|Sometimes the people who live on the coastline lose their fight against melancholy, like the captain's widow who sat down on an ice-floe one morning and let herself drift into the chilly North Sea. Old sailors sit at the harbour all day and wistfully look out at the river Weser; they noticed her but none of them took any action. The woman sat on her ice-floe, quiet and content, as if she fulfilled an old wish. Like a flame, her large red woollen scarf flew around her neck. Near Blexen, at the the mouth of the Weser, the second officer of an upstream riding freighter from Singapore saw her once more, but she seemed so determined that he didn´t dare to give the alarm. Moreover he thought: »Different countries, different customs -- maybe that´s a special German kind of sport -- ice-floe-sailing.« They never found the captain's widow, but that doesn't matter anyway.|
any case, we people from the Wesermarsch are a strange folk. Georg von der Vring
-- the Brake-born poet who went into the water in 1968 (the year of my birth)
-- once wrote that the people here give the impression of living a little underwater
themselves. They seem gentle, a bit slow and reserved. But one shouldn´t
underestimate them: it's only a subversive trick for keeping quiet in the presence
of strangers. They would otherwise speak with such a black, pitiless wit that
many a tourist would be put to flight.|
It was Christmas again, and I sat with my family of choice in a winter garden with a view of a snow-covered landscape alive with songbirds. I put down the mystery novel I was reading and tried to remember the names of all the different kinds of birds in the field. Ute read the Northwestern Paper, and Günter stroked the big grey cat that, due to a misjudgment, was called Gustav for the rest of her life. On the radio up on the cupboard the Hanse-Wave from Radio Bremen tootled. The moderator just couldn´t be as dull as she seemed because she had played Alanis Morissette for the third time this hour. Our table had a plate of pyramid cake; tea steamed in blue-white cups.
Heidi -- Ute's mother -- sat in a comfortable cherry wood chair and stitched a design of blue bindweed and clover, a pattern she followed from a model spread open on a music stand in front of her. A few logs of wood that didn't seem to be thoroughly dry hissed in the fireplace; candles burned in colourful wooden candlesticks on the mantelpiece and the cupboard. I hadn't felt as good in the last year as I felt here. The whole year through I hadn´t felt as good as I felt here. I picked up the novel again and tried to read a little, but I couldn't concentrate. I fell into a pleasant daze in which I could feel the company of my friends as a physical warmth and yet still freely hang on to my own thoughts.
Ute, my old friend, had finished the paper, folded it again and stuffed it into the waste paper basket. Gustav scratched at the door and wanted to go out. As Günter, Ute´s father, opened the door for the cat and returned to his seat, I could feel that the rustle of movement had awaken Heidi from her stitching and put her in the best mood to tell a story. Heidi never introduces her stories. She just starts to tell them, a quality I very much appreciate. »On Christmas Eve thirty years ago, Ute and you weren´t born yet, something horrible happened to my mother. Do you know the story, Suse?« Ute grinned broadly, but I couldn´t remember. »She came back from Bremen where she had to do some errands, and in the same train compartment there were some marines and an old woman with a suitcase and a travelling bag, a really nice old granny, mum said. The old woman seemed a little worried, and after a time she leaned forward and asked my mother if she could tell her when the train arrived at Elsfleth station.
She came far away -- from Wiesbaden, she told my mum, but her daughter had married someone from the Wesermarsch, and now she wanted to visit her and her family for the holidays. But last year she had already left the train in Berne by mistake, because the land was so flat and all the stations looked the same, and nothing had been there, no pub, no bed and breakfast, nothing. Finally she went to a house near the station to ask for help. She called up her daughter and she picked her up soon after.«
I had to smile. The little "infrastructure" of this scarcely populated region would be destroyed by budget cuts in a few years. It was only a matter of time for the railway line at the lower Weser to be substituted by private bus lines.
»Mum was sorry for her. The train stopped at Elsfleth. Outside, you couldn't see your hand in front of your face because it snowed and stormed. Mum asked the marines to help the old lady and her luggage down onto the platform. Mum waved once again, wished her happy holidays and sat down in the compartment again.«
»And?« I asked.
»Five minutes later the train reached Elsfleth. They had let the old woman down somewhere on the open track, in the middle of the moor between Berne and Elsfleth.«
»Jesus« I said, dismayed.
»But presumably nothing bad happened. Mum of course had mobilised police and fire-brigade and everything to look for the woman, but they haven´t found her body.«
»Well,« said Günter, »what the moor takes will never be seen again, right?«
Heidi change the thread on her needle to a lighter green. On the radio Kurt Cobain sang of teen spirit - on the Hanse-Wave! But this song reminded me of lost love, and after a while I said: »Heidi, please tell another nice creepy story.« Since I had a broken heart, I turned from writing love stories to narrating creepy tales. As a lesbian in a hostile world it isn´t difficult at all to tell creepy stories, "lesbian creepy stories" is almost a tautology, and I believe they have a nice cathartic effect on me.
