“We believe we are at home in the immediate circle of beings. That which is, is familiar, reliable, ordinary.” – Martin Heidegger
It’s during Reinhard’s lecture that Thomas realizes he’s making mistakes in his life. Earlier, he left his clinic in Bilk for the Great Hall at Heinrich Heine University to see first-hand the metamorphosis everyone is talking about. Reinhard the drummer, the argumentative student, has become the institutional darling. He stands in front of the crowd of professors, holding them rapt like a preacher. Dark curls still spiral onto his face, but his cowboy boots and leather vest are gone, and his combative nature is being re-interpreted as passion for his subject. He paces at the front of the room, making provocative claims in an authoritative voice, smiling when his eyes settle on a single face.
He will be a superstar, Thomas thinks.
Though he and Reinhard were never quite friends, they had on occasion studied together or gone for a beer in the Altstadt. Now they see each other at psychology conferences and Thomas reads Reinhard’s articles in the journal that comes to the Bilker Youth Psychology clinic.
That’s how he’s done it, Thomas thinks. He’s made the journal his manifesto.
At the point when Reinhard appeals to his audience for referrals, Thomas leaves the room through a side door to hurry back to work. He places a call to his secretary to tell her he will make his 11 o’clock. “Don’t let Ahmed leave,” he says. Then he asks if he can pick her up a coffee as he walks to the closest S-Bahn stop.
Professors crave the practitioner’s experience; practitioners crave a niche. All Reinhard has done, as far as Thomas can see, is take a classic theory, turn it on its side, and defend the new position using data from his practice. It’s possible he doesn’t even believe in it. As the S11 arrives and Thomas queues to step aboard, he decides that his old classmate is smarter than he thought, and that he should call him later to ask for a meeting.
* * *
The text comes in at 11:07 from Siegrid.
I don’t think she should take him. It isn’t safe.
She used to phone sometimes when she thought Thomas was on break but then she said she didn’t want to risk disturbing him. Now she sends text messages to her son that can be answered at his convenience.
The flights are booked. But don’t worry, he’s healthy and it’s safe.
Young Ahmed Kotil is in the chair across from Thomas, fiddling with his shoelace. He’s a baby-faced Turkish adolescent who has trouble sitting still and concentrating during their sessions. Thomas asks him for the tracking sheet they’ve started using to monitor his behaviour.
Will you come over on Sunday? I’ll bake a plum strudel (since I know you don’t get them at home anymore).
He examines the paper Ahmed has handed him and finds it mostly blank. “Ahmed, we agreed on doing this daily.”
“I can’t remember, yeah?” Ahmed kicks out the leg that he was sitting on. “It doesn’t work for me.”
* * *
That night as Thomas leaves the clinic for home he passes a newspaper stand that displays Die Welt, Die Zeit, Le Monde, and two other newspapers in languages he can’t read. As a student he used to excel at languages, at Latin, Spanish, French, and English, but he has no experience with Turkish or Arabic.
On the other side of the Rhine, in Oberkassel, he hears the television before he walks through the door. Inside a light is burning in the empty hallway and the rush of heat feels like a rash breaking out on his skin. We can afford it, his wife would say in her defence, but how many times has he tried to explain: it’s not about the money, it’s about the waste. He removes his shoes, turns off the light, and hangs his coat up in the closet.
“Margot?” he calls. He finds her in the kitchen leaning over a menu, wearing a t-shirt, sweatpants, and the sandals she calls flip-flops.
“Hi,” she says and lets him kiss her cheek. “Jay’s already asleep.”
He nods and reaches out to stroke the top of her wrist.
She says, “Your mother called. She wants us to come for dinner.”
“She’s going to give me a hard time about Christmas.”
On the windowsill a ceramic vase holds the tulips he bought her on the weekend. From where he’s standing the petals still look bright and yellow, but he knows she won’t have refreshed the water and that’s why the heads are drooping.
“Want Indian?” she asks.
Without answering, he crosses the room to the window sill, lifts up the vase and takes it over to the sink. “Sure,” he says. “Indian’s fine.”
While Margot dials the number to place the order, he walks through the apartment to their bedroom to change. Discarded clothes lay on the floor next to an oil-on-canvas abstract leaning against the wall. A graduation gift from Tante Grete.
“We should put Jay’s photo here instead,” Margot told him one day, having removed the painting from its hook. Fish swimming through garbage in a lake, is what she saw in it.
