Lutz paid the five thousand ducats. Kaspar was ordered to return to his office once more the following morning for additional instructions, and to receive a file with full information on Lautenmayr, ‘the plan’, and other required instructions.
They returned to the Y--- shelter one last time to pay off their debt. Kaspar disappeared into the head administrator’s office to do so, and Maria proceeded to the little nursery within the shelter, where she had spent many days caring for the children.
Usually, there were a few women to watch over the infants and toddlers, so Maria in the past had often busied herself with entertaining and teaching the others, the oldest being the age of nine, the youngest, four.
Many of the children hugged her and kissed her a tearful goodbye, a number of them fled to the small activity table, to quickly draw pictures for her as an affectionate sign of gratitude for her previous devotion.
The younger children had coincidentally taken to calling her ‘MaMa’, as a substitute for ‘Maria’, much like Maria’s youngest siblings had done when they were still alive. It was with this name they addressed their drawings too; Maria fought to be rid of the rising lump in her throat, that which often preceded a bout of tears.
Kaspar appeared in the doorway, and Maria received her last hugs from the children, and thanks from the nursery women. She carefully placed the crude, childish drawings into her bag, and followed Kaspar out the door.
They spent the remainder of the day finding an affordable, comfortable apartment for rent. They made an effort to look at apartment buildings owned by middle class, average landlords, who didn’t mind at all if a Y--- rented out in their apartment building, as long as enough money was paid.
Kaspar eventually settled on a two room apartment for fifty ducats a month; a reasonable enough price. It was unfortunately without a constant electricity supply, like many of the village’s other buildings, but it included running water, a small stove, a bed, a couch, a small makeshift table, and carpet. There was a small window in the main room, but none to speak of in the bedroom. The bathroom facilities were public, and located outside the apartment, and down the hall.
In the corner of the main room, a small hardwood space contained a sink, and a fold-out counter. One cupboard beneath the counter served as a pantry.
After Kaspar filled out the paperwork and paid the entrance fee of seventy-five ducats, he stampeded up the building stairs, down the hall, and into their new home.
Maria followed at a slower pace, and took care to lock the apartment door; then she settled her belongings down beside the wall, next to Kaspar’s.
In the bedroom, her brother had thrown his long coat off and against the wall, and had catapulted himself onto the bed, where he now lay. Even after all he’d matured, he hadn’t been able to completely outgrow a few of his childish impulses, obviously.
He now wore only his cotton long-sleeved shirt (the only kind he owned), and black pants that had at one time been stiff and uncomfortable, but had become worn, flexible, and wrinkled over the years.
He unbuttoned his sleeves and threw his hat to the crumpled material of his coat on the floor, and heaved himself over so he lay on his stomach, his face in the pillow. His shoes he kicked off next.
Maria tested the running water, and checked the pantry for spiders.
Then she peeked into the dark, windowless bedroom, and said:
“My, my, my. That was awfully fast. What a tired little creature you must’ve been.”
“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate for you to talk to your grown brother like that,” he said.
“It’s extraordinarily inappropriate for you to undress yourself in your little sister’s presence.”
Kaspar raised his eyebrows. Maria was acting awfully feisty, lately.
“Bullshit. You were in the other room. And I’m a man; I can undress wherever the hell I want. Pick my coat up, will you?”
“Bullshit,” Maria repeated.
“Don’t you dare say that again. You’re a young woman, act like one.”
“Only if I’m in the presence of a man, you mean.”
“Go away,” he whined. “I’m tired. And hungry. Go fix something to eat. Pick up my coat.”
“There’s no food, yet. I have to go out and buy some. You have to come with me when I go out after the sun sets, right?”
Kaspar groaned, and raised his arm.
“Just come here,” he said, his hunger finally defeated by exhaustion.
