Reading Claudius

A Memoir in Two Parts

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A stunning elegy to a vanished time, Caroline Heller’s memoir traces the lives of her parents, her uncle, and their circle of intellectuals and dreamers from Central Europe on the eve of World War II to present-day America.
 
In this unforgettable dual memoir of her parents’ lives and her own, Caroline Heller brings to life the lost world of European café culture, and reminds us of the sustaining power of literature in the most challenging of times.
 
Heller vividly evokes prewar Prague, where her parents lived, loved, and studied. Her mother, Liese Florsheim, was a young German refugee initially drawn to Erich Heller, a bright but detached intellectual, rather than to his brother, Paul. As Hitler’s power spreads and World War II becomes inevitable, their world is destroyed and they must flee the country and continent. Paul, who will eventually become the author’s father, is trapped and sent to Buchenwald, where he survives under hellish conditions.
 
Though Paul’s life nearly ends in Europe, he reunites with Liese in the United States, where they marry. Their daughter Caroline, restless and insecure, carries the trauma of her parents’ story with her, but her quest to make peace with her heritage is eased by her love of books and writers, part of her family legacy. Through the darkest years of Hitler’s rule, Caroline’s parents and uncle had turned time and time again to literature to help them survive—and so she does as well.
 
Written with sensitivity and grace, Reading Claudius is a profound meditation on the ways we strive to solve the mysteries of our pasts, and a window into understanding the ones we love.
 
Praise for Reading Claudius
 
“This fine book contains moments of emotion so pure that in the end, we too fall in love with the writer’s past.”The New York Times Book Review

“Heller plunges us lovingly and convincingly into [a] lost world.”The Boston Globe

“Caroline Heller writes with both honesty and delicacy. I was particularly enthralled by her finely drawn portrait of prewar Central Europe: a lost world whose memories are inestimably valuable and fiercely beautiful but which, without accounts like this, would fade forever.”—Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
 
Reading Claudius is much more than a work of riveting personal history. It is a feat of passionate, radical integrity. Caroline Heller has wedded the greatest level of care in her scholarship to an even deeper form of search: that in which imagination becomes not only an act of love but an instrument of truth.”—Leah Hager Cohen, author of No Book but the World and The Grief of Others
 
“A deeply felt and deeply thought memoir, it manages to unearth a whole lost world with aching tenderness and regret.”—Phillip Lopate, author of Portrait Inside My Head


From the Hardcover edition.

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Reading Claudius

CHAPTER ONE

0-0

Arrival in Prague

Summer 1933

Liese Florsheim was nineteen years old when she first met the Heller brothers on the shores of the Alaunsee, a lake nestled among the wooded hills of the Czechoslovakian countryside. It was late June 1933, just weeks after Liese had arrived in Prague alone. She spoke not a single word of Czech and knew no one in the country, yet her parents believed that Czechoslovakia, known throughout Europe for its benevolence toward refugees, was the best place for her until life in Germany returned to normal.

She entered the city alongside thousands of Jews fleeing Hitler in Germany and moved into the Msec Castle, a fortresslike building being used as temporary housing for refugees. Soon she found a student room in an old stone building in Prague’s Staré Mesto (the Old City). Across the hall lived a second-­year medical student, Franta Kraus, whose fluent German made him a perfect guide to the city and to nearby Charles University, where she planned to enroll as a medical student that fall. A friend of the Hellers’ since childhood, Franta invited Liese to join him and his girlfriend, Eva Hirsch, for a swimming outing with the Heller boys and other friends.

Liese had changed into her skirted swimming suit and was lying on a towel in the warm sand, immersed in a book, by the time the others arrived at the lake—­Franz Gollan and his girlfriend, Edith Abeles, Hans Posner, Paul Schülle, and Tomas Berman. She felt very much the outsider among this close-­knit group of Czech students, whose families lived in the sleepy towns surrounding Prague and were part of the young nation’s flourishing Jewish community. Most of them were bilingual; some, because of the lingering influence of the Hapsburg monarchy, had grown up more fluent in German than in Czech. Liese was relieved that they didn’t ask many questions about the situation in Germany, instead showing their concern with their eyes and warm handshakes.

