A Friend: third Tourmaline (conclusion)
Yes, she would start a sterner policy with him…else, he might get worse…
She thought he was getting worse, and would have to be seen by a doctor. Was that a question, then, for the corporal, a kind of help she needed?
Herward was helping himself to her box of photo albums, and had accepted the chocolate bar, chewing while he fingered her things, not even paying this treat full attention. He had his soldier’s pay, and didn’t care what food cost. He didn’t care that the G.R.A. had closed all the banks, seized all the land deeds, placed her on a monthly stipend. One she’d had to go ask them for. She was paying rent on her own house. The woman behind the desk, that she’d had to apply to, had suggested she might be healthy enough to work.
“That’s not your business,” Mrs. Leonhardt said to her.
She could say the same now.
“That’s your husband…?”
“With Anton. He was six.”
She didn’t like this, the stranger’s pointing to the blond child. She hadn’t remembered it as clearly as she’d supposed, what her son had looked like. But then Herward said, “Sure, of course. I knew that.”
He looked across at Anton bent over his work, shaking salt into Mrs. Leonhardt’s dregs of cocoa, tamping in his handkerchief, heedless of the stain, and rubbing this on the silver—nodding to himself at this better success, no longer mumbling.
“Anton hasn’t changed so much, has he?”
She looked again, both at the picture, and at Anton. “He had blond hair when he was small, but it went dark.”
This seemed to her possible…and having said the words aloud, Mrs. Leonhardt came partway to believing them.
“And this is Anton with his grandmother.”
“No. That’s the older boy.”
A minute ticked by. “A shame,” Herward said.
That was a way of putting it. A number of things might be a shame, and she had given not much thought, for many years, to the child who had died so early.
“You talked to your roommate about your grandmother.” Herward said this to Anton and gave him the photo, slipping it onto the cloth under his hand. Anton took it up at once between two fingers and held it over his head, while with his other hand, he polished. Herward gave up, caught the photo, and tucked it back into its plastic.
Anton said, “Yes, I think she may be living, still in her old apartment. My grandmother.”
(2017, Stephanie Foster)