She snuggled against me, and it occurred to me that although she had been with Sinbad for almost a year I knew comparatively little about her and it had never seriously occurred to me to find out more, or to her to tell me. It was the general atmosphere of the coast, of taking things easy, living in the present and giving little thought to the future and less to the past. I knew that Maria had been a typist or a secretary in Germany, that she had come for a vacation and the place had got hold of her as it did of so many others, and she stayed. I met her, already a fully-formed member of that beach tribe, in a motel in Nueiba, where we anchored and went ashore for a decent meal because we did not have a proper cook on board then. A few hours later, when the restaurant closed, Maria and I went for a walk on the beach, sat down in the sand, talked, smoked, and finally made love, with the small waves lapping almost at our feet, and went for a swim in the nude afterwards, with a full moon, like tonight's, shining overhead. (I did not offer her the job until a few days later, on our way back from Sharm-el-Sheikh.)
"How is your mother, Maria?"
"She is all right," she said. "Having some trouble with her back, but her husband is a nice man and a great help."
"Your own father was killed in the last days of the war, on the outskirts of Berlin, wasn't he?"
She hesitated a little.
"N ... no, there's a good chance he survived the war."
"But I thought you said ... "
"That was my mother's first husband, and he hadn't been home on leave for a whole year before he was killed. I was born a year after that and my real father ... Cobi, you won't tell anyone, will you?"
"Of course not; I promise."
"You see, my real father was a Russian soldier, one of three or four possible candidates, although mother says I resemble the one called Sergyey, a tall blond man, no longer young, who had a family in Russia. Their unit
moved on after a while and she never saw him or heard from him again." >P< "Was she raped?"
"Maybe a few times in the first days when the Russians came but not afterwards I think, not at the time she got pregnant. Look, Cobi, from what I've heard you should not think too badly of my mother or other German women, or maybe even of the Russian soldiers, in those days. I got rather interested in those things as I grew up, and we had long frank talks with mother, late at night, in our kitchen, over cups of coffee. Those were rather strange and different times. It seems that towards the end of the war a lot of German women were sex- starved because so many men were away at war or killed. Then the approaching front and the bombing and the shelling made the craving even worse; danger is supposed to have that effect on people, something like live today for tomorrow you may be dead, sort of aphrodisiac, and it certainly seemed to have that effect on the Russian soldiers fighting their way across Germany, with some hate and vengeance thrown in. My mother tells some horrible stories of the first days after the Russians took the town where she lived then, but afterwards things calmed down, and it seems that a lot of women were quite willing. It's not only that all of a sudden there were a lot of men to do it with; there was also hunger and a woman could be had for a slice of bread, a piece of chocolate, or a couple of cigarettes. What sticks in my mother's memory is a fourteen- year-old girl next door - but mother says she was well developed and could be taken for sixteen or seventeen - in the back garden of their house the day the Russians took the town. A patrol came along and the girl came out of the house and asked them for some bread; she'd had nothing to eat for the past three days while the town was being shelled and the people sat in the cellars. One of the soldiers gave her a slice of bread; she started eating it on the spot, and the soldier turned her around, bent her down from the waist, pulled up her skirt, let down her pants, unbuttoned his trousers and took her from behind without any resistance; she just kept eating the bread while the soldier fucked away with his rucksack on his back and his submachinegun across his chest. There was some blood, either because the girl was a virgin or had her period or both. The two other soldiers stood by watching and laughing and saying "Smotri, Vanka ghermanku yebyot" - "Look, Vanka is fucking a German girl"; my mother learned a little Russian afterwards and understood what she'd heard. But afterwards things were not done so much in the open and by force. Mother says a woman would sometimes come home in those days and tell a friend, or sometimes even her mother, not necessarily with resignation, sometimes even with a sort of pride: "Noch drei Mahl gef´ckt" ("Been fucked three more times"). Mother says that this Sergyey once explained to her - if she understood correctly - that Stalin was looking through his fingers at what his soldiers were doing in Germany because if you caught and hanged a few top Nazis, even Hitler himself, it would be soon forgotten; but if fifty years on a lot of German grandmothers would keep telling their grandchildren how the Russians had raped them and shot their grandfathers after the Germans attacked Russia, then, when those grandchildren grew up, they would think twice before attacking Russia again; a sort of long-term insurance policy."
"What were those terrible things your mother mentioned, apart from the rapes?"
"Oh, some men shot in front of their families in the first days, on suspicion of being Nazis or just like that. And also... tell me, are there any explosives in the form of small round sticks, about the size of a candle?"
"Yes, there are."
"And are there also fuzes, like a string, which you can cut to a length to give a delay of a few seconds before the stick explodes?"
"Of course; it's an old standard thing."
"My mother says that the day after they took the town they found a store of schnapps on the top floor of some tall house which had survived the shelling and they got drunk and brought some local women up there, and afterwards they started putting those sticks of explosives up their vaginas with the fuze set so that the woman would explode half way down after they shoved her out of the window. The first fuze was too long and the woman hit the pavement first. The next one and the one after that exploded in mid-air, but with the fourth one either the fuze was too short or she struggled at the window, and the explosion killed both her and the soldier who was pushing her out. By then the Russian military police arrived and put a stop to it."
Maria was telling me all this in a quiet level voice, as if remembering things from a book she had read once, long ago, and having difficulty recalling certain details or believing them.
"I don't know what to make of it," she said tiredly. "Those seem to have been different times, and they must have left a lot of people a bit crazy, or perhaps they had been crazy before and that's why it all happened, and God knows whether they aren't just as crazy today only you don't notice it much until it happens all over again. In the meantime it's nice to be here with you like this, Cobi".
I kissed her on the eyes, and she snuggled up to me and a few minutes later was asleep, breathing evenly, with her face relaxed and peaceful like that of a little child. Was this, I wondered, something she inherited from her soldier father - I discovered, during my own army service, that I also had it - the ability to fall asleep like this, almost instantly, whenever the opportunity presented itself; although on this occasion Maria did have behind her a long day and a long evening, followed by half a night of lovemaking, so that the gift was not particularly needed.
* * *
And all these; the white boat anchored under a tropical moon, a flying fish taking off and dimpling the water, and a lovely naked girl asleep in my arms in the captain's cabin were my adolescent dreams come true, with the modifications all adolescent dreams have to undergo before they come true. The boat I was to be the owner and captain of had originally been a sailing schooner; its roving grounds, the South Sea islands; and the girls mostly chocolate-coloured and bare-breasted, wearing a grass skirt which would fall to the deck at the right moment; although from time to time there would also be a suntanned white girl, owner and captain of a similar schooner of her own, who I would run across in a secluded lagoon. I myself wore crumpled slacks, a striped T-shirt of the type Yankele wore tonight, a sea-captain's cap with an anchor above the visor, and a revolver on my belt. The schooner itself could have been the reward of a few year's hard work on other schooners under other captains, saving the money and gaining the experience, but preferably the fruit of a single night's poker game in a port tavern, the boat coming complete with a girl like Ava Gardner under a mosquito net in the skipper's cabin. In the dream, the past was unimportant and the rest of the world very far away. There were no seedy intelligence officers nor slightly crazy Nazi hunters, and no memories of wars, concentration camps, and rape, linking the boat to the shore and slowing and weighing her down, like the green byssus threads anchoring an oyster to a rock, barnacles on the hull, or ballast in the hold.
©1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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