Günter Overmann
 Günter Overmann

A DANCE IN THE ASHES - Extract - Chapter ONE

 

Quiet. Sudden, peaceful, eerie quiet broken only by the crunch of her
steps in the rubble.
The sun shone brightly on her; the sky was blue with fleecy clouds,
and cherry trees blossomed pink and white, perhaps lured by the silence
to come out early. Forsythias gleamed yellow, and beech hedges shimmered
with green buds conquering the omnipresent sallow dust. But,
no bird sang; no insect hummed.
No bird, no insect, no people. None. No car, no streetcar, no thundering
guns. No rockets howling from Stalin’s Organ. No martial songs
whose cadence still set the rhythm of Mathilde’s steps. The city was
quiet, quiet as never before. Few dared to venture out, even though
the Russians had pushed forward taking the war with them. Mathilde
could hardly believe that they had vanished and taken their smell and
noise with them—the clopping of their horses on pavement; the tinny
clanking of their trucks; the soft, uneven sound of their speech; and the
odor of their cabbage, vodka, and papyrossi. All had vanished.
What remained was silence and dust. The smell of fires and smoke
blended with putrefaction and rot that even the fragrance of those brave
blossoms in this breath of spring could not offset. What remained was
the odor of death, at least for Mathilde and others in Kiepholzstraße
in Steglitz.
Mathilde carried a bucket in each hand walking toward the only
pump in the neighborhood that still worked. It was not far from home
but still a difficult walk past houses that no longer stood. She no longer
wished to be here, no longer wished to be at all. She blanked them out,
no longer saw them, but they remained. Those houses. The rubble.
“Ow,” she cried at a stabbing pain. She had stubbed her foot on a
grotesque fragment in the narrow pathway—all that remained of the
street. Watch out woman, she scolded herself, you cannot be wandering
the neighborhood daydreaming. How often had she heard that?
“Mathilde, our little dreamer,” they had said—her sister, her mother,
her father; yes, even her father, the Captain; Johnny Head-In-Air, that
was her, that was who she had been and still was.
Mathilde stared at the offending stone at her foot, a sooty black
metal clump fused with shards of wood and plaster. What was it, she
wondered, as she rubbed her sore foot against her other leg? Her sandals
weren’t suitable for walking the rubble strewn path, she thought,
absently looking toward coal black walls, splintered trees, and the beatdown
hedge. Suddenly, far off in the silence and barely audible, she
heard a solo trumpet playing music filled with sweet emotion. Instantly
she knew the Lustige Laube once stood here. The clump must have
been a part of the bar tap fused by the bombs, explosions and fires.
Here at the Lustige Laube she had danced without a care, happy on
a June afternoon so many immutable years before in another time. In
peace time. Schmidtke, the leader of the brass band and solo trumpeter,
had played his solo as she swept across the grass with her new husband,
Franz, and Schmidtke winked at her. She danced so lightly and glowed
so that even Schmidtke, who had seen so many beautiful brides in his
lifetime and was rarely charmed, had winked and played just for her.
Heidrun, Mathilde’s older sister and a pastor’s wife, naturally had
disliked Schmidtke’s playful attention to the bride, as had her mother,
Emilie Lisson, the officer’s widow who insisted on being called
Maman—accent on the second syllable, mind you—in the French manner
rather than simply Mommy, but Mathilde’s Franz had not cared at
all. He was proud of his bride, and pleased that she was so pretty and
excited, and he adored her, waiting on her hand and foot.
Heidrun, looking like she bit into a lemon had said, “That just takes
the cake,” and Maman replied, “You cannot expect much from him,”
her lips pinched in a frown. To them he was merely Franz Tegge, son
of a streetcar conductor, merely a constable, a mismatch. Mathilde, a
Lisson, daughter of her father, the Captain, who had been honorably
wounded in war and holder of the Iron Cross, deserved better. “It is
lucky,” Maman said to Mathilde while straightening the wedding dress,
“that your father did not live to see your wedding.”
Heidrun, who always played the role of big sister with passion, had
planned the June wedding to be held in their big, dark preacher’s manse
with its even larger, darker garden, and had mapped out the details
before Mathilde could say as much as one word. But this once
Mathilde had prevailed; she stood up to both Maman and Heidrun.
It was her day, her wedding day; neither Maman nor Heidrun would
ruin it for her.
