Randy Ford Author- Revised ON THE HOME FRONT

Randy Ford Author- Revised ON THE HOME FRONT

It was the middle of the night, and she couldn’t sleep. She remembered the boys on the two trains and how they leaned out their windows and exchanged wine bottles. Toasts were also exchanged, till the trains pulled out, while none of them realized what they were heading into.

But now alone, pushed to the breaking point, she asked herself, “Is he alive?” For all she knew she could’ve been a widow, and with all of her heart she hoped Fritz could still hear the enemy’s reveille. If he could it meant that he still could come home, and now she saw her husband and lover charging Calvary Hill, tipsily trilling the “Hooch Habsburg-Marsch.” Felt better? No. She still couldn’t sleep and wanted to cry … cry … many more tears … but they just wouldn’t come.

Wars, as you know, are never fun, never, never fun. The question is does prayer work? Prrwht! So she rarely prayed, but now she wanted to know if prayer works.

Most nights she didn’t bother with sleep … how to fall asleep before exhausting herself was a mystery to her. For this woman though, it was not the lack of sleep that mattered, but it was the nightmares that bothered her the most. More than anything else it was the nightmares. The yells of assault, the screams of agony, the wrath, the pain, and the killing, all these things came too close to home.
This life didn’t suit her. There was no one to cheer her up. She had to do it for herself, and she didn’t know why, for instance, but when she was around other people she felt even sadder. It took courage to go out, courage to go on living, while courage conquered death and death ended misery. Her excursions ended not with her seeking friends, but with her wandering the streets of Wien. Whenever she went out she rarely had a destination in mind and usually ended up in a place where they wouldn’t recognize her.

“Why, Frau Hertzel, why?” she asked herself. “Why is it so hard these days to carry on like we did before the war? And why can’t you do something that’s useful? Why can’t you contribute to the war effort? War! I thought you wouldn’t mind war so much. I just want to know what you can do, that’s all.”

“See here, we thought the war wouldn’t amount to much. Croatia isn’t far away, and with few causalities the war would be over in the matter of weeks. Then if we must fight, fight we shall. The war business is all very well, but it shouldn’t disrupt everything, you know. Don’t forget the reason we’re fighting is due to the assassination of one man. War! It takes courage on all fronts to fight a war. Courage! Austrian courage? Is it different from French courage? There’s no way of knowing for sure.”

At first they blindly went along with the war. At first she tried to behave like other women she knew; she really tried, carrying on the best she could, taking one day at a time. But it didn’t work for her.

It all seemed so pointless. Without Fritz it seemed that way. She could’ve been spending her time helping out in some way. There was so much to do.

It wasn’t long before she realized that the war would drag on. The topic of conversation then became who would come home. And out of those who came out of it alive how many would’ve lost an eye or a limb?

And for the women and the children who were left behind it was especially hard, and while some of them learned how to survive some of them didn’t. As long months turned into years, causalities on the home front mounted.

It helped not to think too much. Also drink helped but often gave no pleasure.

Why expect more from women than men? Remain strong first, then set an example by preserving the home. Be the best she could be. Then every time she was called upon, she was ready to help and did her best to keep her morale up.

Maybe she should stay at home. She couldn’t be careful enough. She tried to stay home, and many times she failed. She had to burst out, after she felt so depressed that she didn’t want to leave her flat.

The key, she thought, rushing out the door, must be fresh air and companionship …to forget the war through companionship.

Avoiding her old haunts … the cafes she once knew … she went looking for something she once had. It took tremendous courage to go out alone, but it got easier over time. Within a short time she overcame her inhibitions. A few drinks helped.

But one or two drinks weren’t enough. The moment she stopped drinking, her mind cleared but perhaps she never saw that she was making mistakes. Indiscretion aside, she never intended to hurt anyone.

When he approached her he seemed lonely too. He wanted to talk. What was there to talk about? Was there anything wrong with talking to him? He asked her name. She feebly answered him. She said just enough to keep the conversation going, and that was as far as it went.

As she reconstructed their conversation, a hollow voice sounded within her brain. There was no way around it. She had become a vamp, a silly vamp. She hadn’t come to the conclusion that she was a whore yet. If it were meant for her to realize that about herself it would mean that she’d have to wait. And she had brains, but she wasn’t thinking. If she had been thinking then maybe she wouldn’t have gotten into the mess that she got into. She felt foolish and tried to get over it.

The voice in her brain faded, and she went out again. The place was dark and cozy, and by then she’d decided to act like a vamp. It made him happy, and it gave her an excuse for her behavior.

“But I’m married,” she thought. “But I don’t care. It doesn’t matter to him, so it shouldn’t matter to me. I’m a vamp like every other vamp, and men like vamps.” So she didn’t have to think it over before she started flirting with him.

She felt better after her decision to be with someone. There’d be no ties afterwards. The war made it acceptable somehow. Spending time with him would mean no more than talking to a stranger on a tram … except they did more than talk.

Careful! But she didn’t pay attention to the hollow voice in the back of her head. Horrible!

She was lonely and was prepared to say “yes.” Then she wasn’t alert enough to say “no.” The weight of her feelings ignored, it was pretty clear that they went too far. And if it weren’t bold and risky, what was the point?

Whore! Whores were plentiful on Krugerstrasse. If you weren’t meant to be a whore, why would you allow him to slide his hand between your blouse and your skirt? Where were your brains? She had a girlish air about her. But there in the dark, as they passed Kremsmunsterhof, it felt like the end of the world, so her pain, her loss needed an antidote.

Feeling lousy. Talk was unnecessary.