With a foot, Thomas pushes aside a blouse, its arms inside out, its bodice twisted. Margot is coming through to the bedroom, the slapping of her flip-flops against the hardwood floor like a rubber mallet against his skull.
“You can pick it up in thirty minutes,” she says.
Why me, he wants to ask, when I have just got home and don’t feel like going back out again? Then he remembers that the night is long and full of possibility. He pictures them walking to get their dinner together, his hand slipping over the curve of Margot’s hip, a finger tucking into her waistband. “Will you come with me?” he says, suddenly hopeful. “We could walk together?”
“And leave Jay alone?”
He hesitates for a second. “But isn’t he sleeping? We wouldn’t be ten minutes.”
She shifts her weight and folds her arms across her chest. “No,” she says, shaking her head. “No. I won’t do it. No way.”
He sits down on the bed and looks at the floor, all the air going out of him. He sees her bare feet, toenails freshly painted, dark red like a Roma might wear. For the rest of the evening, he doesn’t listen to anything else his wife has to say.
* * *
The next morning Thomas leaves earlier than usual, telling Margot he has a new appointment. He will get his coffee at the Bäkerei Hinkel and sit down to read the newspaper for a change. As he walks down Leostrasse towards the S-Bahn stop, the front of his unbuttoned coat flaps open and the freshness of the wind hits his chest like a football. It’s November; he remembers running through fields as green as the felt of a billiard table under a vast, dull sky in Kaiserswerth. A dog, what was its name?, an Airedale Terrier, ran beside him barking madly.
He used to like November.
* * *
On the S-Bahn, Thomas dials Reinhard’s number and gets through on the first ring. After complimenting him on his lecture at the Great Hall, he makes a joke about one of their old professors. Near the end of the conversation, he explains that he’s calling because he admires how Reinhard is building his business. He tells him he has an idea too, and could use some help getting started.
Reinhard pauses. “You’re working mostly with immigrant youth, yeah?”
“Yeah. My clinic’s in Bilk.”
“I remember. So what’s your angle?”
Thomas has not thought it through. “It’s better to talk in person, I think.”
“Okay,” Reinhard says and they make plans to meet for lunch.
* * *
Later, the morning rain streams down the panes of Thomas’s top floor office window. He’s writing in his notebook while Selen Zaman, a sixteen-year-old girl from Lebanon, talks about her father. Though Thomas is trying hard to listen, the girl’s tone is flat and her accent is strong and he hears his wife’s voice instead, saying over and over, “No. I won’t do it. No way.”
He imagines opening up the window and sticking his arm out into the gushing flow. He pictures himself crawling out onto the rooftop, lying down on clay tiles until his skin is soaked and his shirt is stuck to his chest. Water cleanses, he thinks. Then he remembers the floods in Dresden last summer, the photographs of cars floating down streets, and the tsunami in Japan some years before. Selen begins to cry in her chair. He looks back at her as she falls apart again. Every time. He pushes the box of tissues forward on the little round table between them.
* * *
Margot booked two flights to Ottawa to visit her mother with Jay before Christmas. She told Thomas about it while folding clothes out of their washer/dryer.
“Why didn’t you talk to me first?” he asked. “We could have booked skiing in Wengen instead.”
“I want to go home.”
He watched as she leaned into the machine and pulled out another white onesie. Almost three years together in Düsseldorf, but she still doesn’t call it home.
“Besides.” She turned to him. “We have a baby.” That day her t-shirt was stencilled with a giant beaver and beneath it, the word Roots.
“Siegrid can watch Jay for a few days. Don’t you think we need some time alone?”
Margot shook her head. “I don’t get you. I’d never leave Jay behind.”
Outside it was and raining and a large, wet raven landed on their balcony. It pecked at the slates of rotting wood, looked up and flew away.
* * *
On the weekend they drive out to Kaiserswerth to visit with Thomas’s mother. For the twenty minutes it takes, they ride in silence while Margot looks out the window. After an early dinner, Thomas takes the boy to sit in front of the fire and overhears the conversation in the kitchen.
“But Margot, are you not concerned?” Siegrid says. Though they both struggle with each other’s language, it’s Siegrid who’s making the effort to speak English.
“No,” Margot says, shaking her head. “There’s no risk now that the infection cleared up. I checked it with my doctor.”
Something else his mother will resent her for: not considering her son a doctor. He’s told her he’s not a medical doctor, but she thinks he’s qualified to advise this much.