Maria climbed onto the bed and under Kaspar’s arm, resting her head next to his on the pillow. He pulled her close and stroked her head of short, soft curls until she moved and wrapped her arms around his neck. Maria closed her eyes, and seemed comfortable enough; Kaspar rested his eyes, also, as he thought it not wise to look at her or move anymore, now that they were in this particular position, in bed.
All the same, as Kaspar lay there, with Maria wrapped around his body, he couldn’t help but start to wonder when he had last been with a woman. He held no sexual interest in Maria, but this particular position recovered near forgotten thoughts for sexual indulgence, and so he wanted a woman then, very badly. But the only woman he had then was Maria, just Maria…….
No—, he quickly scolded himself. He would not allow his natural impulses to partake in his little sister. She was his responsibility, after all. A legal adult she was, but still considerably underage; she couldn’t even legally drink alcohol yet.
He made a vow that he would not allow himself—(though, the girl had already been with her twin brother, she probably wouldn’t mind too much if Kaspar suggested—something—)—to get an erection over her. He decided he would use the bathroom down the hall to satisfy himself, if necessary, once she fell asleep.
He started from his thoughts, and then relaxed, pulling away so he could see her face in the dim light from the next room.Now, as her face was elucidated before him, he was ashamed of himself for allowing the very notion of holding intercourse with his little sister to enter his tired, conditioned mind. He felt his stomach churn in dismay at his indiscriminate lust.
“What is it?” he asked, as he did his best to conceal his physical and emotional discomfort.
“…If I—we do this thing, and we do it right, and everything turns out alright,” she said, her voice careful and controlled. “…Do you think we could go and get Emanuel?”
Kaspar made no effort to hide his sudden repulsion, though he himself had had sinful thoughts of Maria hardly a moment before. He was taken aback by such an unexpected topic provided by Maria; he was angered, a little: After all, long ago had he already made the decision to, if everything worked out, go straight back to their home village, and to focus on recovering any other surviving family members.
Emanuel, whom he knew was alive, was the last person on his mind; brother or not, alive or dead, he wasn’t interested right now.
If it were up to Kaspar, as it could very well end up being, he would eventually resolve to make contact with Emanuel—but he would never allow he and Maria to meet face to face, ever again. It just wasn’t right.“Maria, we don’t know where he is. You don’t know where he is. But he’s fine, wherever he’s at. Mother made sure of that.”
“What? I mean, of course he’s alright; I know that. But he’s all alone, wherever he is, and I—wait—of course we know where he is! He’s at that school. You know that,” she said.
“She did too! You wrote to him, remember?”
“No, I don’t remember.”Kaspar would not, would not allow his sister to sin as horribly as she did, ever again. She’d get over it and forget Emanuel, he told himself, as long as they were separated from one another.
“You do too remember,” Maria began to cry, “You just don’t want us to see each other again. You selfish pig, you’re always making these stupid decisions without telling me! Like this job.” She buried her face into the pillow, and gave a great, ridiculous sob.
Kaspar stared at her, amazed and speechless: When on earth had his sister become so dramatic and irritable?
The last time he remembered her acting remotely like this—must’ve been when she was a toddler, a toddler no older and no more mature than the age of three.
He shook her shoulder, uncertain of whether he should be angry, or sympathetic.
“Hey. Hey,” he said.
By God, she did it again!
“Hey. You can’t talk to me like that.”
“The hell I can!” she wrenched herself away and off of the bed, but Kaspar caught her by the waist, toppling her to the bed once more. He held her there, and resisted the sudden and violent urge to climb on top of her.
She tried to thrust her knee into his groin, but he pinned her legs down with one of his own; she turned her head, and bit him hard on his hand in retaliation.
He gave a roar of pain, and finally slapped her; she fell still, and watched him sadly above her.
His hand stung from her bite, but further observation assured him that her teeth hadn’t broken through his skin. He was shaking, badly: this behaviour was so horribly out of character for Maria, so unexpected and mysterious and so—not Maria—that it frightened him.
He didn’t know how to deal with this behaviour, having never dealt with it in someone Maria’s age.
