Albert slammed the door. Giza finally found the courage to jump from her own bed and tentatively walk down the hall. If you were there yourself, you would have heard the sound of midnight in the house.
Giza felt apprehension deep down, and for the first time, her eyes found their small house to be very wide. She continued down the hall very carefully, staring at her small feet as she walked on the old, creaky wooden floor. On nearing the end of the hall, she began to hear her mother sobbing. She felt the same concern that she had felt in bed as she listened to her mother and father fighting near the front door.
Giza’s mother came from Berlin, where she had lived for the first twenty years of her life with her family.
In a small antique store, a girl opened her eyes to a cold and grey mid-morning in Berlin. Her name was Anne-Marie, and she had so much fun living in this place.
Every morning, she jumped out of bed with joy, always catching a look from her parents. These moments of love helped Anne-Marie to feel a little spoiled in this grim, dusty world. She generally preferred to stay on the second floor of the building and on the metal spiral staircase that led down to the antique store.
The old stoned building that housed Faust’s always looked so cozy to people’s eyes. People mostly visited the store just for a change of air in their cold lives. Sometimes, Anne-Marie’s father would put up his hands and exclaim, “Thank God our store isn’t located downtown.”
Every time he performed this theatrical act, it would make his small family laugh. In fact, everyone found Faust’s very friendly and helpful. It was also tidy, because Anne-Marie’s mother spent considerable time cleaning it. Anne-Marie often found pleasure from just watching as she cleaned, some days with melancholy, some days with joy.
Generally, when she was in a more melancholic mood, she would make up stories about whatever item she was polishing, but Anne-Marie payed more attention to her mother’s eyes than the tales. These eyes were both amber, with every sense of presence inside. Maybe this was why she made up stories, or maybe it was some accidental treasure that shone intensely as she spun her yarns.
Whatever its reason, Anne-Marie found it adorable every time.
Her mother was short but with a finely shaped body, and her movements were so graceful. You would need to be blind to miss how some customers looked at her as she walked around dusting the store’s items.
She was the fourth daughter of a farming family in Schwarzwald, but she had been ready to forget the farming life and had easily settled into her new life in Berlin. She was interested in art, music, and of course antiques.
Anne-Marie’s father had eagerly helped her settle in to her new life with him, even when her cooking didn’t work out so well.
He listened to her tales with genuine pleasure as they sat at their small dinner table throughout the evenings.
The store was situated in a mostly poor area. All year, this area would stink of coal, sweat, and hunger. Anne-Marie never liked their street, so she spent much of her time atop the metal spiral staircase.
When dirty-faced people would come into the store, she never looked at them directly. Instead, she very carefully waited for them to get into an in-depth conversation with her father. Only then did she find the confidence to stare at them. She firstly focused on their stained clothes and then their dirty hands as they talked.
Anne-Marie wasn’t fond of strangers, but this didn’t apply to those who brought their dogs with them. Whenever Anne-Marie saw them outside the store, she would run outside and invite them in. She pleaded with these people to stay longer, so she could give more attention to their dogs.
“While you play with him, be careful not to touch his muzzle,” they would warn her, and she always followed these orders.
Mr. and Mrs. Faust were very happy to see blissful moments like these, and it wasn’t just because it was their daughter. They were well-known around the back streets of Berlin for being helpful and friendly to everyone.
The Fausts woke up early every day, except on Sundays. For breakfast, Mrs. Faust sliced up some sausage and divided it over the plates before running around to check the tea on the stove and slice some bread.
Elsewhere, Mr. Faust could be heard complaining about how the dust got into the store.
These were people who could find flowers blooming on the grey backstreets of Berlin, and they helped other people to see what they saw.
Anne-Marie, though, was far removed from such considerate behavior. Her family never punished her for it, because they knew very well how sensitive she was.
One morning, as the Faust’s ate their breakfast, they heard a voice come through the shop door downstairs. Mr. Faust moved to go downstairs, with Anne-Marie following behind with the joy of youth. With this unexpected interruption, Mrs. Faust decided it was time to start cleaning. This day seemed to start earlier than they had anticipated.
Mr. Faust arrived in the store and saw a figure wrapped in a black coat behind the door. Mr. Faust coughed awkwardly and opened the door for this new stranger.
“Good morning, …” he announced, “…Miss.”
The caller slowly adjusted her head and loosened her scarf, revealing her green and brown eyes, each of which resembled a tiny replica of the world. Mr. Faust understood straight away that she was a gypsy, and she was here to ask for help. He invited her inside, which she accepted, bringing the cold air with her. Mr. Faust handed her two coins, while Mrs. Faust brought her some bread and a bunch of basil.
