Two months ago we were able to condemn a German general to twenty years in prison. He was guilty, this was unquestionable, but I had come to admire the man while he was under house arrest, and also to think fond thoughts with respect to his wife, the much younger Soraya, who had fled the civil war in Spain and taken up with the general after a particularly extravagant ball in the waning months of 1936, when all anybody could talk about was the charisma of the Führer, and also the general’s small son, a boy of six, who we all referred to as the Little Soldier, though his name was Günter. Forgive me, but I lusted after Soraya, and it was partly this which made me ingratiate myself with the general while he rotted under armed guard in his home in Berlin. We played chess in the evenings, and drank Riesling until very late. Soraya would pour the glasses, an immense glass for her husband, who was himself a giant of a man, tall and broad, and with a beard that covered most of his face like the way one imagines a caveman’s beard would be, tangled and unruly and yet utterly natural and proper, and for me Soraya poured a small glass, really just a taste of this or that bottle, for I was on duty and strictly forbidden from alcohol, and in truth I think that neither Soraya nor the general really wished me to drink from their cellars, which were expansive and, without doubt, uniformly exquisite.
Close to midnight – not every night, but many, even most – the general, sodden with wine, would fall asleep in his chair, scattering the chess pieces with his wavering hand, and snoring with his mouth open. Soraya would pull a chair close to the table, stroke the general’s sweating brow, and whisper with me in broken German and nigh-unintelligible Spanish about her life, her marriage and, increasingly, her fears and hopes following the general’s sentence and, she thought, his inevitable hanging. I know what he has done, she said one night, but she didn’t provide details and wouldn’t again speak of the general’s crimes, though of course I knew about them as well as anybody else. I don’t believe it was an accident but during these late night talks her nightgown, which was voluminous and grey as a winter cloud, would loosen and the neck, and the swell of her bosom, would appear. God help me but I looked while the great general snored, and then invariably Soraya would press something into my hand and I would find myself with a little golden trinket, or a small painting, or some silverware, and then I would smuggle it out of the house hidden deep within my clothing, and hidden away in the garret I was calling my own in the confusing post-war turmoil of Berlin.
We were, Soraya assured me, making a bright future for ourselves.
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The above piece of writing comprises part of my fragments project, some of which are available on this website. I intend to add new fragments piecemeal, not in any particular order, and as the occasion take me.