Beneath him, his sister now wept the silent, subdued tears that he had only ever seen her cry in his life; the tears he expected from her, if any at all.
He looked at her, and realized that he hated feeling how young and vulnerable he was around her. They were emotions he didn’t need, had tried to avoid; Maria needed protection—knowledgeable protection.
And what was he, but the son of a violin maker, who had been the first of his brothers to volunteer to stay at the shop, while the others went off to war?
Even Pieter, who despised any and all types of conflict, was eager to fight for his people; although Father forced him to stay in the end, as he was the only one who knew how to manage the shop’s finances.
Out of the twelve of them, the six oldest were eligible for the military force, excluding Emanuel, who couldn’t fight because his right leg was badly crippled.
All of the others were more than enthusiastic to help win the war at any cost, all except for Kaspar, who more preferred carving violins quietly at a work table, to staking out at the Front Line.
Even Rudolf, his older brother Rudolf, who had a wife and three children, went off to war with Kaspar’s twin brother Christoph, and their younger brothers Lorenz and Leopold.
By the time Maria and Emanuel were forced to return home after they ran away together, the four brothers had left, and by the time Emanuel was sent away once more, and Maria had given birth to her son, Christoph and Lorenz were dead; only Rudolf and Leopold returned home, after being released from their respective Prisoner-of-War camps.
Kaspar couldn’t possibly describe the pain of finally grasping the fact that Lorenz, and especially Christoph, were dead; though he had somehow sensed that there was something wrong, one day, when Kaspar and Pieter silently shared their lunch break within Pieter’s office, at the shop.
Kaspar, in between bites of his meal, had subconsciously reached for that second branch of his soul, that branch which did not inhabit his own body, but Christoph’s—and had felt nothing.
Nothingness; there, already settled, was a large, empty space where a part of Christoph had always existed; and that day, it was as though his brother had suddenly vanished, as if he had never been there at all. It felt to Kaspar, very much like one feels when one means to step upwards in the dark, and, only realizes when their foot comes down unexpectedly on the floor once more, that the step had never been there to begin with; rather, it was a simple pace or more farther than their unwitting estimation.
It was such a simple, everyday action for Kaspar to instinctively feel within himself for Christoph, as a reassurance, to make sure he was still there, and unharmed, that it had become involuntary. Suddenly stepping up to that imaginary stair in the dark had been the most shocking, most unfathomable action that Kaspar had ever even dreamed of; after all, life without his brother had previously seemed like an impossible concept, to complicated and preposterous for him to even take the time to comprehend.
And so, as his unsuspecting foot landed only upon the wretched floor and threw him perpetually off balance, his soul experienced the same force, and floundered about helplessly for a moment, in sheer panic: His heart clenched tightly, and became cold stone; his lungs, they were suddenly stiff and unyielding pouches; and his eyes—they had begun to dart hopelessly around the sparse room for a sharp object, a potentially fatal anything, so that he could join his twin brother, who he’d been with since birth, wherever he had disappeared to.
On that day, in that one, endless moment in time—because he and his brother’s minds had become so dependant of the other (and now that dependency was unfairly and unexpectedly shortchanged), committing suicide seemed the one and the only decision, albeit an impulsive one.
After a short moment in such a distraught state, he spotted and grabbed the sharpened pencil lying on Pieter’s desk, and quickly prepared to stab himself in his jugular artery before Pieter, quick as lightening, leapt over the desk and knocked some sense back into his older brother.
Until the news finally came of his brothers’ untimely death, Kaspar had constantly been worried out of his mind, and sick to death: The news had by that time provided him with a miserable sense of relief, so that his poor, tortured heart could finally beat peacefully once more, because he knew then for sure that Christoph, and as he later discovered, Lorenz, were gone and dead, for forever.
Not long after, Kaspar and his grieving family were shipped off with the rest of their home village’s Y--- population, to that hellish, nightmare place they had all heard so much about; that harbinger of horrors that was created by that Tyrant and his war, to extinguish the Y--- ethnicity.
