Joanna McKethan

Chapter 2

 Enzian Fights Back

“The castled crag of Drachenfels

Frowns over the wide and winding

Rhine,” Stanza 55, Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,

                                    Canto III, Stanza 21

“What did the card look like?” Frau von Ost, the matriarch of the family, asked at the dinner table.

“Mutti,” Jon protested.

“It’s all right, Jon,” I said. “Frau von Ost, it was just a white card with magazine letters cut out to give the message to me to leave, or else I’d die.” I mimicked a shudder.

Sabine, Jon’s beautiful dark-haired daughter cried out, “That’s horrible, Lexi.”

Georg, Jon’s older brother, and Natascha agreed.

“Do we have a crazy person renting a room at the hotel?” Martin, Jon’s oldest son, asked.

Everyone then chattered about strange inhabitants they had seen.

“Did the man from the limousine leave it?” Georg asked, creating a silent gap.

“Georg!” Jon cried out. “Now you’ve done it!”

“Done what?” he asked. “You want them to find this dangerous person before harm comes to Alexandra, don’t you?”

“Of course, I do. This was some official who came to ask for papers from my father,” he said. How he thinks I held onto them in an exodus is hard to fathom. He’s too high placed to stoop to an anonymous card.”

Of course everyone demanded a detailed account of the limo.

“I saw him exiting the limo from my window upstairs,” I told them. “And you’re right, Jon, an anonymous card is far too tame for a man of his sort.”

“Did you get the license number, Lexi?” Martin asked me.

“Why, no, I don’t believe I did. I remembered the black limousine, the chauffeur walking to the back of the car where I saw the man climb out. I might have caught a glimpse of it then. Did I? I was so afraid. “I looked a second time at the chauffeur; I might have seen it then.” Willing the plate to view brought up a blank. “No, I can’t remember seeing it.”

“That’s too bad,” Sabine said. “We will all have to watch out for you without any help from the authorities.”

“Yes, we must take this seriously. Think how we can join forces to protect Lexi,” Jon said, as supper ended.

Jon and I took our evening walk into the village. We talked about the two threats of the day. Jon was quite animated about the threat to me, but he skirted the thin man issue and added no details about the papers he’d wanted. Jon’s magic weakened my resolve to push and obscured for me the seriousness of a death threat.

On the way back, I saw Enzian in profile. Fond memories surfaced of my first visit. I had come with my former husband Mark, estranged to the breaking point, on his Trade Commission retreat. I remembered what an impact this spectacular grey stone presence, strung out along a high ledge, had made on me.

“Do you remember welcoming me to Enzian the first time, Jon?” I asked him.

“Oh yes. You came in with a big sculpture to work on.” He looked at me adoringly.

“I poked around admiring everything. And when Mark left with Gisela and the Trade Commission to ski, you picked my favorite work of Mendelssohn’s to play for dinner.” I touched my head to his shoulder.

“I remember that, too,” he said simply.

“I felt at home immediately.”

“That was the night you admired the Rilke book of poetry I gave you later.”

“Yes. Why don’t you read me a poem from it, tonight?”  I squeezed his hand.

“I might,” he said, giving me a kiss on my forehead. “I’m glad the government returned Enzian to our family. I love it.”

“Yes, but I’m not sure I fully understand how you got it. I know the von Osts are Volksdeutsche, ethnic German on your father’s side.”

“They settled in land belonging to Czechoslovakia. Their exodus back into Germany followed World War II less than forty years ago.”

“Yes, I’m beginning to get a feel for it. European history is complicated.”

“That’s right. Well, the Bundesrepublik made us pay the owners something. It was good we had diamonds to purchase Enzian, plus an additional fifteen hectares.”

“Jon, are we all right? I mean, we aren’t in danger of losing Enzian, are we?”

“Of course not,” he said, turning me around toward him. “I won’t let that happen.”

His confidence always reassured me. We nibbled at each other on the doorsteps. I responded passionately, while Jon braked his response. Why the damper, I wondered?  Is the workday not over yet? I sighed as we re-entered our massive, darkly romantic castle.