That was the answer. Dive in headfirst. All she needed was a little tenderness. Then if indeed the world was about to end, what the hell!

They spent a few hours in bed looking for ways to get close, and without a thought of the consequences, he bought a little time before he’d face death again.

“When were you last in Salzburg?”

“Hotel Osterreichischer Hof in der Halle. We stayed there once. I was baptized a Lutheran.”

There would never be enough time … never enough time for an open carriage ride around The Prater, and it wasn’t nearly as hard for her after the first time.

With a hand on her thigh, the soldier asked her, “Again what is your name?”

“Why does it matter what my name is?”

“As a boy, I sang in the choir at Nonnberg Abbey.”

Solders always had the advantage because of the war. He knew this, as he loosened the lace of her bodice. She gave no resistance. In fact, she helped him. Her vows for the moment were forgotten, swept away by passion, breaking the promises that she had made to Fritz. Such promises didn’t mean much anymore. They’d become a causality of war.

His intensity and endurance surprised her. He was alive and trembling. Then without ceremony, he said goodbye, and she thought where was the gratitude that he should’ve shown. By the time he was gone she realized that his size meant nothing to her, but there was something that did matter, mattered more than anything else. She was now thinking straight. She swallowed, swallowed hard, and asked herself, how many times had she forgotten Lysoform and when was the last time she had her period.

The idea was terrifying. It was the biggest mistake she’d ever made, and it terrified her. Pregnant! Pregnant and she didn’t know who the father was. Which one was the father?
And then she remembered that for some time she regretfully hadn’t bothered to protect herself. It had been her responsibility and not the guy’s. Ya, it was the whore’s fault!

A single second made all the difference in the world. Afterwards she felt so clumsy and dirty. Oh, yes, she felt bad. She swallowed, knowing that she couldn’t keep the baby. But what was she to do? She was Catholic and knew what a priest would say.

He began by apologizing. So many of them wouldn’t have felt anything. It was clearly her fault. He couldn’t stop once he got started. They were both desperate.

It didn’t matter that she didn’t know who it was.

And so she shut her eyes.

It happened with a young boy really; then, if that was the one, she remembered that he seemed self-conscious … all fired up but self-conscious … though he could’ve been her son. The gulf between his and her ages made no difference since no one was hurt.

By the time he said goodbye he had forgotten her name. Perhaps he didn’t care enough about her to remember it. She certainly couldn’t blame him, if there was anyone to blame, so blame it on the war … a boy going off to war. He spared no time that day to talk to her, but rushed out the door. He had a war to fight.

When she remembered him … if only she could be sure that he was the right one … she remembered how she had helped him. He was young and terrified. Yet in delight he yelp like a puppy. When she heard it, she thought of how it felt the first time with Fritz. The first time with Fritz … would she get another time with him? They had been wild with joy. Now she felt only sadness. Now instead of a whole lot of happiness, there was one small problem. She could think of it in that way and do something about it, or … she could be free of it, as long as it remained an “it”.

Meanwhile the war dragged on, and people shouldn’t forget the men who went to war.

Remember it was supposed to have been the war that would end all wars. They had, in fact, dug themselves into a hole.

Fritz! Caught in Hell, he no longer dreamed of glory. Instead, he dreamed of bathing, a long soaking bath. Caught in Hell, he dreamed of women. Of course, he thought of his wife. Of stoking her hair. Touching her up. Knoodle and schnitzel. Strudel. Krugerstrasse. Grinsing. Cutie pie. Songs of love, always of love, pretty songs sung by rotten singers.

Fritz, caught in Hell, dreamed of the Prater in early spring, but the sounds of battle substituted for the sounds of thrushes and early lambs. And obsessed on cafe life, from conversation to cigarette smoke, comfortably talking or reading, even writing, the last sanctuary known to mankind those cafes. A frustrated and unrepentant cynic, with a little alcohol and opium, dull sort of fetishism he needed more booze. And more booze.

War changed all of that. A heavy dose of death, unmentionable horror, cold feet, froze bite did it! Eyes burning from acrid smoke! He was no hero. What if he refused to go over the top? They sent him crawling from trench to trench.

For as much as he wanted to communicate truthfully, there were subjects he avoided. The worst part. The broken spell worse than the broken vows. After the front, everyone was game. She, on her part, also felt less willing to communicate honestly. Who was with his sweetie?

Before him lay many more battles. From cold and dreary Prussia, with a war to win and a staggering number of dead, Lord have mercy; to Belgium and to France, the war dragged on and on. Ahead of him lay Ardennes, Mons, and Ypres, places Fritz hadn’t heard of before.

”… for your reckless irresponsibility,” the hollow voice intoned, “… for violating your vows and the traditions of family …”

To be faced with shame … delusion was easy in Wien. She never claimed to be pure.
But while she never intentionally hurt anyone, she was unfaithful at the very hour of her husband’s greatest trial.

But she quickly learned that irresponsibility didn’t pay. Irresponsibility? Was that what she called it? Now when she was faced with doing or not doing the responsible thing she had to think of her family. Given a chance to think, and when it came down to it, that was who she was thinking of. She didn’t want to hurt them.

Fritz might as well have been on another planet. Their vows were broken, and he didn’t know it. And she could’ve accepted her responsibility and turned her back on him

Now alone she walked up Staudgasse, but once she made up her mind she didn’t dare stop. Her one regret was not what she was about to do; it was that it hadn’t been Fritz’s baby. She refused to consider other options now.