Mathilde had beamed and gone hand in hand with Franz following
the band which, at a proper distance from the church of course,
changed their tune to upbeat polkas, waltzes, and her favorite, the spirited
polonaise. She recalled childhood Sunday school outings, and the
polonaise, and the moment when the dignified band had broken into
dance music. Her wedding day had happened for her, only her, and
when they arrived at the Lustige Laube she danced so sprightly that
even the jaded Schmidtke winked at her.
Without noticing, Mathilde stepped into the ruins of the former
garden before the Lustige Laube, standing almost on the spot where
the dance floor had been, and she smiled. Hermann, her brother-inlaw,
had, in fact, spoken to Schmidtke, but did not throw him out of the
band for no one but Schmidtke could make the trumpet’s sound seem
like sweet flowing honey.
Mathilde tore herself from her daydream memories and moved on,
but she continued to hear Schmidtke’s honey sweet sound, which made
everything around her more pleasant. The stench, the tumbled-down
walls, the fear, and even the weariness in her bones was almost bearable
until, just in front of her, she saw a dark figure bent over something. She
knew, but did not want to know what was happening. Greedy, grasping
hands were plundering a lifeless corpse of anything of value right down
to his underwear. She turned her head, quickened her pace through the
rubble, and the memory of Schmidtke’s sound faded into the silence.
Schmidtke had fallen in those first days of the war. Perhaps it was
better that way, to be spared all the destruction and misery.
She finally arrived at the pump where only a few people, like herself,
had found the courage to leave their homes. They stood among
shabby arbors and derelict gardens and no one spoke in the impenetrable
silence. Only the squeak of the jerry-rigged, broken pump handle,
worked with surgical precision by a team of three men, broke the silence.
They mutely pumped water into wash basins, cans, jugs, anything
that had survived the last days of bombs and inferno.
Mathilde looked at the dirt and debris on ill-fitted men’s trousers
and on the clothing of the women in line. She looked down at herself,
realizing she was just as dirty, and unconsciously brushed plaster dust
off her dress. It was her good dress, a deep-blue velvet with Brussels lace
trim. She wanted to leave it in the closet, but everything else was soiled
or torn and in need of mending and washing. Washing? When would
she be able to wash again, to sew, and iron?
Reflexively she tore a loose button from her sleeve. In a few weeks
she would be thirty-five, but she felt like a hundred. Her scalp itched,
her once curly brown hair was dull and hung from her head like a mop.
She longed for a visit to the hairdresser, a little care, and above all sleep,
true, restful sleep. Her once full lips had become tight, not from unhappiness
but from exhaustion and despair—a despair of war, and fear, and
bombs, and battles, and screams. Despair from the horror of it all.
Once she had been elegant, now she was thin, almost haggard. Fatigue,
deprivation, and hardship cast their shadows on her once round
face, deep dark lines were etched around her little snub nose and her
green eyes, eyes that were once limpid pools in summer, in peace time,
oh, so many long years ago.
A piano of her own, that was her dream, but she could not afford it.
There had been one in the grand apartment where she grew up. It stood
in Maman Emilie’s salon, an heirloom from her father’s side of the
family. Mathilde’s father, the beloved Captain, descended from a Prussian-
Huguenot line of officer families where sons learned to fence and
daughters learned the spinet or piano. Maman finally sold their piano
to pay the staff. They had to have staff even though they starved more
than lived on the Captain’s small disability pension. Their soup during
the week became ever thinner, their underclothes and dresses ever more
threadbare, but Captain Lisson still invited guests and their spouses for
Sunday Souper. So it had always been, and so it would always be; so, fat
floated on the consommé served out of fine porcelain tureens by maids
wearing white sleeves and starched aprons.
1923 had been the height of inflation when a loaf of bread cost a
billion Reichsmark, and they sold their piano for more money than
they could count. Mathilde, at thirteen, had leaned against the Captain’s
chair as they watched it being moved out.
The Captain had returned from the First War with a wounded leg
and never left his chair except to go to bed or the bathroom. Maman
Emilie covered worn spots with hand-knitted coverlets so the chair
could remain in the alcove of the only room facing the street that she
had not sublet. The salon was necessary, even though the family had
to crowd into two tiny maid’s rooms. The larger, much nicer rooms
with street views at the front of their stately Berlin residence in its
most prestigious Wilmersdorf setting, had been rented to respectable
single men.
