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The Days of Unleavened Bread, Chapter 7

Alfred was absent longer than usual that day, but somehow I wanted to be alone a little longer. In my thoughts I was still watching Aunt Maria leave with my "yes" to Boris, which might make it easier for him to bear what he was going through. I turned over the pages of a newspaper, the "Croatian Nation" of 4th January 1943. Certain headlines seemed to be repeated from issue to issue, all about victories at the front and clearing the woods of Communist bandits. Then I noticed an article about a ban on movement near railway lines. The regulations on movement near railway lines had been tightened. According to an order by the State Committee for the Safety of Railway Traffic, private persons were forbidden to approach within 300 metres of railway tracks.
.... All tall plants, bushes and trees growing alongside railway lines had been cut down, because the Partisans often attacked from such coppices. Many fine woods, even orchards and ornamental bushes had been cut down.
.... I stood by the window looking out into the night. The moonlight lay on the blanket of snow, and it looked like dawn although it was not yet midnight. I shuddered at the thought that the Russians might come.
.... I lay in bed with my eyes open. We would have to redecorate the room in the spring, it was getting rather shabby. What if the Russians came? Perhaps they would make a fire in the middle of the room. Then I was struck by a heartening thought: Boris! Perhaps he would get here before the Russians did. He was around here somewhere, in the woods nearby, all he had to do was come down the hill, knock on the door, and we would be saved. Then another thought struck me. What if Boris said, "You can have her, comrades, she fell in love with a Hun, you can do as you like with her."
.... Somewhere out there, far away, new things were happening, and gloomy forebodings could no longer be warded off. At night we could hear shots and bursts of machine-gun fire, punctuated by muffled explosions.
.... "These bandits from the woods are getting bolder and bolder," the Captain would comment.
.... "We'll clear it all up in the spring. Not one of them will be left behind," the Colonel would remark in a self-confident manner.
.... Early in the morning I noticed unusual movement among the soldiers. They were coming into the yard with buckets for water, the bonnets of the truck engines were raised, some soldiers were pouring water into the radiators, others were working on the engines with tools. The cold weather had let up a bit, and from time to time the sun broke through the clouds.
.... Around noon a breeze from the south started a thaw. The snowman by the ditch across the road leaned over to one side. His head was a little askew and the bit of coal in his left eye-socket had fallen out. The snowman resembled a casual passer-by watching what was going on out of the corner of the one eye he had left and with his head to one side. The pot on his head had slipped down to his eye, and an old broom stuck out at his side instead of an arm. His carrot nose had slipped down and was touching his upper lip. Half of his buttons were missing; bits of coal had fallen out and were lying in the snow beside him.
.... A small group of soldiers noticed the snowman. They aimed snowballs at him, and one hit him on the head. The pot fell off and his head tilted even more to the side, a little backwards, as if he had raised his head and wanted to see with his one eye who was bothering him. A snowball hit him on the nose, the carrot flew off and his head slipped down beside his body. All that was left of the snowman was a small heap of snow, and next to it a pot, a carrot, an old broom and a few pieces of coal.
.... I had been awake a long time. Perhaps it was already midnight. In the evening I had put the amber dog at the bottom of Alfred's bag with a message saying that I wanted him to keep it and asking him not to be angry.
.... I thought I heard quiet footsteps in the corridor. At that hour everyone in the house was usually asleep. I slipped out of bed and went to the door. The footsteps stopped in front of my room. I heard someone breathing on the other side of the door and then a soft whisper:
.... "Lisa, open the door!"
.... It was Alfred in his pyjamas. It was the first time I had seen him out of uniform, and he seemed to be a different person.
.... "Lisa, please, I only want to speak to you for a moment. We're leaving in the morning."
.... The event I had been afraid of for so long was at hand. My hands dropped to my sides. Alfred came in and closed the door.
.... We sat down on the bed. We gazed at each other in silence. Alfred ran his fingers through my hair, drew my head close to his, and I felt the touch of his lips. A thrill I had never felt before passed through my body and I started to tremble. He pressed my head to his shoulder, and I put my arms round him for the first time, holding him close.
.... "Alfred, please don't!"
.... He looked at me and then he got up, straightened his pyjamas and said in a low voice:
.... "I'm sorry, Lisa. Good night."
.... He started towards the door, and then he stopped and turned around, as if he wanted to see me once more. I burst into tears.
.... "Alfred, don't go, I'm scared."
.... "You mustn't cry. Crying causes wrinkles, and your eyes will lose their brightness. When the war ends, we'll go to my home. We'll build a beautiful new home..."
.... He sat down beside me. He talked about our future life together. He made a drawing of a half-timbered house with ornamental bricks, surrounded by bushes, pine trees and an avenue of chestnuts.
.... "I want you to have chestnut trees to look at, so you'll feel at home."
.... He laid the drawing on my bedside table, got up and made to leave.
.... "Come and let me look at you again, touch you again, at least one more time," I whispered.
.... He came back and sat down again. I will never forget the look in his eyes. There was a mysterious depth to his eyes, like the far-away bottom of a deep well in which one can glimpse a reflection from the surface of the water. I wanted to dive into those depths, to merge with that distant deep, to stay there forever, to be lost there.
.... He ran his fingers through my hair and caressed my face, neck and shoulders, as if he meant to imprint every shape of my body in his memory. I felt pleasantly giddy and faint. I closed my eyes and a warm, pleasant flutter passed through my body. I felt the touch of his body and his hand on my waist. He was covering my eyes and lips with kisses. I felt as if his kisses were leaving painful, bitter-sweet traces on my skin, burning me, yet awakening a desire for more sweet pain; I put my arms round him, drew his head to my neck, and pressed it close, thrusting my fingers into his hair, and then I felt suddenly faint. I felt his body, his hands holding me close, a sweet pain and that great cry a woman experiences, perhaps, only once in a lifetime. I wanted to vanish, I wanted him to vanish inside me, I wanted us to be one forever. Now we were one being, just the two of us, and everything else around us seemed to melt away... I felt bliss and peace, I looked at him and I smiled, and he wiped away my tears. I fell asleep in Alfred's arms.
.... When I awoke, I stretched out my hand, but Alfred was gone. On my beside table I saw the amber dog, with a message beside it:
.... "The dog whispered to me that he wanted to stay with you. I'll come back soon and then I'll never leave you again. I love you, Lisa, I love you very much! Your Alfred."
.... The last trucks were driving away underneath the chestnuts, and soon the street was deserted.

Next: Chapter 8