She hadn’t slept. She knew that it would be over soon, if she could get over the pain and knew that the physical pain would go away soon enough. She no longer needed anyone else’s help, and she’d made up her mind without it. With some inner control she found the name and the address of a doctor who would take care of it for her … and when she was most vulnerable, but had she learned her lesson? And at the very same time as far as she knew Fritz lay dead in a trench somewhere.

What she once hoped for was now lost; changes familiar by now, some were not so subtle. She tried to abort it herself, tried many things. Her secret wouldn’t have been a secret for very much longer. And she’d never tell Fritz.

So this was it, she thought, and a long bath hadn’t cleansed her. A warm douche hadn’t stopped his sperm. Why hadn’t she used Lysoform?

And now as she came to Hilderbrandgasse, with a twisted ankle, and in survival mode, she saw the address she was looking for. True, he had to be a disreputable gynecologist, or else he wouldn’t do it. A friend of a friend of a friend gave her Herr doktor’s name.

It seemed like a long wait, interminable in fact. Just a little longer. In an hour or less, it would be over. Powerless, she sat there stiffly wondering what she was doing.

Only a hundred shillings. She didn’t care what it cost.

He had her take her clothes off now. Then as she stood there he put his arm around her. It felt like she was inside someone else’s body but had she not been naked she could’ve still ran!

His fingers roamed her body now, and his touch was gentle and direct as a lover’s touch. He began to say, “I could kiss you” and would’ve too had she responded. With a thousand apologies, he tried to reassure her. With a thousand apologies, he thought that he could win her over and felt faintly disappointed when he couldn’t. There was a limit to how much she could stand, and it wouldn’t take much before she would crack. To him there wouldn’t be any limits.

Then finally the tears came. As his short, chubby fingers cupped her breast.

He was ignoring her objections and tears. And he’d charge her a hundred shillings for an abortion, while the abortion hurt less than having him kiss her. Kissed her and kissed her. Don’t complain, don’t squirm, don’t scream! Cursed dog! “Your secret is safe with me.” And why didn’t she scream? Women who came to him were never supposed to complain, or squirm or scream.

“So allow me.”

Where had she heard that before? The old memories came back to her. Some of them had been gentle, and some of them had been rough, but the details were now blurred …something about lying on her back with her legs spread apart.

She felt cold as she lay on the table. She didn’t feel anything else as he separated her legs. So far it had been the worse day of her life. It couldn’t get much worse, but it did.

He then turned to the business of the abortion, the probing and the penetration that hurt less than she expected. He had given her something to ease the pain, but nothing would’ve eased it entirely. For about ten minutes…maybe it was half an hour, an hour … an eternity. And how she hated him, hated him. God knew that she didn’t ask to be kissed. And her thinking got so mixed up that she thought she’d never get it straightened out. After she rebuked herself for … Wien lost much of its luster. Curious life is, really. Somewhere along the way, she fell asleep.

In the months that followed she still grew restless. But now she was hesitant. She wasn’t as assured of herself as she had been. For each time she went out she checked and made sure she had Lysoform with her. Then one day there was no more Lysoform in Wien. No more Lysoform. No more… Here were other whores who thought as she thought. For each of them, the most important thing in their line of business was to make sure that they carried with them Lysoform. And now there was no more Lysoform in Wien.

For a long time she forgot about where she came from, that she hadn’t always been a vamp or a whore. But now and then, it all came back to her. She remembered it as she walked through the Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and passed by the old tree trunk on her way to Stephansdom. She wasn’t looking for anyone, and no one recognized her. People surrounded her yet she asked, “Where is everybody?” Was she looking for men, when there weren’t many around? And there were thousands and thousands of women without lovers. She shook her head. And there was no more Lysoform in Wien. A city without Lysoform, what a shame! It slowly came her that there was little need for Lysoform. She might as well go back to where she came from. Do you have any idea how often she was tempted to go back to where she’d been when she had plenty of Lysoform? Thousands of women, thousands upon thousands without husbands. And without Lysoform. The same rule held for her now as it did then except now there was no Lysoform. We choose our world. Had she not learned anything?

”Hey, soldier!” she called out.

“Frauline?” he whispered, so as not to be obvious.

Frauline! Of course, she was flattered. Well, of course. As simple as that, two lost souls found each other. Sex-stuck, gosh. “Frauline, would you like…” “Well, of course.”

And back outside across Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and they passed the old tree trunk and walked together down Karntnerstrasse, where they had a particular destination in mind. Over to Eve’s on Fuhrichgasse. Hurry. Walk quickly. “Is there any hope for me?”
“No hope whatsoever.”

For an hour or two, she and the soldier played around. Then sometime before the candle burned itself out, music, emotion, and sensation set off a flood of tears.

Randy Ford

 

It was middle of the night, and she couldn’t sleep … couldn’t sleep … couldn’t sleep.   She remembered boys on two trains and how they leaned out their windows and exchanged wine bottles. Toasts were also exchanged, and toasts were exchange until their trains pulled out, while not one knew what they were heading into.

But now alone, pushed, pushed and pushed to the breaking point, she asked herself, “Is he alive, still?” For all she knew she could be a widow, and with all her heart she hoped Fritz could still hear an enemy’s reveille. If he could, it meant that he could come home, and now she saw her husband and lover charging Calvary Hill, tipsily trilling the “Hooch Habsburg-Marsch.” Felt better? No. She still couldn’t sleep and wanted to cry … cry … many more tears … but they wouldn’t come.

Wars, as you know, are never fun, never, never fun.  Question is does prayer work? Prrwht! So she rarely prayed, but now she wanted to know if prayer works. So she prayed, prayed with all her heart.

