My Books

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

An Uncommon Family, chapter 3

Here is the last of the sample chapters of my new novel (work in progress). Now, all the three major characters are introduced. I hope this is enough to stir your curiosity.

Blurb and Chapter 1
Chapter 2

As mentioned, this is an as yet unedited work in progress. So any feeback is appreciated!
Have fun!

Chapter 3

Jonas

Jonas Bergman hugged the grocery bags to his chest, as the old elevator slowly lumbered up to the top of the four-story building. The elevator cabin was open, walled in only by a crisscross of iron bars. He lived in one of the heavy medieval stone houses in the old part of Zurich, called the Niederdorf or Low Village at the east side of the Limmat River.
     Upstairs, the old elevator stopped with a rattling sound and Jonas stepped out. One day, I’m going to be stuck in here, he thought, giving the old but so far reliable cabin a suspicious glance. He only used the elevator when he had heavy stuff to carry. Clutching the bags to his chest with one arm, he reached into his coat pocket with the other hand, searching for his keys. “Damn it,” he muttered as he dropped them. They made a metallic crunching sound on the hardwood floor.
     “Let me help you, Mr. Bergman.”
     Jonas turned around. A stout elderly lady with curly grey hair came out of the apartment next to his. She bent down and picked up the keys.
     “Oh, Mrs. Schatz, don’t bother. Well, thanks anyway and excuse my language.” Jonas watched as the woman was sliding his apartment key into the keyhole.
     “That’s okay, I’ve heard worse.” Mrs. Schatz chuckled.
     “Thanks again. What would I do without you?” Jonas winked at her.
     “Come on, Mr. Bergman. What you need is a woman of your own. I’ve told you many times.”
     Jonas shook his head and gave a slight grin. His neighbor had been trying to fix him up with someone for about a year without any success. Mrs. Schatz was married and believed that a single man, particularly a widower of Jonas’s age, was doomed.
     One day, when Mrs. Schatz was in Jonas’s kitchen, lending him a certain spice he didn’t have handy, she gave him a lecture on the very topic. “Men don’t feed themselves properly; they don’t keep their home clean. They need a woman to take care of them. Now, women, mind you,” Mrs. Schatz continued, raising a finger to emphasize her point. “Women do quite well on their own. They are much more independent. But men,” she shook her head, “they get lonely, they begin to drink.” She nodded in the direction of the whiskey bottle on Jonas’s kitchen table.
     Jonas tried to explain that he only had one drink a day and he used the whiskey mainly for cooking. She just gave him one of her “yeah, right”-looks.
     Mrs. Schatz would invite him for tea when a few of her widowed or divorced women friends were present. However, her matchmaking failed miserably with Jonas. He was friendly and attentive but that was all. None of Mrs. Schatz’s subtle or not so subtle hints made Jonas take the next step and invite any of the available ladies to dinner or even show them his paintings.
     “I’m sorry, Mrs. Schatz, these are very charming women, but I’m just not ready,” Jonas tried to explain. Mrs. Schatz rolled her eyes and, as Jonas suspected, began to think of the next batch of women friends she could introduce to the “lonely bachelor next door.”
     Jonas sighed with a smile and unpacked the groceries. He had gone shopping at the open air market at the Bürkliplatz, a large park at the end of the lake, where merchants and farmers from the surrounding villages sold their fresh produce every Friday. He put the lettuce, zucchini squash, tomatoes, basil, and a piece of mountain cheese into the refrigerator. He inhaled the sweet smell of an apricot before he bit into it, then stepped into the living room.
     As usual, when he came back from an errant or a trip, he stood a while in front the photo of his wife, Eva, on the bookshelf. A beautiful face with wavy shoulder-length blond hair, shiny blue eyes, and the touch of a cute snub-nose smiled at him. He smiled back and sighed. "Hi there," he whispered.
     His neighbor wasn’t the only person who tried to nudge him toward female companionship. His son in Denmark and his daughter, who spent a year in the United States, brought the topic up occasionally. “Dad, remember what Mom said before she died? You shouldn’t pine for her, you should live and have another woman in your life.”
     There is no other woman. Only you. He gently touched the frame of the photo, then stepped to the floor-length window and looked outside.
     Jonas’s apartment was on the top floor. It was light and airy and overlooked the rooftops, the river, and a small section of the lake. Across the river stood the Fraumünster Cathedral with its five stain glass windows designed by Marc Chagall. If the weather was good, Jonas could see the mountains in the distance.
     The apartment was tastefully furnished. His Danish background was visible in the uncluttered simple elegance, the light colors of the sofa, drapes, and the rustic but simple light-wood furniture. A few of Jonas’s and his students’ were hanging on the wall.
     Jonas poured himself a shot of whiskey, then went into the kitchen, opened the freezer, and dropped a few ice cubes into the glass. He shook the glass a little and watched the golden liquid swoosh around.
     When Eva was still healthy, they would have a drink in the evenings before dinner. Jonas had a whiskey on the rocks and Eva a glass of white wine. It was a ritual they both enjoyed and it gave them time to talk over the day’s events. Eva would give him the latest gossip from the theater rehearsals. She had been an actress at the Schauspielhaus, the main theater in Zurich. Jonas would tell her of an incident with one of his students or about a new painting he was working on.
     After Eva had died, Jonas kept up their ritual but the “happy hour” became an hour of grief. He slowly upped his alcohol intake from one glass to two and eventually to three or four. He hardly ate afterwards, being too full from the drinks. He went to bed, too numb to feel the pain of loneliness. The following morning, he would wake up with a hangover.
     One night, he dreamt of Eva. She was sitting on his bed, looking ill, the way she looked during her last struggle with cancer. Her large blue eyes in her now haggard face gleamed with tears. “Don’t, Jonas. Please, don’t.”
     The voice woke him. He sat up in bed, catching his breath. His head was throbbing. According to the illuminated face of the alarm clock, it was shortly after midnight. Jonas moaned and turned around but he was unable to fall back to sleep. He finally got up, put on his robe, and sat in a chair next to the window, staring into the night. In the distance, city lights refracted from the lake. The dream was still vivid and the message clear.
     The following evening, Jonas forced himself to prepare a decent meal. While the lamb stew was simmering, he poured himself half a shot of whiskey, plopped a few ice cubes in it, and put the bottle back into the liquor cabinet. He raised the glass to Eva’s photo, then stepped in front of the window and took a few sips. Joy and sadness overwhelmed him in equal measure. He grieved for Eva but he also had a new idea for a painting, something that hadn’t happened in a long time. He walked into the kitchen and filled the empty glass with Perrier, then stirred the stew. For the first time in quite a while, he enjoyed the smells of a good meal.

