Black Forest in Bits
— Shattered Dreams of Gunter
The planks of wood that resembled a door scraped on the stone floor as Gunter entered. Wailing from above greeted him, as did the damp musty smell. A rat scuttled along the wall of peeling rose wallpaper and through a crack. Gunter feared that with the damp and vermin, it would not be long before his family succumbed to Typhus. He’d witnessed the fate of his merchant friends in the village—all eight of them gone in one winter. Their two-storey home in the village square had to be demolished as no one would buy it.
Gunter strode to the fireplace, the flames crackling on the wood chips comforted him. He stood with his back to the fire and watched his grandmother emerge from the kitchen wiping her hands on her once-white apron.
‘What’s wrong with her today?’ Gunter asked.
Grandmother glanced at the tall Nordic woman scrubbing a pot in the kitchen wash basin. ‘Says nurse tried to poison her.’
The nurse turned. ‘I did no such thing.’ Then she resumed her pot-washing.
His mother’s screams warbled, resonating from the room above them and bouncing off the rose-printed walls. Gunter and his grandmother looked at each other. They knew they couldn’t compete with the Banshee screaming. Gunter heard his sister cooing, calming the troubled beast.
The screams subsided to moans. Grandmother wiped her damp brow. ‘We really need to see the priest and get those demons out.’
Gunter tapped his temple. ‘It is nothing to do with demons, Grossmutter. Mutti has something wrong with her mind. Her brain is kaput.’
Grandmother ignored his comment. She manoeuvred her ample form through the labyrinth of tables, armchairs and Gunter’s latest model of the solar system to where Gunter stood. In her hand she cupped yellow powder. ‘See? I got this from the market. It’s called Turmeric. This is what I put in her soup that Nurse gave her. It is a spice from India. It is meant to heal Mutti.’ She lifted the powder to her nose and sniffed. ‘It is wonderful! I have some in my food every day and I swear it has cured my aching bones.’
‘Really?’ Gunter pinched a sample and licked it. ‘It does not taste so special.’
‘But when you put it in—’
The wailing started again. Gunter sighed. Grandmother waddled to the table and began scrubbing it. Despite his sister, Salome’s pleading and urging to placate her mother’s rages, the screams rose to a crescendo.
Gunter shut his mind to the agonised cries and dreamed of a faraway land, the Great South Land. His father had told him about this land. As a lad, Gunter’s age, his father had been a deck-hand on a Portuguese ship that had explored the South Seas. The ship had been destroyed in a storm off the Great South continent. His father never really explained how he survived or returned to his home in the Schwartzwald (Black Forest).
Most of his family and friends did not believe the salty sea tales of August Fahrer—they were just his fantasy. But Gunter believed his father and he dreamed of one day running away to Hamburg, joining a crew and sailing to that faraway land down on the underside of the world. He also dreamed he’d take Anna with him…so what if she was eighteen and he was only fourteen. So what if she barely noticed him in the classroom? What did it matter she was Herr Crankendinger’s daughter?
‘Gunter!’ Grandmother called, ‘Gunter!’
‘Huh?’ His mother’s warbling like a sad song still rang in his ears.
‘Go and find your brother, Johann. Dinner is ready.’
Gunter tore out of the mad house. He galloped across the yard full of chicks and hens, sending the birds flapping and squawking in all directions. The barn—Johann, since he’d returned from the army, was always in the barn. What did he do in the barn all day when he was home on furlough? Just sharpen and buff his swords? He had other weaponry, but Gunter hadn’t been allowed close enough to examine those items. Johann never allowed Gunter in the barn. That was his domain to sharpen and buff and admire his weapons. Johann possessed a cart that he stored at the side of the barn. But he neglected the cart and it sat, exposed to the rain and snow, wood rotting, leaning on its broken axle and its cracked wheel propped against the shattered side.
The lad patted the cart-wreck and then poked his head through the wide opening and into the darkness. The stink of horse manure mingled with straw hit his nostrils. He looked around and blinked.
‘Johann!’ he called. ‘Dinner is ready.’
Gunter stepped into the darkness. He noticed propped against the wall a small canon-like weapon. He’d heard about such weapons. What were they called? He stepped towards the weapon, his fingers itching to touch it.
‘Johann.’ He paused.
Sounds of shuffling and muted giggles filtered down from above. Gunter jumped back from the weapon and looked up. He allowed his eyes to adjust.
More scuffles. Whispers. Was his brother not alone?
‘Johann. You must come to dinner,’ Gunter said.
‘What?’ Johann poked his head over the edge of the loft.
Gunter stared. A scene in slow motion played out on the mezzanine floor. A barrel teetered. It tipped. And then it toppled over the edge.
‘Watch out!’ Johann cried, his vocal reflexes delayed by the shock.
The barrel hurtled down. Gunter woke from his brain freeze. Still in slow motion, the barrel cartwheeled in the air towards him. Frame by frame. Gunter’s short life flashed before his mind’s eye.
‘Nay!’ Gunter shrieked, and he jumped.
The barrel crashed on the packed dirt of floor, beer exploding and splashing all over his white shirt, leather pants and black shoes staining their square metal buckles.
Johann appeared leaning over the ledge and buttoning up his blouse. ‘Oops!’
‘What happened?’ a woman’s voice asked.
Gunter caught his breath, as if his heart had jumped out of his throat. He knew that woman’s voice, but he didn’t want to believe it was her.
‘What is going on?’ he asked.
‘This is your fault, Gunter.’ Johann glared at the rivers of beer coursing outside, rivers of blood reflected in the scarlet rays of the setting sun. ‘If you hadn’t interrupted us. How many times have I told you, you are not to come into my barn?’
‘But what are you doing up there?’
‘Never you mind.’
Her small oval face loomed from the darkness behind Johann’s.
Gunter choked. His mouth went dry. ‘Anna?’ His voice cracked into a squeak.
Johann flicked his fingers at Gunter. ‘Get out of here!’
The younger brother took a few steps back. ‘But…’
‘And don’t you tell Grossmutter! It’s none of her business!’
‘Why?’ Gunter asked. ‘She’ll want to know about the mess…with the beer.’
‘Just don’t. Go! And hurry!’
Gunter backed out of the barn. Blinded by the light and eyes clouded with moisture, he stumbled into the forest.
He howled and hated himself. He sounded like his mother wailing and carrying on but the crying took on a force of its own and refused to stop. Now who would he take to the Great South Land? Now who would share his dreams of adventure and fantasies of travel to the stars?
How could Anna do this to him? She’d painted his portrait, without the pimples and a less prominent Hochblauen nose. Gunter blew his nose on his sleeve. So what! It’s already soiled by the beer. He thought Anna liked him. He’d convinced himself Anna understood him—Anna intelligent, artistic, hair golden like the sun, and eyes dazzling blue like a lake on a summer’s day. One day Anna would get to know him and love him…but no. He whimpered.
‘Johann!’ He smashed his fist into the moss on the log. ‘Always Johann!’
[…to be continued]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Summer Window France © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2014
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