Mathilde and her father, the Captain, together in the communal
embrace of that fatherly easy chair mutely watched the calloused hands
of strong men move the piano, her father’s heirloom, out of the salon.
She had played that piano and taken lessons from Miss Nebenich every
Monday at three thirty for three years, and at a reasonable price. “Because
the child is so talented,” said Miss Nebenich, “and because artists
do not look to filthy mammon.” And because the dear lady, Maman,
invited Miss Nebenich regularly to Sunday Souper where she enjoyed
slightly watered-down sherry and offered learned discourse about
Schubert’s piano music.
Schubert or Mozart. Mathilde got a lump in her throat when she
thought of Mozart and his famous A Major Sonata with the “Turkish
March”. She never finished learning it because Maman sold the piano
and she could no longer practice. Then, as the piano money had dwindled,
they could no longer have Sunday Soupers in the salon, and Miss
Nebenich lost interest in Mathilde’s talent.
Later, after Heidrun’s husband, Hermann Steinhoff, had been ordained
a pastor, she was allowed to play the organ at his church. She and her
husband, Franz, had no money for a piano of her own, nor was there
space for it in their modest apartment. She could have made room by
moving the buffet to the attic, but she would not talk with Franz about
it. To Franz her music was a frivolous whim of a Lisson from prestigious
Wilmersdorf. No one paid good money for such a whim, no one.
He had no sympathy for her whim even though he was a caring and,
within limits, generous man.
Was? No, Mathilde thought. Not was, but is! He is still alive. She
hung on to that hope, like an animal, instinctively. She prayed for him
every night. It didn’t hurt to help that hope a little.
Franz was right about the piano, more than he knew. It would have
been destroyed by now, splintered into firewood by the Russians. She
felt a chill recalling the Russians who were gone now, probably just for
a little while, but at least they were gone.
Feeling the a chill she forced herself to look toward the spring sun,
forced herself to think no more about the Russians while the sun shone
warmly on her face. “Hey, are you asleep standing there?” The typical
bark of a Berlin woman’s voice, a heavy blow, a stab in the back.
Mathilde picked up her bucket and pushed up to the others who
mechanically took a step toward the pump as the first in line filled
his receptacles. They all stood silent, mute, and withdrawn as though
unconscious. Keep going, keep on doing, thought Mathilde, and simply
keep on.
So it had to go, waiting without illusion. Just as it was a few days
ago, when they had been bunched together in holes, bunkers, sitting in
cellars, surrounded, bound up, almost suffocated by the crashes, noise,
the deadly din of the war; then, just as now, they retreated into
silence. Each had turned inward for a little separation, for a little
freedom from the unbearable closeness, from the horrible coerced
community of the war.
Silence and fear. Wordless screams, mute whimpers, supressed sobs. The
drone of airplanes came closer day after day, night after night. Louder,
always louder. Sirens screeched, flak beat a staccato rhythm into the
ceaseless cacophony, each sound layered one on top of the other, pitiless,
unceasing, hurting more than fear. Drowned the cries, sobs, and whimpers.
Drowned the silence.
“What are you waiting for, Mathilde?”
“Yeah, come on, Mama.”
A hand tugged on Mathilde’s arm. The hand of her only daughter,
Karla, yanked Mathilde out of her stupor with all the force of her
fourteen years. Finally she resisted the deadly cacophony outside that
seemed to paralyze her and followed Karla down the cellar steps. Her
older sister, Heidrun, was already at the foot of the steps with her youngest
in her arms. Heidrun, the pastor’s wife and Mutterkreuz awardee,
marched toward the cellar door, and with a voice as clear and distinct as
on Sundays in the choir where her voice was always recognizable, she
asked Mathilde, “What were you thinking about?” Church choir, choir
of sirens, choir of bombs.
Mathilde just shook her head. “Gerhild, give this to me.” Her niece,
Heidrun’s six-year-old daughter, could barely lift their all-in-one bag,
as the family called it, which held all the papers, savings books, everything
of value; it was always close at hand and usually carefully hidden
under the bed. Mathilde took the heavy bag from the child. She didn’t
know where her thoughts had been. Apparently nowhere, in a void that
was more bearable than its opposite, life. It happened more and more in
these, apparently, hopefully, last days of the war. These were endless days
of “waiting for the final victory” that no one believed in anymore. They
waited for the desired, feared end that wasn’t quite there even though
you could taste it, feel it. It forced itself into Mathilde’s thoughts and
pushed everything else out, pressed the pathways of her brain against
the inside of her skull so that she could hardly move.
