herself to sleep, while he went out partying. Sometimes he woke
her up, when he could not pay for the horse-drawn cab, that had brought
him back from the opera.
"Else, my lovely, you surely will find me the money!"
Else was tormented by his behaviour. She felt she was losing her belief
in God, as well as the values she once held. It was like falling into
an abyss of disgust and self-hatred. She felt unworthy of love, of a
husband, of her God and somehow blamed herself for the great
unhappiness she now lived in. The only way out seemed a divorce. If she
could not satisfy her by now erring husband - she had found evidence
that he brought other women to her home in her absence- she would use
all her energy on her child, making him the only thing worth while to
By leaving her husband, she also planned her revenge on him. She was
determined, he was never going to see their child, his only son, ever