* * *

     The sun was setting behind the buildings, surrounding them with halos of gold. The strip of the lake Jonas could see from his apartment sparkled in the last light of the evening. Jonas was thinking of the little girl and her aunt. He sighed, remembering the look on the child’s face when he lifted her up. How well he could relate to that feeling of sadness and despair.
     Jonas loved children and now that his own kids were grown and his grandchildren lived in Denmark, he made due with the kids he taught privately. He enjoyed teaching children. It made him feel needed and their company helped him push away the loneliness for a few hours.
     The thought of working with Karla, however, filled him with excitement for another reason. In the two pictures he had seen of hers, he detected an unusual talent. Her drawings were still rough and unpolished, of course. But skill and craft could be taught. What was more important was the degree of passion and the level of personal expression, which was rare in a child so young.
     What Karla needed now was the willingness to learn and to practice, which Jonas believed she had. He had seen it in her eyes when she asked him if he would teach her. How long her endurance would last, that was another question. Children changed as they grew up, they developed other interests, they got bored. He had seen it happen many times. He remembered his own children, the years of paying for piano and violin lessons and just when they were getting good at it, they became interested in video games and dating.
     Jonas picked up his pipe and stuffed it with tobacco. He struck a match and lit the pipe, closing his eyes and enjoying the earthy taste. He had stopped smoking cigarettes years before, but he treated himself to an occasional pipe. He opened the balcony door and stepped outside, watching the last golden and orange hues of the setting sun fade into the approaching dark.
     “Well, Karla, what do you say? I think it’s worth a try.”

Monday, September 20, 2010

An Uncommon Family, chapter 2


Here is chapter 2 of my work progress, which introduces the second of the three main characters in "An Uncommon Family." Comments and feedback appreciated!