Mr. Faust looked at his wife, as if silently questioning why she had given basil. Mrs. Fault understood his inquisitive look and rolled her eyes as if to say, “I’ll explain later.” He never did ask, though, nor did she ever offer an explanation. The gypsy placed her empty hand inside her coat and turned to face Anne-Marie, who had been watching everything through her curious eyes.
The gypsy woman then presented a toy to Anne-Marie. She was more focused on the gypsy’s dirty nails, though, at least until Mrs. Faust woke her up by saying, “Honey, don’t be silly. Look at this adorable monkey or elephant, or whatever it is. Ha-ha-ha.”
Embarrassed, Anne-Marie quickly took the elephant before her mother could act even sillier. At times like this, her mother would behave like she thought they were twins. Mr. Faust thanked the woman for her gift, while Anne-Marie examined the elephant and saw how it was made from straw and covered with a blue and beige fabric.
Anne-Marie then ran upstairs to bed with her elephant. She looked over this toy for a few minutes, even though she wasn’t usually interested in such things. She then put the elephant inside her mouth, but after removing it, Anne-Marie saw the elephant’s trunk had been damaged by her teeth. She cried all day and night about this, because it was the first thing she had ever broken in her life.
Tina and Anne-Marie went on a small tour of the city on a sunny Friday morning. They visited a small, crowded coffee place to buy some ice-cream. Tina was a loud, funny young Polish woman. Tina and her family had recently moved into Anne-Marie’s street, and they had very quickly become friends. Tina held Anne-Marie’s hand and pulled her along the road as they moved toward the lake. They licked their ice-creams while laughing and talking about the things around them.
Anne-Marie closed her eyes and moved her head up, thinking about how crazy her friend was and how much she loved her.
“Finally,” announced Tina, “finally we can enjoy this view, little miss blind.”
Anne-Marie just sat, slowly staring out at the subdued lake. This sublime moment was brought to an abrupt end by the warm voice of a man.
“Good morning, ladies. A wonderful day, isn’t it?”
Anne-Marie turned around and saw the man’s grey tie. Moving her eyes up, she met his face. He had messy hair that looked like it was made from cashmere. His dark-brown eyes danced with joy and mischief. After a few hypnotic seconds, Anne-Marie opened her mouth.
“Yes…sir. It is.”
The young man then quickly moved around the bench and sat next to her, prompting her to look around for Tina.
“I think she’s abandoned you,” the young man said.
Anne-Marie didn’t say anything else to this unusual man, despite feeling something deep inside. She didn’t like the self-confident air of this man.
“My name is Albert,” he announced.
Offering her hand in a rather formal manner, she replied, “I’m Anne-Marie Faust.”
Albert closed one eye, which seemed irritated by his cigarette smoke. He extended his hand to meet hers and shook it in a very peculiar way.
This made Anne-Marie suddenly laugh, and Albert seemed to take great pleasure from this.
“We were here to celebrate. My friend Tina just became an aunt,” Anne-Marie explained, although she wondered why she was giving this information to a complete stranger.
Suddenly, Albert stood up, opened his arms wide, and said loudly, “An aunt, eh? That’s marvelous news.” He seemed to separate his words with intermittent laughs.
Anne-Marie stared at him with a half-open mouth as he quickly grabbed her hand and drew her up. Anne-Marie looked around shyly, checking to see if anybody else was observing this moment.
“So, Anne-Marie, let’s celebrate,” Albert said.
“What?” she replied, as if she was oblivious to what was happening around her.
“The good news, my dear lady. Let’s celebrate it. Perhaps with a drink? Sounds good, right?”
Anne-Marie could hardly say yes, because she was already running behind him. He had already started telling stories about the things around and gesturing to places with his fingers. Anne-Marie followed him like a balloon on a string. All through the journey, he constantly greeted people on the streets. He even bought some street food for both of them before they reached the bar.
On entering the bar, Albert loudly proclaimed, “Good afternoon, gentlemen.”
Some of the women in the bar looked over, so he added, “…and ladies of course.”
Anne-Marie feigned a smile to the bar’s patrons, but everyone had already returned to their own conversations. She felt Albert touch her waist softly to guide her.
“This table, Miss Faust,” he explained.
Anne-Marie nodded her head as Albert readied her chair and said, “Here you are.” He then moved over to the bar area.
Anne-Marie looked around and pulled at her clothes nervously. Albert soon returned, though, and set their drinks on the table. She smiled at him warmly for the first time. Somewhere inside, it felt good to see him again.
