A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Ingeborg entered the library and found Dagmar and Grete already waiting.
“Sorry for the delay,” she said, closing the door behind her. She had to change for dinner in record time after her trip across the meadow.
Grete brushed the matter away with the hand holding her cigarette. Smoke curled around her wrist. “Don’t worry. We’ve only just arrived too.”
She sat on the couch in a dark tailleur cut in sever, essential lines. Masculine, even, if not for the jewellery she wore, which was of a very modern deco design. Her favourite attire for business, Ingeborg thought, sitting down.
Dagmar set in the armchair next to Grete, in a tidy but very plain skirt and blouse of earthy colours and a beige cardigan over it. She had clasped her hands in her lap. There was something stiff in the way she sat rod-straight.
Ingeborg looked at the one, then the other, and decided maybe this was not the best moment to mention Florian’s foray into the maze.
When Grete spoke, it was clear she was continuing the discourse Ingeborg had interrupted. “I’m just asking you to keep an open mind, Dagmar.” Leaning toward the coffee table, Grete grounded the cigarette in the glass ashtray, then she leaned back on the couch. “I won’t say Lotte is an easy person. But won’t you suspend your judgement until you have a chance to actually speak with her?”
Dagmar pursed her lips. She looked at Ingeborg.
“We showed Lotte around, this morning,” Dagmar explained. “She started making plans of what to keep and what to lose as if the manor was hers.” Her eyes blazed. Her cheeks flushed. “She even made plans on our ancestors’ portrays.”
Ingeborg frowned. She turned to Grete.
Who shrugged. “It’s just the way she is. She’s accustomed to ordering people around.”
“And should we suffer her?” Dagmar snapped.
“For the time being, I’d suggest to just ignore her.”
Dagmar cut a curious look at Grete. Ingeborg couldn’t entirely repress a little smirk.
The crackling from the fireplace and the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner were the only sounds in the library. They all glanced at the clock. It was already a quarter past noon.
“How well do you know Lotte, Grete?” Ingeborg asked.
Grete made a vague gesture with her hands. “How well may one know someone they do business with? I met her at a dinner party more or less a year ago.” She leaned to Dagmar when she saw she was about to say something. “And no, I don’t need to know someone well to do business with them. Lotte is very famous, and very wealthy, and she knows tons of people. And that’s really all I need to know about her.”
“And what about Florian?” Ingeborg asked.
Grete arched her brows. “I’d never thought he’s your kind.”
Ingeborg made a face. “He isn’t. I’m just curious.” Brief pause. “He’s strange.”
Grete nodded. “They are both strange. I couldn’t find out any solid information about them. Not even where they’re from.”
“You just said you don’t need to know a lot about people to do business with them,” Dagmar said with an impish look.
“Did I?” Grete affected nonchalance. Then she frowned. “Didn’t expect them to be the first to arrive. And so early.” She became thoughtful.
They are looking for something, Ingeborg suddenly realised. But what? What could they be looking for here, here, in the middle of nothing, when they normally lived their life in Berlin?
All three of them snapped their head up when someone knocked at the door. As Grete called, “Come in!”, Ingeborg glanced at the clock. It was almost half past.
Müller opened the door then stepped out of the way as first Lotte, then Florian entered the library.
Lotte was a dizzyingly bright vision. She wore an afternoon white dress with tulle insertion that hinted at a more sophisticated dinner dress and made Ingeborg feel cheap in her simple blue frock. She didn’t wear a lot of jewellery, but what she had sparkled like diamonds. Ingeborg thought in shock that maybe they were diamond.
Florian wore a very smart three pieces suit in a sober blue colour.
“Oh, you’re already all here,” Lotte said, light-heartedly.
Ingeborg blinked. Dagmar didn’t even try to hide a killer glance at her. Grete said, “Yes,” very dryly, then she turned to the door, “Müller.”
“Lunch will be ready momentarily, Frau Weiss.” If Ingeborg hadn’t known him very well, she would have thought he shot a disapproving glance at Lotte before he marched away.
Grete flashed a glacial smile at the gests. “Shall we?”
Lunch had been set in the breakfast room. It was cosier than the dining room, considering how few they were. They reached it in a matter of moments since it stood in the same wing as the library. Ingeborg approved of the choice. Not only it made it less intimidating, but the big window, facing east, allowed so much light even on such a gloomy day.