Then, Kaspar was given the startling chance to escape even before they arrived at their destination, and—naturally—he had seized it without question.
Now, as he was older and was able to look back on it, he realized that by selfishly stealing that opportunity for himself, that night, he had basically abandoned his family and his people, just as he had done so a year before, when he declined to go and fight the war.
But, Kaspar thought, had he not taken the opportunity, he undoubtedly would have died in time with the others, and he would not have been in a position to save and recover his dear, remaining little sister; she would be dead, instead, as would he—she most certainly would not be watching him so passively from beneath him, just as she was doing, right then.
He studied her features silently, and concluded that Maria could probably still feel for Emanuel’s consciousness within herself, as Kaspar had done for Christoph, years before. He thought about all the things he would be willing to do if he could just sense Christoph, just once more; he thought and wished with all his might that he might see his twin, his other half, if he merely closed his eyes tightly and concentrated……
But no matter what he did, or thought or wished, Christoph remained still and always dead, and would remain unreachable to him, as long as he himself remained alive.
Kaspar supposed that Maria had been feeling something similar to this grief, because she was apart from her twin; but perhaps the particular emotion she experienced, contained (very much unlike Kaspar), the rifts and plateaus and oceans—that which often characterized troubled, unconditional love; and he knew that Emanuel, who, at the moment was miles and miles away, probably resting in bed within the dormitories of his boarding school, felt no sentimental longings in any way different from his sister.
While Kaspar shuddered to think of himself ever having romantic feelings for Christoph, which he could never, ever, accomplish (and never wanted to), he could still more precisely relate to that closeness, that bond that twins shared, and that was incomprehensible to anyone else who wasn’t a twin. Though Maria and Emanuel had claimed their love for one another, there still must have been those certain feelings within themselves, which had initially been deeply subdued by their passion.
Because of this, Kaspar suddenly realized, it was not his place to eternally separate the two as he and Christoph had been—whether Maria and Emanuel were truly in love with each other, or not.
Twins were twins, regardless of any other independent judgment: they were destined from conception to be together until either one, or both, perished.
That was why Kaspar would never forgive himself for abandoning Christoph.
He would never be able to live with himself if he inspired those miserable feelings of regret within his darling, beloved younger sister.
He came to terms with this—willingly, after all his torment—and he gently released Maria from his hold, slowly climbing off of her and resolving to lay on the edge of the bed, facing away from her.
“…Kaspar..?” Maria’s voice was dry and forced.
He’d made a mistake, forcing her to take this job, Kaspar thought. It was too much to ask for. He’d been impulsive, and fantastically enticed by the large money figure Herr Lutz presented, that he’d hardly given a thought to Maria, though he’d convinced himself that this job was primarily to benefit her, and not himself; he’d made a terrible mistake.
His first and foremost thought should have been of protecting Maria. What had he been thinking, when Herr Lutz started ranting about this Doctor Lautenmayr, and going on and on about his short temper, anger management problems, and that psychotic superiority complex?
Besides money, what had convinced him to so foolishly agree to expose Maria to that?
Why, if he sent her to seduce this Doctor, with all of his emotional problems and instabilities, who was to say this man couldn’t end up injuring her?
Not only that, not only that—Herr Lutz mentioned that this man was old—in his early sixties. Very old, Kaspar thought, when compared to Maria, little, young, inexperienced Maria, who had only just entered legal adulthood.
Kaspar shuddered violently as he thought of that insane old man making love to his sister, his gray, aged skin pressing up against Maria’s young, soft body. Then the old coot would slip inside of her, and she’d have to moan and writhe beneath him, and pretend that she liked it…..
No. Just, no.
And Herr Lutz also spoke of drawing several pints of blood from Maria’s body, to be used later to prove to Doctor Lautenmayr that she had been ‘brutally murdered’—had not Kaspar been the least alarmed when he heard this?