They leave Siegrid’s house before the light fades so that Jay can sleep at his usual time at home.
“Can’t he sleep in the car?” Siegrid asks Thomas. “You haven’t been here very long.”
Thomas is too tired to explain. He kisses his mother’s cheek while Margot brings out the baby’s bag.
“Bet you loved that strudel,” Margot says when they’re in the car.
Jay falls asleep before they reach the end of the driveway.
* * *
When Thomas told his mother he would marry overseas, he hadn’t wanted to upset her. But she never travelled, not outside Europe, so he knew she’d miss the wedding. He took her out for dinner and gave her the news once they’d finished the meal and were stirring their coffee. He squeezed her fingers and said he was sorry but he wanted to please his bride. She lowered her head, stared into her cup as if watching sugar dissolve on the spoon. When she looked up, her eyes had filled with tears.
“You’ve found someone,” she said. “Oh, Schatz .”
Of course, she was thinking of Thomas’s father. It was then that Thomas realized, this is for life, this thing we’re cobbling together. He’d met Margot in Aspen on a ski holiday, and in Montréal and Chamonix and elsewhere afterwards. Theirs had been a long-distance affair; not once had they spent more than two weeks together.
But she’s so pretty, he thought, and exotic.
The first time he saw her was at the J-Bar in Aspen. He was ordering a whisky when she fell into him, straight over as if pushed, laughing with pure abandon. She didn’t care! She grabbed onto his forearm and pulled herself up.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said and laughed again. Her eyelids were dusted with some kind of sparkly makeup; they were softly shimmering, lavender.
* * *
The first of December, all through the morning, Thomas thinks about his practice.
You’re working mostly with immigrant youth, yeah?
But it’s only because the rent is cheap that he operates out of Bilk.
At lunch he leaves his clinic to get a sandwich, recalling passages in a book he’s reading about the 2004 murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Van Gogh was killed by a young Islamist enraged over his latest film. In a mosque, behind a veil, a battered Muslim woman claims the abuse she suffers is sanctioned by her religion. The attacker shot van Gogh in the stomach then tried to decapitate him with a machete. People were shocked, the Dutch were disgusted, yet conversations were guarded. Were they racist to talk of the man’s Moroccan roots? Were they condemning an Islamist or a killer? Thomas thinks of the sentences he has highlighted in the book where the author asks if the Dutch are becoming tolerant of intolerance.
He watches two old men waiting at a red light as he pays for his lunch at a take-away window. Margot laughs at how people wait for traffic lights in Germany.
“It’s clear!” she says and skips across the road.
Other mothers put their hands over their children’s eyes.
He takes a bite of his sandwich and savours the sour taste of rye, reminded of how his wife still doesn’t appreciate good bread. One day he came home to find a plastic-wrapped loaf of Wonder Bread on the counter.
“What’s this?” he asked.
If she hadn’t said “duh” he might let it go but he couldn’t stand the rudeness. He picked up the package and, with both hands, squished it together like an accordion.
“Not bread,” he said and let it fall to the counter.
* * *
They moved into the apartment in Oberkassel after returning from their honeymoon in New England. It was in a tall narrow townhouse on a cobbled street two blocks back from the river. Doctor Wendorf, the most senior doctor at the clinic, nodded his approval when he heard.
“Oberkassel, eh? They must be paying new psychologists a lot more than they did when I started out.”
They settled into an easy routine, Margot finding work with the marketing arm of an American company that had just purchased a chain of German spas and was looking for native English speakers. He told Dr. Wendorf about it at coffee one morning.
Dr. Wendorf said, “She’s a marketing specialist?”
“Not exactly,” Thomas answered, the word ‘specialist’ being too grand. “She used to run campaigns for a fitness centre in Canada, so she learned something about promotion.” He’d seen where she’d worked, in a small office in a small building, when he flew to Ottawa for the wedding. Instead of staying with her family, he stayed in a hotel to avoid causing them any inconvenience or stress. He toured the Mint and the National Gallery, and walked on Parliament Hill. When he stopped for a rest, he looked up at the Gothic buildings, jagged spires against a blue sky. The Reichstag is different, he thought at the time, more solid and less ornamental. But what goes on inside, that must be the same, they’re just buildings that house democracy. It was then that he first noticed a tick in his left eye, an involuntary twitching of the muscle beneath it. He looked away from the buildings, away from the sky, figuring it had to do with the sun.
