Freida did not linger at the old apartment, though. The very next day she turned in her key and caught the first train back to her home in Bavaria. Her mother met her on the doorstep with open arms and an outpouring of sympathy. Together they entered the house to commiserate.
“I’m so sorry, my darling,” Freida’s mother stroked her hair as they sat together. “Such a terrible thing to go through.”
“I really thought, mother, I really thought we were going to be able to work it out. That we would not end like this!”
“But of course it would end like this, my darling. I did tell you so, didn’t I? He lives a brutish life. He should have known better than to try and pull you down to that level.”
“I was ready to, mother. I was ready to live simply. But he doesn’t appreciate how much I was sacrificing already. He wasn’t willing to meet in the middle. I gave up my pride, why couldn’t he give up his?”
“My darling, it isn’t as simple as that. You mustn’t go looking for a prince among frogs. Men of principle, men of decency do not come from mean streets. You can’t breathe dirty air and be refined inside, now can you?”
“I suppose not, mother. What a fool I’ve been.”
“There, there. It’s a lesson learned, my darling. At least you came to your senses before you were ruined.”
“Can you imagine?! Sulking in that hovel today, all by myself?”
“Terrible. Terrible! But you’re not there. You’re here. Here where you belong.”
Freida’s father had less to say on the matter. When he came home for dinner Freida’s mother announced “Look, Karl. It’s Freida.”
“Oh, she’s here again is she?”
“Yes. I told you she wired this morning. She’s finished with that ruffian and he isn’t to be spoken of again.”
“Ehhh,” he grunted, then skewered a sausage with his knife.
Freida’s sister was even less sympathetic to her woes.
“So you and Lukas are truly finished?” she asked.
“Yes, Ingrid. I hate him.”
“Good. I shall write him now.”
“I shall write him.”
“You cannot write to him!”
“You said you hate him, didn’t you? That the two of you are finished, didn’t you? So what is it if I write?”
“You conniving little worm! You would swoop in beneath your sister and take her man?”
“But he isn’t your man anymore. You just said so!”
“What would you want with Lukas? You would not understand him. He is so bull-headed, so irresponsibly sure of himself, so uncompromising in his principles!”
Ingrid leaned back against the wall and fanned herself with her hand. “Mmm, I like that!”
“Get out here! Witch!”
Freida looked for something to throw but Ingrid skipped out of the room laughing, so Freida collapsed on her bed instead and had a fresh set of sobbing.
Fortunately, Freida’s mother had anticipated her daughter’s pining, and next morning she announced that they were all going to Oktoberfest together. Soon the three ladies were gathered upon the Bräurosl, sampling cheese and sausage and beer, and watching Father as he tried to bowl with a stein in one hand.
Then the races began, and the ladies left for the hillsides and took their seats. They watched as the jockeys flogged their horses and pushed them across the grueling track until the steeds were frothing and sweaty, but still obediently surging forward, all the way to the finish line.
Something about the sight of those straining horses made Freida feel very peculiar, and when she paused to consider why she suddenly found herself with head in her hands, sobbing yet again.
“My darling, what is it?” Freida’s mother asked.
“It’s just–it’s just those poor steeds. They’re rather like Lukas, aren’t they? Pushed so hard, giving all that they can to win their race. Why must they work so hard and never be allowed to rest? It’s just–it’s just so noble!”
Freida’s mother didn’t really follow, but she told her daughter not to waste another word on that “filthy boy,” and took her away to the booths to find some shade to sit under.
“I can’t help it, mother,” Freida blubbered. “Everywhere I look I see him. And he really is such a poor boy, isn’t he?”
“He’s a miserable boy! And conceited to want to make you live in poverty, remember?”
“Yes, I know I said that. But what about–“
“No ‘what about!’ You are a daughter of well-upbringing. You must find yourself a man who understands that you are a creature of refinement, who never asks you to lift a finger, who spoils you and takes you to nice places like this festival! That is the man for you!”
There came a sound of raucous laughter and the two women looked to the side. There, at the bowling alley were Freida’s father and some friends he had just made. Freida’s father and another man were down on all fours, carrying other fat men on their backs and trying to crawl as quickly as possible around an imaginary racetrack.
“Faster Blue Louie, faster!” the man on Freida’s father’s back cried and slapped his bottom.
“Oh dear!” Freida’s face was lost in the palms of her hands as she burst into tears once more.
Over the next two weeks Freida genuinely tried her best to put Lukas out of her mind, but every day found new ways to remind her of the emptiness of life in her parents’ home. She saw what a quiet and vain woman her mother was, someone who fretted only about parties and gossip, and ever tried to humor her fat, childish husband. Freida was terrified that such a fate awaited her as well.
Now she remembered that this was the very reason she had run away with Lukas in the first place. To get away from hollowness. To live a life that was real. Everything had always felt more vibrant whenever he was around, even when things weren’t easy they still had substance. Even their fights had felt like they really meant something. But now?
Freida took a bite of crumb cake one evening and it all flaked apart and fell across her dress, so many little fluffs of nothing. She cried again.