Chapter 2

Anna

It was quiet now, except for the chirping of crickets and the occasional hoot of the night owl in the forest near Anna’s home. It was still warm after the hot summer day. Anna had opened all the windows, hoping for a cooling breeze. It had been an unusually hot summer in a country, which wasn’t exactly known for its heat waves. The strong pungent scent of basil in between the tomatoe plants reminded Anna of her gardening chores she kept putting off because of the heat.
     After her turbulent day in the city, Karla had finally fallen asleep. Anna left the bedroom door open, in case the child had another one her nightmares.
     It was always the same: screaming for her mother, followed by desperate crying. When Anna woke her up, Karla was distraught. She mentioned fire, flames, red paint, which Anna assumed was blood. She asked for her mother, then remembered that she was gone. She cried herself to sleep in Anna’s arms. Long after Karla had fallen back to sleep, Anna sat in the living-room, weeping quietly into the night, mourning her dead mother and sister, grieving for Karla, whose happiness had been shattered within a few seconds.
     In the morning, Karla didn’t remember the nightmare. When Anna asked her about it, she just shook her head. She also couldn’t remember the actual accident.
     The day Anna received the ominous phone call was still etched into her mind. The solemn voice of the police officer telling her that her mother and sister had been killed during a frontal collision with a drunk driver. “A child was in the back-seat in her booster. She had a shock but she’s okay. We found your address in one of the women’s purses. We are so sorry but we need someone to identify them.”
     For days and nights afterwards, Anna saw the mangled bodies lying on the gurney and the pale face of her little niece, whose normally vivid large dark eyes now stared at her with an empty look.
     At first, Karla didn’t cry and refused to talk. Anna worried herself sick, thinking the accident had caused the child to become mute. After about a week, Karla woke up at night, screaming and calling for her mother for the first time. It was as if a glacier of frozen grief had thawed and a river of tears was flooding her. She cried for a long time. All Anna could do was hold her and let her empty herself. She was relieved though. The tears were a welcome change from the stoic, frozen silence.

* * *

     It was raining during the funeral. Anna’s sister and mother had lived in the Italian part of Switzerland and were buried in a small cemetery at the beginning of the Maggia Valley. Piles of dark clouds covered the tops of the mountains. Gusts of wind blew through the trees scattering the yellow leaves and hurling them across the street. It smelled of wet grass, of chrysanthemums, the sweet-rotten aroma of fall.
     Anna was shaking hands with the people attending the funeral, who murmured their condolences. A group of them had gathered in front of the church where the memorial service took place.
     Before the ceremony, Anna and Karla went inside the small chapel where the bodies were lying. They were standing in front of the open caskets paying their last respects. Anna’s mother and sister looked rosy and peaceful in the suffused light of the candles which were placed around the coffins. Nobody would have been able to tell that they had been injured. It was silent in the small cool room. The flames of the candles flickered in the occasional draft blowing in from the outside, creating an otherworldly feeling. A faint whiff of incense hovered in the room. Anna held Karla's small trembling hand. Don't leave me, the child’s eyes begged. Anna, flooded by love and pity, pressed Karla against her.
     “Don't they look peaceful,” Anna whispered.
     Karla nodded.
     Like porcelain dolls or empty shells, Anna thought.
     During the service, Anna, Karla, and Lena, a close friend of Karla’s mother, sat in the front row in the small local church. Flowers and candles on the altar gave the place an almost festive feeling. The minister, a young woman who had been a friend of the family, delivered a very personal sermon.
     After the ceremony, friends and the few relatives met at a restaurant nearby for lunch. The rain had stopped and the sun was penetrating the receding clouds. The ground was strewn with yellow and red leaves.
     “It's definitely fall,” Anna said. “Look at the colorful leaves.”
     Karla nodded. “I wish Mama could see them.” Her eyes welled up.
     “Oh, Karla, I know. She’d love the colors.”
     “Once, Mama is in Heaven, do you think she can see us?”
     “I bet she can.” Anna didn’t have the heart to disappoint Karla. “But, let’s go inside. The others are waiting. I bet you’re hungry.” Karla sighed and nodded.
     The mood in the restaurant was somber at first, but after a while, the food and wine began to warm the hearts of the grieving people. Stories about the past circulated. Friends offered their help. “Give us a call if you need anything.”
     “Thank you, I'll be alright,” Anna kept assuring them, not knowing if that was true or not. She was grateful for their concern but was getting tired and longed to be alone.
     “I need to leave. I have a three-hour drive to Zurich ahead of me.”
     She said goodbye to Karla, who was going to stay with Lena for a few days, so Anna had time to prepare before Karla moved in with her. Lena, who had babysat Karla many times and had taken care of her right after the accident, had offered to keep Karla for a while longer. When Anna bent down to kiss Karla goodbye, she saw fear in her eyes.
     Lena took the child into her arms. “Don't worry. Anna will be back soon. You have to finish kindergarten together with your friends. And Susie is waiting for you.” Lena was referring to her cat.
     “Can I take Susie with me?” Karla brushed a tear away.
     “Tell you what,” Lena said. “The next time Susie has kittens, you can have one . . . if Anna agrees. Sorry, Anna, I guess I should’ve asked you first.”
     “Yes, of course you can have a kitty.” Anna was relieved to see Karla’s face light up again.

