FIFTEEN - Klara
“I will be out for most of the morning. Stay safe,” he orders before striding out.
It has not been long since he left and I am going mad. There is nothing to do here, to keep my mind busy. So I keep thinking about all that has happened in the last few hours. It is difficult to believe that it has not even been one full day since I left home with papa to go to the party. Thinking of papa, I wish I knew where he is. I hope they did not arrest him. After all, they know I am his daughter.
I have another mug of coffee, more to pass time than anything else. Then I take a shower and change into a fresh dress. It is exactly the same as the one I just took off, but it is nice and clean. I wash the dress that I was wearing. I wonder how long I am going to be here. All this seems unreal. I should be in Prague, with papa, wherever they are holding him.
Time passes very slowly when you have nothing to do other than pace in a twelve feet by twelve feet room and think about unpleasant things. I try to think of something good, something happy, and come up empty. I am just too worried about papa, mama, Ester, even Otto, Tomas and the others. I wonder who it was that gave us away. What will happen to him now? Will he get money? Influence? I cannot imagine what could be worth more than the lives of all your friends and the thousands of others that Fuchs has killed.
Fuchs is merciless on the best of days. I dread to think what he will do now...he must be furious that we dared an attempt at his life. He is sure to retaliate. I suddenly feel very tired. I realise that my failure may very well cost not just me and my family their lives, but many others. There is no telling what Fuchs will do to teach the resistance a lesson.
I peek through the heavy curtains on the window and see people, most with the dreadful yellow star sown onto their clothes, declaring them to be Jews. There are only women and children out on the streets at this time. I wonder where the men are. They look haggard and their clothes are in tatters. A rare shiver of fury passes through me. So, this is Fuchs’ idea of keeping the Jews away from the hardships of war!
I think of Frau Altschul - the dear old lady, a good friend of mama’s. She owned the Café Louvre on Národní Třída and used to make the best Hot Chocolate in the whole world...with extra, homemade marshmallows for us every time we visited with mama. I remember this one time, mama had taken Ester, Otto, Tomas and me to the café and we ended up breaking one of the windows. When we went in and confessed, all the gentle lady did, was take away the marshmallows from our Hot Chocolate as punishment!
They took away her café from her and relocated her to Terezín. I wonder if I will see her walk by if I keep looking long enough. Looking at the condition all these people are in, I don’t know if I want to see her. After all, I did nothing to help her when she was driven away from her home! What right do I have then, to feel bad for the poor conditions she has to live in?
I step away from the window and resume my pacing. I can imagine mama telling me, ”Plavce topí moře a nás zasypuje hoře!” I remember one time when Ester was out with Otto and she was late coming back home. I was so worried, I was pacing around the sitting room. After a while, mama could not stand it and made me sit down, telling me that all I’d get for my worrying is grey hair.
I know I am working myself into a panic, but I do not know what to do, how to cope with this, how to control this. I think of Günter and suddenly realise that he is always so in control. Yes, I have seen him upset and angry, but he has never seemed out of control, lost. He is always in charge, seems to know what to do. I wish I could be like him.
I am so busy worrying myself into knots that I do not hear the door open. I jump when his voice interrupts my fret-fest, “Klara.”
That’s all he says. Just my name. It feels like he has spoken volumes with that one word. I look up at him and my heart sinks. He looks pale...well, paler than usual...I wonder why. He is looking at me as if he expects me to shatter any moment. So much has happened in the last few hours, and I am still here, holding on to my sanity. I am not going to break apart easily.
I take a deep breath, tip up my chin and ask him, “Do you have any news on papa? What is happening in Prague?” I was planning to just ask him the pertinent questions, and that’s all. But the past couple of hours of physical inactivity has me venting it all out on him, “Please, Günter, I need to know something. This ignorance is driving me mad. I did something terrible last night and I don’t even know what the fallout is. I need to know about my family...”
I trail off when I see surprise stamped on his face, it is followed by something quite like a smile. I am close to crying and the man is smiling!
“Well.... fräulein! You are finally calling me by my given name!”
I gape at him like a fish. That is what he takes away from my tirade?
His stern mask is back on, “Take a seat, Klara. I do have some news for you.”
Without thinking, I sink down on the couch, and regret it immediately. He is still standing and sitting down he looks even more intimidating. I think of standing up again. I need to feel some kind of control on the situation and having him tower over me is not going to help. Oh! Who am I kidding? He will still tower over me if I stand up.
I give up and wait for him to speak. He stuffs his hands in his pockets, walks to the window, parts the curtains by a sliver and looks out. I can see his body is tense and even with his back to me, I can sense that he is struggling with something. Why don’t I like seeing him uneasy? I should...I must!
I get up from the couch intending to go closer to him, to ask him what it is that is troubling him. But I tamp down the ridiculous desire and make myself sit back down and clasp my hands in my lap to keep me there. He turns around and walks to site beside me on the couch. The couch seems too small for him and I want to put some distance. But I also want to know what has him tied up in knots, because the way he is looking at me, I just know it has to do with me.
I take a deep breath and say, “Well...tell me, please!”
He takes my hands in his and says, “There is no easy way to tell you this, but you must know. Your father was executed this morning.”
Although, deep in my heart, I knew that Papa was not really well, it is still a shock to hear that he is dead. Dead, because I failed. I try to snatch my hands away from his, but he holds on tight. The tears in my eyes are threatening to spill, but I glare at him. It is all because of him! Because he took me away from there. Fuchs had no one else to blame, so he blamed Papa.
To my horror, there seems to be more bad news that he wants to tell me.
“They are now looking for your mother and sister, and the others who aided you, and have declared a ten million crown reward for information on their whereabouts.”
The tears spill over. I jerk my hands from his, and he allows it. I walk away and wrap my arms around my middle. I need support to stay up on my feet and not break down right there. He steps closer to me and says softly, “Klara, you understand, that it means your mother and sister are alive so far?”
I turn around and hiss, “And what, Herr von Hallerstein? I should be thankful?”
He grabs my arms and growls, ”Ja, verdammt noch mal!"
I flinch at the anger in his voice. I want to walk far away, but I can’t. So I turn my face away from him and whisper, “It is all your fault. If you had not taken me away from there, Fuchs would have had me, the right person, to blame it all on. He would not have turned on the others.”
I expect him to get angry, to retaliate in some way. Instead, he pulls me further into him. I need the support, so I cling to him and he wraps his arms around me. “I am sorry,” he whispers.
He then adds, “If it is any consolation, you seem to have managed to poison Fuchs anyway. He is in the hospital in a serious condition.”
I step away from him, surprised at both, his apology and the news on Fuchs. I need to deal with both, one at a time. But, first things first. It is unfair of me to blame him for any of this. Fuchs is an evil man. He would have turned on my family and friends even if he had caught me. “I am sorry,” I apologise.
I look up at him. He is right. What exactly am I apologising for? For blaming something on him in which he had no hand in? For the fact that I may actually kill another person? I know Fuchs has probably killed hundreds, even thousands, of innocent people. But does that give me the right to play God? I don’t know. Maybe I am apologising for killing Fuchs too.
I close my eyes and whisper, “Please, take me back to Prague. I can’t be here, safe, while my family and friends are paying for my mistake.”
He doesn’t say anything, simply holds me in his arms and surprisingly I draw some strength from it and calm down. I also come to a decision. This man, here, is truly helping me. I cannot begin to understand his reasons for it, but there it is. He will keep me safe.
I can’t allow that. I have to go back to Prague, be with my mama and Ester. I have a fairly good idea of where they might be.