They talked and talked. Anne-Marie forgot the time, and she didn’t think about Tina or how to get home.
Albert whispered to Anne-Marie, “My dream is to see the pyramids of Giza. What’s your dream?”
Anne-Marie acted like this was the first time she had heard such a thing. “The pyramids?” she asked.
“Yes, they’re quite magnificent I believe,” Albert explained as they stared at each other.
Anne-Marie then said softly, “Then me too. I want to visit Giza.”
After their day of celebration, Albert and Anne-Marie met almost every day. Tina never resented the time she spent with him, because she saw how her eyes shone as she talked about Albert.
Mrs. Faust also noticed the new glint in Anne-Marie’s eyes, but Mr. Faust was too busy appraising his antiques. While Anne-Marie read letters from her lover, Mr. Faust mostly focused on repairing the cuckoo clocks and other items in the store. Somewhere deep down, though, he knew his little girl would be leaving home soon.
Anne-Marie and Albert walked around the streets of Berlin together, and when desire gripped them, they would often stay in the Pension Brinn.
Albert worked at a print shop and spent much of his salary on these assignations. Anne-Marie fell completely in love with this young and incredibly attractive man, and Albert seemed to return her feelings. As they lay naked in a brass-framed bed at Pension Brinn, the melody of Das Lied der Deutschen could be heard in the room. Albert kissed her nervous face at this moment and said, “One day, someone will show him that not all of us are like him.”
Before long, they got married and decided to move from Berlin.
Their new home town was much poorer than Berlin, yet the people were much more optimistic. Albert started his own small print shop there, while Anne-Marie became quite the expert at cooking various potato dishes. All the while, war, oppression, and unemployment were making the air of Germany increasingly grey.
The streets were also grey. The faces of people were grey—even the potatoes were grey.
Countless books were incinerated in huge bonfires. Some Germans would give the Nazi salute during this wave of book-burnings throughout the country. At least the kids on the streets could warm themselves by these fires.
It wasn’t long before Anne-Marie realized she was pregnant. Albert didn’t hold back in displaying his happiness. They giggled all night in their noisy bed.
Anne-Marie was a happy woman, even though the world was experiencing some very dark days. She always considered herself lucky for being with Albert, but neither of them realized that there is always a darker shade of grey waiting.
Albert held a letter that had come from Berlin. This letter carried news of the Fausts’ joint suicide, expressed in simple words. Their lives were explained in summarized, neatly-formatted words. In their suicide note, they had said that “they can no longer live in this world.”
Anne-Marie received this terrible news from Albert inside their dark-stoned house, but she said nothing about it, not a single word.
“Say something, my love,” Albert pleaded.
Albert nervously waited for some response, but she continued to act like the previous minute had never happened.
She then saw Giza, so she picked her up and sat her on her lap, holding her tightly with her arms. She started to mumble a poem she had learned from her mother in their dusty store.
A pleasant moment sitting before the door, me and you
Two bodies and two faces, yet one life, me and you
Joyful and careless, free from distracting myths,
Me and you, you and me, with no hint of “I”
And joined through love.
She then muttered something to Albert before leaving for the kitchen.
Giza was six years old. She was a girl who could always find happiness without needing a reason. Her black hair was always messy as she joyfully ran around their dark, damp house. Her eyes shone like those of a fox.
One time, she asked Anne-Marie, “Am I Jewish?”
Apparently, a boy outside had suggested this.
“Hmm, let me think,” Anne-Marie replied with a naughty smile, “No, definitely not.”
“Then did the boy outside say it?”
“It’s because of those beautiful almond-shaped eyes that you got from your father. You look like a beautiful young fox on this drab street.”
Giza then ran back outside.
Anne-Marie was considering how her parents’ suicide had started to change people’s opinions of them. Suddenly, an unbearable pain gripped her. She looked down and saw her blood all over the wooden floor.
After being admitted to the hospital, the doctors decided Anne-Marie’s uterus needed to be removed. During her recovery, Albert took on responsibility for everything at home, as well as visiting Anne-Marie and running the print shop. Albert had much more work to do these days, because all printing presses were required to produce Hitler’s propaganda.
Anne-Marie had to spend her time in the hospital, but she made some friends there. One day in the hospital gardens, a man approached her. He opened a cigarette pack and said to no one in particular, “Crazy world, right?”
“Indeed,” Anne-Marie replied, happy to encounter someone who wanted to talk.
“Would you like one?” the man asked as he offered the pack of cigarettes.
“Thanks,” she said as she drew out a cigarette.