* * *

     Driving back to Zurich, Anna was thinking of Karla, wondering if she should have taken her with her right away. She had thought that Karla would feel more comfortable with Lena in the familiar environment for a while longer. But that was only half the truth. Leaving her with Lena gave Anna a few days reprieve to get her strength back before she took on the responsibility of being Karla’s guardian.
     She was tired and had a hard time keeping her eyes open and her focus on the road. In Fluelen, a small town at the north end of St. Gotthard, she decided that it was too dangerous to keep on driving. She parked the car and got out. After getting a cup of coffee at the nearby restaurant, she crossed the street and walked the few steps to the lake.
     The surface of Lake Vierwaldstättersee shimmered in the late afternoon sun. A ship was gliding by. On the horizon, the mountains began to emerge from the receding dark clouds. Anna recognized the shape of Mount Urirotstock across the lake. During summer, Fluelen was normally full of tourists stopping for coffee or lunch on their way to the south of Switzerland and Italy. Now, however, the town felt abandoned and empty. Only a few seagulls landed on the boardwalk, then took off again. One of the birds stayed behind. It was sitting on the railing along the lake. Anna suddenly felt that the bird was watching her.
     “You have it easy,” she said. “You can just fly away.”
     As if in reaction to her words, the seagull opened its wings and flew off. Anna, alone again, was gazing at the lake in front of her. Whether it was because of the oppressive closeness of the mountains or just simply the pain of the past few weeks, a feeling of fear and loneliness threatened to overwhelm her. She was afraid of the future, of the enormity of the tasks awaiting her. Now that all the activities of the past weeks and the funeral were over, now, in the silence of the gloomy late afternoon, she realized, perhaps for the first time, that she was the head of a family. So far, she had only been responsible for herself.
     As a young woman, Anna had always wanted to have children, but her marriage to her former husband had remained childless. Now, from one day to the next, she was the guardian of a little girl. She still shied away from the term “mother.”
     With the death of Anna’s mother and sister, she had lost the last members of her immediate family. Her father, who had moved back to the United States after Anna’s parents divorced, had passed away and her grandparents had been dead a long time. She had many close friends who had given her a lot of support. There were a couple of aunts and one uncle, a brother of her father’s. He was a kind man and had offered to help Anna financially, should she need it.
     Anna was the head of the library in her home town and owner of the only independent bookstore. The bookstore wasn’t a big money-making enterprise, but together with her salary and her freelance writing, she would be able to support herself and Karla. Fortunately, the home she had inherited from her mother was paid off. No, it wasn’t the money she worried about. It was the responsibility. Her heart ached with the loss of her mother and sister.
     “Why? Why did you leave me like this? Don’t you realize how much I still need you?” Anna whispered, tears streaming down her face.

Friday, September 17, 2010

An Uncommon Family

My novel "An Uncommon Family" is now at the editing stage. One of the characters also appears in my published novel "Love of a Stonemason." Both books, however, are independent from each other and can be read in any order.

The following is a blurb and the first chapter. This is a work in progress and there will certainly be changes. Bur for now: enjoy and leave a comment, if you wish. Feedback highly appreciated!

The working title is:


An Uncommon Family
(Blurb)

A chance meeting between a single middle-aged woman, a widower, and a semi-orphaned child in the city of Zurich, Switzerland, brings together three people who grapple with a past of loss and betrayal. Six-year old Karla Bocelli, who lost her mother and grandmother in a car crash, has a hard time accepting the reality of death. Anna Frei, her aunt and guardian, struggles with the shocking deception by her former husband and her shattered confidence in men, and Jonas Bergman, artist and teacher, mourns the death of his wife.

Through their common concern for the welfare of the talented but troubled child, Anna and Jonas become close friends and eventually develop feelings for each other that go beyond friendship. However, when Anna discovers a sinister secret in Jonas’s past, which reminds her of the cowardly behavior of her former husband, her growing confidence in him is shattered. While the two adults have come to an impasse, young Karla, who wishes nothing more than having an intact family with Jonas and Anna as parents, decides to take matters into her own hands. With the help of her friend Maja, an experienced schemer, she develops a plan to bring the two uncooperative adults back together. The plan, however, has serious flaws and as it begins to unravel, Karla is forced to learn some difficult lessons.

