The End of April

Note: this piece is a short story, based on real events.

Berlin, 1945.  In the Fuhrerbunker.

The 28th.  I have my own room, with a nice carpet, a comfy sofa with a matching armchair and a single bed. The standard lamp in the corner has a shade of pleated pink silk, like the ones in my favourite films, and casts its own glow, much softer than the main lights which are so harsh and unflattering. The gramophone sits on a walnut table specially designed for me. I have put pictures on the concrete walls – views of forests and alpine meadows full of wild flowers.

This room leads to another – my dressing room, which is very small. A new red and white polka dot dress hangs in the wardrobe, next to my silver fox fur cape. A few pairs of handmade shoes, chosen from my large collection, sit on a shelf in a neat row.  I change my clothes several times a day; my maid looks after them well, but I wish she didn’t talk so much. I’m so glad I brought my crystal bottles of perfume.  The air down here has such a dull, stale smell to it, because, of course,  the rooms have no windows.

I do not complain. No one ordered me to be put down here, so deep under the ground. it was my choice to come, to be near him.

That’s his voice I can hear now in his study  – angry and bitter, shouting at one of his staff, only a door away. A faint click of the heels tells me the interview is over. The actual offices are nearby, where he holds briefings with his generals or dictates to his secretaries, but I rarely visit them and do not know what is said there.

I can hear other voices too. The minister’s children are laughing and playing in the corridors. It may be safer for them to be here, out of the reach of the bombs and where there’s food in the kitchens, but I wish they hadn’t come.  I don’t want to listen, but if I shut the door completely, I will only have to open it a few minutes later, because I could never stay or sleep behind a closed door. No one has ever asked why.

It must be evening by now.  He has his grandfather clock, but my diamond watch – the one he gave me for  my birthday – is being repaired.  Day or night, night or day, it’s hard to tell the difference, when the lights in the low ceilings are on all the time and the generator drones on and on in a room of its own.

He won’t join me yet and no one else will come. The last visitor sat up with me for hours and talked of old and better times and for a while there was a lull in the shelling in the streets above us. The approaching armies did not exist.  But he left days ago and the air in the room seemed to leave with him.

An orderly would bring me a cognac if I requested it and a cigarette would steady my hand, but drinking is not encouraged and smoking is forbidden. So I’ll file and paint my nails instead or smooth my blonde hair. Soon the roots will show, but no one will ever notice.  My brush has a silver back and my initials in gold letters on the side. EB.

In the mirror, a smile appears on my face. He prefers it unpainted, but I like my creams and powders and have a red lipstick hidden in my handbag, in its own shiny case, like a bullet.

“A woman of sound stock,” he said, ” has no need of adornment.”

That was years ago, when it began. I was seventeen, an assistant in a photographer’s shop. He was famous, the leader of the Party, but I didn’t recognise him. He was a middle-aged man in a belted coat, holding a big felt hat. He took an interest in me; I put myself in his path, but he was always so busy.  I’d wait for hours and hours, days and days, never far from the ‘phone. The inner circle around him despised me, but they didn’t dare say anything to my face and I never made a scene.  On important occasions, I was kept out of sight.  I never appeared in public at his side  – but he bought me a lovely house of my own and paid all my bills. My place was to please him. He was not like other men. He had to be free; the Fatherland came first.

His devotion to the People has taken a terrible toll.  His eyes, once blue, have lost their colour. Sometimes he seems to look right through me. He’s very stooped now and slow to rise from his chair. His feet drag on the floor. He’s not been outside since his birthday seven days ago.

After the bomb under the table, when they tried to kill him, he sent me his jacket and trousers, bloodstained and shredded. He spoke to me of destiny and the final victory, trusting me not to tire him with questions. It was then I first told him I would follow him for ever, to the end.

A few days ago, I had my reward. “All is lost,” he said.  I was to get ready to leave on the last plane leaving the city. Then he turned away and was almost at the door when I took his hand and told him I’d never leave without him.  I was braver than all his generals, he said. I alone had never betrayed him. The he did something he had never done before. he kissed me on the mouth, in front of everyone.