* * *
Moritz Kitzner is in the chair at 16:00. He’s been sent to Thomas because of a charge of inciting hatred at his school.
“Why are they sending him to me?” Thomas asks his secretary, leaving Moritz alone in his office. “Who recommended him to us?”
“The school,” the secretary answers. “Or the school board, I’m not sure. Is there a problem? I thought—”
“No, it’s okay, it’s good. But why me?” Thomas asks again. He glances at the file in his hand to find the name of the referring doctor. He shakes his head and returns to his office.
“I don’t hate anyone,” Moritz says when Thomas asks him about the charge. “I just don’t want certain people around me.” The boy looks normal in physical appearance, tall with short hair, glasses, and acne.
Thomas takes meticulous notes, aware he might have to read them in court.
* * *
When the weekend arrives, Thomas plans to visit the library at the university to read the latest research on immigrant youth. He’s packing up his laptop when Margot stops by the door, Jay in her arms, to ask where he thinks he’s going.
“The library. For work. Why do you ask me like that?”
“Why do I? Why do I?”
He can see where this is going.
“Every day, all day long,” she starts and is soon crying. She puts Jay on the floor and stomps around, pulling sheets off the bed, tossing them into the hallway.
“Calm down,” Thomas says, picking up Jay. Their son has his colouring, his eyes.
“You think I do nothing while you’re at work. I’m not a good Hausfrau, am I?”
“I’ve never said that.”
“I bet you don’t even remember what we’re doing today.”
He frowns and jiggles Jay in his arms. The baby is drooling; he wipes his chin.
“I knew it.”
Thomas shakes his head. “Oh, fuck. Just tell me.”
She opens her mouth like she’s going to tell him off for swearing, then changes her mind and says, “Sylvie and Jarne? And I have a hair appointment first.”
He sighs. “I forgot.”
When she leaves to gather the sheets for the washer/dryer, Thomas follows behind with Jay. “I just forgot, okay? I’m sorry. I’ll stay with Jay while you’re out and go to the library tomorrow.”
“That’s generous, Thom. Very generous.”
He watches as she shoves the laundry into the drum, pours liquid detergent into a plastic drawer then pushes buttons to start the machine.
“You’ve never done this, have you?” she says, noticing his attention. “What will you do when I’m gone?”
She walks past him into the bathroom.
* * *
After Margot leaves to get her hair cut, Thomas takes Jay to the park by the river. He dresses the boy in a red-hooded jacket, covers his feet in leather booties, and plops him down onto the furry liner in the stroller. It’s fresh outside and the sun is trying to shine through slivers of silver cloud. Sometimes a shepherd on an electric bike brings his herds of sheep to the river for grazing. The neighbours say it looks idyllic and Thomas agrees but doesn’t like the awful mess it leaves behind. Today, there are no sheep in the park but there are dozens of people flying long-tailed kites and running with them alongside the river. He finds a dry spot to sit on the hill and lifts Jay out of the stroller.
“Look Jay,” he says, pointing out towards the river.
Jay wobbles on his bottom, looks up at the sky. “ Drachen ” he says. The German word for kites.
Thomas stares at him, stunned. He doesn’t remember teaching his son the word. “Yes,” he smiles. “Drachen. Say it again?”
“Good boy.” Thomas’s smile becomes a laugh. When Jay is older, he will buy him a kite and maybe an Airedale Terrier.
* * *
Sylvie and Jarne live on plot of land across from a horse track in Aachen. Part field and part meadow, the grounds that surround them are marked and divided by low stone walls and let out to horse breeders whose jockeys race across the street. A light dusting of sleet is hitting the windshield as Thomas steers the car down the long gravel path leading to the house. When he opens the car door and steps out onto the grass, he feels the chill of wintery air and smells the damp of the earth. He can see the allure of the countryside, but not of a space that has been cleared of trees. Margot goes on and on about Sylvie and Jarne’s, but never has a kind word for Kaiserswerth.
“He’s walking now,” Thomas hears one of the women telling the others. They’re standing around in the kitchen drinking wine while the men watch the babies and Formula 1 in the living room.
“No!” another says. “It’s too soon.”
There’s a murmur of consensus.
“He’s strong,” he hears Margot say. “ Kraftig . I’m not surprised.”
“He’s got Guido’s legs.” They all laugh.