A white card lay showcased on the elaborate banquet table in the waning red light. That snapped my mood.

“Looks like the evil thing the police took,” I said, pointing.

“Try not to worry about it tonight,” he whispered. “Wait here.”

He left me standing, and then returned from his study with a Lady Beretta. He handed me the pistol and ordered me to keep it on my person at all times.

“I don’t like guns, Jon.”

“No, but they can protect you. Keep it.” He looked serious. “I’ll find you a firearms course to take, so you will feel confident about it.”

“All right,” I said, feeling incapable of keeping the promise I made, and wondering already if I would ever need to use it.

He pointed to a stool. “Sit here under Mother’s treasured icon.”

“If you wish, Jon,” I released my mood to his care. I compared the metallic shine of the gold gilt surrounding the woman’s head in the painting to the metallic shine of the pistol in my lap, doubting somehow one led to the other.

“Try to forget for now, Lexi, and relax. I will bring us a wine, and play Mendelssohn again like we did three years ago.”

“You’re so bossy,” I said, loving every second of it.

While he shuffled and clinked, I dreamed about our future. I heard the lilting violin strings play, romantic strings bringing a thrill of hope.

He brought in wineglasses of Riesling. “Now we continue our reminiscences,” he said, folding a humongous hand over mine.

My heart turned over. And I had thought myself trapped. “You kissed me so long at our wedding that everybody laughed.”

“I couldn’t help myself. Do you still have all the pretty leaves I brought you in Kiev?”

“I do, Jon. Oh—I wonder what happened to the poem you wrote me, the one you let me see, accidentally.” I teased him, looking up into his eyes. “It’s mine, you know. Give it here.”

“I have it somewhere.” He looked at me sheepishly.

“Well, I remember it by heart,” I said, “so I will quote it back to you:

“‘My love returns to me once again

from over the cornfields

the sun descends in crimson retreat

in the evening sky.’”

“Did I write that?”

“I couldn’t respond to it, you know. You played it safe, didn’t you, Mr. von Ost?” I pulled on his hand.

He caught my hands in his. “A man must guard his heart,” he said, grinning, pulling them up near his chest.

A shadow passed over my heart. “Jon, some people tell me Enzian is haunted. Sometimes I sense someone looking at me. Tell me what you think.”

“Some claim to see Princess Ingrid. She cheated on her husband and was banished from the castle forever.”

“That’s weird. I wonder if she was ever seen after that. Maybe she was murdered. That would explain her lingering.”

“I’ve wondered, of course.”

“Strange, your history coincides with Enzian’s history…,” I said, referring to his former wife, Renate, alluding to her having cheated on him.

“Yes. It is strange. Listen to me—I want you happy, Alexandra. Whatever makes you happy is what I want for you.” He frowned. We mounted the steps together to our apartment on the third floor. That night, our usual easy repartee turned shaky, and I slept poorly. When I awoke, Jon was already hard at work.

Locked in his study, I did not see him during my frequent returns up and down the stairs retrieving coffee, keeping my sculpting work creative, trying to act like everything was normal. Inside, I was a raging mess, angry I had let valid anxieties and questions be derailed by my husband’s soft seductions.

Alone again, figuring it out by myself, I paused with my coffee in front of the massive painting of Enzian over the buffet in the dining room, where I had eavesdropped on Jon.

Curious, how a castle this huge could trap and cramp you. My marriage was not a prison; for I loved Jon too deeply—but my situation clamped me down. Jon’s extended family lived here, and I was a castle add-on.

Our honeymoon castle takes its name from the blue flowers that fill the hills. Enzian is not to blame.  With my fingers, I traced her lines just over the surface of the beautiful oil painting. Secure like a fortress on a rock, she has loomed over Allmannshausen since the tenth century. Each day she emerges new again in grey and gold stone atop a country road snaking upwards; each evening she recedes, spire by spire, under the high ledge.

The artist had done an amazing job painting the multiple turrets pointed upward, and the craggy rocks that jutted outward to the valley below. With a broken surround wall, she wedged into rock as though one petrified tree grew up and into the hill’s pinnacle.