Maria had been the first to see reason after all, he thought, when earlier she claimed (Kaspar rather at the time thought that she had insulted Herr Lutz with her proclamation) that Herr Lutz was, in fact, insane. Perhaps, in reality, he was even more so than this Doctor Lautenmayr.
No matter what that old man had done, no action on earth deserved death as compensation, unless the man had already been the source of a death, in cold blood.
Kaspar knew Maria believed in that unwritten virtue more strongly than anybody he had ever known, and yet he’d been willing to make her a murderer by speculation.
By the heavens, just what kind of a dreadful man was Kaspar? He, who forces his little sister, whom he’d rescued from the very living equivalent of the infernos of hell, to be, metaphorically, thrown right back into that great, gaping pit, and devoured—simply because twenty-thousand ducats seemed like an awful lot of money to him?
No, perhaps Maria had wept earlier for this very reason, and Kaspar had all but written the action off as a foolish result of her femininity and of what he thought he knew to be selfish, developing rebelliousness.
Kaspar wasn’t the only man of his kind in the world, but certainly, he was in no shape to be Maria’s guardian.
…Could he really go on existing without her, though?
And—where on earth could she possibly go, and be safe without him? Was there anyone else in the world within Kaspar’s reach that he would be willing to entrust with Maria’s life, her health, her overall well-being?
It didn’t take long for him to decide: Not a soul.
It was either death for the both of them, or Kaspar would have to forgive himself for being so foolish, so materialistic that he’d made himself believe that this job was the only option within their current financial situation.
His senseless choices had done nothing but add to the emotional anguish Maria was already suffering through; what with her incestuous relationship with Emanuel, and her ceaseless longing for him; her separation from her son; the death of so many of their friends and family…Just recalling her initial pain made Kaspar want to hurt himself, to show Maria how sorry he was, how horrible he knew he had been to her.
He’d acted upon the cause of money, and the chauvinistic ideal in the Y--- people’s culture that women were everlastingly inferior to men—and had assumed that Maria was simply grown used to this, so that she’d not pay any mind to the morality of any task she was ordered to do by a man. Perhaps that was the worst deed of all.
….If God would allow Maria to forgive Kaspar for that, like she had forgiven all others who had wronged her…if she would willingly forgive him, than Kaspar vowed he would do all he could to repay her in his gratitude.He would want nothing more or less than to make her happy, for as long as he was able to, for as long as he remained her one, irreplaceable connection to the rest of the world. As long as he remained her guardian…
“Maria…Are you—are you alright?”
“Maria,” he repeated.
“…Listen to me. Maria, tomorrow…tomorrow I’m going to go tell Herr Lutz that we’re declining from the job. I’m going to tell him that it’s too much trouble, that we don’t need any of it.”Maria listened, and said nothing. He heard her turn over on the bed, so that she faced the opposite wall.
“We’re not going to give him back the money,” he continued, hoping desperately that Maria would realize his intentions. “We’re going to leave here, and we’re going to go get Emanuel. We’ll manage, somehow, and then…we’ll find a way to get back home.”
He held his breath, and listened for the smallest response; one that would relieve him from his guilty woes. He vaguely imagined that she was wiping the tears from her eyes, and dissipating the wild contempt she had exhibited for him earlier; he thought he could almost sense the uncertain relief pervading throughout her body from behind him, and he smiled, slowly experiencing a similar emotion generating from deep within his chest.
“…Are you sure?”
He wanted to stop himself from pulling her into his arms once more, but he didn’t, and was glad: this embrace held none of the cold, dutiful emotion of the one before.
Maria’s tension gently eased away from her shoulders and her neck; she reached for her brother’s hand, and laid her own upon it, squeezing it lightly.
Kaspar didn’t dare continue to touch her any more fearlessly, for fear of alarming her of false security once more; after a moment he kissed her gently on her head, instead, and pulled away to his respective side of the mattress.