Dinner is Schweinshaxe – pork knuckle – in a thin gravy with dumplings and salad, set out on a large table covered in a blue-and-white damask cloth. When Thomas compliments Sylvie on the dish, she winks at Margot and says she knows the best way to keep a German man happy. A third bottle of wine is opened and he watches as Margot accepts another glass from Jarne while pushing her pork to the side of her plate.
“His mother thinks I’m the anti-Christ for bottle-feeding her grandson,” she is telling everyone at the table.
“Breast is best,” says Guido with a smile.
“I happen to agree,” says Thomas, squeezing Margot’s hand under the table.
“Of course you do. You would never disagree with Mummy, would you?” She pulls her hand away.
“If you don’t have enough—” says Margot’s friend, whose name Thomas can never remember.
“It’s not that. I just hate the feeling, like I’m a cow or a pig or –.”
“Oh, no!” The friend disagrees. “It’s wonderful.”
“But it’s her choice,” says Sylvie.
Thomas feels the muscle beneath his left eye twitch, but he says nothing more and the conversation moves on. A baby cries. Guido slaps his hand down on the table. The espresso machine steams and sputters in the kitchen. As they pack up to leave and bundle their babies, everyone wishes Margot luck on her trip.
“It won’t be easy with a baby on your own,” Sylvie says.
“We’ll miss you,” the other friend says, hugging her tight.
While they’ve been inside, the sleet has turned to snow. For the first time it feels like Christmas is coming.
* * *
The following week, on Wednesday, Thomas meets Reinhard at the Fischhaus Restaurant in the Altstadt. It’s packed, a line is forming at the door, but Reinhard has made a reservation and they’re ushered to a table. In the square the Christmas market is lively, stalls are crowded with people buying Lebkuchen and Glühwein, wooden toys, nutcrackers, tree ornaments, woollen hats and mittens.
Reinhard says, “Christmas already.”
“It always comes around so fast.”
“Are you in town this year or off skiing somewhere?”
“Home this year. We have a baby.”
Reinhard smiles. “Oh, I didn’t know.”
They order two house specials and a bottle of Australian wine and reminisce about their school days. When the waitress comes back, she pours their wine and they toast to each other’s health. It takes a few more minutes until Thomas says: “So can I ask you how you’ve done it?”
Reinhard smiles. He puts his glass down and says that, really, it was all Martina’s idea. Martina, Thomas remembers, was also a classmate and is the daughter of the chief administrator at the largest mental health clinic in Nordrhein-Westfalen.
“I’d written just a single paper,” Reinhard continues, “based on a study in my clinic. Twenty-five couples. A list of questions. That much was my idea. But we were arguing about the conclusion when Martina said, ‘Actually it doesn’t matter. Your point is valid and there’s no one else doing this.’”
He stops speaking when the waitress comes back with their meals, placing the plates down in front of them.
“Her father got my study into the journal,” he resumes when the waitress leaves, “and he gave me the names of his media contacts. It’s just gone from there. I play along.”
“Now you have a waitlist.”
Reinhard shakes his dark curls and laughs. “Now I’m booking celebrities!”
“At any price.”
“Christ, yeah. Thomas. It couldn’t be easier.”
Thomas laughs too but doesn’t feel the joy. He remembers how Martina used to smile at him before she started going with Reinhard.
“Now tell me,” Reinhard asks. “What’s your idea?”
Thomas looks across the table, he looks around at other diners. They are busy people, well-dressed and well-spoken, the kind of crowd his mother would like. He remembers a time shortly after the van Gogh murder when he took Siegrid and Tante Grete out for lunch and afterwards to an art exhibit at the K21 gallery. They spoke quietly about what had happened. Siegrid said, “It’s not the individuals I fear,” as she studied a collection of eclectic chairs. “It’s how all of them, together, will change what I love.” When Thomas looks back at Reinhard, the idea has come to him. “I want to hold open forums at my clinic,” he says. “To support the integration of immigrants.”
Reinhard’s leg starts shaking under the table. “Integration or assimilation?”
“Good question. I don’t know. But there are so many non-Germans in Germany now, we can’t pretend it isn’t changing us.”
“And just because we haven’t shared the same past doesn’t mean we won’t share the same future. We should talk to each other, and listen to each other.”
“And then we achieve what? Acceptance? Brotherhood?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t got the answer.”
“But it will come. Through open forums in Bilk and the help of my friend Thomas.”
Reinhard picks up his knife and fork and begins to drum on the edge of the table. Then he leans forward and says, “Tell me, what does Germany gain by opening its borders? Is it just the cheap labour we’re after?”
