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Ghost Stations 1 – Dahlem: 1938

The first of five pieces by Linda Mannheim.

 

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Dahlem: June 1938

Finally she is allowed to take the U-Bahn on her own. Before she goes, her mother confronts her, eyes dark with accusation: “Why are you wearing that? Look at the button on that dress! It’s coming off!”

So she changes. She hands the navy blue dress to her mother and she puts on the maroon dress.

It has been this way for weeks now, the entire time they have been in Berlin, during the train journey here from Heilbronn, before even – when they were packing up the house, wrapping newspaper around the porcelain figurines. She took the ballerina and the boy with a fishing rod and placed them in the wooden crates. “You’ll break them!” her mother snapped. “Just leave them alone!”

Her mother still speaks to her is if she is a child.

She has taken the U-bahn to the curved house in Dahlem many times, but she had to convince her mother: “I know how to go there. Nothing will happen.” Her grandmother will be waiting for her; she has promised they will have the sand cake from Grossmeyer’s.

She walks to Wittenbergplatz, past KaDeWe, where she used to ride the escalators up and down when she was little. She passes afternoon shoppers sauntering in the heat, and she ducks into the cool dim station and buys her ticket.

The change is in her little purse. She counts it out. She has dark hair cut in a bob, dark eyes, and she looks older than she is. The dress is too warm. She wishes she was wearing the navy dress.

When she reaches the platform there are only a few people waiting, on their way somewhere in late morning. There’s a stout old woman dressed in black, her face stricken. There’s a man in a sharp-pressed suit, smoking his cigarette. Ahead of her there’s a curly-haired man in a creased shirt and stained trousers. He reaches for his cigarettes and takes one out of the packet. He sees her watching and winks.

The train comes, and she steps on, and takes a seat. In the window her faint reflection shows her the ghost version of herself – her feet crossed at the ankles, her hands in her lap, the slight worry in her eyes. And through her reflection she sees the stations: Nürnberger Platz, Fehrbellinerplatz, Heidelbergplatz.

She sees the ghost version of herself staying here when she and her parents board the ship to America: the ghost version of her riding the U-bahn, the ghost version of her shopping in the markets, the ghost moving in with her grandmother.

At Breitenbachplatz, she gets out. And she climbs the steps up to Dahlem, where, in the heat, the trees are brilliantly green. The streets smell like diesel and coal smoke in this neighbourhood,where the shop owners all know her. She is Frau Herrmann’s granddaughter and the man sweeping the entrance to the konditerei nods and greets her softly as she passes, and she nods and wishes him a good day.

She will have to speak English in New York. She doesn’t know any English. None of them know any English.

She walks along the edge of the park alone, carrying her little purse. She walks to Schorlemerallee, to her grandmother’s house.

Which she will never return to again.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Linda Mannheim’s most recent book is Above Sugar Hill (Influx Press), stories of a one time New York City landmark that became known for its high homicide rate and heroine trade. Eimear McBride wrote that: “Mannheim’s restive tales of her desiccated stretch of New York provoke and abide like a slap.”  Above Sugar Hill was longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Prize and was a #readwomen2014 pick of the year. Linda is also the author of a novel Risk (Penguin), set in South Africa during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings. Her stories have appeared in Ambit, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and New York Stories. She lives in London.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, June 29th, 2015.