Soon Paul Heller arrived at the lake, winding his way toward them through the dense beach grass at the edge of the sand, wet reeds clinging to his legs and the straps of his sandals. He was a sturdy, gentle-­faced boy with gray-­green eyes and black hair combed straight back, in the style of the times, revealing shiny peaks and valleys of comb marks. He had a scattering of pimples and summer freckles on his sunburned nose, making him look younger than his eighteen years. Liese noticed his hesitation when he shook her hand, the shy tilt of his head as he took off his glasses. Erich would be late, Paul told the group apologetically, as if he assumed it was his brother’s arrival that they more eagerly awaited. As usual, Erich had stayed up late the night before, writing, and was still asleep, he said.

“The task of morning sleep requires all Erich Heller’s best energies, Liese,” Franta explained as he, Eva, and Hans climbed into one of the shiny green rowboats tied to the nearby dock. “The man goes to bed with the dawn chorus, but it never seems to do him the least bit of harm.”

Liese wondered about this absent fellow who, even before his arrival, seemed to command so much attention.

Paul headed for the water by himself, swimming across the lake and back before placing himself on his towel on the sand near Liese. Out of his rucksack he pulled a tin of bilberries, a thermos, and a volume of Thomas Mann stories, its pages pulling loose from the cardboard binding. Mann was all the rage among young people.

“I have the same edition,” Liese told him, glancing up. “The pages are falling out of mine, too. Such a thin cover. But it’s light and good for travel.”

“Tonio Kröger just came out in leather,” Paul said, an excited grin filling his face as he dried off his glasses and replaced them on his nose. “You can buy it with its own oak slipcase. Too beautiful to bring to a picnic, though!”

“Do you have a favorite?” Liese asked, sitting up and wrapping her arms around her knees. She was full-­breasted and slim, with dark, wildly curly hair and intent brown eyes that shimmered when something interested her, a quality that gave a sense of something tender in her personality, something inviting.

“Depends on my mood,” Paul said. “But really, I suppose, it’s always been Tonio Kröger. Maybe because I read it first. I remember thinking then . . . Well, you come away thinking that you haven’t really lived yet. There is all this life to live!” Paul’s neck and face reddened.

“It’s impossible to read Tonio Kröger without thinking Mann wrote it just for you. I mean, me,” Liese said, and they both laughed.

When the rowers returned, they spread out an immense picnic—­salami, rolls, bottles of wine, chestnuts, strawberries, Paul’s bilberries, chocolate (Liese’s contribution), even bananas, a rarity. Franz Gollan began to whistle a tune from a Hofmanns­thal operetta while balancing a chesnut on his nose.

Paul wanted to ask Liese more questions, to talk about other Mann stories, about the Tolstoy she was reading. He wanted to tell her she’d just missed Prague’s spring lilacs, which blossomed into more colors than anywhere else in the world. He wanted to recite to her the poem that had been in his head as he swam. This happened to him often—­a nonsense poem would enter his head, a Christian Morgenstern or a Joachim Ringelnatz—­and wouldn’t leave until he recited it out loud. This time it was Morgenstern’s “The Picket Fence.”

One time there was a picket fence

With space to gaze from hence to thence.

An architect who saw this sight

Approached it suddenly one night,

Removed the spaces from the fence,

And built of them a residence.

The picket fence stood there dumbfounded

With pickets wholly unsurrounded,

A view so loathsome and obscene,

The Senate had to intervene.

The architect, however, flew

To Afri-­ or Americoo.

“Hence to thence” was Paul’s newest favorite line with which to tease himself about his incessant need to carefully plan his future. “Hence to thence, Paul! But focus more on hence than thence!”

Erich Heller arrived soon, a tall, slender, startlingly handsome figure in a rumpled shirt and long striped swimming shorts under his open robe. His light brown hair was tousled from sleep. He couldn’t stay long, he announced immediately, glancing at his wristwatch, for he was expected at a party in Prague and had to catch the six o’clock train. He took off his robe and shirt and bounded into the water before joining their feast.

“Unbedante Weise,” he said to Liese, shaking her hand. All my very best to you, though I do not yet know you. Liese watched him as he shook the water from his hair and laid his towel in the warm sand beside her and Paul. She listened to his rapid-­fire stories and his opinions about literature and history, which she thought showed a remarkable command of whatever subject he touched upon. He had spent much of the night before, he announced, working on an essay about Goethe, the poet he loved above all others. He felt that suddenly, that very night, he’d recognized in Goethe’s work what no one else ever had.

“Oh, Erich Heller, don’t show off! There’s nobody here who will take notice!” said Edith.

“No, I’m entirely serious. Goethe did not comprehend his own history!” Erich said, jumping to his feet, sandwich in one hand and paper cup of wine in the other. “He would not admit to his own despair at the tragedy of Germany. Do you not see? While he foresaw the fragmentation . . .” No, this was not the word he meant. He paused, staring at the sand. “Breakdown!” He seemed to revel in this retrieval. “Breakdown! The breakdown of German culture. Do you see? Do you not see that Goethe refused to recognize this tragedy? His optimistic heart simply could not accept it. He was accused of aloofness from politics, but his only choice, if he wanted to be a poet, was to identify completely with his own inner order. Does this not sound like a lesson for us?” Erich asked, his gaze fixed dreamily on the steep wooded hills across the lake.

Turning back to his friends, he offered a toast to the lake, then another to Liese. “To our new acquaintance from Frankfurt! To optimism amid tragedy!” After polishing off his wine, he collapsed on his back, stretching his arms out in the sand.

“To the lake and to Liese!” the others added, raising their cups toward her, coaxing a smile to her face as she sat, transfixed by their sense of celebration.

“What should the lesson from Goethe be?” Edith asked Erich as she replenished everyone’s paper cup, then pulled him up to a sitting position, falling back into the sand herself. “You left that part out. That we should all aspire to his inner order?”

“No one should aspire to anyone else’s inner order!” He tossed a grape at his friend and lit a cigarette. “For him to create, he couldn’t accept the idea of evil. He could write his poetry, his plays, only because on some level he refused to let himself comprehend real evil. I mean, look at his Mephistopheles in Faust. In Goethe’s hands, even the devil himself was nothing but a fool.”

“No one in his right mind comprehends evil,” Hans said. “Goethe’s not alone in that.”

“To the incomprehensibility of evil and to Goethe’s inner order!” Franz said, and they raised their cups again.

“But I only mean we should keep reading him,” Erich said. “Even as Hitler now claims him as his. We can’t let Hitler have him! But this is self-­evident! What would Tante Ida say, Pauli?” Erich asked, turning to his brother, who’d taken off his shirt and glasses and was heading off for another swim.

“ ‘Life is a mess!’ ” Paul called back in a perfect imitation of their late father’s oldest sister, the Heller family matriarch.

“And then she would scold me for wearing fürs schlechtere [messy clothing] to the beach when I meet such an elegant stranger,” Erich said, turning to Liese.

“To Tante Ida!” said Franta. “And to finishing off the wine right here and now.”

As they sat on the beach through the afternoon, debating politics, books, the best way to peel a chestnut, Liese felt the first shiver of joy she’d known in months. It surprised her. So this was what it was like to be in Czechoslovakia. A line from a Matthias Claudius poem her mother used to recite to her at bedtime came into her head: Where the sorrow of the day you shall forget and sleep away. Here was everything that was still normal, that belonged to everyday life—­choosing what book to read, what poet to take hope from, making fun of Hitler without having to be afraid. This feeling began to thaw the frozen places in her mind, as if she were being dug up from the ice.

Lying in the sand next to Erich, Liese felt quiet and beautiful. When her eyes met his, she looked away, at the ashes falling from the end of his cigarette, or at the sand wedged between his toes, or at the soft cotton sash that tied his robe. The sun set behind the hills, the beach lanterns were lit, a fire was built. Erich decided to skip his party in Prague that night. And so it was that Liese began to build herself a world as an émigré.

She heard from Erich a week later by way of a note Franta Kraus delivered to her room. He would be meeting friends that evening at the Café Continental. Later there would be a get-­together at the apartment of his friends the Mayers. Joszi Mayer’s father ran one of Prague’s major newspapers, Prager Tagblatt, and Joszi’s husband, Fredy, was the managing editor. Their apartment was the center of life for writers and social democrats. Would she accompany him?

Tall black statues stood along either side of Charles Bridge, which linked the somber Staré Mesto to the lively cafés across the river. At twilight, when the mist formed above the Vltava, the shadowy statues took on a life hidden from daylight, ominous and ghostly in appearance. But that evening, walking on the path along the river to meet Erich, Liese saw them as loving, benevolent gods.

When she got to the entrance of the café, she saw Erich sitting at a corner table, his eyes turned away from the doorway. Very good, she thought. She could find a washroom, tidy up, get her bearings, and look around before he knew she was there. Every table and almost all the seats at the bar in the center of the room were full. The Continental felt to her like a wonderfully festive university library. Most of its inhabitants were young. On the tables, amid fat beer glasses, half-­full wine bottles, and wooden bowls filled with salted nuts, were stacks of newspapers, open books piled on top of each other, and handwritten sheets of paper scattered about. Other newspapers, more than she’d ever seen in one place, hung over rods attached to varnished oak pillars against the wall. On the walls themselves were dark pictures of serious faces, some of whom Liese recognized—­the untamed hair and sumptuous mouth of Rainer Maria Rilke, the piercing eyes of a young Kafka.

“Liese, Liese, dear Liese,” Erich called over to her before she could find the washroom. “Congratulations! We must celebrate your first visit to our spiritual sessions at seventeen Na Prikope, where we all practically live!” He pulled out a chair and motioned to her to sit, pouring a beer from the pitcher on the table into a cup and handing it to her. Still standing, she quickly licked the foam running down the outside of her cup, then felt mortified by her unguarded moment.

Seated beside Erich at the table was Hans Posner, whom she’d already met at the Alaunsee. Hans had sandy-­colored curls and wore rimless glasses; he was growing a not terribly successful beard. He introduced her to his older brother, a medical student a year ahead of her. Also named Erich but nicknamed EP, he had kind eyes and a fine mustache and was smoking a short English pipe, his hands stretched over a good-­sized belly.

“Liese and I are already great friends,” Erich Heller told the group. He lit a cigarette and ground the lighted match into the floor with the sole of his shoe. “By chance, Liese, did you read my piece in the Prager Tagblatt on Tuesday? I must give you a copy if you haven’t. An essay about Karl Kraus. Have you read Karl Kraus? Have you not? Have you not read Karl Kraus?” All this before Liese sat, before she spoke.

“I haven’t. But of course I will. Tonight, possibly,” Liese said. She was distressed by the sound of her own voice, words coming of their own accord, and they weren’t even the truth. She’d read a good deal of Karl Kraus. She corrected herself. “I actually read parts of The Last Days of Mankind last year in school, and I enjoyed it immensely.”

“Immensely?” Erich said, smiling. “You enjoyed it immensely? Tell me more, Liese. Might you choose a word, as Kafka would say, where you wouldn’t be misunderstood? What does ‘immensely’ mean to you?”

Liese brushed her hair back with her hand and let herself down into the chair. “I enjoyed him. I liked him immensely.” She was dazed for a moment, surprised that she’d repeated herself. “I don’t know him well, really,” she added, when in fact she’d read his play several times and discussed it at length with her best girlfriends, Lilo and Ille, in Frankfurt.

“Yes, well,” continued Erich, as if speaking for her—­and she found herself strangely grateful for this—­“if Kafka will one day be known as the greatest writer of Prague, Kraus will be claimed as the greatest of Vienna. His satire is so very Austrian, if there can really be such a thing as ‘so very Austrian.’ This is my claim!” He leaned toward Liese. “If I only had the courage, I would travel to Vienna tomorrow to insist that I become his literary biographer. Do you think he’d permit someone twenty-­two to write his life story? Shall we travel there together, Liese?” He smiled at her, tilting his chair back and balancing it on two legs.

EP turned to her. “Tell us, would you, Liese, about how it is in Frankfurt. We don’t know how to take some of the news. What’s your impression?” he asked, never removing his pipe from the corner of his mouth.

The word “impression” took her by surprise. What was happening at home couldn’t be explained as an impression. She got angry for a moment, then was overcome with the sense of isolation that had become so familiar to her since she’d come to Prague, where so few seemed to comprehend the seriousness of what was happening in Germany.

“It’s terrible,” she said, looking at Erich Heller, expecting to say more. “It’s perfectly terrible.” Again she was stunned that she’d repeated herself. She was used to being so much more articulate. She spoke directly to Erich Posner now, explaining that Hitler was able to fool so many in Germany, that he was not going away any time soon, that she and all of her friends at home believed things would get worse. She knew this conversation inside out. It was all anyone had talked about in the months before she left.

“Please,” she said haltingly. It seemed to her that she might cry. She glanced behind her, aware of her shadow on the wall across from their table as the lights in the Continental were lowered. How small she looked next to the shadows of the men. How wild her hair looked. She got up to find the washroom, surprising them with her hasty exit.

Through the filmy window set deep into the wall of the tiny washroom, she could see the shape of the gargoyles looking down at her from the roof across the alley. Humiliated by her flustered state, she thought of leaving the café, crossing the main square of the Staré Mesto, and returning to her room. She even thought of boarding the train back to Frankfurt that night. She could be in her own bed, in her own home on Scheffelstrasse, before her parents and older brother awoke the next morning. It was a bad idea, she knew. The thought of the black-­coated SS guards swarming the railroad station made her sick, and to draw any attention would put her family at more risk. But since coming to Prague, she had always carried the railroad timetable with her, and she opened her handbag now to touch it.

She inspected herself in the mirror, her lips so close to the glass that she fogged her own reflection. She ran icy water over her wrists and splashed it on her face. When she returned to the table, she’d tell Erich Heller some of the points she’d made in a paper about Karl Kraus that she’d written for her German class just that past spring. In it she’d imagined Kraus as the editor in chief of all the major newspapers of Europe. Had this been the case, Liese had asserted in her paper, the Nazis would not have gained power. Their propaganda would have failed. Kraus, his judgment governed by his love of clear language, would have seen right through it and convinced the German population that it was empty and false. Her teacher, Frau Eppels, had admired her passion. Yes, she knew the words she’d say when she got back to the table.

But when she returned, Erich was already waiting by the exit, eager to be off to the Mayers’ apartment. “Hans, can you imagine my great good fortune! Schocken publishers in Vienna may be interested in my Kraus essay,” he was saying as he bought cigarettes from the headwaiter, who counted the pencil marks he’d scratched on their table’s cardboard coasters to tally up their bill. Liese was impressed that such a young man was already being considered by a major publisher.

“If only the editor weren’t such a complete idiot! His interest in my essay is one of his few good ideas,” Erich added, poking Hans in the upper arm and looking delighted when he noticed Liese’s return. He’d taken her sweater from the back of her chair, and handed it to her now as he brushed nut crumbs from its sleeves. But it was Erich Posner who helped her into it as they walked down the winding stairs and out onto Na Prikope Street. It had started to drizzle.

Liese had always doubted her intelligence. Even as a little girl in Frankfurt, she had felt insecure about whether she would ever be smart enough to be taken seriously. Her father, so Old World that he continued to wear a standing collar long after its stylishness had faded with the defeat of Germany in World War I, was wedded to the bourgeois order in which only men were the thinkers. Proud as he was of her high marks in school, he teased her when she expressed an opinion or idea, a reaction that caused her more pain than she admitted.

Once, her father chuckled from behind his after-­dinner newspaper as she tried to explain to him her intense reaction to the novel The Forsyte Saga—­she felt that this book had taught her to understand human psychology in a new way—­and she’d run to her room in tears. There, glancing at herself in the mirror, she was haunted by the feeling that she had disappeared altogether.

And she had a great many ideas. She got them from the books she read nearly every evening after school, sometimes a full novel in one sitting and several on weekend trips to her paternal grandparents’ farm in Alsfeld, southwest of Frankfurt, where, under her grandmother’s tutelage, she cared for their goats and chickens and the small field of cucumbers, cabbage, and potatoes. She also got ideas from Lilo and Ille, with whom she debated and discussed nearly everything. By the time they turned fourteen, they’d read all of Mann’s books, then read them again, until the stories became as dear to them as any living thing. They formed a reading club which, to describe their never-­ending connection, they called Kränzchen—­their little wreath. They met after school and on weekends, dramatizing stories and plays they’d read, talking about their latest crushes and comparing them (usually unfavorably) to favorite characters from books. In these books they found their first sweethearts, sensitive, passionate young men with artistic souls—­Mann’s Tonio Kröger, Schiller’s Prince Don Carlos, Goethe’s Young Werther, Galsworthy’s Jolyon Forsyte—­men who they were sure would long to hear their most private thoughts.

She’d gotten still other ideas from her teachers at the Volksschule in Frankfurt, particularly from Frau Eppels and Herr Hirsch, her German teachers, whom she adored. Frau Eppels had invited Liese, Lilo, and Ille to an after-­school reading group where they discussed Goethe’s Faust. Herr Hirsch seized every opportunity to take his students out of the school building and into the city to observe as much as they could. He sometimes became so impassioned about a story or poem he was teaching them that, while they wrote at their desks, he would turn his head to the window behind his own desk and, hidden from his students—­though Liese saw him—­softly cry.

