The Apple

Anita Hetzenauer
The Apple
The Brenner Pass was the border of my two lives. The border between the one Resi and the other, both of whom were me and yet so different that it hurt. The Resi to the south of the Brenner lived a diligent, devout and childless quiet life as an unwed woman. The other Resi came forth only once per year, in October, when the priest went on vacation and I drove to the north. Towards Tyrol and my daughter, who lived with strangers because nobody was allowed to know that she even existed. Sometimes the secret almost crept out of my mouth. Because I had given my promise, every time this happened I bit my lips firmly regardless of how it hurt. Only once a year I was allowed to be a mother, a little bit at least, until the 2nd World War put an end to that as well. Years passed during which I could not visit my Kathi. I suffered. The foster-mother must have discerned that from my letters, because she proposed a reunion on the Brenner Pass, in order that we could at least see each other across the border.
Deliberately I took a train that brought me to Brenner way too early. The railroad had never been punctual before, however since the start of the war the times of arrival couldn’t be estimated at all anymore. I got carried along out of the train station area by the stream of fellow passengers. Shivering, I stepped out in the forecourt. The October sun hardly warmed a body at all anymore. A rusty chain hung between windowless houses as a boundary marker. Nobody would have taken it seriously if it were not for the soldier, who with shouldered rifle strode alongside the chain. It appeared as if his paces divided the entire distance into many equally identical steps. None a centimetre longer, none a centimetre shorter. As he paced back and forth, he surveyed the people who had gathered on both sides of the border to exchange some words, perhaps even to exchange a secret. I asked myself how Kathi would look like now, whether I would recognize her. Could a mother not recognize her own child? Cold fear let me freeze from the inside, although the sun gained strength from minute to minute. Very closely I examined the people on the other side of the border, still I was certain: Kathi was not here yet. I waited. At the same time I firmly held in my hand the flowered cloth bag which held the chestnuts and apples that I had brought with me.
Eventually I saw Kathi arrive. I recognized her immediately, even though she was now at twelve almost as tall as her foster-mother. Kathi’s glimpse scanned over the people, caught sight of me for a moment, but passed over me without a trace of recognition. Quickly I had to wipe away the tears that had suddenly burst from my eyes. As I again glanced back over at Kathi, I almost dropped my bag in shock. What was she doing? Behind the back of the soldier she ran to the barrier, slipped through beneath it and after three, four long steps she stood before me.
“I almost did not recognize you just now, Mama!” she said breathlessly. She smiled and in her eyes my joy was reflected, although initially I had wanted to scold her. One could not simply cross a border behind the back of an armed soldier. However before I could say a word, my arms wrapped around her quite automatically. In doing so, the bag in my hand brushed her back. I became frightened by that and let go of Kathi again.
“The foster-mother had to help me, but then I recognised you immediately”, Kathi bubbled over. She talked to me with such a carefree, unconcerned manner as though we had not seen each other for merely a few days and not four years. Again I had to blink back tears, however soon I had also managed to shoo away the years that lay between us, and we talked.
She told me of her school, her life on the farm with her foster-parents and of her older foster-sister, who was expecting a child. “We all are looking forward to the baby”, she said and while I looked at her face, I quickly changed the topic and talked of my work. Regardless, the memory of another pregnancy, another baby became attached to my thoughts. Never should my daughter have to know how barren the anticipation for her arrival had been back then. How should a mother be able to look forward to her baby, without having her heart break knowing that she would have to leave her child forever with strangers after a few days?
I talked about the apple harvest, she of the potato harvest that had turned out meagre this year due to many mice. I remembered the contents of my bag again. Quickly I extracted a hand full of chestnuts from it and asked her if she had ever eaten these before. She didn’t know about sweet chestnuts and I rejoiced in having brought something special to her.
Carefully Kathi wrapped the handholds of the cloth bag around her hand, as it was about time for her to change over again to the other side of the border. The foster-parents had already pointed to an imaginary watch, and therefore Kathi and I waited now until the soldier on duty would turn his back on us again. When he was away a bit further, we hugged each other for the last time, then Kathi ran to the other side. She probably touched the chain with the bag or she hadn’t bent down low enough, regardless the chain made an abominable, metal moan and began to swing sinisterly. Kathi dropped the bag from which a rosy cheeked apple rolled out before Kathi could snatch the bag up again. Like a puppet whose threads suddenly had been pulled, the soldier executed a 180° about-face. I became frightened as I saw his gun glide from his back into his hands. “Run!” I howled to Kathi and she ran. After three quick paces she reached her foster-parents who stood before her immediately protecting her. The soldier looked after her, the weapon still at the ready. On both sides of the border it had become silent. Everybody held one’s breathe. Eventually the soldier let the weapon down. As if nothing had happened, he assumed the same pacing rhythm as before. Only when he came near to the apple on the ground did he trod aside slightly and mercilessly smashed the fruit with his boot. Audibly it cracked and nothing but squashed apple pulp remained on the ground.
The squashed apple was an intolerable sight. Kathi and her foster-parents were spared of it. They had already stolen away. I turned away, making my way back towards the train station and back to the train that would bring me back to my other life.
Translation: Shannon Wardell
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