A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Elsie turned in her bed once more, closed her eyes and willed herself to sleep. It still didn’t work.
She looked outside the window. The moon had come out and there was too much light. Hilde’s hut was always pitch black at night after the fire had died out. And it was too warm. This feather quilt was the warmest thing Elsie had ever had on her. It was nice, but it was strange.
And everything was so silent. No sound came inside. When she waked up at night in Hilde’s hut, there were always sounds. Birds hooting in the dark. Deer or other animals prowling around. The house itself would creak in the wind.
How could she sleep in this unnatural, eerie silence?
She sat on her bed.
Sleep was necessary, or tomorrow she would be unable to do her job. She certainly didn’t want this to happen, especially in front of all these strange people.
Elsie put her feet on the cold floor and reached for a shawl draped on a nearby chair, even if she already felt her warmth awakening in her chest. It chased the cold away more quickly and efficiently than the shawl could ever do.
Very careful to make as little noise as possible, since Hannah slept in the bed next to hers, Elsie left the room, and padded along the corridor, feeling no discomfort in her bare feet.
Where are you going?
There were lots of herbs in the kitchen. She was quite sure she would find something, maybe some chamomile to brew and then go back to sleep.
The corridor separating the staff rooms from the kitchen was very short, and soon she reached the kitchen door and pushed it open carefully because she knew that otherwise, it would creak in the silence. She didn’t want to disturb anyone.
The kitchen was a different place at night. It was dark of course, and the corners were completely black, but not the centre of the kitchen. There, the milky light of the moon fell unhindered on the counter and reflected off the cabinets lining the walls.
Silently, Elsie slid inside and went directly to the stove. She opened the door. It was dark but hot. With a poker, she moved the ashes around, and when the ember became exposed and glowed of their pulsating red, she added a couple more logs.
Warmth stirred inside her too. She wasn’t cold at all, she only needed the fire for the tea.
As she rubbed her hands on her gown, a shadow fell on her. Elsie turned to the window and saw that the clouds were hiding the moon. In a matter of heartbeats, the kitchen was shrouded in darkness, and she could barely see the outlines of the furniture.
She needed a light now.
They normally used oil lamps in the kitchen, but she didn’t care for the fuss of lighting one. It was only for the short time she would need for the tea to be ready and drunk. There were a few candles in the drawer beside the stove and a candleholder in a corner of the cupboard. She remembered having seen them.
Elsie found both. She placed the candle in the holder and reached with two fingers for the wick. Then she stopped.
She glanced at the kitchen door. Everything was completely silent and not a light could be seen anywhere. Quickly, she pinched the wick and rubbed it gently once. Her warmth uncoiled from her chest and travelled along her arm, to her hand and fingers. The wick sputtered, then burned.
You could have used the fire from the stove. A chuckle in her head.
Elsie shrugged. She could have. But they were alone and this was quicker.
She looked in the bucket beside the stove. Water gleamed in the flickering of her candle, as she expected. Hannah never allowed it to go dry when they worked at the manor. You never know when you might need some water and the well isn’t close, she would say.
With a ladle, Elsie transferred some water in a pot and put the pot on the stove hotplate.
You still don’t have plumbing? The butler’s voice rang in her ear as she perused the jars in the cupboard and found the camomile. An expression of utter surprise had appeared on Müller’s face when Hannah had informed him that all the water needed to be hauled from the well. Something close to contempt had replaced it when he turned to go and organise the retrieving of water from the well.
Elsie found some cheese paper in the tool drawer and prepared the tea pouch.
She had asked Hannah was plumbing meant, and Hannah had answered that it was a system to bring water directly in the house without anyone going out to fetch it. Imagine water pouring in your house without anyone doing anything. Even in the heart of winter! If Elsie had ever heard of magic, that was it.
She folded the cheese paper with the chamomile inside, replaced the jar with the herbs in the cupboard and took a cup from the crockery cabinet. Those city people didn’t seem inclined to call it magic, though. They seem to think that was the minimum a person should expect from their house. Elsie had actually noticed that they looked with some sort of – yes, contempt at how they did their work the way they have always done it.
It wasn’t nice. Elsie didn’t like their attitude.
But Feuer always said that people came in all sort of guises, which was generally a good thing. So Elsie had decided to wait and see what good there was in it.
