The day after our crazy, high-speed, night tour of Nuremburg, Andrew and I went sight-seeing, but only took in one of the sites Alrick had insisted we see. We got back to the house late in the afternoon to the news that Frau Mieter was preparing a big dinner for us. Alrick and Ulli were in the living room. Adelisa was … who knows where, probably run off with the circus. (It still astounds me just how unconcerned about their child’s whereabouts those two were!)
Andrew started looking through Alrick’s massive record collection, Ulli suggested we have some wine, and Alrick asked if I wanted to drive the Jaguar. He had a quick errand to run before dinner, he said, and wanted to give me ‘an opportunity.’ I declined, but Andrew said he’d love to drive the car, so the three of us drove to a car repair place that was way away from the house — hardly a ‘quick’ errand — to pick up Ulli’s car. Alrick seemed annoyed with Andrew, giving him a thousand fussy instructions and warnings before handing over the car keys. Trusting the hairs on the back of my neck, I stayed in the Jag with Andrew for the trip back.
At the house, Andrew went back to the record collection, kneeling to look at the bottom-most shelf. Ulli walked over and bent down beside him. She hadn’t uncorked the wine while we’d been out, and she extended it toward him with a corkscrew in one hand and asked, “Are you a man?”
Before I had a chance to burst out laughing, Alrick called me outside to look at the yard. Um, ok. It’s a yard in a tidy Stepford sub-division. You’ve seen one, you pretty much know the drill.
“You and Andrew are very close,” he said.
“Sure. We’ve known each other a long time.”
“You weren’t with him in Portugal.”
“Oh, no. I ran into him in Italy.”
“That’s not such a long time, then. You’ve know me longer than that.”
What?! But just then, Frau Mieter poked her head out to say dinner was served.
After eating, we sat with our wine in the living room. Andrew — who had spent a lot of the afternoon talking about how hard it was for him, as a Jew who had lost family to the Nazis, to be in Germany — tried to start a ‘real’ conversation, something a little serious, a little substantive. We were looking through a book of Nuremburg photos, and when he came across one of a street called Judengasse (Jewish Street), he asked if it was called that because that was where the ghetto had been. Neither Alrick nor Ulli seemed to have any idea what he was talking about. “Ghetto?” “No, there are no ghettos in Nuremburg.” “There are no Jewish people here.” Andrew pushed, asked a question I can’t recall, something about pogroms. Nothing.
The conversation drifted. We reviewed our plans for leaving in the morning, talked about the museum we’d visited, about the art in Ulli’s gallery, about Adelisa’s often-repeated wish that I stay with them and be her mother (!!).
Then Ulli took a sip of wine.
“Do you know Hitler?” she asked.
[brief, silent apoplectic fits for both Andrew and me] Andrew looked at me as if to confirm I’d heard what he’d heard. I shook my head slowly. We must both have been wrong, right?
“As in … Adolf?” Andrew asked.
She smiled. “You know him? He was a great artist.” She leaned forward and took another book from the coffee table, showed us some of Hitler’s drawings.
At this point I completely lost the ability to speak. I figured I was going insane, that I was watching myself lose my mind. I had no idea what to make of her, what to make of the fact that Alrick seemed just as crazily-unconscious as she, what to make of the fact that she was sitting there, calmly talking about the great talent of this ‘little-known artist.’ She went on and on about Hitler the way I might talk about Rodin or Georgia O’Keefe. I couldn’t process what was happening. Clearly, I had gotten Andrew and myself into some horrific Twilight Zone situation from which we would never extricate ourselves, but I couldn’t do anything: speak, move, smash my glass on the floor just to change the subject. Nothing. I just sat there, staring, my brain powered down to basic life support and no more.
Finally I managed to say that I had a headache and needed to sleep. Andrew and I retreated to the basement.
“What the fuck was that?!” Andrew asked once we’d closed the door.
“They have to be crazy, right?” I whispered.
“Either them or us,” he said. “But this whole evening was strange, wasn’t it?”
I laughed. “Yeah. What was that whole ‘are you a man’ thing?”
“Oh, you didn’t get that? And Alrick trying to get you to go out with just him?” He shook his head. “They wanted to couple-swap.”
[… and then the other half of my brain exploded …]
We sat up whispering for another hour or so, then I needed to use the bathroom, which was upstairs. Andrew teased me about being on guard for Alrick lurking in the shadows … which might have been funny if I didn’t actually think Alrick might be lurking in the shadows. Andrew wouldn’t let it go, saying Alrick would be waiting, in an SS uniform, offering to show me Hitler’s etchings. I finally went up, trying to be as quiet as possible. I made it halfway back down the stairs before something caught my eye. At the landing was a floor to ceiling window with no curtain, and in the mostly-dark house the window was a mirror. Of course I saw my own reflection … but what caught my eye was above me, at the top of the steps: Alrick, wearing only red bikini underwear, watching me.
I am not a runner. I have never been a runner. Even when I was on the track team in high school, I was a race-walker (no, seriously). How, then, can I impress upon you the sound-barrier-breaking speed with which I ran down those stairs and threw myself into the bedroom?
The next morning, we left. Andrew, having given up on hitching, was headed to Frankfurt by train. The plan was to drop him at the station and for Alrick to drive me to the autobahn. I said goodbye to Andrew, wondering how big a mistake I was making, going off with Alrick and not just getting on a train.
We drove in silence and reached the highway pretty quickly, but Alrick got on instead of stopping. “I’ll just take you a short way further,” he said. So we rode a while longer, still silent (because what, really, was there to say after our little encounter on the stairs?). He dropped me several exits down the highway. As he passed heading back the way we’d come, he slowed down slightly, honked and waved. I waved back, thought, “Ok, that’s over.” But I didn’t truly exhale until I was halfway to France.
is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers.