Authors: Roberta Kagan
All My Love, Detrick
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
The characters and events in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or
dead is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
All my Love, Detrick
Copyright 2010 Roberta Kagan
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is dedicated to my husband, my daughter, and my cat, without their inspiration and patience; I could never have completed this work.
Berlin, Germany, 1923
Inga Haswell sipped steaming tea from a chipped china cup as she gazed at the second-hand bicycle. It stood with its front wheel slightly turned in the middle of her sparsely furnished living room. It seemed to be tilting its metal head in anticipation of an adventure. Her fingers, red and covered with open lesions from scrubbing, folded and unfolded a ragged
dishtowel. As the mild aroma of the tea wafted to her nose, she thought it more hot water than tea, and she wished she’d saved a bit of sugar to sweeten it up. With sugar so difficult to come by, the small amount had cost her all of her food rations for the week and had provided just barely enough for the recipe for her son’s birthday cake.
Today, her son, Detrick, turned seven. She shook her head and marveled at how quickly the years had passed. In her mind, she recalled the
boy, as he’d been, a tiny infant reaching up and tangling his small fingers in her wheat-colored hair. So long ago, but to her it felt like a moment. As she allowed her mind the indulgence of drifting into the past, her memory of girlhood returned. She’d been such a shy and sheltered child, with very little experience outside of her home. It had seemed strange to everyone that Hans had shown an interest in her. She smiled. Had he really been so handsome before the drink had seduced him like an unfaithful lover and taken over his life? Detrick resembled his father. In fact, both he and his sister, Helga, had their father's good looks. In her youth, she’d been slender with a plain face. Not ugly, just ordinary. Thoughts of Hans brought an empty ache to her chest. Once, he’d been the brightest star she’d ever known, and such an athlete. Inga recalled the first time she’d seen him; he’d been playing football in the park. With his blond hair shining like polished gold, he had caught the sun’s rays, seeming to light up the entire field. He looked over to find her staring at him, and he smiled a bright white-toothed smile that had captured her immediately. Even now, she recalled how foolish she’d felt, how her face had grown hot as she'd looked away in embarrassment. It came as a shock that she should have the attention of one of the most popular boys in school. There could be no doubt that he had his choice of girls, but he’d chosen her. She smiled at the memory, the skin around her eyes sinking into cavernous crevices.
They’d fallen in love that summer and married early that fall. Well, he’d fallen in love that summer; her love had been instantaneous.
Then the war came, poisoning the country’s young men with dreams of heroism.
Hans enlisted, leading a large group of his friends to follow. With the passion of patriotic conviction, he’d walked through town wearing his uniform, inspiring awe throughout the small community. Hans basked in the glory - reveled in it, in fact. Their friends and families hosted dinners where the liquor flowed freely, and toasts to his honor continued throughout the night. There she had been right at his side, her heart swelling with pride. This brave and astounding man belonged to her - little, insignificant Inga. The feeling had been so powerful and consuming that, even now, she could recall it as if it were yesterday. When his platoon marched out of Berlin, her world went dark, as if
the entire universe had been lit by a single candle that now lay extinguished, leaving only drifting smoke in its wake.
She grew serious, unable to laugh, and had no heart to accompany her friends when they attended parties or picnics. Instead, she wrote long letters filled with emotion, holding them tightly to her heart before she sent them off to her beloved. While Hans engaged in battle somewhere far away, she worried incessantly. Friends and neighbors returned monthly from the battle field crippled or maimed, others in body bags, and then there was the unthinkable: those who did not return at all. Every night she knelt beside her bed, begging God to deliver her husband home safely. Finally, her prayers
were answered. Hans survived unscathed. But not completely. Only his physical body remained intact.
Germany lost the war.
Hans Haswell returned from fighting an outside enemy, only to find himself fighting one within. Now he was at the bottom of a pit of scruffy, starving, unemployed men. Fits of unpredictable rage replaced the gentle words he’d once spoken to Inga. Haunted by visions of battle, he’d awoken nightly bathed in sweat, the sheets twisted about his writhing body. Sitting up with a start, he’d cried out names she’d never heard. When he was awake, his hands shook, and sometimes he had trouble swallowing his soup, which leaked out the side of his mouth onto his chin. Although his appearance remained the same, he had changed…completely.
Somewhere out in the fields, as bullets broke through the quiet of the morning, leaving his comrades torn to shreds in pools of their own blood, he
’d been stripped of the confidence of the athlete she’d married and transformed into a frightened, troubled soul.
, when things felt so dark that it seemed as if there would never be another reason to smile, unexpectedly, they’d received a blessing. Inga became pregnant. Even though Hans had no idea how to go about it, he knew he must find a way to provide for his family. He questioned his own worth. Instead of the fierce, protective provider instinct taking over, he sunk even deeper into his depression. Accompanied by what seemed like hundreds of others who had returned from the war, he went out scraping and scrounging for work, only to find himself once again at the local tavern, in defeat.
The baby came.
Instead of bringing joy, the boy only amplified his sense of frustration, and he would shout constantly at Inga, “Get that child out of here! I can’t stand it when he cries!”
Inga would take the baby where Hans could not criticize him and cradle little Detrick in her arms, rocking him until he slept. From the moment Detrick took his first breath and let out a lusty cry, she’d adored him. Now Hans and his aura of despair faded in the illumining joy the baby brought to her. Her little man amused her constantly as he held her heart in his tiny fist.