“I’m Dr. Crowd,” the man informed her, “I deal with the crazy patients here.”
Anne-Marie laughed silently and added, “I guess I’m one of them.” She then started to tell her story to this strange gentleman.
Afterwards, he said, “Tina (another doctor) and I are going to a cafe for a drink? Would you care to join us?”
“Tina?” she asked as she thought she heard the voice of her old friend. Maybe every Tina spoke loudly like that.
“Let’s go get some air, my friends,” this new arrival proclaimed.
“Friend?” Anne-Marie mused to herself.
Sitting inside the café, all three of them smoked cigarettes. Anne-Marie still felt an outsider with these warm people in this cozy cafe.
“My name is Tina. What’s yours?” Tina asked.
“Anne,” she replied. She didn’t see a reason to use her full name anymore. Marie seemed too feminine for a woman without a womb.
The days went by, and the trio spent more and more time together. Anne also visited the hospital gardens more often, frequently talking with Dr. Crowd about books, the theater, and sometimes politics, albeit in hushed tones.
“My husband and I,” Anne began, “We have a prob…”
Dr.Crowd cut her off by reciting a poem from Shakespeare, but Anne continued nevertheless.
“I miss him. I miss talking with him.”
Somewhat surprised, he announced, “Excuse me. I just remembered I have something important to do. Sorry, I need to go.”
On returning to his office, he found Dr. Nashe there.
“Good morning, Dr. Crowd. I hope your times in the hospital gardens are going well.”
“Excuse me?” he asked quizzically.
“You always say we should think like doctors, right?”
“Sure, so what’s the problem?”
“That’s the problem, Dr. Crowd,” he said as he pointed to Anne-Marie through the office window. She was looking right and left, like she couldn’t decide which way to go.
“Look at that woman,” Dr. Nashe added.
“Which woman?” Dr. Crowd inquired.
“The one you are always staring at.”
“I don’t know who you mean,” he said as he picked up his brown bag, planning to return to Anne-Marie.
After Anne-Marie was finally discharged, she came home one day and found Albert there waiting for her.
“Welcome home, my love,” Albert said in a distinctly sarcastic tone.
“Hi, darling. Sorry, I’m late. Tina and I chatted a bit longer than I expected. How are you? How’s it going printing all that propaganda.”
“You slut!” Albert screamed angrily as he stood. Anne-Marie was shocked by this reaction from Albert.
“I know where you’ve been and who you were with.”
“I was with Tina,” Anne-Marie said timidly.
“No, you were with a man! Admit it!” Albert yelled.
“Okay, Albert, I was with Dr. Crowd, but it’s not what you think.”
“So, what am I thinking? Actually, you know what I’m thinking? I’m thinking you’re a lying bitch. What do you talk about with this man? How long have you been hiding this seedy affair from me?”
“It’s not an affair,” Anne-Marie pleaded, almost crying.
“Go on then. I’m listening. Let’s hear it!” Albert said sternly.
“We just talk about books, poems, and occasionally politics.”
“Go on…,” Albert commanded.
“Today, for example, we talked about the failed coup attempt by Claus von Stauffenberg,” Anne-Marie explained.
“So you are telling lies and cheating on me because I don’t talk about von Stauffenberg with you?”
Anne-Marie cried as she listened to him. When she gathered enough breath she pleaded with Albert.
“No, Albert, no!”
Ignoring her, Albert continued, “After your surgery, you distanced yourself from me. I said fine, maybe you need your space. I was there for you. It was you who moved away from me. Now you claim I wasn’t there for you? And…Hey! Look at me! While you were saving the world with this cheating bastard, I’ve been stuck printing endless propaganda. Do you think I like doing that? Do you? I did it for you, Anne-Marie, for us.”
“We never had a child, Albert. God didn’t want to give us one. We tried, and now I can never…” Anne-Marie tried to explain, but she couldn’t finish. Instead, tears rolled down her face.
Albert then left, slamming the door behind him.
Giza then approached Anne-Marie, her foxlike face illuminating the room. She carried Anne-Marie’s old elephant toy with her. Anne-Marie wiped off her tears and sought to put a smile on her face. Giza grasped the damaged trunk of Anne-Marie’s elephant with her tiny fingers and smiled at her.
The house was silent as Giza and Anne-Marie faced each other.
“Your father thinks I don’t love him anymore,” Ann-Marie explained with a fake laugh.
“I told you—didn’t I, Giza? A fake laugh always hides real pain. All this time, people have thought many things about me, but they don’t see you, do they?”
Giza stood silently in the dark, her face becoming more and more like a fox’s.