A Friend: Third Tourmaline (part two)
“My son,” she told him, “has just come home. I can’t say what he plans to do.”
“I think I know Anton.”
He’d surprised her with this.
Anton had not put the kettle on for his cocoa, or put his plate in the oven to warm. He had stared at Herward, head lowered, squinting up; he had crossed his arms and thrust his hands in the opposite sleeves. Mrs. Leonhardt’s son now sat mute at the kitchen table, blank in the eyes, rubbing his handkerchief on a silver card tray. With this task, he’d absorbed himself, as soon as Herward set two or three things in front of him.
“I have chocolate bars.” She told her guest this; and also, “You can drink my coffee. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“Thank you, ma’am. Yes—”
Herward sat on a vinyl-cushioned stool that wheezed, expelling air…he chuckled at the noise, and spun towards Anton, speaking for his benefit, but to his mother. “My first assignment was down the coast. I grew up in Cadwilliam. So I’m native. You could tell that.”
He gave her an agreeable bob of the head. He’d called the capital of the new Central Department by its colloquial new name.
“Yes,” he said again, this time resting fingers on Anton’s forearm. “Vonnie and I are good friends. I saw her with you.”
“I don’t think Miss Swisshelm could be called Vonnie.”
“Oh, well. I call her that because of knowing her. She may have told you to call her something else.”
“Hmm. What is telling? I tell the truth. I give my name as Anton. I was given the name of Anton. I tell you I am Anton Leonhardt. She will not give me her name. She gives me a ring. She gives me over to the enemy. I am given paper to write a confession. But I am given no light…her green stone not meant for seeing…it may be aventurine or tsavorite. I was told I would know when I had got it right. Herok, unterceddhore.”
“Now, I don’t know what all that means.”
She had not heard Anton make such a speech, and her face flushed at his doing so before company. Mrs. Leonhardt poured coffee, and turned from the burner to the table, holding the cup on its saucer in one hand; on a salad plate in the other, the chocolate bar. She had not unwrapped it, because if the corporal shook his head, she would put it away again.
His half-smile remained sociable. “The herok, ma’am, is a sort of bird, a tattle-bird. It’s a saying of the Hidtha. The Swisshelms had you studying the language.”
He said the last with another touch on the arm, to Anton…for Anton had not stopped speaking, mumbling more of the strange words, working an agitated hand over the tray.
When she lifted the pot once more, Herward lifted his cup, understanding her, and so she poured him a second. Rather than have one herself, she took Anton’s. That saved the waste, and Anton would protest if he’d wanted it after all. He must for himself do that, at least.
Yes, she would start a sterner policy with her son…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 helped himself to her photo albums, chewing while he fingered her things, not even paying this treat of chocolate 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 she’d had to apply to, even suggested she might be healthy enough to work.
“That’s not your business,” Mrs. Leonhardt said to her.
She could say the same now.
“And 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 small son 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 that age, but it went dark.” Saying the words aloud, she 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.”
This to Anton, slipping the photo across the cloth, its edge nudged under his fingers. He took it up at once and held it over his head, while with his other hand, he polished.
Herward caught the photo and wiggled it back into its plastic, giving up.
Anton said, “Yes, I think she may be living, still in her old apartment. My grandmother.”
See more on Tourmaline Stories page
A Friend (conclusion)
(2017, Stephanie Foster)