An Uncommon Family is a story about loss and betrayal as well as the power of love and forgiveness.

Sounds interesting? Here is the first chapter, still in draft stage, so it will most likely encounter some changes.

Chapter 1
The raspberry ice cream was a dark purple, Karla’s favorite color. She licked the side of the crispy cone, catching the droplets before they slid to the ground. She wrinkled her nose, as she caught another whiff of exhaust from the busy street along the Limmat River in the city of Zurich. It was August and hot in Switzerland. The six-year old girl scanned the scenery in front of her with dreamy eyes.
     A longish canoe was sliding by a tourist-boat on the river. People with funny-looking sun hats and dark glasses sat on the benches of the boat, listening to the loudspeaker-voice of the tourist guide, explaining the sights. Along the river on the other side, the built-together stone houses looked like a row of uneven different-colored teeth, grey, yellow, white, and some with a tint of orange. Behind the houses, on top of the hill, the linden trees at the Lindenhof park shimmered in their clear green foliage and a curtain of dark-green ivy hid part of the gray granite wall.
     Karla took another lick from her ice-cream cone, then turned around and peered through the window of the art shop, where her aunt picked up two framed pictures. When she looked back at the sidewalk, her breath caught.
     “Mama?” she whispered.
     She saw the woman only from behind, but the bounce in her step, the long, reddish-blond hair flowing down her back, swaying left and right, the tall, slender figure--it must be her mother. She tossed the rest of the ice cream into the trashcan, got up, and ran after the woman.
     “Mama!” she called, as the woman got ready to cross the street. The light turned from blinking red to solid red, just as the woman reached the other side. Karla rushed after her, barely aware of the honking around her or of the shrill warning-bell of the blue-and-white street car. She heard someone yell at her but by then she had arrived at the other side. The woman was walking along the river toward the Lake of Zurich.
     “Mama, wait!” Karla bumped into someone.
     “Watch it, kiddo.” A man stepped aside.
     “Mama . . .”
     The woman finally turned around and looked back, scanning the people behind her, then walked on. Karla stopped dumb-founded. It was the face of a stranger.
     A wave of despair washed over her. Not believing that she could have been so wrong, she started to run again. She didn’t see the slight indentation in the pavement. As she fell, she barely noticed the searing pain in her knees; the disappointment hurt more. She covered her face with her hands and sobbed. Mama would have helped her. Mama would have picked her up, hugged her, even sang a little tune to her to make her feel better. But her mother was gone.
     “Are you hurt, honey?” a dark voice said. Karla felt a hand on her back. “Come on, let me see.”
     A pair of strong arms lifted her up. She looked into a face with a grey-white beard, and kind, blue eyes below thick tufts of eyebrows. The man was tall and sturdy, with wildish white hair. He reminded her of Saint Nicholas. But it was summer and Saint Nicholas only appeared in December.
     “Are you here alone?” he asked. “Where’s your mother?”
     The question brought a new flood of tears. “I thought it was Mama.” Karla managed to say, her chest heaving with sobs.
     “Karla, what happened? Why did you run away?” Aunt Anna came rushing toward her, clutching her purse and a large package. “I thought I’d lost you. Jesus, what happened to your knees?” She bent down, put the package on the concrete and examined Karla’s legs. Brushing a strand of wavy brown hair out of her face, she peered at the man with penetrating grey-blue eyes, the color of ice. “What’s going on here?”
     “I just happened to walk by when she fell,” he explained. “She said something about looking for her mother. Are you her mother?”
     Anna shook her head. “No, I’m her aunt. Her mother . . . died half a year ago.”
     “I’m so sorry.” The old man gently touched Karla’s cheek. “But she thought she saw her mother.”
     Anna sighed. “She still hasn’t accepted the truth.” She turned to Karla. “Tell me what happened, sweetie?”
     Karla told her in-between sobs that a woman had walked by who looked exactly like her mama.
     “But you know, that’s not possible, don’t you?” Aunt Anna hugged her. Karla leaned her face against Anna’s chest and poured her sorrow into her sweater. It was soft but didn’t smell like her mama’s. Anna waited for her to calm down. “We have to take care of your knees.”
