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The Beginning

 

"Vati, I still don't understand". From ever since she could remember, Ilse's father had helped her with her math homework. Math had always been Ilse's worst subject. She always felt stupid when she tried to do it and it came out wrong. But Vatti would always help her. He was a tall, slim man, quite bald, and with very kind eyes. He always looked like a perfect gentleman - he even wore his tie in the house. They had always been close. When she was little, he used to hold her hand and jump down the stairs of their apartment two at a time, or take her on excursions to the candy store to get sweets for Mutti or to the country with her riding on his back. She was so proud of him. Alfred Nadel was a big, important civil engineer in their city of Vienna. He was an expert and people were always asking his advice on bridge constructions. He would tell them exactly were to put the explosives, and exactly which rocks to use. Then they would shake his hand, and he would smile at them, and they would thank him.

"Here Schatzi, let me show you again. It's really not as hard as you think it is. "Look at it this way..."
Ilse's secret wish for a long time now had been to be his secretary and work by his side always. That's why she had chosen to go to a commercial school, the Bundesrealgymnasium, for her last two years. She worshiped him, and so did Mutti.

"All right you two", Mutti said as she came into the room. "Time to stop bothering your heads with numbers and start filling your bellies with food."

Mutti was beautiful. She was the most beautiful lady Ilse had ever seen. She was tall and had a gentle face and gorgeous soft hair. She was also the best cook, and Ilse happily put aside her homework and sat down to a delicious breakfast of Palatschinken prepared by the world famous cook Alice Nadel, or as her oldest customers knew her, Alice Pollack. At least that's what Ilse believed.

"Fredi, don't forget that I have a dance lesson this afternoon". Mutti was also a world famous dancer. Or at least she should be. Mutti was always taking lessons in something; French, cooking, dancing, and tennis. She was more versatile and talented than any of the other girls' mothers.
She gave Vatti a kiss on the top of his head, and he laughed and tried to snatch at her. She was too quick for him, and she flounced back into the kitchen. Ilse knew that they had a marriage out of a storybook. She knew another girl whose parents always fought. The girl was always sad. Ilse was happy her parents were not like this.
Just then Georg came in. Georg was three years younger than Ilse and was a typical 12 year old - yucky. He played ball with all his friends and never wanted to play "girl games". Not like she wanted him to play anyway. And he was smart. He could do math easily. He could do anything in school easily.

"Georg, you look terrible! Mutti, just look at him. His hair isn't even combed, and he'll never get to school on time."
"Oh leave me alone. Just 'cause you're older doesn't mean you can boss me around like that."
They fought a lot. So much that Ilse had decided to move her bed to the sofa in the living room rather than sleep in the same room with Georg. They yelled at each other nearly every day, but Mutti always put things straight. She was always gentle and loving.

They both set out for school at the same time. They were on the third floor, door 21 of 15 Stiftgasse, and took the stairs the whole way down. Georg rushed ahead of her, but Ilse liked to place her books on the slanted marble ledge next to the bannister and let them slide down. When Georg was little, he had slid down that ledge, but now he was too old for that sort of thing. As they exited the building, Ilse walked on the side that their apartment was on, but Georg crossed the street to walk with his friends on the opposite side. Silly boys.

 

* * *

 

Heinz was looking out the window of the room that he shared with his brother Peter in the apartment on 13 Theobaldgasse. He liked his room because of the triple window. His parents got the balcony, but he could have the big window across the street from 16 Theobaldgasse. He liked to watch the window right across from his, because that's where the famous composer Franz Lehar lived. He always sat at his desk right under the window to compose with his canary on his shoulder. Quite often Heinz and his family heard piano music coming from his apartment. Franz Lehar scratched his head of white hair, and bent his round face to look at his watch. Suddenly Heinz realized that if he didn't go to school right now, he would be late. He ran out of his room, out the apartment door, around the corner of the hall, and went down the steps three at a time.

Heinz went to the prestigious Akademische Gymnasium. He wanted to be a doctor, not a tailor. His father had a gentlemen's clothing tailor shop in the city. Downstairs was the selling floor where there were beautiful displays of clothes, and upstairs was a custom tailor shop where the men could get their clothes fitted perfectly. The three large windows on the second floor with "M. Wolf" written on them looked down on all the pedestrians. His big brother Peter was already working there with his father, Robert Wolf. Everyone knew who Robert Wolf was. They came into his shop and called him Herr Doktor because he was educated. He had made uniforms for soldiers during the war, and was even decorated by the emperor. It was not that Heinz did not like tailoring, but a doctor sounded so much more interesting. Besides, Heinz really liked biology. He walked into his classroom, completely ready to take his test. The night before he had studied the pages and pages of notes he had taken in class. He was absolutely ready. If only he did not have to wear the terrible purple suit his father had made him. It was horrible, and he hated it. Peter had never had to wear anything like that, of course. The oldest always gets treated the best.

 

* * *

 

"Ilse, are you ready for the German test?" Inge was running up to Ilse outside.
"Of course, but it won't make any difference, you know that". It was not as if she had meant to see them. She had just walked into the classroom one day to get a book she had forgotten, and she found their German teacher, Herr Erich Meier kissing Inge. Inge was in love with him because he wrote novels. Ilse had just looked at Herr Meier, gotten her book, and walked out. Ever since then, he had hated her. Ilse figured that she would fail his class no matter what she did. And the clock didn't help...
As she sat down to take the test, she glanced up at it. It seemed to be normal now, but as soon as she got the test, it would go twice as fast. It always did. That got her all flustered and nervous, and she could never concentrate on the paper in front of her. Even if she knew the subject she had a hard time, but in German it was especially bad because she could always feel Herr Meier watching her. She would much rather be in gym class, doing ball games, running, or climbing on the ropes.

 

* * *

 

Heinz walked out of his classroom. He was sure that he had done very well. What an easy subject...

 

* * *

 

That afternoon, as Ilse walked home, she thought about her test. It had not gone well. Someday, she thought, she would get better. She would hand in a perfect essay, and that would show him.
That night at dinner, Mutti had a surprise. Mutti always had surprises. Ilse knew that half of them were to make her feel better. Mutti could read her like a book, and she could tell that Mutti knew her test had not gone well.
"Flora and I were talking today", she said. Flora was Mutti's friend. They talked a lot. Flora had a nephew, but Ilse didn't know him very well. He was just another silly boy probably. "We were thinking that we could go to the Staatsoper tomorrow." Ilse suddenly brightened up.
"Oh Mutti", she said, "I was hoping we could go! Will we meet Vatti for lunch, oh Vatti, can we?" Vatti's office was just down the street from the opera house, and they often met to have lunch. Then Vatti would go back to work and Ilse and Mutti would see the opera. Ilse loved the opera. Especially when the great baritone Alexander Sved was singing. He was bully. She adored him.

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