Karla and her younger cousin Horst, Heidrun’s ten-year-old, stormed
past Trimborn, the building’s super who was posted in the cellar door,
almost knocking him down.
“Hey, be careful!”
“Pardon, Mr. Trimborn, you know they didn’t mean to.” Heidrun
nodded reassuringly to Trimborn.
It always amazed Mathilde just how many voices her sister had—
her singing voice, speaking voice, a voice that went from hard to soft,
from sharp, domineering, or shrill to whining, ingratiating, sincere. Or
polite and friendly, as now, but piercing no matter the situation, always
piercing. A voice that even cut through the rumbling, the clattering,
the screaming. A voice that unceasingly, inevitably, soared to a cloying
crescendo. “Yeah, yeah,” muttered Trimborn.
The pastor’s wife was okay even though she and her brood spread out
as if they were still in their pastor’s house. She was brazen but at least
she spoke. You could talk with her, unlike with her sister, Mrs. Tegge,
the real renter in his house, who came down the narrow steps after her.
She was so quiet that Trimborn thought she was a snob who felt better
than everyone else, and he knew others thought the same of her. He
knew all his folks, from the fifth floor on the right down to the ground
floor on the left.
Heidrun shifted little Heinrich to her right hip, blew a strand of
blonde hair out of her face that had come loose from the immaculately
pinned up knot, and reached out for Gerhild who went down the steep
stairs in front of Mathilde, holding tightly to the wall in fear. “Hurry,
child, don’t you hear the thunder?”
In fact, the all too familiar rumble outside got ever louder with the
clatter of flak mixed in. An explosion came very close. Plaster dust drizzled
from the walls, the house shivered, and quaked.
“In with you!” Trimborn shoved the two women with the children
in front of him into the cellar, banged the doors shut, first an outer one,
then the reinforced inner one, and slammed the bolt home.
The cellar was crammed full. It could hold no more. In truth, there
were too many already. Everyone had taken someone in—friends,
relatives, bombed out neighbors and refugees, during these last days
since the firestorm raged over Berlin, and the allied planes dropped
Christmas tree flares that glittered like very un-Christmas-like gifts.
Heidrun tugged her two youngest behind her through the thickly
packed people in the cellar, greeting them left and right. Not everyone
smiled at her, but they respectfully made way until she got to “her”
corner, the corner in which Karla, Mathilde, and Franz had crouched
during the air assaults on Berlin.
She reached her corner with her family, and stuffed the valuable bags
under the little bench. “Make room,” she said, squeezing between Karla
and Horst. She shut her eyes, and held her breath, and waited. Waited
like all the others sitting in the cellar.
Muted growls, harsh whistles, dry coughs of thousands of guns
pressed in from everywhere. Mathilde could only guess where the
bombs and the shells actually hit. She had learned to tell the difference
between regular and incendiary bombs by their sound. She knew how
an artillery shell sounded and could tell the difference between a Stalin’s
Organ and their own artillery. Friendly artillery grew weaker from
month to month; their growls, bellows, rattles became fewer week to
week. But so long as one still heard it, there was a battle. So long as the
battle continued no one could surrender, not until the bitter end. If the
SS discovered a white sheet in the window of a house . . . traitors to the
Fatherland were still hung.
No one in their cellar dared to think of surrender. The building’s
super, Trimborn, had hung the Swastika flag out a window just a few
days before, on April twentieth, Hitler’s birthday. They feared Franz,
Mathilde’s husband, too, because of his position even though he had
been drafted into the militia. Inwardly, Mathilde laughed at them. He
was probably a rear echelon soldier just doing his duty, and if one was
not guilty, what was there to worry about.
They sat in the cellar and waited. Even as the Russians pushed
through the streets, they sat and waited. Hidden from the muffled
sound of fighting that pressed in on them, the rattle of machine guns,
the firing from tanks that sounded so different from bombs, they cowered,
pressed together in the cellar. Each was alone in their own space
despite their unbearable nearness. All were silent.
Elegant Heidrun, shrunken from exhaustion and cold and fear, held
Heinrich in her arms. The two-year-old could sleep despite the noise,
despite the concussions. Gerhild, who should have started school on
Easter, sat on Mathilde’s lap staring at her aunt with eyes wide with
fear. Horst, too, had given up trying to be the strong man of the house
and clung to Karla, his older cousin. Karla sat, eyes alert, her chin thrust
forward checking on her family over, and over, and over again.
