by R.A. Padmos
April 1945. The Russians are shelling what remains of the 9th army of the Wehrmacht. Obergefreiter Karl Meisner has survived five years of a war he didn’t want, but now it seems he won’t reach his 26th birthday. Taking on responsibility for one of the new young recruits gives Karl a reason to keep going – and soon their war is over, as they surrender to the Allies at Tangermünde. Eventually Karl is placed in a prison camp in England – and it’s there that his life unexpectedly blooms. For it’s there that Karl meets Nathaniel Cyfer – a sergeant in the British army and an expatriate German Jew.
19,000 words/ 78 pages
Publication 1 August 2017
The day he learned that his attraction to men might be a reason for the state to kill him, was when he met the mother of the ladies’ hair salon owner on his way home from his weekly Hitler Youth meeting. He was seventeen and there was no way he would have gone voluntarily. Why march while singing military songs, when he could swing dance at the house of a friend with his own gramophone player, a stack of jazz music and parents who were prepared to look the other way? He was the only one with a job, but the girls said he was cute and danced better than anyone, so he was welcome to join the pack. He didn’t care what the girls thought, but he wasn’t dumb enough to go to the boys and ask, “Wanna dance?”
Though he actually did do that when he and what remained of his platoon found themselves in a house without residents but with a working gramophone and a record of In the Mood, though the devil only knew how that particular record had turned up in a house in Russia in 1941.
They were just a bunch of guys who had found a couple of bottles of home-stoked vodka. At that moment, he loved them with the half-drunk sentimentality of those who had gone through hell and come out the other side if not truly alive, then at least not dead. Soon enough replacements would be sent in, and they wouldn’t care about the new ones until they survived long enough, and this pattern would repeat itself until they were either dead or wounded themselves or the war had ended. Forget the last one: the war would never end.
Perhaps it was because of his old friends back in Hamburg – doubtless all officers now, who might, unconsciously, whistle an old jazz tune – that he put the record on the player and asked, “Anyone remember how to swing?”
No, they didn’t fuck or even kiss in the quiet coolness of the night, he and his comrade-in-arms, but for a moment he celebrated that he was still a human being. Albeit perhaps a bit too careful human being. They had stared into the abyss, and a handful of men even lived to tell about it. So if one of them stumbled upon a mate who had a bit of a grope with a fellow man, why would he tell? But then, one overzealous fucker would be enough to transfer Karl and his fellow man to the nearest punishment detail.
The mother of the ladies’ hairdresser nodded at him, so much grief in her eyes that even a seventeen-year-old boy had to see it. She smiled at him, and said hello, so he said hello back.
She held a small box in her hand, wrapped in brown paper. “I just collected my son from the post office.”
He didn’t understand. He hadn’t seen her son in quite a while and the shop was now run by a sweet-faced young woman. He was a strange man, the ladies’ hairdresser. Obviously a man, and yet not quite. Other boys called him names that were so ugly Karl’s mother forbade her son or husband to ever utter them in her house. He was a strange effeminate creature who looked at men with a longing …
Karl could not be like that man. He could not.
The mother of the ladies’ hairdresser tapped her finger on the box wrapped in plain brown paper. “I’m taking him home.”
Karl told himself he didn’t understand, though he knew that to be a lie.
“You take good care, boy. Love can be a dangerous thing.”