Placing the candle and the cup on the table, Elsie let a smile curled the corners of her lips. She didn’t mind meeting new, different people. Most of the time, it turned into a good experience. She had learned a lot, this way.
She sat down and rested her chin on both her palms, her elbows on the table. How wonderful life in the city must be if people consider normal what was, in fact, magic. Fräulein Dagmar still had that magic about her even after leaving Berlin so many years ago. Elsie had always admired her.
Maybe that magic doesn’t belong to the city. Maybe it just belongs to Dagmar.
Elsie frowned. Maybe.
But Got, did women from the city look like queens! It had been shocking enough to see Fräulein Ingeborg, with that short skirt of hers – Elsie blushed just to think about it – and those elegant shoes. Her legs plain to see wrapped in her stocking so sheer Elsie wouldn’t have believed it if she hadn’t seen them with her eyes. And her hair! Sort like a man’s, but so nice with those soft waves. And her face all made up!
Elsie wasn’t even born when Fräulein Dagmar had come back from Berlin after Fräulein Ingeborg’s mother died, but she had heard many times what people said about her and her city ways. To be sure, some people still had a lot to say about her short hair and her making herself up and wearing strangely short dresses on occasions, but Elsie thought those were foolish words. Fräulein Dagmar looked just fantastic in that attire. Elsie had never imagined there would be several stages of betterment on that look. Sure, she had seen quite a few films, but actresses in them didn’t really count. Who could say whether they were real women? Frau Weiss and Fräulein Ingeborg sure were.THE FROZEN MAZE by Sarah Zama – Episode 11 – Feuer – Elsie frowned. It was always puzzling when Feuer could not give a name to people’s emotions. It left a hole Elsie was often unable to fill #fairytaleretelling #readingcommunity Click To Tweet
The kitchen door creaked, and she snapped her head toward it.
“Oh sorry, did I startle you?” Klaus asked, leaning in through the door.
Elsie giggled. “You seem to always be asking me.” Then she frowned. “What are you doing about at night?”
Klaus chucked and entered. “Wouldn’t I ask the same of you?” He stopped beside the table and put his hands in his pockets. “I was out for a cigarette and saw the flickering light under the kitchen door as I passed by. I just thought I’d checked that everything was in order.”
Elsie smiled to herself. She liked his consideration.
He cocked his head. “What are you doing here alone?”
“I’m making myself some tea,” she said. “I couldn’t sleep. I thought a tea would help. It was such a tiring day. Don’t you find it tiring to have so many people around?”
His face was relaxed in the candlelight. “I’d say that what tires me the most is the silence. It is so silent out here. One would think something must be wrong with the world.”
“Doesn’t the city ever sleep?”
“Berlin?” Klaus outright laughed. It was a pleasant sound, Elsie thought.
The kettle whistled. “Would you like some tea too?” she asked standing.
Klaus hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “Why not?”
She went to the stove as Klaus sat down. She dropped the tea bag in it and stirred. Then, grabbing a new mug and the honey jar with a hand, and the kettle with the other, went back to the table.
“Would you like some honey?” she asked, pouring tea for both. “It’s a friend who harvests it.”
Klaus nodded. “Yes, please.”
Elsie put a generous spoonful of honey in both mugs and sat down.
He followed her every move, she noticed. The warmth in her chest stirred.
Klaus smelled the steam coming up from it. He raised his gaze on her, his forehead creased.
“What?” Elsie asked.
“Does your friend really harvest the honey herself?”
It was Elsie’s time to chuckle. “Of course, how else would you get it?”
“From a shop, of course,” Klaus said.
Elsie considered it. “And how would the honey get in the shop?”
Klaus stirred his tea, smiling and shaking his head. “You’re right.” A brief pause. “Besides, every good thing comes from the country, isn’t that so?”
He didn’t say anything else, but Elsie sensed there was more. The warmth inside her had spread in every corner of her chest and was starting to pulse.
“Tell me about Berlin,” Elsie said.
Klaus looked at her, surprised. “Why would you want to know about it?”
Elsie shrugged. “Tell me about plumbing.”
Klaus stared at her, the spoon still in his hand. Then he laughed out loud. “What?”
“So many of you seem to think we’re so backwards because we don’t have it. What is it so important about it that gives some people the right to judge other people?”
She saw she had puzzled him, but that only added to her curiosity, it didn’t answer anything. Warmth had spread to her lungs and heart. Klaus put his mug down on the table and leaned toward her.
