Home > The German Girl : A heart-wrenching and unforgettable World War 2 historical novel

The German Girl : A heart-wrenching and unforgettable World War 2 historical novel
Author: Lily Graham


1

 

 

Northern Sweden, 1995

 

 

The snow came early that year, settling around the forest like an old bear ready for its cave.

As Ingrid made her way through the silent wood, the sky above performed its northern waltz, a dance of light in shades of pink and green.

She whistled and Narfi came leapfrogging towards her, his large body sinking almost completely into the powdery snow dusting his black-and-bronze coat.

‘Stay away from that fox,’ she warned.

She hadn’t missed the Arctic creature in the distance, its fur almost indistinct from the wintry landscape, its eerie blue gaze pinned on them. ‘She’s looking after her kits and doesn’t know you just want to play.’

He whined, gambolling from her and as close to the fox as he dared again.

She shook her head, cheeks pink from the cold. Her eyelashes were spiked with ice. ‘You want another scar?’ she asked, pointing at his snout with a mittened hand, where he’d had a run-in with a wolf cub as a pup.

He paused, cocking his head, as if weighing her words before coming to a stop at her side.

‘Good choice,’ she said. Then sighed. ‘Besides, you’ve got a task ahead of you,’ she reminded him. ‘I’m going to need you to work your magic today.’

Narfi frowned, making a grumbling, reluctant noise. His liquid brown eyes darted hesitantly from her to the lonely red cabin with its faded, peeling paint edging the frozen lake. It was almost hidden by the tall, snow-capped birches.

The walk was already laborious, her thighs aching from lifting her feet into the waist-high snow, but it seemed even more arduous at the prospect of what lay ahead of them.

At the door, Ingrid paused, resting her head against the wood.

‘It could be one of his better days,’ she told the dog with more hope than conviction.

There was a huffing, impatient sound. Even Narfi didn’t seem convinced.

 

He’d let the fire die out.

The air blew out of Ingrid’s mouth in a cloud as she walked inside the freezing cold cabin. Somehow, with the dark interior, it felt even colder in here than out and she swore softly. She looked around with a frown, eyeing all the clutter. Newspapers, old books, magazines, paintings and sketches, wooden carvings, fishing tackle, rifles, tins of food with missing labels. She itched to sort through it all, to create order from the chaos, and reveal the clean lines and good bones beneath the passage of time. To restore the pictures to the walls, sort through the paintings and sketches, but she knew she’d have to take it slowly, or the consequences would be dire. She found the lump of him, asleep on the padded kitchen bench, beneath several old coats.

He seemed to have some aversion to his bed that she didn’t quite understand. But then, there wasn’t a whole lot to Jürgen Anderson that she did. At least, not anymore.

He awoke at the sound of footsteps, going from half-asleep to wide awake and fully belligerent within seconds. And true to current form, he greeted the morning, and her, with a curse.

His salt-coloured hair was shaggy around his thin, weather-beaten face, which hadn’t seen a razor in some weeks. He was still wearing the clothes she had seen him in last, clothes she suspected he’d been wearing for some time, judging from the sour smell coming off him. It was uncharacteristic. He took daily ice baths every winter, partly for health, partly to prove something. Perhaps those goals were long gone now. If she thought about that, the tears would threaten, and she didn’t need that, not now.

He was enough work without the tears, as his commitment to being difficult from the moment he opened his eyes to the moment he closed them was a full-time occupation of late. On some level this commitment might have impressed her, but it couldn’t while somewhere deep within the cranky old bear remained the man she used to know and love.

His voice became a jagged razor, as his rheumy blue eyes opened, and he saw her inside his kitchen.

‘För fan i helvete, din jävla idiot! Do we have to go over this again, Marta? I told you last time – and I made it very clear, didn’t I? I do not need you,’ he spat. ‘Are you brain dead or something?’

Ingrid closed her eyes for a moment, mentally gathering up the bits of herself that resembled her mettle, then put the basket she’d been carrying on the table with a bit more of a thud than was strictly necessary.

She took a deep breath and reminded him, ‘I am not Marta.’

Marta was Ingrid’s cousin. She was also the old man’s last helper. It was fair to say that it hadn’t gone well.

It had ended with Marta refusing to ever darken Jürgen Anderson’s door, even if he died, and someone needed help moving his mouldering body… ‘Even then – find somebody else,’ was the way Marta emphasised the end of the ‘arrangement’ when she’d gone to her home a few days before. Then she’d laughed hysterically at the prospect of Ingrid taking over. ‘Oh, he’s going to eat you alive!’

When Ingrid had given her a hard stare, Marta snorted. ‘Oh, that’s almost cute – you think you’ll be tougher than me. I haven’t spent my life in the city with electric heating, child; go on, knock yourself out. But don’t say your old cousin didn’t warn you when you come here in tears in a day or two, your tail between your legs…’

So Ingrid had left, vowing that whatever happened with the old man, she would not go to Marta.

She turned to Jürgen now, who grunted. ‘Pah! Same blonde hair, same interfering family.’

‘Marta has brown hair,’ Ingrid pointed out.

‘I’ve never seen her wash it – for all I know it is actually blonde.’

Ingrid snorted. He was insufferable. ‘I don’t think it’s Marta’s hygiene you should be concerned about.’

‘Just her cooking?’

It was the source of the trouble, to be fair. Apparently, after Marta had made him a meal – plain chicken with broccoli – things had gone from bad to worse. Marta had asked how it was and he’d casually taken the plate, walked outside and tipped it onto the snow, calling for someone named Obehang. ‘Obehang, here boy.’ At Marta’s shocked look, he’d said, ‘He’s a rat, such a nuisance, a bit like you. Though, unlike you, he is someone I’m allowed to kill.’ He’d pointed at her dinner. ‘Thank you, this might just do the trick.’

Which was when Marta had quit.

Despite herself, Ingrid’s lips twitched, just like they had when her cousin had told her the story, although it was her cousin who began laughing herself stupid when Ingrid said she’d volunteered to take over.

‘Will I be alive the day you admit you are wrong?’ she asked Jürgen now.

‘Probably not,’ he conceded, and something almost like a smile ghosted across his lips too.

Yesterday, when she’d first come to check up on him, she’d lasted the grand sum of thirty minutes. It had felt like a lifetime. She’d managed to clean one cup, sweep part of the floor, melt some snow for water, and hang his coat on the hook at the back of the door, while being henpecked and harangued to within an inch of her life, before he’d thrown one of his heavy boots at her and told her to get the hell out of his house. A small bruise still smarted on her thigh.

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