Heidi said nothing for a moment. Then she turned, fixed her eyes on me and said, slowly: »I know another one, but itís really gruesome, I tell you.«
I responded without hesitation. »That´s just perfect. Go on.«
»You know the old Timmermann´s villa up on the dyke?«
I nodded. It was a large elegant building from the Bismarck era, built by a rich ship owner from Brake. Aunt Emma and her spinster sister Aunt Martha, relatives of Günter, had lived there all their lives. I had faint memories of the old ladies and the huge, curved staircase inside the building. The staircase was crowned by a big, wild painting of prancing horses and screaming nude women. Ute insisted, when we were little, that the painting came to life each time the hall clock stroke the full hour, and so we always darted away as quickly as possible through the staircase and saved ourselves in one of the countless rooms.
»Emma didn´t like to share. But when her husband Hinrich died he instructed in his will and testament, that his brother Johann and the old couple who did their housekeeping should have the right to live in the house as long as they lived. That worried Emma.«
Heidi took a break to take a sip of mineral water.
»Mr. Wiek, the janitor was the first to die -- a natural death. He had a heart attack on the staircase.«
»Maybe she had scared him?« Ute asked, interested.
»You never know.« Emma was already by nature scary, with her huge white bun and steel rimmed glasses that looked as if they could cut you if you touched them. It wouldn´t have been too hard for her to disguise herself to be even more frightening.
»Mrs. Wiek had him cremated in Bremen. She and Emma fetched the urn by train. In the middle of the railroad car Mrs. Wiek produced the urn much to the horror of the other travellers and shook it heartily. Emma was embarrassed: 'What are you doing there, for heaven´s sake, Mrs. Wiek!' - 'Och, but he was wearing his golden cuff-links, and I can´t hear them!' Mrs. Wiek answered.« Ute and me chortled, and Günter, who must have heard that story about a thousand times, nodded assent and said »Yo« in the old man's accent.
»And what happened to Mrs. Wiek?« I asked.
»It's said she slipped and lost her balance when she cleaned the big window on the first floor of the hall. Do you remember? That big dark red window with a little sheep and the words 'Christ, thou art the lamb of god'? It appeared as if Mrs. Wiek had tipped her bucket of soapy water; in any event, she crashed through the window with a bloodcurdling scream. She was found with twisted limbs and a broken neck down in the hydrangeas, amidst a bed of red glass splinters. Years later the neighbours still spoke about her scream.«
»Oh my god« I said, shocked and amused at the same time. »And they could never prove anything?«
»Wait and see« Heidi said as she poured another round of hot tea. »The most difficult task was to get rid of Johann. Johnny might have been a deadbeat, but he was also a really tough guy who had fought many a good fight against Emma.« She put the teapot back on its warmer.
»Drinking was his weakness. Johnny always gave orgiastic parties in the big wooden pavilion and he invited all the trash he had just met at the Blue Parrot. Sailors, barmaids, all kinds of people. The pavilion had a brick foundation with a small lockable cellar where Johnny stored the liquor. From year to year Johnny´s antics became worse and worse. Neighbours complained that nude women leaped like Greek nymphs through the park, chased by drunk men with schnaps bottles. I mean, it was the early sixties, and Johnny was about seventy by then! But money can buy a lot.«
I stopped to wonder if I would throw an orgy if I could afford it, but Heidi went on.
»It was a hot summer night. A drunk snored under each tree and the women lay in ther dresses like white hankies on the lawn. Until the fire brigade arrived at the house. Somebody had locked Johnny up in the cellar. The dry timberwork burned like touchwood. The police came and questioned all those present, but the culprit could not be found. At first they arrested a drifter from Boitwarden who had a file as an arsonist, but they couldn´t find any motive for him to harm Johnny.«
»Did they question Emma as well?« Ute asked.
»Yes, but she and Martha, as you might remember, had rooms that faced the Weser. They stated that they slept through the party and hadn't noticed anything. Martha said that she would have been aware of Emma leaving the house because her bedroom was close to Emma's and she was a light sleeper. Martha, the poor soul, was known to do everything for Emma, and nobody would have believed her capable of committing a murder. They stopped the investigation some time afterwards, and Johnny's cruel death was blamed on his depraved personal lifestyle.«
We were silent, thoughtful.
»When did Emma die exactly?« I asked.
»Oh, ten years ago, shortly after Martha. They were somewhere in their nineties by then. The old crows spent another thirty years in that big box, all alone, and even though they were running out of Hinrich's money. If they had accepted a lodger in the house they could have managed with their small pension. But like I said, Emma just couldn´t share, and besides, no citizen of Brake wanted to move in after all those accidents. Maybe they weren´t able to prove anything against her, but a certain reputation never lost its grip on Emma, and they even said the house was haunted by the waxing moon.«
»But the house is occupied again, isn´t it?« A few days ago, when we were riding close to the dyke, I noticed that it had been newly renovated and the lights were on inside the house. »Who is living there now?«
»Oh, just some people from the Rhine and Ruhr area. Their heirs sold the villa to a company that divided it into holiday apartments.«
She stood up and asked us: »How about dinner? Hungry already?«
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