(In which Annie tells Jack that she has made peace with herself and with Dieter)
As things turned out I saw none of Annie’s family for at least a week. I didn’t learn until quite some time later that the meeting with Dieter had been a success: a qualified success, but a success nonetheless. It was when Molly had a day off work, the girls were all occupied and Dylan was at work looking after sick children. Molly decided she wanted to go to the garden centre near the airport. It is well and truly a lot more than a garden centre, it has everything from chocolates for the children and dining tables for luxurious dinner parties.
We browsed. Molly was looking for a plant. It confirmed the fact that Dylan knew his wife well.
“What sort of plant?” I asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Molly. “Just as long as it lasts and grows. I’m not a brilliant gardener and I want something that I can’t kill.”
I didn’t comment. Not about the reason for the plant – I’m pretty certain Dylan’s explanation was right on the money. I tried playing the interested gardener and suggested plants that would grow in Tropical Queensland or in the hard dry soil of Margany Station. Molly just looked at me with glazed over eyes and said she thought I was probably dreaming. When she had decided on a suitable plant I suggested that I buy a second one.
“So you’ll remember me when I go back to Australia.”
Then she launched her attack. We were sitting having a coffee with the two plants at our feet. At first I didn’t get the connection.
“How old are your daughters Jack?”
“Forty something. Early to mid-forties.”
“And how many children? How old are they.”
“Six. Two girls and a boy in Queensland and three boys in Perth. I’m a bit slack when it comes to birthdays. They are teenagers. Why do you want to know all of a sudden?”
“And you’re nearly eighty.”
“I’m not eighty. Not yet.”
“I said nearly!”
“What’s this all about?”
“I don’t think you should go back to Australia. Who is going to look after you when you do get to eighty? I’m younger than your daughters and I’m a qualified nurse. If we get an extension built onto the house you could have your own little lounge room and a kitchen. You could be independent.”
I looked at Molly as hard as I could. She wasn’t joking.
“I’d love that Molly. But I have to go back home. Fairly soon. I have grandchildren and they need a grandfather.”
Molly stood and picked up the two plants. She was rather quiet as we drove home. When we were there she took the two plants out to the back and then went upstairs. At the top of the stairs she turned back and looked at me.
“My children will miss you.”
She went into her room and closed the door. And I’ll miss you too, Molly. How many times had I seen that. She doesn’t argue. She wouldn’t try to change my mind. She had put her case simply and succinctly and that was that.
When she came down half an hour later she came over and put her arms around me. She said nothing. She buried her head in my shoulder.
“I saw Annie yesterday. And William. They came into the nursery to look at the baby. She held her and gave her to William to hold. There are so many things to do. When they apply they have to be approved and this can take a long time.”
“How long is a long time?”
“Up to six months. It’s quite a process. Finding the father might be difficult. But whatever the difficulties they are both pretty determined. I haven’t seen Annie so settled and happy. William said that Annie and Dieter have had a couple of really long talks. I think that whole business has been put to sleep for good. Actually, Jack. Why don’t you go and have a talk with her. I think she wants to explain how it is. After all you worked the magic.”
I sat looking at my hands and pushing the cuticles down my fingernails. It was a bit of a habit when I wanted to mull things over in my mind. Molly interrupted me.
“The girls won’t be home for a while. Ring Annie and go for a walk over to their place. And I’m here. I’ll go and get them. I haven’t seen their teachers for a while. And I want to bury those plants we bought this morning. Unless you want to do yours yourself.”
Annie and I sat at the outside table under the Rowan. There were a few early hints of autumn colour but it was still much too early for any decent display. William brought out a pot of tea and sat down. Vera said she’d be out in a minute. With any luck that meant scones. I could see what Molly had meant. It was a different Annie from the one I had come to know.
We talked around in circles for quite a time until it was clear that Annie really wanted to talk about Dieter.
“He is a very nice man,” she said. “It’s easy to see how Mother could like him. And now I know there is at least one decent and honourable German. He and I sat out here and discussed things a couple of times.”
“So what did he say?”
“Well first off he wanted to say sorry to me for all the things the Germans did to me by killing my Grandfather. As he spoke I began to realise that they had done the same to him. They killed his father as definitely as if they had put him in front of a firing squad. I never knew there were any Germans who stood up against the Nazis.”
“I never knew until I came here,” I said, “that there had been any resistance against the Germans in England.”
“To start with Jersey isn’t England but I’ll let you have that for now. There wasn’t an Occupation anywhere else but these islands. I don’t mean in France and Holland and those countries. We all know of the Occupation of Europe. But I was talking about Germans standing up to Germans. I had thought that all Germans had been the enemy.
“Dieter told us about something that happened to his father. And it was one of the things that caused him to commit suicide. One day, he said it happened in France, there was a French village and one of the German soldiers was killed so the Germans lined up fifty Frenchman and shot them. Fifty for one.”
“I’ve read about that happening. Apparently it happened a lot.”
“Yes but on this occasion Dieter’s father was in that village. What happened was the officer in charge wanted ten men to be in the firing squad but there weren’t any volunteers. So the officer pulled ten names out of a hat. They all lined up with their rifles. One of the ten was Dieter’ father’s best friend. They had both trained to be Lutheran Pastors at the same college. When they were lined up the sergeant began to give the order to fire. This friend of his threw his gun on the ground and called out, “Nein! Im Namen Gottes Nein!” The officer walked up to him and without saying a word slapped him in the face and then shot him in the stomach. No one was allowed to touch the young man and he had to lie there where he had fallen for the rest of the day until he died later in the middle of the night.
“I think that made me understand that it wasn’t all of the Germans who were so terrible and that there were many young German boys who didn’t have the chance to be brave. So I told Dieter that I understood and that I didn’t need him to say sorry.”
Annie was very calm as she spoke. There was no show of emotion or tears. It was just a calm reciting of facts, but her last comment on the topic was quite profound.
“What Dieter did was to take the load off my back. That part of my life is over and now everything I have is in front of me.”
For the second time I noticed that Annie and William were sitting next to each other. And I was very happy.
…..to be continued.