“God knows we have pensions to fund.”
“It’s not that.”
“A humanitarian obligation, then? To do with our grandfathers’ guilt?”
“No. It’s the future. It’s leadership.”
“It’s life in the twenty-first century. Better make the best of it.”
“Maybe. But homogeneous societies are dead anyway. Why shouldn’t we be the ones who make the next model?”
Reinhard sits back in his chair and relaxes his leg. “Your wife,” he says. “She’s not from here, is she?”
“What’s that got to do with anything?”
“Just wondering how it’s working out for her.”
* * *
In Kaiserswerth, it’s Tante Grete who greets him at the front of the house. She sees the car, or hears it, comes out and descends the steps.
“Hello Thomas, it’s lovely to see you,” she says, leaning in to kiss him. He has always admired Tante Grete, a tall, thin woman with perfect posture, a widow like his mother and a chain smoker. In a pullover and scarf, with chin-length silver hair, she still casts an elegant shadow.
As she lights up, Thomas explains that he can’t stay long, he’s only come to pick up a fleece they forgot last time they were over. It’s going to be cold in Ottawa and Margot wants to pack it for Jay.
“Is it true, she’s leaving you at Christmas?” Grete asks him, offering a cigarette which he declines.
“She going to visit her parents,” he says.
“And she’s taking Jay?”
“Her father has never seen him.”
Grete inhales deeply and nods. His mother has told her that Margot’s parents never married and that her father shows little interest in the family.
“She can’t do this to you.”
* * *
Two weeks before Christmas, they drive to the airport with three large suitcases in the trunk, a car seat, and a baby bag. In the departures area, after the cases are checked, Jay holds onto Thomas’s thumb while Thomas pulls Margot close.
“I don’t want this,” he whispers, smelling some kind of coconut product in her hair. While she rests her cheek against his chest, he slides his hand down her back.
“Yes, you do,” she says. “You just can’t do it. You don’t love me, Thom.”
“That’s not true.”
“Say it, then. Say you love me.”
“I love you, Margot.”
“No. No.” Her head shakes in a tiny, desperate spasm. “You only love the idea of me.”
He pulls her closer, clutches the fabric of her sweater until her breathing changes and he knows that she is crying. “Don’t cry,” he says. “You don’t have to go.” There’s a pain in his chest like a metal claw scraping against his ribcage.
“But I do,” Margot says and pulls away.
Her skin is pale and her lips are cranberry red; she looks very pretty today. The last he sees of her, she is walking through the security gate carrying their son in her arms.
* * *
Instead of going home, he drives to the Café Muggel where he orders a whisky and sits alone. At the bar on a stool, a blonde in a sheer blouse is laughing a little too loudly. He can see her bra and the outline of her breasts and imagine making love to her. He wants to walk over, whisper in her ear, and suggest they leave together. Once he knew a woman who took him home after they met one afternoon. It was a warm, summer day and she lived on the ground floor of a terraced house where laundry was hung outside. Through her window they watched white sheets on a line, billowing like giant flags in the wind. Why does he still remember those sheets when he’s long forgotten the woman’s name? Yet he does, he remembers them vividly. They were stark and dizzying and beautiful; ordinary as every day.
* * *
On Leostrasse, he climbs the stairs to a cold and empty apartment. With his jacket still on, he walks through to the bedroom, sits down on the bed, and stares at the wall where Jay’s photo was never hung. His son was smiling when he said good-bye, still holding onto his thumb. But he will not remember me, Thomas thinks, he will have no memory of my face or my voice. “It was a mistake,” he says out loud to the wall. “Just a mistake. Oh, God. I’m sorry.”
* * *
On Christmas Eve, Thomas drives to Kaiserswerth to spend the night. Siegrid is hosting dinner with Tante Grete, one of his cousins, his cousin’s wife and their children. The children are young and excited about Father Christmas and they help Siegrid light the candles on the tree.
Nobody asks Thomas about Margot or Jay.
In the morning, before the others are up, Thomas finds his mother in the kitchen brewing coffee. At the counter, in a wool skirt and blouse, she cuts thick slices of lemon-iced Stollen and places two plates and mugs on the table. They eat without speaking and he tells her he will come back in the afternoon. He stands up from his chair, kisses her forehead and wishes her a Merry Christmas. When he leaves, there is frost on the neighbours’ lawns, intricate as patterned lace. He gets in his car, turns the heater on high, and drives through the tangle of streets.