My finger lightly followed over the castle’s towers to the profile of her outside wall, executed in painterly texture. First I traced first the broken wall that extended left and then the one to the right of the tower entrance into the residence. A leap away I tapped the new spa, which ran along the triangle’s first leg. Evergreen hedges, sinister as fanged wolverines in the waning light, flanked beech trees along a second wall. An army of firs guarded the third perimeter. Invisible guard rails fortified these sides stolidly, sides designed triangular as a defensive battlement strategy, I had been told by Georg, the history buff. The artist had painted this just for my dark mood.

“You have changed,” I said to Enzian, jerking my finger away as if my horror had materialized.

Protective walls had not blocked out the thin man in the black suit, from whom I was sure there was more to come. They hadn’t barricaded out the malignant letter or the one who delivered it. Walls had failed miserably in keeping murderers out.

Prison walls, the thought came again. Jon monitored my every move. Just because his last wife had cheated on him didn’t mean I would. His overprotective nature suffocated me. I needed protecting after the threatening letter (my God, Jon had not written that, had he, just to keep me close? I stilled my unquiet thoughts, reassuring myself that, no, Jon would not do that). But Jon was not the man I married. Every day he voiced his whims more audibly, whims like bars of steel set in old, decaying stone.

He had given me a store’s worth of sculpting and art supplies so I wouldn’t need to “waste time shopping.” However, creating sculptures was not variation enough for a woman who loved adventure as much as I did. Jon couldn’t buy a convalescence I didn’t need.

I wandered around over the whole castle, it seemed, never finding rest. Why did you have to tell me ‘whatever makes me happy,’ Jon. Why. Why. Why did it reach to the very core of my soul and show me my sorrow? Why did it tell me what I was missing? Why couldn’t I tell you I missed you? That I love you, that every moment I lived and breathed I thought about you, that ever since the first time I saw your face you were imprinted on my soul in such a primitive fashion I could never pull you out again if I wanted to.

That I could never, ever, be the same again. I longed for you to talk to me in the old intimate way. I needed you to pursue me like a lover does. I wished once you knew you had me to yourself, you would continue to tell me sweet nothings, speak terms of endearment I longed so much to hear.

I left to go upstairs and sculpt another hour before returning for a lunch beginning with liver dumpling soup, culminating in cold pickled herring with onions and apples mixed in sour cream and served with Salzkartoffeln—hearty potatoes cooked in salt—they smelled earthy.

Return, my peace, my love. Let each day be a sacrament.

After I worked a hard hour, I returned. Several of us ate quietly at the table. I picked up the newspaper beside the table and browsed through it while I ate my lunch, my soul lonelier than Adam’s before Eve was pulled from his ribs.

Happy, whatever that was, was an elusive ghost, like the ghost Ingrid who lived in Enzian, driving women to unfaithfulness. God…had I said that? I flipped to the section on international news and my eye fixed on a picture.

“I know her!” I exclaimed at the picture of Frau von Rosen, the Baroness who had befriended me, the outcast American, at a parade where she was guest speaker. She had also been in the group where I first met Jon at the NC Trade Commission Ball. Oh, yes, she had heard Mark dump me on Herr von Ost to accompany him for the evening. Why, she had heard Jon comment on my beautiful antique necklace.

She had heard my jerk of a first husband, Mark, say, “used” would better describe the antiques. She had witnessed Jon’s response to Mark. “Well, then, you have misjudged the beauty and the value, my friend,” where he won my loyalty forever. I knew Mark had meant me as well as the antiques, and I knew Jon had slapped him verbally for me. She probably knew the very moment I fell in love with Jon.

I read the cutline under the picture which heralded her and her husband, a government official, for having exposed a Nazi returnee to an industry job. That was unusual. I studied the picture and was sure the black limousine in the background was the one I had seen at our castle. Of course, they all look alike, but still. It was worth a trip to see her. As gauche as it probably was, I was not only going to visit her, I was going to drop in on her.

Oh, lovely, lovely, Schloss Enzian! You have offered a thread of hope out of darkness, and you have proven you are my friend.
Read: Chapter 3

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Chapter 2

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Joanna

Chapter 2 December 7, 2013


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