     “There’s a pharmacy right over there? I’m sure they have something to clean the wound and some bandages. May I?” Saint Nicholas gave Anna an inquiring look.
     Anna nodded and the man lifted Karla up. His thick hair tickled her cheek. Karla wrinkled her nose. He gave off a whiff of smoke, which reminded her of Anna’s wood stove. It felt a little comforting.
     At the pharmacy, a friendly lady took care of Karla’s knees. She wiped them clean, trying not to hurt Karla, who flinched and gave an occasional sob. “Sorry, hon, but we don’t want it to get infected.”
     While the woman bandaged Karla’s legs, Anna unwrapped the package she had been carrying. She handed Karla one of the pictures and held the other one up for her to see. “Don’t they look great?”
     Karla nodded with a weak smile. They did look nice. She barely recognized them again behind the glass and surrounded by a fine wooden frame. One of them showed a woman, sitting on a chair and holding a little girl in her arm. The woman had long reddish-brown hair and the girl’s hair was black. They were sitting in front of a house. The stones in the wall had an irregular shape, they looked a little bit like cobble-stones. It had taken Karla a while to make them look right. The other picture showed a large tree with large purple and cream-colored blossoms. It was the chestnut tree in front of Karla’s old home. She had painted the pictures with her favorite pastel pens.
     “They’re gorgeous,” Saint Nicholas said in his deep voice. “Who painted those?”
     “Karla did,” Aunt Anna said.
     Saint Nicholas starred at her, then at the pictures, then at Karla. “How old is she?”
     “Six,” Karla said, brushing the last tears off her face. Anna handed her a Kleenex.
     “And she painted those by herself, without help?” The man squinted as he scanned the pictures. The wrinkles on his forehead and around his eyes deepened. He truly did look like Saint Nicholas.
     “Yes,” Anna said.
     “This child is very talented. Does she get any instruction?”
     “I’m actually looking for a teacher for her. She loves to draw and paint. If it was up to her, she’d do it all day long. And it seems to help her with . . . you know, the loss.”
     “Amazing.” Saint Nicholas shook his head and continued to scan the pictures. “Well, I happened to be a painter myself. I also teach a few children.” He looked at Karla and Anna with a serious face. “I’d love to have her as a student.”
     “I’ll think about it. That would be great,” Anna said.
     “Why don’t you check me out.” The man handed Anna a small card. “I have a website, too, with some links that give you a little more information. I finally broke down and tackled the internet with the help of a friend. I guess it’s almost a must in today’s world.” He laughed in his deep, sonorous voice. Then he became serious. “Whatever you decide, you don’t want a talent like this go to waste.”
     Anna studied his card. “Very interesting, Mr. Bergman.”
     “Call me Jonas,” the man said.
     “Anna,” Karla’s aunt said as the two shook hands.
     “You’re not Saint Nicholas?” Karla asked, surprised.
     Aunt Anna and the man laughed. “No, I’m sorry. You think I look like him?” He brushed through his wavy white hair.
     Karla nodded. “But you wouldn’t come in summer, would you?” She looked down at her neatly wrapped knees. The talk of drawing and painting had pulled her out of her deep misery. “Are you going to teach me?”
     The man smiled at her. “You talk this over with your aunt, all right?” Then he glanced at his watch. “Oops. I guess I missed my appointment.”
     “I’m so sorry,” Anna said. “We caused you all this trouble.”
     “Don’t worry. No problem at all.” He bent down and put a hand on Karla’s shoulder. “And, Karla, I know how much it hurts. I lost my dear wife a few years ago. We were together for over twenty years. I still miss her. But I can promise you, things will get better with time.”
     Karla took a deep breath and nodded. She had heard the words many times before. “Mejra lost her mother, too.”
     “Mejra is a friend of hers, a girl from Croatia,” Anna explained.
* * *
     At home, in their house in a small town near Zurich, Aunt Anna fixed lunch. She heated up the left-over bean and vegetable soup and made grilled cheese sandwiches with tomatoes. The smell of food awakened Karla’s appetite. She was quiet and thoughtful but no longer desperate.
     “He was a nice man,” she said, folding the colorful paper napkins she had made herself with potato stamps.
     “Would you like to take drawing and painting lessons from him?” Anna poured the soup into bowls and slid the toasted sandwiches onto the plates.
     Karla nodded. “Yeah, that’d be cool.”
     “Cool, huh?” Anna smiled and gave the girl a hug.