“Nikolaus, please don’t leave, don’t go away now,” Margaret cried, wrapping her arms around him.
“Margie, it is for our country, it is for Germany, it is for the Fatherland. Otherwise they will come and take our land, they will take away everything that we know.”
“But I want you with me, I will be left alone,” she pleaded.
“Kneel down,” he said. “Feel this,” he put his hands on the earth. “This is our land, this is ours. If we let the British and the Russians, and the Americans win, this will be gone. Be brave, Margie, for our country, for us, and for what we are protecting.”
He kissed her gently, stood up, and walked away.
She knelt there, on the ground, weeping, until there were no more tears.
She had always known Nikolaus. When they were grown, it was just natural, she married Nikolaus. No one was surprised, it seemed the way things were meant to be.
Margaret never realized how much she loved him, until he declared he was leaving for the war. And then she felt alone and afraid. Nikolaus was everything. He provided for her, he protected her, he loved her, and now he would not be there.
Margaret sat down at the table. She was tired. She hadn’t slept the night before. The house was big and dangerous without Nikolaus. She looked around, her eyes weary. It was an old house. Mostly stone. It was cold in the winter—like it was now. The stones were worn and smooth, she tried to calculate how long it had been there, and figured at least a hundred years. Children had been born. Families had been raised. And children had died.
As her own had.
Margaret pictured the tiny grave in her mind, the small lump of earth. Her child, her beautiful daughter, who died before they even named her, before Margaret even knew her.
And so now Margaret was all alone, with Nikolaus gone.
Her father died when she was young, from a war wound that never healed. She vaguely remembered it—or maybe she was just imagining it from the stories her mother told. She would never know for sure…
“Here he comes!” Margaret shouted. “Papa is coming!”
She ran out of the house to greet him. He was walking slowly, and she reached him before he even approached the house.
“Papa, you’re home!”
“Ja,” he said quietly. Her father was a silent man. He never spoke much.
“Heinreich, we weren’t expecting you yet,” Margaret’s mother said, as she too came running towards him.
“Louise, it is good to be home,” was all he said.
“But you are limping, are you hurt?”
“Ja, but it is nothing. It will be gone soon.”
“Come inside, lie down and rest,” Louise urged.
He rested, and they cleaned his wound, and no one worried any more.
But one morning he woke up feverish.
“Heinreich, what is wrong? You are in pain? What is it?”
“My leg, it hurts.”
Louise felt him.
“You have a fever.”
“I must go to work.”
“You will not work today, you are sick. Lay still and rest.”
He was a stubborn man, he tried to get up anyways, but he collapsed again on the bed.
“Ja, I will rest.”
So he lay down, fell asleep, and never woke up. He tossed in a feverish sleep for three days, and then was gone.
“Mama, what happened?” Margaret asked. Papa was sleeping, but he was strangely still. And Mama was crying.
“Papa is gone,” she said. “Go outside.” Margaret went outside and found Nikolaus, working out in his family’s field.
“Nikki, something is wrong with my father.”
“I know, my papa told me. He is sick.”
“But now Mama says he is gone. What does that mean?” He paused from his hoeing.
“Margie, it means he is dead.”
“But how?” “I don’t know.”
“What does it mean? To be dead?”
“I don’t know. It is like he is a asleep, but he will never wake up now.”
“Never. Until God comes again. Then he will wake up.”
“I hope God comes soon. I want my papa.” She thought of her father, lying silent and still on his bed. He would never play with her again. Never tell her stories. Never be there for her. Margaret started crying.
“Nikki…I want my papa…I don’t want him to be dead. Can’t he come back? He came back from the war. Can’t he come back from being dead?”
Nikolaus wrapped his arms around her.
“Margie, he can’t come back now. It is too late. But you’ll see him again, remember? When God comes. Don’t cry, your papa would want you to be happy.” He stood and held her while she wept, until she was exhausted.
“Margie, you need to go home, you’re tired. You need to sleep.”
And so Nikolaus took over, he comforted Margaret when she was afraid or sorrowful. Her mother could no longer help her. As Margaret grew older, her mother became a child again.
“Margie, when will Heinreich come back from the war? He has been gone too long.”
“I don’t know, Mama, but soon. Soon.”
She was fifteen, and used to this now.
Her mother sat and knit by the window, asking questions about long dead relatives, and creating stories about her life.
“Your brother, Gottlieb, such a naughty little boy he was, always getting into mischief.”
Margaret was an only child.
But she was kind, and did not argue with her mother.
And then one day her mother was gone too. Peacefully, during the night.
So Margaret was alone. Nikolaus asked if she would marry him. It was two weeks after her mother died. She could not refuse, what else was there for her to do? Of course she would marry him, and they would raise a family, and have a happy life.
They were happy, Nikki and Margaret together.
She announced to Nikolaus that she was pregnant.
“Nikki, we are going to have a child,” she told him one evening, her face bright with excitement.
Nikolaus carved a cradle for their baby. Margaret knitted blankets and hats and socks.
But when the child was born, she was too young and fragile. She was born in the morning, and did not outlast the day.
So when they had planned to celebrate new life, they were digging a miniature grave.
“This is all we have now,” Nikolaus told her one night, “each other and this land. My parents are gone, your parents are gone. Our child is gone. This is what is left. And we can’t lose it. What would I do without you? And what would you do with me? We’ve got our house, and our love.”
All of this Margaret remembered, sitting at that sturdy oak table.
Now she wasn’t even sure if she would have Nikolaus. He might be so easily taken from her. It happened to so many others, why would it not happen to him?