So here I sit on the chair by the sofa, facing the door, a record playing on the gramophone. I could get up and dance a little but the room feels smaller and warmer than before so I’ll let myself sink back into the cushions and shut my eyes for a moment. I have never danced with him, but I like moving and stretching my body.  Skiing in the sparkling mountain air or swimming in the clear waters of a lake, doing my exercises on the shore.  There are hundreds of pictures of me in different poses. Me in my party dress, me on my bicycle…

My sister will have to take care of all the albums and home movies. I’ve already asked her to destroy all my correspondence, except his letters. These are to be buried in a watertight container, to be found in the future – when everything will be laid open. My affairs are in order. My heart is light.

The 29th.  My maid is here, to help me get ready.  She begins to say something about the execution of a traitor in the night, but I command her to stop. These matters are of no account today. The dress I have chosen is lying on the bed: navy blue, almost black, in silk taffeta with some sequins scattered on it. She slips the dress over my head in silence, then pins up my hair with a jewelled comb.

It is not far to the conference room. The great maps have been put away and the table is bare. He is waiting for me in his usual trousers and tunic, his bad hand shaking behind his back.  There are specks of grey dust on his shoulder, like ash, but the Iron Cross is pinned over his heart. Oh my wolf, my eagle…

I don’t know where they found him, but the magistrate is very pale and nervous. He asks us to confirm we’re of pure Aryan descent and free from hereditary disease.  Then I hear my own voice say, “I, Eva Anna Paula Braun…”  A witness produces two rings of gold. Mine is too big. Papers are pushed towards me, across the table.

I sign my new name with pride. Whenever they speak of him, they’ll speak also of me.

It is not how I imagined it would be. No family or flowers, no official photographs – but a wedding breakfast has been prepared, with tea, cakes and sandwiches. He accepts a glass of sweet wine, I drink champagne with the guests who compliment and congratulate me. A very young soldier plays a folk song on his accordion, beads of sweat on his face.  The party does not last for long, not like the drunken orgies in the ruins on the surface. The ‘phone lines don’t work any more and most of the guards have gone, released from their oaths of allegiance, but he still has duties to perform, orders to give.

So I retreat and make my way back to the room, through the fumes in the passageway. From the smoke, my maid mutters, from all the buildings burning in the city, seeping through the ventilation system. I have little to do, except to share out my remaining belongings. A few trinkets for the servants, the silver fox for one of the secretaries. The only dress left hanging in the wardrobe is his favourite: black, with white roses around the neck. The poison is in one of the pockets, in a little brass box.

There’s no music loud enough now to drown out the madness over my head and the walls are holding me much too close – but no one will seize and display my body. Our plans are almost complete.

He will shoot himself in the temple. I know how to use a gun, but it’s all too easy to make a mistake and I want to look untouched, asleep.  When I hear the shot, I’m to bite down on the capsule.

He’s made sure it will work. It was tested on his dog, the only other being who never failed him. Her jaws were forced open, the cyanide crushed behind her teeth.  It was all over in an instant, he said.  She didn’t suffer and her breath smelt of bitter almonds.

The 30th.  The cook has made his lunch.  It will be something simple, to suit a delicate stomach. Plain spaghetti with a cabbage and raisin salad, with a little dressing. The secretaries will join him, but I am not hungry and cannot watch them eat.

We’ll be together again in the afternoon, in his study. The heavy iron door will shut behind me.  That will be the hardest part.  I’ll put my shoes on the floor, under the sofa, then draw my legs up to my chest as if settling to read one of my magazines. His face will be the last thing I see.

I have one final and absolute intention.  It is to ascend the stairs that lead to the roof and the garden. No one will attempt to stop me. I want to go outside and breathe in the Spring.  It will be very quiet and still.  The sun will be shining in a soft blue sky.

Then I’ll return the way that I came, down four flights of steps, back to the room and then to the one beyond. I will whisper a greeting and open my arms.

My story is his will, his soul my resting place.

One thought on “The End of April

  1. It must be because we are related, I know just how you feel, when I cannot sleep on goes the radio, when the shipping forecast comes on I change to another station and listen, often to someone rambling on about nothing and then maybe I will doze off at last ,just a pity the night is almost over.

    Like

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