[Pilgrim Planet, Luthertal—the Other Side of the Galaxy]
Jane suspended her potato peeling and looked out the window to the dam. Alpine mountains cast shadows over the valley where the men were digging up potatoes. One minute she remembered singing hymns on a barge floating down the Elbe, the next, they were in ready-made community houses and she was peeling potatoes for the midday dinner. Jane frowned as she tore slivers of skin off the potato. She peered through the hoary window, into the dazzling light, searching. Herr Boris Roach had assured them they had reached the Promised Land—Australia. Now that they were here, settled, and with questions…he turned cruel; more like the rulers they’d fled, than the friendly man he’d been. Questions? Herr Boris Roach forbade questions.
Jane yawned, then sighed and began chopping. Her eyes blurred and the knife shaved the top of her thumb. She put the injured digit to her mouth, and paused. She checked her thumb. Ah—no blood. With a bread and butter knife, Jane slathered the potato quarters with butter. She stopped. Studying the empty path winding down from the mountain, she pulled at her fringe. Stray wisps escaped from her scalp and she watched them fall through her fingers. One hair laced itself over the tray and onto a greasy quarter demanding to be roasted. She extracted it and placed the tray in the wood oven.
Lunchtime and the men returned from farming to gather in the communal dining hall. Hans, Jane’s husband and village burgher-meister (mayor) gave God thanks, and sat down to the roast beef and vegetables.
‘Hans, what is going on?’ Jane looked directly at him.
Hans chewed his meat and replied, ‘What do you mean?’
‘All this! It just doesn’t make sense.’
‘Looks normal to me.’
‘But it’s not right.’
‘You should be grateful for the land God has given us.’
‘Papa, the sky’s so purple,’ Friedrich, their son of twelve, said. He rubbed his nose and gazed out the window at the end of the rough wooden table.
Hans leaned forward and peered out the window. ‘Purple? It looks blue to me.’ He sat back down on the bench. ‘Anyway, this is Australia, there’s bound to be a few differences.’
‘But it’s so hot!’ Wilma, his five-year-old daughter fanned herself with the prayer book.
‘I don’t understand, dear. They never said it would be so hot.’ Jane hid her mouth from the fellow diners. ‘I’ve had to dispense with all the petticoats, or I’d faint from the heat.’
Hans threw back his melon-shaped head in mock horror. ‘Oh, dear! That is terrible! What would people think?’
‘Mama!’ Wilma screamed. ‘There’s a cockroach in my prayer book!’
Jane Biar flicked the bug out of her daughter’s book and continued her conversation. ‘Speaking of people, where are the others? I mean, not us, but the settlers? The people from England? And the Indians were here first? I’m sure the promoters that came to our village in Silesia said there were a few Indians about.’
‘We are pioneers, dear. Don’t you remember what Herr Roach told us?’
‘Oh, well, what more can I say.’
‘Papa, I’ve finished. Can I excuse the table?’ Their daughter pushed the bench and herself from the table.
Papa pointed at the plate. ‘No, Wilma, you sit there till those carrots and potatoes are all eaten. You want to grow big and strong.’
‘Eat up. How will you sleep tonight if you don’t eat all your food? Remember last night?’ Jane said, then gathered the knives and forks together by their ivory handles.
‘I hate vegetables!’ Wilma said. ‘And I hate this country. Anyway, the goblins and ogres were real! And I really did see the world from far above the sky where it’s all black.’
‘Wilma, you talk a lot of nonsense!’ Jane whisked the plates into a pile, scraping the bones onto the top plate. She dusted the crumbs into her palm and turned to her husband. ‘So, here we are. In the middle of nowhere. And Herr Roach? Where’s he? What are we supposed to do?’
‘Why don’t we hike up the mountains and explore them,’ Friedrich said as he jumped up from the dinner table. ‘This is boring, I want adventure.’
One look from Papa and he sat down.
‘It’s so hot, I want to swim in the lake.’ Wilma pushed the plate of vegetables away. ‘I don’t want my vegetables. I’m all full up.’
‘Wilma, eat your food! There’s a good girl.’ Jane rubbed her calloused knuckles on her pinafore. ‘You don’t want to end up like the girl who did not eat her soup. You’re already look too skinny and fading away. I worry about you, Wilma.’
Again, Friedrich leapt up. ‘We could hike to the mountains, have a swim in the lake on the way, and Wilma could have her vegetables for the picnic at the top.’
Hans motioned him to sit down. ‘This is not the time to be thinking of picnics on top of mountains. God has given us more important work to do.’ He stood and drew in breath. ‘We will do what the Lord has asked us to do, now that we are on the outermost parts of the Earth.’
Everyone in the hall turned to listen to Hans. ‘We will find the natives in this land and we will preach to them.’
Cheers and “Amen” rose from the four corners of the refectory. But one lonely voice, the doctor, Doctor Zwar, said, ‘And we will clean up all the cockroaches.’
‘Yes, the cockroaches, too,’ the baker said, ‘they’re ruining the bread baking.’
‘All we need is borax,’ Dr. Zwar said with a sigh.
‘Then, the cockroaches will all crawl away und die,’ the baker said while twirling his drooping moustache.
‘You, Zwar can deal with the cockroaches and save mens’ bodies while I help you save souls,’ Hans said. While the men in the room laughed, he nodded and bowed, then leaned over his daughter. ‘Eat up, Wilma. You are not leaving the table until the plate is empty.’
Wilma pouted and poked at her roast potato. ‘I bet the natives don’t have to eat all their vegetables.’
With her head propped up by the palm of her hand, Jane kept vigil over Wilma’s eating. She sighed. ‘Eat up Wilma, or you will be having roast potato, peas, carrots for breakfast, you will.’
‘But mama! I don’t like vegetables, the cockroaches have been on them.’
Frau Biar poked through her daughter’s carrots and peas. ‘I don’t see any cockroaches.’
Wilma puffed. ‘They’re not on them now.’
‘So, you can eat them up, then,’ Jane said, ‘or no supper this evening for you, and you will have them for breakfast.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Santis over Hemberg , Switzerland © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2014