He had cried, too, when he came to Liese’s family’s apartment two months before she left for Prague. With a new mandate in place prohibiting Jews from teaching, Herr Hirsch was removed from his position before the school year ended. He had come to say good-­bye before he left with his family for Paris.

Most of all, it was her mother, her “distant angel,” as Liese thought of her, who gave her ideas, her mother who spurred her to think and dream. “What do you think having your eyes open means?” Irma Florsheim had often asked her daughter as Liese followed her from room to room in the apartment. Irma had asked her again as they walked in Römerberg Platz, the center of cultural life in Frankfurt, and in the city parks, as she pointed out the hummingbirds circling maple trees looking for sugar, the gray swans as tall as Liese, floating down the Main River.

“What do you think having your eyes open means, Lies­chen? Does it mean just having your eyelids propped up?” she’d asked, her daughter giggling, her voice blending with her mother’s as they answered together. “No, it means watching the world!”

Joszi Mayer, who greeted Liese, Erich, and the Posner brothers at the door to her apartment, was tiny, with a slight hunchback and thick black-­rimmed glasses. She was considerably older than Liese, with a pale pretty face that lit up when she spoke. After seeing them in, Joszi walked them past the crowd of damp coats on the rack in the hall to show Liese around. The apartment was brightly lit and immense, occupying the entire top floor of a gabled Czech Renaissance building in the center of Wenceslaus Square. The front half was their living quarters, and tonight it was already filled with people and activity.

Joszi escorted Liese to the back of the apartment, which they’d converted into a work area. On the desks were several typewriters, bulging notebooks, and tablets of paper filled with notes. It was here, Joszi told her, that her husband, Fredy, worked; here that members of Freie Vereinigung, the Social Democratic student organization, often congregated after their coffeehouse meetings, eager for Fredy’s political counsel; here, too, that Kafka’s onetime love, Milena Jesenská, who was a close friend of the Mayers, had come to write; and here that Erich Heller sometimes stayed when he needed a quiet place to work during his frequent trips from Komotau to Prague over the summer.

By the time they returned to the living room, more guests had arrived, shaking rain from their hats and umbrellas. Tonight the Prague accent seemed to turn German into another language. The room was a blur of young men—­there weren’t many women—­smelling of wet wool, musky cologne, and sweat, helping themselves to food from the buffet, which was laden with platters of beef hot from the oven, cucumbers and green peppers laid out in neat lines, bread dumplings atop braised cabbage leaves, and honey cookies filled with poppy seed jam. There were rows of beers: Plzen, Prazdroj, Bakalar, and Gambrinus.

Erich was standing across the buffet, several young men surrounding him. Liese wondered which of his features she found most appealing—­his commanding voice, his forever amused expression, the pink that flushed his face when he spoke, the way he dressed: never without a tie, properly creased trousers, and well-­chosen colors, like the blue-­gray shirt he had on tonight. She tried to catch his eye, but he didn’t see her.

“Only someone from Prague can really understand Kafka,” she heard him say. “And it doesn’t hurt to be an expert in alienation!”

“No one will ever accuse you of being a high-­grade optimist,” she heard another say.

Moving to join them, she changed course when she noticed Paul Heller standing near the door, his raincoat over his shoulder, as if either just arriving or about to depart. He was leaning over a newspaper and peeling an apple with a pocketknife. Talking with him would relax her, she thought, embolden her.

“You perform your task like a future surgeon, Paul,” she said, surprising herself by kissing him on the cheek. When he looked up, he put his hands above his eyes as if the light were too bright.

“Well, I make perfect what I can make perfect,” he replied. “And right now there isn’t much that I can make perfect. How good to see you again, Liese.” He offered her a fresh slice of the apple speared on the tip of his knife.

Erich had left his group and was walking toward them, lighting a cigarette hurriedly. “Dear, dear Liese, did you fill your plate yet? Come meet my friends Milan and Kurt; they want terribly to make your acquaintance.” He stood nearly a head taller than his brother and towered over Liese. He tousled Paul’s hair and straightened his brother’s shirt collar. His expression communicated either tenderness or condescension, Liese couldn’t tell which. As Erich steered her toward his group, she saw Paul immediately adjust the collar back to the way it had been, square his shoulders, and, offering Liese an awkward smile, walk out into the rain.

- About the author -

Caroline Heller is the director of the interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Educational Studies at Lesley University, where she is also a professor in the graduate school of education. She lives in Boston with her family.

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