Mr Eberstark – Part 2

img_20161212_143917141

When he heard her key turn in the lock the following morning, he was waiting in the lounge.

‘Only me Mr Eberstark, I’ll put your spray in the cupboard after I’ve wiped it.’

‘Don’t forget to rinse the change under the tap before you put it back in the bag,’

‘I won’t – I’ve been doing this long enough now to know the routine.’

Marion wiped down the spotless units and kitchen equipment. He liked to hear the cloth as she wrung it out in the sink – the heavy thud of the water as it touched the stainless steel. He enjoyed inhaling the smell of cleanliness – drinking in the sterilized air – it made him feel cleansed.  

‘I’ve been meaning to ask you, how long it is that you’ve been living here in England now, I’ve been in the village for the past thirty years and I know you’ve been here longer than me.’

He didn’t answer.

‘Can you hear me Erik? I said, when did you move here?’

‘I told you before, 1945.’ His voice was clipped.

‘Why was that then?’

He could tell she’d stopped working because the plastic covers on her shoes were no longer rustling on the Lino.

‘I’d rather not speak of it – it was a very difficult time.’

‘Didn’t you escape with a group of Jewish refugees?’

Erik could feel the collar on his shirt tighten – he loosened his tie.

Marion sprayed more bleach on the work surface. ‘But surely, when the war was over you had no need to leave.’

So many questions.

She popped her head around the door. ‘I said, surely after the war, you could have stayed – in Germany I mean.’

‘It wasn’t safe for me – for any of us – besides, there were too many painful memories – anyway haven’t you got work to do?’ Erik slowly pulled himself up from his chair and shuffled past her, forgetting to swap over his slippers.

‘I’m just interested love – have you never talked about it to anyone? How about the cleaners you had before me?’

He winced as an image seeped into his consciousness – he tried to shake it from his mind. The blood – it had taken him days to remove it all.’

‘I don’t mean to pry – just curious, that’s all.’

Erik knew there had been questions about him circulating the village from time to time -experience had told him to keep his head down and wait for them to pass.

‘It just makes you think, though doesn’t it? I expect it’s all that refugee stuff in Hungary that’s on the news – weren’t you in Hungary for a time?’

Ebersark felt a tightening in his gut – he opened his top button. ‘I think I need to go for my walk in the garden now.’ He tried to side-step her as she leaned against the door frame.

‘Our Jack said the Germans were luring the poor devils in to Germany to do away with them all – like they did during the war. Welcoming them into secure housing areas – offering them work and “special shower facilities”, if you know what I mean.’

Erik’s chest tightened. A wave of heavy disappointment washed over him and he flinched at the aching pain which seared down his arm. The doors opened to a box of emotions and the litter spilt and merged, until confusion blurred his vision.

He’d thought Marion was different from the others – passing pleasantries, but not wanting to pry. He felt cheated – she’d led him to believe she wasn’t like the rest.

Putting on his coat and scarf, he grabbed his stick from the umbrella stand, to steady himself and carefully stepped out through the back door.

When he was sure that Marion had gone upstairs, he opened the lock to his shed and took a cloth covered object from the drawer. It was just where he’d left it – his father had given it to him in 1939, just before he had been taken away. Lifting it to his nose he inhaled the linseed oil used to polish the wooden handle, and tilted the axe-blade until the sunlight refracted a beam onto the shed door.

It had felt daring, smuggling it into England, and yet concealing it had been easy. No one had questioned him. Stories of the plight of the Jews had filtered into the homes of every family, meaning the passage through the document stations had been simple and remarkably unscrutinised.

Sliding his coat from his shoulders, he took a long breath, before removing his shirt, tie and trousers; folding them carefully, he placed them onto a wooden chair. Reaching to the top shelf of a storage unit, he pulled down a large parcel wrapped with brown paper and tied with string.

Carefully opening the package, he removed its contents – a matching shirt and trousers made of course material. He ran his fingers over the embedded stains and holes; stroking them like they were made of the finest silk; tracing his thumb along the defined blue and grey stripes.

The feel of the fabric made him retch momentarily as it scratched against his chest, just as it had when he removed it from the wretched old man who had pleaded for his help, and with eyes tightly closed he fastened each familiar button and knotted the frayed cord on the trousers.

With the axe nested in the crook of his arm, he walked barefoot back into his kitchen – the smell of bleach burning his nostrils – he took a moment to enjoy its’ scent. 