Most nights she didn’t bother with sleep … how to fall asleep before exhausting herself was a mystery to her. For this woman though, it was not lack of sleep that mattered, but it was nightmares that bothered her.  More than anything it was nightmares.  Yells of assault, screams of agony, wrath, pain, dying and killing, all these things came too close to home.
Life didn’t suit her.  This life didn’t suit her. There was no one to cheer her up.  She had no one.   She had to do it for herself, and she didn’t know why, for instance, but when she was with other people she felt sadder. It took courage to go out, courage to live, while courage conquered death and death ended misery.  Excursions ended not with her seeking friends, but with wandering streets of Wien. Whenever she went out she rarely had a destination and usually ended up in a place where they wouldn’t recognize her.

“Why, Frau Hertzel, why?” she asked herself. “Why is it hard these days to carry on like we did before this war? And why can’t you do something that’s useful? Why can’t you contribute to the war effort? War! I thought you wouldn’t mind war so much. I just want to know what you can do, that’s all.”

“See here, we thought this war wouldn’t amount to much. Croatia isn’t far away, and with few causalities war would be over in the matter of weeks. Then if we must fight, fight we shall. War business is all very well, but it shouldn’t disrupt everything, you know. Don’t forget why we’re fighting is due to assassination of a couple. War! It takes courage on all fronts to fight a war. Courage! Austrian courage? Is it different from French courage? There’s no way of knowing for sure.  Austrian courage, there is no way of knowing if it exists.”

At first they blindly went along with war. At first she tried to behave like other women she knew; she really tried, carrying on best she could, taking one day at a time. But it didn’t work for her.

It all seemed pointless. Without Fritz it seemed that way. She could’ve been spending her time helping in some way. There was so much to do.

It wasn’t long before she realized that war would drag on.  Topic of conversation then became who would come home. And out of those who came out alive how many would’ve lost an eye or a limb … would’ve lost an eye, a limb, or his mind?

And for women and children who were left behind it was especially hard, and while some of them learned how to survive some of them didn’t. As long months turned into years, causalities on the home front mounted.

It helped not to think.  It helped not to think too much.  It was best not to think.  Also drink helped but often gave no pleasure.

Why expect more from women than men? Remain strong first, then set an example by preserving home. Be best she could be. Then every time she was called upon, she was ready to help and did her best to keep her morale up.

Maybe she should stay at home. She couldn’t be careful enough. She tried to stay home, and many times she failed. She had to burst out, after she felt so depressed that she didn’t want to leave her flat.

The key, she thought, rushing out the door, must be fresh air and companionship …to forget war through companionship.

Avoiding old haunts … cafes she once knew … she went looking for something she once had. It took tremendous courage to go alone, but it got easier over time. It got easier. She overcame inhibitions. A few drinks helped. Beauty help.  She knew how to use her looks.  She knew how to flirt.

But one or two drinks weren’t enough.  Moment she stopped drinking, her mind cleared but she never saw that she was making mistakes. Indiscretion aside, she never intended to hurt anyone.

When he approached her, he seemed lonely too. He wanted to talk.  She wanted company.  She craved company.  But what was there to talk about? Was there anything wrong with talking to him? He asked her name. She answered him. She said just enough to keep a conversation going, and that was as far as it went.

As she reconstructed their conversation, a hollow voice sounded within her brain. There was no way around it. She had become a vamp, a sexy vamp, a silly, sexy vamp. She hadn’t come to a conclusion that she was a whore yet. If it were meant for her to realize it, she had to wait. And she had brains, but she wasn’t thinking. If she were thinking, she would not have gotten into a mess that she got into. She felt foolish and tried to get over it.  It wasn’t clear if she got over it.

A voice in her brain faded, and she went out again. The place was dark and cozy, and by then she decided to act like a vamp. It made him happy, and it gave her an excuse.

“But I’m married,” she thought. “But do I care?  It doesn’t matter to him, so it shouldn’t matter to me. I’m a vamp like every other vamp, and men like vamps.” So she didn’t think and didn’t have to think before she started flirting.

She felt better after her decision.  There were no ties afterwards. There were no strings.  War made it acceptable somehow. Spending time with him meant no more than talking to a stranger on a tram … except they did more than talk.

Careful! But she didn’t pay attention to a hollow voice in the back of her brain. Horrible!

She was lonely and was prepared to say “yes.” Then she wasn’t alert enough to say “no.” Weight of her feelings ignored, it was clear that they went too far. And if it weren’t bold and risky, what was the point?

Whore! Whores were plentiful on Krugerstrasse. If you weren’t meant to be a whore, why would you allow him to slide his hand between your blouse and your skirt? Where were your brains? She had a girlish air about her. But there in the dark, as they passed Kremsmunsterhof, it felt like the end of the world, so her pain, her loss needed an antidote.

Feeling lousy.  Feeling lonely.  Talk unnecessary.

That was an answer. Dive in headfirst. All she needed was a little tenderness. Then if indeed the world was about to end, what the hell!

They spent a few hours in bed looking for ways to get close, and without thinking of consequences … to hell with consequences, he bought a little time before he’d face death again.

“When were you last in Salzburg?”

“Hotel Osterreichischer Hof in der Halle. We stayed there once. I was baptized a Lutheran.”

There was never enough time … never enough time for an open carriage ride around The Prater, and it wasn’t nearly as hard for her after the first time.

With a hand on her thigh, the soldier asked her, “Again what is your name?”

“Why does it matter??”

“As a boy, I sang in the choir at Nonnberg Abbey.”