Heidrun prayed unceasingly, a pastor‘s wife‘s duty. She prayed for
herself and all the people in the cellar, and for Frieder, her oldest, who
was away in an Adolf-Hitler-School in Thuringia. She had not heard
from him in weeks and prayed that her fourteen-year-old had not
been drafted into the militia like her brother-in-law, Franz. She
also prayed for her husband, Hermann, because it was her duty
even though there was little reason to worry. The pastor had volunteered
for chaplain’‘s duty in the army. Despite not hearing from him
in months, she wasn’‘t worried because he did not have to fight. He
was on the western front with troops pushed back from the Ardennes.
What would it matter if he were a prisoner in either a British or
American POW camp?
They huddled, pressed in, despite the distrust that had pulled them
apart, separated, and divided them. They forgot their unseen borders as
the noise of battle finally died down.
The unknown came close and their eyes went wide with fear. Boot steps
and strange voices were heard outside. The cellar door, with its bolts and
locks, was blown open.
Two Russian soldiers stormed in, strong farm boys. Machine pistols
at the ready, their backs to the wall just inside the door, they glanced
over the rows of fearful people. Other than Trimborn only two other
men sat in the cellar, but they were both far over sixty, shook with fear,
and presented no danger.
The Russians relaxed a bit. “Stay where you are!” one of them ordered
and turned to go out with his comrade. Then Gerhild began to bawl.
The Russians turned back. The inhabitants of the cellar shot perplexed,
angry glances at Heidrun and Mathilde, thinking their first
danger was almost over and now . . . One of the two Russians looked
suspiciously at the fearful, upset faces, the other fumbled around in his
jacket pocket. The cellar mates hardly dared to breathe. Only Gerhild
cried and screamed. Mathilde sought to calm the child, stroking her,
whispering, kissing, but to no avail.
Heidrun shoved Heinrich to Karla, tore Gerhild from Mathilde’‘s
lap. “Quiet or you’ll get it.”
The little girl shut up. Her fear of her mother’s threat was greater
than her fear of the strange men.
The second Russian found what he was looking for. He took a morsel
of raisin bread out of his pocket, broke off a piece, tossed it, and
Gerhild quickly caught it. Tensions relaxed. The Russian appreciated
the child’s quickness and laughed before he and his comrade vanished.
Heidrun took the sweet bread out of her daughter’s hand and cut
off Gerhild’s protest. “First I will hear how quiet you can be, quiet like
a little mouse.” The child shut up again. The bread stayed in Heidrun’s
pocket. For later. For all. A little portion divided by four. Four hungry
kids. The two mothers always went without, always gave up their share,
yet it was never enough.
Hours later, during which time those who sat in the dark of the
cellar whispered feverish rumors about “The Ivan” and waited without
knowing what to do, the two Russians came back. One, who could
speak a little German, advised them that the immediate danger was
over. They could return to the apartments. But, the cellar occupants
stared at the young soldiers. Could they trust these sub-humans? No
one stood up, no one left.
The two Russians did not care. They brought more bread, a little
bacon and cabbage, and gave it to Heidrun.
“Cooking,” one said and grinned. “For children.”
Heidrun nodded her thanks, held the food tightly, but made little
move to get up. Their cellar mates looked over at Mathilde, at Heidrun,
and their children. Mathilde knew what they thought; the constable’s
wife, the pastor’s wife, those two always had it better. Now they got
gifts. They won’t share. “Love your neighbour” and Christian charity
doesn’t hold that much sway, not for them.
Even if charity had ruled, Heidrun would not have thought to
share. The soldier who spoke a little German signaled Heidrun with
his machine pistol to leave the cellar to go up to the apartment.
Mathilde’s apartment.
“Dawai, dawai.” the Russian ordered. Heidrun did not react.
He repeated the unintelligible syllables, “Dawai, dawai.” His voice
sounded angry.
Mathilde and Heidrun looked at each other, unable to move. What
should they do? What did the Russians want from them? The second
one made a commanding move with his head and rumbled something
impatiently; slowly, resigned to their fate, the sisters stood up.
Heidrun dumped Heinrich on Karla’s lap. “You stay here.”
The two-year-old cried, “Mama, no!”
