“So why not go back to the slums?” Freida’s best friend Adelaide asked her the next morning. “Find another man. Someone who doesn’t think he has to go to the mines.”
“It isn’t that I’m in love with the slums!” Freida protested. “I never once met another man down there like Lukas. Most of them are just as dead inside as the men here.”
“Then stay here. If there was a Lukas among the slums, there must be a Lukas among the rich. It’s just a matter of time looking.”
“I don’t know about that…. I mean, yes, I’m sure you are right. I’m sure there are other men who are vibrant and alive, even here. But I believe they are very rare. And even if I did find another…”
“It still wouldn’t be Lukas.”
“Well wouldn’t that be good?”
“You hate Lukas after all.”
“I–oh yes, that’s right…. I’d forgotten. Do you think he’s furious with me right now?”
“Yes. Like how I’ve been so angry at him, do you think he’s also seething just by thinking about me? Do you think he’s wondering how many men I might have kissed at Oktoberfest?”
“You mean is he jealous?”
“Yes, that, too. Angry at me, and jealous of me. Oh, I’ll bet he has been. I’ll bet he’s had to go out and start fights, just to get all his anger out.”
“Well…I mean…I suppose he might have, but–“
“Oh, you don’t think he’s forgotten about me, do you?” Freida’s face shone with sudden earnestness.
“Forget about you? Impossible!”
“Or even if not forgotten, what if he’s already getting cozy with another woman? Just to spite me?!”
“Freida…you know I can’t know about any of these things.”
“Ohh, I’ll kill her,” Freida started wringing her own glove like it was a scrawny neck.
“But why, Freida? You hate Lukas, remember.”
“Yes. How I hate him. I hate him so much that I can hardly stand to love him!”
Adelaide said nothing, but smiled.
“He vexes me so, and I’m furious he has the power to do that! I’m a rich woman, Adelaide. I could have any man in our village and he would die before he dared cross me. He would always do just what I wanted. But Lukas…he never shouts, he never hits, but he stands up to me all the same. And I hate that about him.”
“And you love it.”
“And I love it!” Freida exclaimed, all at once burying her face in Adelaide’s skirts and sobbing uncontrollably yet again. “What sort of woman am I? I must be ill!”
“Nothing of the sort,” Adelaide patted Freida’s back. “I’ve never told you this before, but the way I know how much I love Anton is how much me makes me hate him, too.”
Freida lifted her shining eyes from the skirt. “Oh Adelaide, that’s so beautiful!” Then Freida let go of her friend and leaped up from the bench. “I have to go, Adelaide! I have to write Lukas a letter!”
All the rest of the afternoon she tried to craft the epistle, and soon a heap of crumpled pages littered her bedroom floor. Each draft oscillated from passionate to coy to inquisitive to accusing. There was simply too much of her heart to fit onto the page, and everything she read back to herself didn’t resonate the way she wanted it to. As the hours wore on, she moved from intentional drafting to just letting the pen scratch across the page however it wished. Every so often she would pick up the page, crumple it with hardly a second look, and then move on to the next piece of paper. The longer she went, the broader her sentiments ranged. She wrote out her shame, her disgust with her family, and the way her shoulders radiated with warmth when Lukas held her. In a trance she picked up the next page and just as she began to crumple it, she paused.
Dear Lukas, I hate you. But if you can forgive that small indiscretion, I would very much like to see you again. I will never stop being me, Lukas...but neither do I wish you to stop being you. It is impossible for me to say whether things could ever work between us. Quite possibly they never will. But at least now we are honest, and I do think that gives us a chance. But what is true of me now and forever is that I love you Lukas. May I see you again? Freida
It was just what she wanted to say. She gave the page a kiss and stuffed it into an envelope. Then she looked out the window and realized it was too late to go to the post office, but for the first time since Lukas had left her she slept peacefully, knowing that all would be all in the morning.
The next day Freida didn’t even wait for her breakfast. She hurriedly threw on her boots, pulled her cloak tight against the morning frost, and rushed down the street to the post office.
“One letter going out,” the postmaster squinted at the letter and nodded approvingly. “And actually, it’s perfect timing you’re being here. Something just came in for you.”
“For me?!” she asked in shock. “From where?”
“Hmm…” the postmaster reached up to the box on the wall and fished out a small telegram. He squinted to read its heading. “From Ruhr Valley…same as where your letter is headed to, isn’t it? Well, that’s convenient!”
“Yes, it is!” Freida beamed, taking the small paper in her hand. “Thank you very much!”
Hands trembling, Freida stepped out of the building and paused on the porch to turn the paper over in her hand. As she did so, her excited smile began to soften. The sender was not Lukas. It was from the Ruhr Mining Coalition. The telegram was only three lines long.
Miss Freida Huber, you have been listed as next-of-kin by Mister Lukas Bergmann, to be notified in the event of his death. We regret to inform you that Mister Bergmann passed away on Thursday, the 5th, as the result of a cave-in. Please come to our front offices to claim his personal effects.
“What?” Freida choked. A gust of wind rushed by and she pulled her cloak tighter, but it did no good. She was chilled from within, and she stood frozen on the spot, shivering uncontrollably.