Heavy footsteps on aging wood and the gentle hum of her singing from the bathroom above, located where she was. She would be on her knees, bending over the bath – her back turned away from the door. One swift blow to the back of the head would be all that was needed.

Lifting the wooden handle high, with an adrenalin filled strength of a much younger man, he swung the axe down. The crack of bone sliced through the sound of running water, as the tap filled the bath – her blood, like a crimson waterfall, diluting in the clear liquid.

 

 

Part One of Mr Eberstark…

15451166_10154859273526979_1518935592_n

Doing this writing lark for a little while now, I have been reworking a few of my earlier stories. Here is Part One of a piece called :

Mr Eberstark                                               

‘I’m not sure Thanatophobia can be classed as a real phobia. I mean everyone fears death don’t they?’ Marion wiped down the work surface with a cloth.

Mr Eberstark glanced up from his newspaper, ‘Do they? I’m not sure that’s true.’

What did the doctor say?’

‘She said she was referring me for counselling.’

‘At your age? Seems a bit daft – but I’m sure she knows what she’s doing. You’re bound to think about it more though aren’t you. How old are you again Mr Eberstark?’

‘I’m ninety-one Marion.’ He straightened his tie and brushed a stray hair away from his forehead, ‘have you done behind the breadbin? You always forget to do there – that’s where they breed you know – it’s the heat from the washing machine.’

‘Four times this morning Erik, just as you told me.’

The knuckles on Marion’s hands were raw and cherry coloured. Erik watched her as she scratched them.

‘This is very strong bleach, it would really help if I could wear those gloves.’

‘No! You can’t. I’m allergic to the latex,’ he said.

‘But you don’t have to touch it. You could go in the other room.’

‘Everything will be contaminated Marion, I don’t know how you can even ask me.’

‘Well that’s me done Mr Eberstark. I’ll pick up some more antibacterial spray on my way in tomorrow. Shall I take some money out of the bag?’

‘Don’t forget to use the spoon,’ Erik said, stepping out of his kitchen slippers, into the pair he wore in the hallway.

‘Daft old Bugger,’ Marion said under her breath as he left the room.

She carefully unsealed the zip top of the money bag and flicked out two pound coins from the plastic, with the spoon. One rolled onto the work surface and she had to rescue it before he heard – she couldn’t face wiping it down again.

‘I’ve taken two pounds – I’ll bring your change round tomorrow.’

She wasn’t sure if he’d heard, she was just glad to be out of there.

As she closed the gate of number 53, a figure came up behind her.

‘Bloody hell Maureen, you nearly gave me a heart attack.’

‘What are you scratching at?’

‘It’s that silly old fool inside. I don’t know how many times I’ve scrubbed that bloody kitchen and bathroom and it’s spotless. I’ll be doing it again tomorrow – mind you, if he’s daft enough to keep paying me -you’d think at his age he would have passed caring.’

‘That’s Germans for you. Everything in its place, ship shape and Bristol fashion.’

‘OCD more like. You know he even changes his slippers when he goes from one room to the other. I mean, who else do you know who has a different pair of slippers for each room? The man’s obsessed.’

Maureen looked over her shoulder to make sure no one else was nearby. ‘You know why he’s like that don’t you?’

Marion fastened the buttons on her coat. ‘I’ve told you, he has OCD. That and he’s a bloody hypochondriac.’

‘No I mean why he’s so obsessed with cleanliness.’

Marion had her own ideas about this, but was always keen on a bit of village gossip. ‘Go on I’m all ears.’

‘Well I heard Old Joe Rogers from the Bird in Hand, saying that he used to work in one of those concentration camps during the war. In Hungary I think. Joe reckons he was one of the guards and that all the filth and crap and stuff, sent him a bit doolally.’

‘Nah that can’t be. They rounded them all up after the war. Most of them would be dead by now anyway.’

‘Not Erik. Joe said he claimed asylum by saying he was Jewish and he had some forged papers or something, which managed to help him get to England. I don’t know how true it is mind you.’

Inside number 53, Erik had changed into his lounge slippers and was sitting on his plastic covered sofa. His head felt heavy and he could feel it slumping back, so he arched his body forward so that his hair didn’t touch the back rest.

Sometimes, his back hurt and he imagined what it would be like to let himself lean backwards, but he knew if he did there would be consequences. There were always consequences. So he forced himself back upright whilst he listened to the evening news.

