Frau Bienkowski was wrapped in a blanket, wearing a nightie.
“I’m not at all well. My nose is blocked, I lay awake all night and I keep breaking out in sweats.”
“Oh no!” I said.
I moved closer, and placed a large box wrapped in orange paper on her lap. “I’m sorry I couldn’t see you on Tuesday,” I said. “But Happy Birthday!”
Her face changed.
“Oh no, Katechen, you weren’t to do that.”
“Open it,” I said.
“But it’s so big!”
She tugged gingerly at a piece of Selotape. “I’m going to keep the paper.”
As she worked on the other corner she said, “I think I might know what this is.”
“Well, you just wait and see if you’re right.”
She lifted the sheet covering the top of the box to reveal the radio CD player I’d bought in Media Markt just a few hours earlier.
She blinked. “But it’s such a big present. I need to give you some money.”
“Nonsense,” I said.
“Keine Widerrede! Now, tell me about your birthday party.”
“Well,” she said finally, “Seven of us met downstairs for coffee and I got lovely flowers. They came from the Internet. Nowadays, you can get everything on the Internet.”
“Anyway,” she continued. “On my birthday, they said I could choose to have any meal I liked. And I knew exactly I wanted.”
“Really?” I asked. “What did you want?”
“A fried egg,” she said. “I crave them so much.”
“And did you get one?”
“I got three!” said Frau Bienkowski. “You might think that’s a lot, but they were tiny; this small,” she said, and made a little circle with her forefinger and thumb.
“And were they good?”
“They were delicious.”
“Do you not usually get eggs here?”
“Oh, just scrambled,” she said. “But I’m sick to death of scrambled.”
I remarked that this seemed a happy kind of home.
“Well,” she said. “Maybe for a year or two. But I’ve been here for five. You’re not supposed to be here that long. Most people arrive and die after a year or two. But me – I’m still here.”
“I had one good friend here for two years,” she continued. “But then she had a stroke and died. You do grieve…”
“Of course,” I said.
I took out some photographs of LSB and my family, which I’d promised to show Frau Bienkowski.
She reached for her magnifying glass and turned on the light.
The first was a picture of my family at the legendary Familienfest last year.
She moved her magnifying glass over each of our faces. “These are my sisters,” I said. “And that’s my mum, and this is my dad.”
She lingered over my father’s face, examining it carefully. He was wearing his trademark scowl, which he reserves for people with cameras and for reading electricity bills.
“He’s handsome,” she said. “I might have fallen for him too.”
“He’d be delighted to hear that!” I said.
Next up was a picture of LSB and me all done up before going to our college ball a few years ago. “He has such brown eyes,” she said. “Like you. Your children will have even darker eyes again.”
Frau Bienkowski looked at another picture of my sisters and me and asked for our ages.
“And they’re not married either? None of you?”
“Nope, none of us!” I said. “Maybe some day.”
Frau Bienkowski remarked on how nice it was to have such a big family. She herself, had just one son. But he and his girlfriend died in a car crash more than thirty years ago.
“At least I have memories,” she said. “People who never had children have none.”
I provided a clunky translation of the English expression Don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because it happened.
“It’s true,” said Frau Bienkowski. I nodded, and we were silent for a little while.
“By the way,” she said later. “That drink you got last time..”
“Yes!” she said. “I heard a report about it on the radio. Next time we go down to the café, I want to get one. It sounds very nice!”
“We will absolutely get you a latte next time,” I said.
Frau Bienkowski knows all about LSB. She even knows that he’s coming to visit me soon.
“You’ll bring him here, won’t you?” she said.
“Oh yes, he’d love to meet you! “But you’ll have to help me teach him some German words.”
She smiled. “I will!”
I took the CD player out of its box and plugged it into a socket.
I placed an audio book CD into the player.
A man’s voice filled the room.
“Can you hear that?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Frau Bienkowski. She looked happy.
When I got up I had to step over a cord attached to the lamp on the table between us.
“The bulb blew the other day,” Frau Bienkowski said. “And the type of bulb the lamp uses has been discontinued. Luckily, Frau Brein once got me a batch of ten, which will last me until I die.”
I’m so happy that Frau Bienkowsi has a CD player. You are so good to her and your tales about your visits are delightful. I hope she will be better soon!
me too! I’d been plotting it for a long time.. I think that the audio books might be a comfort during her many sleepless nights. Thank you so much for reading and I’m so glad that you’re enjoying the stories. She’s an incredible woman.
I found your delightful little blog thanks to your new Freshly Pressed status. A belated congratulations! And I must say that I really enjoy your writings, though I have only read a few. Your sincerity is encouraging, and I am so much a fan, I had to let you know. (:
Mike, thank you very much! Delighted to have you as a reader and very flattered to have you as a fan 🙂
How perfectly timed, I just read a post on Freshly Pressed about Hemingway’s style of writing (in contrast to Faulkner), specifically how he used simple words and his dialogue generally consisted of short, quick sentences. Your post is a good example of why that is such an effective writing style. 🙂
I read that post too and enjoyed it! My favourite short story writer is Tobias Wolff. He is such a master of simple, subtle, hitting prose. I’m so glad that you enjoyed the piece. Thanks for stopping by to let me know 🙂
Yay! She finally got her CD player! I’m so excited. Give her a big hug for me next time you see her. I think she’d be happy and a little amused that all these people on the internet look forward to hearing about her. 🙂
She did 🙂 Will give her that hug next time! I haven’t actually told her about the blog but have mentioned that I tell all my friends about her. That seemed to bemuse her alright!
Excellent touching piece. Everytime I read about your visit to hers, I always feel the underlying bits beneath the conversation. Like there are further topics which could be worth exploring in more details. I believe its the extracts of conversation which you have delivered that structures the exchange in a meaningful way involving the weaving in of family, culture, history, value etc.
And the last bit when you ended it, I felt very sad – the acceptance of an eventual(countable?) end. Throughout my read, I could feel the change of emotion from surprise to grief, to acceptance and to happiness. I felt extremely engaged with this piece in particular.
Good work, Kate. I think this is one area you have very good potential in and it will be something which you might want to look into for your potential novel.
I’ve always loved writing that’s understated, that says something indirectly or not at all, so your particular compliment means the world to me as that’s the kind of pieces I aim to write. When I write about my 2 hour visits to Fr B, I leave most of it out, and I change the order of things (I can’t possibly remember exactly what we said when) but I do always mention the things that particularly moved me, or made me smile. Thanks, Clariice!
One thing to add, you didnt share your emotions in descriptions when you responded to Frau B. but rather the words you articulated did. I thought that was a very unique style of novel writing 🙂
This was moving in so many ways.
My grandmother spent three years in a care home before she died. It was difficult because she made her daughters promise not to put her into care when she found out she had Alzheimer’s but eventually she couldn’t be left alone and it was too difficult to care for her without professional help and she had to be put into the care home. It was tough for all of us, but she was the most visited person in that home!
It was upsetting to discover that many people’s relatives don’t visit them. It sounds like you’ve struck up quite a special thing with this Frau Bienkowski. It’s a beautiful thing really.
I’m so glad you all visited your grandmother so much. It makes the world of difference to both the mind and the body. People that get more hospital visits tend to live longer too. I do think we’ve a responsibility to take care of our elders and I feel so privileged to have got to know Frau Bienkowski.
Pingback: “Getting an abortion in 1953 wasn’t that easy.” |