Solders always had an advantage because of war. He knew this, as he loosened the lace of her bodice. She gave no resistance. In fact, she helped him. Her vows were forgotten, swept away by passion, breaking promises that she made to Fritz. Promises didn’t mean much anymore. They were causalities of war.

His intensity and endurance surprised her. He was alive and trembling. Then without ceremony, he said goodbye, and she thought where was gratitude. Then she realized that his size meant nothing to her, but there was something that did. She was now thinking straight. She swallowed, swallowed hard, and asked herself, how many times had she forgotten Lysoform and when was the last time she had a period.  Could she be?  Yes, she could be.

The idea terrified her. It was a big mistake, the biggest mistake she ever made, and it terrified her. Pregnant! Pregnant and she didn’t know who the father was. No Lysoform, no lysoform in Wien.  Which one was the father?
And then she remembered that for some time she regretfully didn’t protect herself. It was her responsibility and not the guy’s.  Ya, it was a whore’s fault!  No Lysoform, and now what did it matter? But there was no more Lysoform in Wein.

A single second made a difference in the world. Afterward, she felt clumsy and dirty, so clumsy and dirty.  Oh, yes, clumsy and dirty.  Oh, yes, she felt bad. She swallowed, knowing that she couldn’t keep a baby.  She knew she couldn’t explain it.  She knew, she knew she could explain it to Fritz.   But what was she to do? She was Catholic and knew what a priest would say.  She was Catholic and not Lutheran.

He began apologizing. So many of them wouldn’t have felt anything. It was clearly her fault. He couldn’t stop once he started. They were both desperate.

It didn’t matter that she didn’t know whose it was.

And so she shut her eyes.

It happened with a young boy really; then, if it was the one, she remembered that he seemed self-conscious … all fired up but self-conscious … though he could be her son. A gulf between his and her ages made no difference since no one was hurt.  Age differences made no difference, no difference to her … no difference because he was old enough to die.

By time he said goodbye, he forgot her name. She never knew his name.  She didn’t tell him her right name.  Perhaps he didn’t care enough about her to remember a name she gave him.  She couldn’t blame him, if there was anyone to blame, so blame it on war … a boy going to war. He spared no time that day to talk to her, but rushed out the door. He had a war to fight.

When she remembered him … if only she could be sure that he was the right one … she remembered how she had helped him. He was young and terrified. Yet in delight he yelp like a puppy. When she heard it, she thought of how it felt the first time with Fritz. The first time with Fritz … would she get another time with him? They had been wild with joy. Now she felt only sadness. Now instead of a whole lot of happiness, there was one small problem. She could think of it in that way and do something about it, or … she could be free of it, as long as it remained an “it”.  It made her feel sad.

Meanwhile war dragged on, and people shouldn’t forget men who went to war, men who were facing death in war, men who died fighting a war.

Remember it was a war that would end all wars. They had, in fact, dug themselves into a hole.

Fritz! Caught in Hell, he no longer dreamed of glory. Instead, he dreamed of bathing, a long soaking bath. Caught in Hell, he dreamed of women. Of course, he thought of his wife. Of stoking her hair. Touching her up. Knoodle and schnitzel. Strudel. Krugerstrasse. Grinsing. Cutie pie. Songs of love, always of love, pretty songs sung by rotten singers.

Fritz, caught in Hell, dreamed of the Prater in early spring, but sounds of battle substituted for sounds of thrushes and early lambs. And obsessed on cafe life, from conversation to cigarette smoke, comfortably talking or reading, even writing, the last sanctuary known to mankind, cafes. A frustrated and unrepentant cynic, with a little alcohol and opium, dull fetishism, he needed more booze. And more booze.

War changed everything. A heavy dose of death, unmentionable horror, cold feet, froze bite did it! Eyes burning from acrid smoke! He was no hero. What if he refused to go over the top? He was no hero.  They sent him crawling from trench to trench.

For as much as he wanted to communicate truthfully, there were subjects he avoided. Worst part. A broken spell worse than broken vows. After the front, everyone was game. She, on her part, also felt less willing to communicate honestly. Who was with his sweetie?

Before him lay many more battles. From cold and dreary Prussia, with a war to win and a staggering number of dead, Lord have mercy; to Belgium and to France, the war dragged on and on. Ahead of him lay Ardennes, Mons, and Ypres, places Fritz hadn’t heard of before.

”… for your reckless irresponsibility,” the hollow voice intoned, “… for violating your vows and traditions of family … family values.

To be faced with shame … delusion was easy in Wien. She never claimed to be pure.
But while she never intentionally hurt anyone, she was unfaithful at the very hour of her husband’s greatest trial.

But she quickly learned that irresponsibility didn’t pay. Irresponsibility? Was that what she called it? Now when she was faced with doing or not doing a responsible thing, she had to think of her family. Given a chance to think, and when it came down to it, it was who she was thinking of. She didn’t want to hurt them.  She didn’t intend to hurt anyone.

Fritz was on another planet. Their vows were broken, and he didn’t know it. And she could’ve accepted her responsibility and not turned her back on him

Now alone she walked up Staudgasse, but once she made up her mind she didn’t dare stop. Her one regret was not what she was about to do; it was that it wasn’t Fritz’s baby. She refused to consider other options now.  It was too late, too late to consider other options.  Maybe she didn’t have other options.

She hadn’t slept, hadn’t slept, hadn’t slept.   She knew that it would be over soon, if she could get over pain and knew that physical pain would go away soon enough. She no longer needed anyone else’s help, and she’d made up her mind without it. With some inner control she found name and address of a doctor who would take care of it   … and when she was most vulnerable, but had she learned her lesson? And at the same time as far as she knew, Fritz lay dead in a trench somewhere.

