Mother closed her eyes. I wondered what she was thinking.
“Don’t worry,” said Eva, “when she gets really hungry, she’ll save herself. She wants you to worry about her, but it doesn’t become her at all.”
“Don’t let her control you.” Saying this, Eva started clearing the plates. Mother glared at her, and then a faint smile brightened her gloomy face, as the word whore came from her lips. Feeble as it was, this gesture seemed to indicate that she knew of our father’s infidelity, and as we excused ourselves, we all knew nothing would change. We’d continue to share a home, while Niki and I matured expecting an eruption at any time.
“Well, everyone should be happy. Whether we like it or not, won’t we all have to go some time? But still hopefully not tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow you could read in the Kronen Zeitung that something happened to Frau Hertzl.”
“Revenge, par excellence; a little revenge.”
“A guest and a fish are no longer fresh on the third day.”
“I’m out of here.”
“No, Eva no. The boys and I need you.”
“To give up now I don’t think so.”
“The past should be forgotten.”
“The world goes to pieces, but nobly.”
“So my husband thinks he’s Casanova. Faugh! Let him sew his oats while he can!”
“Pauline, there’s no need for you to be jealous of me.”
“Who do you think you’re fooling? Fritz and I came to an understanding a long time ago. We proclaim ourselves liberated. Try to understand. I don’t reproach you as much as I do myself.”
Those were the terms of a truce. Declared again we left the table and went our separate ways: Niki and I to our room, Eva to wash the dishes, Papa to his study, and Mamma to collect herself before taking off to the shelter for the evening. We all seemed disconcerted, while Eva seemed less so. Mama looked as if the performance had totally exhausted her.
The leader of the posse gathered his gang of boys around us. Wearing tin hats, they looked as if they came from a carnival. Jack-booted and spurred the big bully blocked the sidewalk and had a piece of asphalt in his hand.
“Ju-da verr-rrecke! Juda ver-rrecke!” shouted his followers.
“Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil!”
“The Red and White and Red unto Death!” I proclaimed.
“Run!” yelled Niki but there was no place to run or no place to hide.
“We’re not Jews,” I retorted.
”Swine! D’ you hear? Swine! Greasy, oily, grisly swine!”
Beer bottles, rocks, bare knuckles flew.
“Yid, yid, yid, yid….”
”No, we’re not!”
”Yes, you are!”
“Who yelled ‘Christian, Christian, thy place is buried in a dunghill?’”
Then I faced the bully and held my own. Yes, I stared into his eyes and the cowboy turned into putty. It astonishment me. The gang of boys then dispersed, and the frenzied threats were placed on hold for another day.
We ran home to dinner, and everyone around the table listened to how two inexperienced boys stood up to a pack of dogs. We half expected our father to box our ears, or he might’ve felt proud of us because the Nazis weren’t yet in power. His moods were hard to judge.
Always in the know, Papa anticipated the Nazi Putsch and the assassination of Dollfuss. Others were caught off guard. Their complacency stemmed from believing government propaganda about Mussolini, our country’s powerful ally. Surely Il Duce would keep Hitler out. In those days Dollfuss’s song was always played after our national anthem. “We, the young ones stand prepared to march with Dollfuss into grand new times.”