The table was laid out at its best, with white tablecloths, silver cutlery and the best tableware lunch set, which – Ingeborg noticed – wasn’t one of Dad’s but one of Grete’s favourite deco ones.
They sat all together at one end of the table. Grete at the head. Lotte next to her on one side and next to her sat Florian. Dagmar sat on Grete’s other side, in front of Lotte and Ingeborg next to her, in front of Florian. It was a good position for Ingeborg because she could see all of the people sitting at the table at a glance.Lotte immediately started to talk. Incessantly. About herself and her career, mostly. And it was truly remarkable how, even talking so much, she said so little #fairytaleretelling Click To Tweet
She couldn’t help but notice that Lotte immediately started to talk. Incessantly. About herself and her career, mostly. And it was truly remarkable how, even talking so much, she said so little. Ingeborg learned nothing about her. Not where she came from. Not how she started acting. Not what she did before. Not even when and where she met Florian and what exactly was their relationship. True, he dressed smartly, and the way she hooked her arm possessively at his as they crossed the corridor might have been quite revealing – if she hadn’t treated him as an assistant in most other occasions.
Mhm. She would have to suspend her own judgment, for the time being, but Ingeborg had to admit she wasn’t having a great first impression of this woman. Glancing at Dagmar, she thought her aunt might have been thinking precisely the same thing. She was listening to Lotte and pushing Hannah excellent food around her plate, a grim expression on her face. Grete wore her best business face and was impossible to read.
It was on the roast beef that Lotte’s talking finally turned to Schneezwerg.
“I’m sure this project of yours has all the characteristics to be a success, Grete,” she said. “People will flock here to get a little respite in such a gorgeous place.”
Ingeborg shot a glance at Dagmar, who didn’t speak. She’d hardly said anything all through the meal.
And another who had hardly spoken was Florian, Ingeborg considered.
He was following the conversation but looked at her the moment her eyes lingered on him.
Ingeborg immediately looked away.
“It will be a great investment,” Grete was now saying. “The manor will have to be restored and updated to our age. We need plumbing and electricity. We’ll have to find a way to have both even in this isolated place. And of course, we’ll have to offer a number of facilities, but I think there’s room enough for a horse track, tennis courts and even canoeing. There’s a little lake nor far from here, inside the estate.”
“I can already envision it,” Lotte enthused. “It must be beautiful, especially in spring. So many flowers.”
“Indeed,” Grete said with a smile.
“And what about that maze I’ve spotted from my window. Such an unusual feature.”
Dagmar paused in her meal to shot a glance at Lotte.
Ingeborg looked at Florian, who didn’t turn, this time.
Grete was unruffled.
“I’m afraid that will have to be dismantled,” she said matter-of-factly and rose her gaze to tank Elsie who had come to clear the table. Dagmar was fuming, looking at no one. So Ingeborg alone saw it, that flitting glance that Lotte and Florian exchange.
“Ach, so,” Lotte said, slowly, almost cautiously. Then her voice became clear and careless again. “Such a pity. That’s an unusual place. It could be a great attraction.”
“Maybe once,” Grete said dryly. “It used to be beautiful.” Her voice trailed off and her gaze lowered, just one moment. Then she squared her shoulders. “But now it’s wild and potentially dangerous. People could get lost inside that thing.”
Again, Ingeborg looked at Florian, and this time she had the distinct impression he was intentionally avoiding her gaze.
“Excuse me!” Everyone turned to Dagmar. Her face was stern, if not outright enraged. “It’s very interesting to hear all of your plans and ideas for renovating my family house, but maybe you should remember something.”
Lotte looked around the table, surprised.
“Inge is the one who will decide about this estate and everything which pertains to it. It might be a little too early to start discussing what is staying and what is going.”
A weird transformation came over Lotte. An expression of such utter surprise that for a moment she could not conceal it.
“Ach so,” she commented coldly, redirecting her attention on Ingeborg. The cold, calculating attention of a predator. Florian too turned to her, now, though in his gaze, Ingeborg could only read surprise and curiosity.
“Of course, sister,” Grete said in a low voice. “We weren’t taking this from anyone’s hands. It was just bouncing some ideas around.” She smiled a bit forcibly. “Now, what about having our dessert and coffee in the library?”