What she once hoped for was lost; changes familiar by now, some were not so subtle. She tried to talk about it to herself, tried many things. Her secret wouldn’t have been a secret for much longer. And she would never tell Fritz.  She would never tell anyone who was in her family.  She would never confide in anyone.

So this was it, she thought, and a long bath hadn’t cleansed her. A warm douche hadn’t stopped his sperm. Why hadn’t she used Lysoform?  Why wasn’t there Lysoform, Lysoform in Wein?

And now as she came to Hilderbrandgasse, with a twisted ankle, and in survival mode, she saw the address she was looking for. True, he had to be a disreputable gynecologist, or else he wouldn’t do it. A friend of a friend of a friend gave her Herr doktor’s name.

It seemed like a long wait, interminable in fact. Just a little longer. In an hour or less, it would be over. Powerless, she sat wondering what she was doing.  Why hadn’t she used Lysoform?  Why wasn’t there Lysoform in Wein?

Only a hundred shillings. She didn’t care what it cost.  A hundred shillings wasn’t as much as you would think.

He had her to take her clothes off now. Then as she stood there he put his arm around her. It felt as if she was inside someone else’s body but had she not been naked she would’ve ran!  Why did he put his arm around her?

His fingers roamed her body now, and his touch was gentle and direct as a lover’s touch. He began to say, “I could kiss you” and would’ve too had she responded. With a thousand apologies, he tried to reassure her. With a thousand apologies, he thought that he could win her over and felt faintly disappointed when he couldn’t. There were limits to how much she could stand, and it wouldn’t take much before she would crack. To him there weren’t limits.

Then finally tears came. As his short, chubby fingers cupped her breast.

He ignored her objections and tears. And he charged her a hundred shillings for an abortion, while abortion hurt less than having him kiss her. Kissed her and kissed her. Don’t complain, don’t squirm, don’t scream! Cursed dog! “Your secret is safe with me.” And why didn’t she scream? Women who came to him were never supposed to complain or squirm or scream.

“So allow me.”

Where had she heard that before?  Old memories came back to her. Some of them had been gentle, and some of them had been rough, but details were now blurred …something about lying on her back with her legs spread apart.

She felt cold as she lay on a cold, steel table. She didn’t feel anything else as he separated her legs. So far it had been the worse day of her life. It couldn’t get worse, but it did.

He then turned to the business of abortion, probing and penetration hurt less than she expected. He gave her something to ease pain, but nothing eased it entirely. For about ten minutes…maybe it was half an hour, an hour … an eternity. And how she hated him, hated him, hated men, hated all men.   God knew that she didn’t ask to be kissed. And her thinking got mixed up with thoughts she never straightened out. After she rebuked herself for … Wien lost much of its luster. Curious life is, really. Somewhere along the way, she fell asleep.  She never knew what he did to her while she was sleeping.

In months that followed she still grew restless. But now she was hesitant.  She now pulled it, it, it out quicker.  She now stayed home on certain days.  Now she wasn’t as assured of herself as she had been. For each time she went out she made sure.  There still wasn’t Lysoform in Wien. No more Lysoform. No more… Here were other vamps who thought as she thought. For each, the most important thing was to carry Lysoform with them.  But there was no more Lysoform in Wien.

For a long time she forgot about where she came from, that she hadn’t always been a vamp. But now and then, it all came back to her. She remembered as she walked through the Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and passed by an old tree trunk on her way to Stephansdom. She wasn’t looking for anyone, and no one recognized her. People surrounded her yet she asked, “Where is everybody?” Was she looking for men, when there weren’t many around? And there were thousands and thousands women without lovers. She shook her head. And there was no more Lysoform in Wien. A city without Lysoform, what a shame! It slowly came to her that there was little need for Lysoform. She might as well go back to where she came from. Do you have any idea how often she was tempted to go back to where she’d been when she had plenty of Lysoform? Thousands of women, thousands upon thousands without husbands. And without Lysoform. The same rule held for her now as it did then except now there was no Lysoform. We choose our world. We choose our protection.  Had she not learned anything?

”Hey!, soldier!” she called out.

“Frauline?” he whispered, so as not to be obvious.

Frauline! Of course, she was flattered. Well, of course. As simple as that, two lost souls found each other. Sex-stuck, gosh. “Frauline, would you like…” “Well, of course.”

And back outside across Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and they passed an old tree trunk and walked together down Karntnerstrasse, where they had a particular destination in mind. Over to Eve’s on Fuhrichgasse. Hurry. Walk quickly. “Is there any hope for me?”
“No hope whatsoever.”

For an hour or two, she and a soldier played around. Then sometime before the candle burned itself out, music, emotion, and sensation set off a flood of tears … a bucket of tears

  Oblivious of her surroundings, Pauline walked up Staudgasse.  Once walking, she didn’t dared stop.  Straight ahead she walked, her head bent down, her eyes fixed on the sidewalk.  She hadn’t slept.  Oh, the pain, the worry.  As for as she knew, Fritz lay among the dead.  What was death compared with what she was about to do? But she had to think of her children.
      Changes familiar by now.  Some not so subtle.  She had stopped ovulating but she looked for an explanation other than the obvious one.  Any explanation other than the right one.  She didn’t want to face the truth.   It had to have been a mistake.  She indeed made a mistake.

      She tried to avoid this day.  Finally she talked herself into it.  At first, she tried to abort it herself, tried many things.  Her secret wouldn’t have been a secret for very much longer.