Later, when Helga had been born, Inga loved her, but nothing had ever captivated her as completely as tiny Detrick. In a way, she felt that he’d saved her. If Detrick had not come along, she feared she might have taken her own life. The baby had only served to reinforce Hans’ inability to support his family, with a devastating effect. It broke what was left of his spirit, and he began to manifest a strong resentment towards his son. For a little over a year, he’d wandered the streets begging for spare change and seeking day labor. When he earned any wage at all, he drank most of it away to fill the vast emptiness within. Finally, with no education or skills, he’d chanced upon a bit of good fortune. Inga’s brother had found him work as a janitor at the Hauslaben Insurance Company. Although Inga felt they’d been blessed, Hans found the job humiliating. He could not accept the idea of himself sweeping up the day's mess or on his knees fixing toilets. As time progressed, his inner demons grew, and he lost interest in his family entirely. He thought only of the end of the week, when he would cash his pay envelope and head for the only comfort he could find…in the bottom of a bottle.
Lost in thought and gazing out the window, Inga did not see Detrick as he entered the apartment, returning from school. His aqua blue eyes filled with light as he looked at the bicycle.
“Mama!” He ran into her arms.
“Happy birthday, sweetheart,” s
he hugged him and ruffled his golden hair as it fell softly over his left eye.
Really?” he stared at the bike and then back at her in disbelief.
“Yes, for you.” She kissed his forehead and held him close.
Detrick walked over to the bike and gently touched the handlebars. Then he walked around it twice, stopping to touch the seat, with wonder.
“Can I take it for a ride?”
“Yes, but please be careful. I know it is yours…and it is yours, but your father will want to use it sometimes to ride to work. Of course, only if that is all right with you.” She knew Han’s would take the bike whenever he felt like it, but she also knew Detrick would never deny his father, and she wanted him to feel as if the gift were his.
“Of course he can use it whenever he likes.”
Tears threatened to spring from the corner of Inga’s eyes. She wished Hans could learn to love their son. If only he could see what a treasure, God had given him in this generous and kind little boy.
The door opened and a lovely girl of six with long golden curls entered the room.
“Hi, Mama, hi, Detrick.” Helga looked over at the bike. “Is that Detrick’s birthday gift?”
“Yes, dear, it is”
“Happy Birthday, Det. It’s in pretty bad shape.”
She ran her hand over the dent on the wheel cover and frowned at the faded black paint.
Inga shook her head, marveling at how different her children were. Detrick would never notice the imperfections. And Helga…well, things had to be the finest quality to satisfy her.
“I think it’s beautiful!” Detrick smiled at his sister. “And you can ride it anytime.”
“Thanks Det, but, no thanks.” She wouldn’t ride a bike unless her friends thought it the nicest one they’d ever seen. “By the way, I didn’t know you could ride. Can you?”
“Yes, I learned on Konrad’s bike.”
“Well, be careful.” His mother could not help but smile when she looked at the young face filled with joy. “Now I have to get back to the wash. Mrs. Reitman will be expecting me to deliver it by this afternoon. You two run along and play. And, Detrick, if you are going to ride, try to be home by six. I’ve baked a surprise for you. I want to serve it after dinner. Since it is Friday, your father may be later than usual, but if he is not here we will enjoy the cake without him, yes?” With a wink of her eye, Inga assured her son that, regardless of his father’s presence, his birthday would be a celebration. When she allowed herself to indulge in wishes, she thought of Hans. If only he would offer to carry, some of the financial burdens of raising a family instead of taking his pay envelope to the bar, as he undoubtedly would tonight. If he made some effort, she might be able to spend less time on her knees scrubbing dirty clothes until her back felt as if it might break in two.
Helga went to her room to change clothes before meeting her girlfriends in the courtyard of the building to play.
Detrick turned to Inga. “I love you, Mother.” He hugged her. “Thank you so very, very, much for this wonderful birthday. I will never forget it. Ever.”
“All right, then, my darling. You promise to be cautious...
? Now, don’t be gone too long. I will worry if you are.” Inga held him tightly for a moment, inhaling the essence of him; then she kissed the top of his golden hair.
“I promise to be careful, and I’ll be back by six.” He cautiously guided the bike by its handlebars, down the staircase and out into the bustling street.
A racket of laughter and banter accompanied vendors hawking their wares through the city, as a mixture of odors permeated the air. Pungent garlicky sausage, savory freshly baked breads, juicy, ripened fruit, and fresh vegetables, baked in the heat of the sun as they mingled with the odor of sweat and humanity.
Detrick jumped on the bike with ease, weaving between the street vendor carts, the horses, and the occasional new machines called automobiles. The blaring of horns from the vehicles had brought a previously unheard sound to Berlin. The glow from the sun cast down on his golden hair as it fell casually
over his left eye. He waved to Old Man Zussman as he rode past the bakery. The aroma of freshly baked cookies reached out to him, and he licked his lips at the thought of their delicious flavor. Then, flying by, he took a quick peek in the window of Zeitlman’s toy store.
nothing compared to the excitement of his new bike. A dream realized. He soon forgot about the sweets. The dull black metal of the handlebars glistened in the morning light, seeming to grin at the boy as if they knew a secret. Something within him tingled and stirred as he felt a divine hand on his shoulder. So strong was the presence of touch that he turned to look. The wind whistled but he saw nothing. It was a mystery, which a child of his age could not possibly understand.