A news report from Hungary, showed hundreds of migrants trying to board trains to Germany – cramped bodies fighting each other to secure a space. Young men climbing over children and babies- old people needing help to board the trains.

He’d witnessed this before. He switched off his TV set and went to bed.

Erik often struggled with sleep. He was able to compartmentalise negative thoughts throughout the day, by keeping himself busy, but the nights had always been a challenge for him. He would often play through scenes from his past, straining his memory to recollect the conversations. His words. Their words. He needed to understand them.

More recent events were always overshadowed by those of his distant past – a past which both haunted and excited him in equal measure. Sometimes he merged the fantasy and fact, distorting the truth to suit his mood.

A Proper Black Country Christmas

thoxb9s08x

Every year he did it, Grandad, he stood up from the armchair in a cloud of Condor Ready-Rubbed tobacco smoke and saluted as our queen gave us her wise words for the year.

The Gorbachev red stain on his head, where the cheap red paper hat had soaked up his head sweat, just added to the occasion.

‘Sit down you daft bugger,’ my dad would shout, cracking nuts onto his BHS jumper, and supping on his Bank’s mild.

But it was as much a tradition, as turkey and pickled cabbage sandwiches and the Radio Times.

The front room was always an explosion of sound, with the telly blaring out – even when no one was watching it. To be honest, it was hard to watch Christmas TV at all, with six adults and three children squashed onto a three piece suite, two deck chairs and mum’s padded ottoman from the bedroom.

My friends used to say, your family are like the ‘Waltons’ all sitting round for meals and chatting away to each other. I never saw it like that though. I used to find the whole thing stressful. Frightened to get up from the table in case someone ‘nicked your seat or worst still your roast potatoes – and my nan always saw it as an opportunity to ask awkward questions about boys and try to embarrass me.

Christmas day, like every other day was like open house. Throughout the year everyone who walked through our front door left with a belly full of toasted cheese or a bacon sandwich and Christmas was no different. Dad’s friends would pop in for a drink when they’d had enough of their own families and nine times out of ten an impromptu jamming session would take place, usually accompanied by Grandad on the spoons, after a little too much Advocaat.

I’d be wedged into a corner with my sister, trying to stop the dog eating the counters from the Connect Four, whilst mum dished out endless plates of sausage rolls and Cadbury’s Christmas collection biscuits.

After a few too many sherries my nan would start her Marion Harris set and start belting out songs from the 30’s, tying the curtain ties around her head and using the draft excluder as a boa, whilst my brother videoed it all on a huge recorder designed for the shoulders of Jeff Cape, not those of a pubescent teenager with a hand as steady as a loose rivet.

I used to dream of the family Christmases, you saw on the Marks and Spencer adverts. Twinkly lights and a dining table with matching chairs, tasteful decorations and the gentle hum of Nat King Cole singing about his chestnuts in the background. That and the after dinner get together when families had eaten just enough to allow them to play party games – instead of my open zipped slouched family who’d overindulged to the point of ‘Gaviscon’ and would only consider games which involved sitting down.

At eight o’clock we would all congregate to watch Morecambe and Wise or the Two Ronnie’s Christmas specials and mum would bring round more food and we would all laugh so much. I’m not sure I got all the jokes and sketches, but I just joined in with the raucous laughing because I gained great warmth from being part of it.

In my early twenties, I had a few Marks and Spencer Christmases and took photos of the beautifully decorated Christmas table for two and the tasteful and lavish staircase in the hall way with its handmade garland weaving through the wrought iron balustrades.

I’m glad I photographed these Christmases, because my memory of them is poor. I can’t remember the food which is so beautifully laid out on the plate, or the smell of the Christmas cake sitting on the ornate and expensive Wedgewood cake stand, nor can I recall the sound of laughter as we watched the afternoon Christmas TV.

Those Christmases, which were filled with expense and tastefulness, turned out to be the very kind I disliked most of all.

So this year, I will be wiping down the garden chairs from the shed, buying new batteries for the Karaoke mike and purchasing a large box of Cadbury Christmas biscuits from Asda. I will be wearing a dress with an elasticated waistline and if I’ve had enough sherry, may embarrass my own children by playing a version of ‘Santa baby’ on the saxophone, with my husband accompanying me on tin whistle. But one thing is for sure, I will be making the kind of Christmas, I want my children to remember.