Gerhild also began to cry again, quietly this time, and Karla’s eyes
were dark with fear and defiance, glancing questioningly from her
mother to her aunt while she held tightly to the struggling little boy
who would not let go of his mother’s sleeve.
With a jerk Heidrun tore herself loose from Heinrich and scolded.
“Be quiet, everyone, stay together! Quiet!” She gathered up the food
from the Russians, and started to follow them out to the cellar door,
but Mathilde could not move her feet, could not move anything; it was
as if she were paralyzed.
“What are you waiting for?” whispered Heidrun. “Let’s go, out of
here, before they want the children too.”
“Children come with us,” commanded one of the two Russians, one
with a rosy face and blond forelock. “Dawai!”
Karla did not stir. She just looked at him as though she wanted to
devour him and vomit him up at the same time. Gerhild and Horst
clung to her making themselves a large mass, a clump of children no
one could touch, move or carry away.
The Russians lost their patience and raised their guns. “Children too!”
Instinctively Mathilde put herself in between them, “Yes, yes, we are
coming.” She did not need to look at Heidrun to feel her repressed anger
scalding her as she took Gerhild into her arms, “We are coming, yes.”
She threw Karla such a decisive glance that she suddenly, quickly
moved as if she had been on a spring. With Heinrich in her arms and
Horst clinging to her skirt, Karla followed Heidrun behind the other
Russian soldier, the thin one with dark hair, holding the Russian food
in front of her like a shield. The blond soldier brought up the rear behind
Mathilde and Gerhild.
It was as if they were going up the center aisle to the altar for a
Thanksgiving service; the image popped into Mathilde’s head. Heidrun
carried the offering in front, the children followed eagerly, and they
were thankful for the food that God gives them daily. This day God was
named Ivan. Mathilde almost giggled, but she felt a poke in the back
from the blond’s gun barrel that shoved her toward the cellar door; so
painful, so close, much too close.
A poke in the back, a hand shoving her toward the pump.
“We can’t have that, a proper dreamer. Now, pull yourself together.
You aren’t the only one who hasn’t slept in days.”
It was the same coarse voice as before. Still Mathilde was thankful
for the shove and the scolding. The interruption. She did not want to go
any further in that little procession up the stairs to her apartment when
after the meal . . . Yes, they had eaten, cabbage with bacon, potatoes,
raisin bread, so rich tasting and warm which they had not had for a long
time, but after the meal . . . Mathilde slammed that door in her mind
shut. She forgot, she buried, she sealed up what had taken place. She
turned around and looked into a pair of cloudy blinking eyes that were
the only light in a face made dark tan from ill humor, consumption, and
exhaustion. “You are right,” she said, “I beg your pardon.”
The woman muttered obligingly, surprised at the apology, pointed
with her chin at the pump. “Go ahead, you are next.”
Mathilde filled both buckets. She nodded goodbye to the lady, who
paid no attention, and stepped by the three that worked the pump handle.
At least she broke the silence with her remarks, thought Mathilde,
this unbearable, insidious silence. Silence that ruled since the Russians
had moved further on, without explanation or goodbyes a few days after
they had rolled over the city, the neighborhood. Now they were gone,
apparently, probably only for a short while, and had left behind them
uncertainty. Uncertainty and fear.
They had awoken this morning to an unfamiliar silence, and had
looked through the blown out windows into empty streets. Anxiously
they asked themselves what it meant, what would happen now? The
war was not officially over, the Germans had still not surrendered, even
though “the Führer had fallen in the battle against Bolshevism.” Russians
trucks and tanks and troops were gone, out of their streets, out

of their neighborhood, fighting somewhere else. The people remained
temporarily alone in defeat, but the Russians would return soon and
occupy the city.
But today they were alone, thought Mathilde. She would sleep on
the sofa tonight. Alone. She wanted to sleep, sleep, nothing but sleep.
She picked up her buckets and started home. The water splashed on
her hands, but that did not bother her. She passed by the robbed corpse
with its pale naked limbs, the shadow of unshaved cheeks with clouded
eyeballs. It almost didn’t bother her anymore. A cherry blossom floated
into Mathilde’s bucket to be pushed around by wood splinters that
swam on the surface of the water from the broken pump handle.
Spontaneously, Mathilde put down her buckets, took the blossom
and laid it on the face of the dead man, and closed his eyes. The
cloudiness vanished. She gazed at the blossom, rosy white on dark
blue shadows, and suddenly it seemed to her that she heard a bird sing
in the silence.

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