She would never tell Fritz.  That was certain, when nothing else was certain when faced with the uncertainty of the war.  He picked her up.  She asked no questions.  Afterwards he got shut of her.

Don’t mope over it.  Her fault; she should’ve protected herself.  Anonymous.  No, she knew his name and why she had to get shut of him.  Her long bath hadn’t cleansed her.  A warm douche hadn’t stopped his sperm.

Boy or girl?  She wanted to know.  A name!  Girl or boy, she or he deserved a name.  No frau, no, just get it over with.

No more than a few city blocks, and left at Hilderbrandgasse, with a twisted ankle, she stumbled along.  Her survival mechanism seemed out of whack.

So she looked for a disreputable gynecologist and left feeling used.  A friend of a friend of a friend gave her Herr doktor’s name.

“Frau, he’ll be with you soon.”

The wait seemed interminable.

Just a little longer.  In an hour or less, it would be over.

Powerless, she sat there stiffly wondering what she was doing.

“Frau Hertzel, come in.”

Sometimes Herr Doktor gave into his urges.  It was what most linked him to his patients.

“Only a hundred shillings.”

She didn’t care what it cost.

He had her take her clothes off.  Then as she stood there he put his arm around her.

“Thank you.”

      

Thanks?  The door!  If only she could’ve run then       “Come!”

“Me?”

“I could kiss you.”

While reassuring her, Herr Doktor ignored her objections and tears.  A thousand apologies.  Herr Doktor…one hundred shillings…paying for an abortion and having him kiss her.

“So allow me.”

As his short little fingers cupped her breast.

Cursed dog!

“Your secret is safe with me.”

She felt cold as she lay on the table.  Even the probing and the penetration of stainless steel didn’t hurt as much as his smiling as he separated her legs.  He held them open with straps.  With bitterness, she bit her lip.

She remembered her initial shock.  Of course, he smiled.  For about ten minutes…maybe it was half an hour, an hour.

“Herr Doktor, please don’t…don’t…”

But he continued.

And how she hated him, hated him.  God knew she didn’t ask to be kissed.  And her thinking got so mixed up that she thought she’d never get it straightened out.  After she rebuked herself, for her, Wien lost much of its luster.

Curious life, really.

At night she still roamed Krugerstrasse.  At that hour the night crowd in Stock-im-Eisen-Platz would be sparse.  This satisfied Pauline, as she passed by the old tree trunk to Stephansdom.  Looking for something, somebody.  Who?  Pauline answered herself.

“Hey, soldier!” she called out.

“Frauline?” he whispered, so as not to be obvious.

“Frauline, may I?”

“Well, of course.”

That’s all it took.  “Well, of course.”  As simple as that, two lost souls found each other.  Sex-stuck, gosh.

“Frauline, would you like…”

“Well, of course.”

And back outside across Stock-im-Eisen-Platz and they passed the old tree trunk and walked together down Karntnerstrasse.  They had a particular destination in mind.

By this time he had a plan, and he didn’t need to know her name.

“Eva.”  And somehow he knew that wasn’t her real name.

“Drink?”

“Faith, no,” said she, “surely you’re not talking about having just one drink?  Surely.”

Over to Eve’s on Fuhrichgasse.  Hurry.  Walk quickly.

“Is there any hope for me?”

“No hope whatsoever.”

For an hour or two, she and the soldier played around.

“Frauline, my sweet…”

“Yes?”

“Love.”

“Let’s not talk about love.”

“What’s the matter?”

“Let me be. Let me live.”

“I don’t want to disappoint you,” he said as he unbuttoned her blouse.  “Do you mind?

“I don’t care.”

She surrendered again, but intimacy was impossible.  Sometime before the candle burned itself out, music, emotion, and sensation set off a flood of tears.

“What’s the matter with you?”

She wouldn’t say.  And as she did what he asked, her whole body shivered.

 

Pauline remembered the last war when God seemed out of sorts.  She questioned the certainty of war and relived the loneliness and uncertainties of it.  She wondered why nations placed their future in the hands of generals.

 

       Without apologies, the army commandeered boys: Czechs, Hungarians, Poles, Rutheniums, Italians, Bosnians and Croats.  It didn’t matter where they came from.
Sweethearts and wives had to wait.

 

 

      Minds weren’t on where they were going or what they were about to do or that they were about to fight a war. It seemed as if it didn’t matter to them that some of them would soon die.  Kaiser Franz Joseph also seemed unconcerned, as he stepped down from his carriage dressed in wine-stained civvies.  Pauline remembered how she focused on his long whiskers. 

       Boys placed on trains exchanged wine bottles and toasted with them.

       “Feel better?”

       “No.”

       Lonely and pushed to the breaking point, she didn’t know the fate of her husband.  That curse: sleeplessness.  For all she knew, she could’ve been a widow.  With all of her heart, she hoped Fritz could still hear the enemy’s reveille. As his return seemed increasingly remote, she saw her lover charging Calvary Hill, tipsily trilling the “Hooch Habsburg-Marsch”.

       She rarely went to church.  Rarely prayed.  Tell us if prayer works. Prrwht!  Forget it.

       And then the nightmares would begin.  The yells of assault, the screams of agony, the wrath, the pain, and the killing, all these things became too familiar.

      “Courage conquers death and death ends all misery.”  War.  Austrian courage?  Was it different from French courage? No way of knowing for sure.

       Long months turned into years.  People ought to have helped each other.  It helped not to think too much.  Also drink helped but gave no pleasure.

       And with a woman, for instance, expected more from her than from a man.  That woman left at home.  Look at her. Look at things about her.  Read her palm.  Split hairs.  She should stay home.  Be the best she could be.