“Don’t let people put you down for that,” he said. Elsie was a bit disappointed when she realised he wasn’t answering her question. “People in the cities might be able to stir things up, but it’s people like you, who still live in contact with the land, who are the keepers of the soul and soil of our nation. What would all the work in the city count for if the land disappeared?”
Elsie tried to wrap her head around it because she really wanted to understand. But a little part of her mind thought they might be talking about two different things. And the pulsing of her warmth was distracting her.
“I’d like to visit the city,” she said at last.
Klaus raised his brows. “Why?”
“I’d love to see and do all the exciting things. I’d love to dress like Fräulein Ingeborg, and get her cut of hair.” She sighed. “Doesn’t she look exceptionally smart?”
“Do you really think so?” Klaus’s gaze darkened. “Women shouldn’t go around doing a man’s job, and even looking like one. That’s just wrong.” He leaned to her. “Elsie, if you went to Berlin, that would ruin you. And I’d hate it.”
She cocked her head. Her warmth was pulsing so hard now, she could fill that pulse in her fingerprints. “How so?” she asked.
“Don’t you see the beauty that is in you?” Klaus said, and Elsie blushed before she realised that he was not probably talking about her. “You’re a girl who knows the land and its life. It’s the sweetest form of knowledge. One day you’ll be a wife and a mother. And that will be even more precious. Why would you renounce it for some fancy piece of clothing?”
He looked worried and sounded like he cared a lot. But Elsie was confused, and the pulsing spreading all over her body didn’t help. She was quite sure Klaus was speaking about her, and still, he wasn’t speaking about her. And how that was even possible, she didn’t know. How she should take what he was saying?
She didn’t understand.
Her warmth had filled every part of her body now, and as she wondered what to do, it pulsed out of her. And at the moment it oozed like a vapour out of the confines of her body, and into the world, it slowly turned into someone else. Into Feuer.
Elsie couldn’t see her, but she could see the world change around her as she started to perceive it as Feuer did. Not a world of shapes and solid forms, but a world of sensations and emotions. She could feel Klaus’s living warmth and the distant buzzing of his thoughts, which not even Feuer could touch. But as Feuer reached out to Klaus, as Elsie knew she would, the young man lost his shape. His face wasn’t clear to her anymore, but it looked like a blur that would hardly allow her to tell him from any other man. His shape started to glow, faintly at first, then ever stronger, and his living warmth became a colour as well as a sensation.
In that glowing of light, a shadow started to emerge. A hard shape, like a rock, in the centre of Klaus’s chest, and cold, like a rock in the winter snow. Most people hid such cold stone inside them, Elsie had learned. Ingeborg had hers too, and it was even larger than this. It was also so upsettingly familiar that Elsie could give it a name. It was longing. Longing for a dear one who was lost forever. Feuer knew immediately, and Elsie did too.
But Klaus. His dark rock was darker of a deep darkness. So alien to her that she couldn’t give it a name. Nor could Feuer.
Feuer brushed that dark cold. She never feared to do so, even when tendrils of ice netted over her. And even if that made Elsie uncomfortable, she didn’t fear either.
She frowned as Klaus started to get into focus again and Feuer recoiled inside her, squatting in that nest under Elsie’s heart where she always curled. Her pulse slowly subsided to that beating that was so familiar Elsie barely perceived it.
She frowned, though. It was always puzzling when Feuer could not give a name to people’s emotions.
She must have stared at Klaus for several moments because now he was looking at her in that odd way people sometimes did.
Jumping over that laps and resuming their conversation, she said, “I think you’re wrong, Klaus. Fräulein Dagmar lived in Berlin, and now she lives here, and she’s still the same person. I’d like to do like her. I’d like to visit the city, go to the theatres, learn to read – well, better than I do now – speak with different people. Then I’ll come back and will be the same person, but I’ll have a better look, and I’ll know a few more things. What harm could that do me?”
Klaus’s brow didn’t flat out.
Elsie yawned and stretched her back and arms.
“I’m really tired now,” she said. “Tomorrow will be a long day. Do you think Frau Weiss really means to throw a party, as some say?” Elsie felt everything thrill inside her. A party! Like a city party!
Klaus finished his tea and put the mug down with a thud. His eyes still frown, and his lips had lost the smiling curve.
“Maybe,” he said. “She did bring all of us over, right?”