       Insensibly, she looked for companionship.  Trying to forget the war, she went back to the cafes she once knew.

       Wanted to talk. What was there to talk about?  Say something.  Again she radiated confidence.  Indiscretion aside, she never intended to hurt anyone.

       “Would you like some company?”

      “Ya, Fraulein.
       “I’m married.”

       “I don’t care.”

       See it doesn’t matter to him.

       “Think it over.”

       “I’ve thought about it.”

      She was lonely, and the war made it acceptable somehow.  Holding hands.  It was kind of taken for granted.  The weight of their feelings ignored.  Something bold, something risky.  Of course, if it weren’t bold and risky, what was the point?

       Pauline’s heart raced as she said “yes.”

       “Yes.”

       “Are you sure?”

       “Yes.”

       Walking down Krugerstrasse, he slid his hand between her blouse and her skirt and, pulling her blouse out, felt her skin.  It was all right with her.  Why wait for privacy?  Why wait for anything when there was no tomorrow?

       Feeling lousy intensified her feelings of loss.  She never took the time to question herself.  Talk was unnecessary.  If indeed the world was about to end, then what the hell!

       Passed Kremsmunsterhof.  The cost of it felt like highway robbery.  Whether she told him yes or no hardly mattered anymore.  Taking his hand was an invitation.  Pauline and her new beau spent a few hours drinking and looking for ways to get close.

       “Relax.”

       “Oh?”

       “When were you last in Salzburg?”

       “Hotel Osterreichischer Hof in der Halle.  We stayed there once.  I was baptized a Lutheran.”

       Time was too short.  The two of them sat in an open carriage and joined the cream of Wien’s society for a winter drive.  A cockade coachman drove them away from The Prater.  With a hand on her thigh, the soldier asked her,  “Again what is your name?”

       “Pauline.”

       “As a boy, I sang in the choir at Nonnberg Abbey.”

       Trembling, he couldn’t get away with talking anymore.  He felt sure she had a loving heart.

       “Cold?”

       “No.”

       She had been alone for too long.

       “Do you mind?”

       “No.”

       And as they laughed, she accepted a kiss.

       “Pauline, Pauline, is it Pauline?”

       Solders had the advantage during the war.  He knew this, as he loosened the lace of her bodice.  She gave no resistance.  No reluctance.  In fact, she helped him.  What she was doing seemed unclear.  There was no road map.  She had no one to give her direction.

       “Let me help you.”

       The intensity and his endurance surprised her.  She surmised, with most men it would’ve been rushed.  His size meant nothing.  But where was the gratitude that he should’ve shown?

       How many times had she forgotten to take Lysoform with her before she missed her period?  And then she remembered that for some time she regretfully hadn’t bothered to protect herself.  Then her error seemed apparent.  It had been her responsibility and not her escorts.  Ya, it was the hussy’s fault.

       The consequences of intercourse were never discussed.  She still loved Fritz, missed him.  Hadn’t a relentless enemy pulled them apart?

        Far from feeling bad about violating another man’s wife, he said this about it, “We were both lonely.  For a short while, we forgot who we were.”  And, “Hey, presto! We had a great time.”  And to take a half-worn housewife felt so good, better than a full-fledged virgin.

       “I feel so clumsy.”

       “Oh, yes.”

       “Oh, my.”

       The scent, the smile, but more than these, the soft, smooth skin and being far away from home.  The wine and the brandy, you may be sure, helped.  Helped him forget himself.  And then suddenly he became self-conscious.

       “You were just fine.”

       He would never forget her, never ever forget those nights.

                           *

       As for Fritz, misery and exhaustion associated with trench life and long marches left him exhausted and numb.  Knew he used to be a man.  People shouldn’t forget the men who went to war.  So he went to fight to win the war to end all wars. Had he dug his trench deep enough?  Caught in Hell, he no longer dreamed of glory.  Instead, he dreamed of bathing, a long soaking bath.

       Dreamed of goings on with women.  Stoking their hair.  Touching them up.  Knoodle and schnitzel.  Strudel.  Krugerstrasse.  Grinsing.  Cutie. Songs of love, always of love, pretty songs sung by rotten singers.

       Dreamed of the Prater in early spring, the sounds of battle substituted for the sounds of thrushes and early lambs.  And obsessed with cafe life, from conversation to cigarette smoke, comfortably talking or reading, even writing, the last sanctuary known to mankind those cafes.  A frustrated and unrepentant cynic, with a little alcohol and opium, dull sort of fetishism called for more booze.  And more booze.

       War changed all of that. A heavy dose of death, unmentionable horror, cold feet, froze bite did it!  Eyes burning from acrid smoke!  He was no hero.  What if he refused to go?  They sent him crawling from trench to trench.

      For as much as he wanted to communicate truthfully, there were subjects he avoided.  The worst part.  The broken spell, worse than the broken vows.  After the front, everyone was game.  She, on her part, also felt less willing to communicate honestly.  Who was with his sweetie?

       Before him lay many more battles.  From cold and dreary Prussia, with a war to win and a staggering number of dead, Lord have mercy; to Belgium and to France, the war dragged on and on.  Ahead of him lay Ardennes, Mons, and Ypres, places Fritz hadn’t heard of before.

                          *

      Delusion was easy in Wien.  Pauline never claimed to be pure.  But never intentionally hurtful, she began her deception at the very hour of her husband’s greatest trial.  For the record she felt rather blasé about it, except when faced with the possibility of giving birth to a bastard.

Randy Ford

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