Jasmine, Mackenzie, Ben, and Juliana sat in a tight circle while they ate their vanilla cake.
“Man, did you see that one group?” Mackenzie asked. “They’re our age and they had to dress up like four-leaf clovers. Kind of like when you were that flower a few years ago, Ben.”
Ben’s cheeks turned red. “Do you have to bring that upagain?”
Mackenzie pinched his cheek. “But you were so cute!”
Ben swatted her hand away. “I’d rather be a flower than a worm.”
“It was a contemporary piece,” Mackenzie countered.“It was too deep for you to fully comprehend.”
Juliana and Jasmine laughed at the twins.
“That’s what I hate about having a sister,” Ben said. “If she wants to get back at you, all she has to do is tell some kind of embarrassing story.”
“So, apparently this photo exists of my mom when she was a kid in some kind of embarrassing fluffy costume,” Juliana said, “and I’m trying to find it.” She described the photo, and everyone laughed.
“Don’t do it, Juliana,” Ben said, throwing a look at his sister. “Some photos should remain buried.”
Everyone laughed again.
“I have to admit, when my grandfather told me about it at first, I just wanted to find it for myself and then give it to Mom, like a fun-but-embarrassing gift. But then at comp this weekend, Mom ran into an old friend who told her how jealous she’d been of Mom back then because of the role she got at their year-end show with that costume. Mom told me she actually wished she still had the picture. My aunt and uncle are pretty sure it’s disappeared, but I think it’s in the house somewhere. My grandfather at least seems to think so.”
“And you’ve looked?” Jasmine asked.
Juliana nodded. “In the obvious places, but I couldn’t find it.”
“Then you need an accomplice, someone who knows the family and the house really well, falls under the radar and won’t tell your mom.”
“Of course you’d suggest that,” Juliana said. “Your dad’s a cop.”
“And cops know how to find things secretly,” Jasmine said. “There must be someone.”
Juliana knew just the person.
“You're asking someone who's going blind to help you look for something?” Sophie asked.
Juliana was helping Sophie with her math.
“I can do the looking, but you know everyone so much better than I do, and I don’t think you’re as innocent as you look. I bet you snuck around Opa’s house a lot when you were younger. I need a sidekick.”
Sophie laughed. “You know how dorky you sound, right?”
Juliana playfully swatted her cousin on the shoulder. “I’m serious! I really need to find this photo. You should’ve seen the look on Mom’s face, Sophie. She actually looked like this photo would make her really happy.”
“Uncle Peter did say on Monday he thought Aunt Katy was regretting something.”
“Exactly. Mom’s been so serious since we’ve moved here. It’d be fun to find this and hear her laugh.”
Aunt Anne opened the door to Sophie’s room. “I’m hearing a little too much fun and not enough studying.”
The girls apologized and then Juliana asked, “Can Sophie come over tomorrow after school? I want to find that photo of Mom.”
Aunt Anne gave Juliana a quizzical look.
“She knows Opa’s house better than me,” Juliana said.
Aunt Anne placed her hands on her hips. “Well, so do I,” she said playfully.
“Any ideas?” Juliana asked.
“Wall unit in the—”
“—living room,” Juliana finished for her. “Already checked there, and in the kitchen, my closet, the closet in the guest bedroom, and my parents’ closet.”
“Your parents’ closet?” Juliana shrugged. “Yeah, why? There’s nothing in there I can’t see.”
“Okay...” Aunt Anne thought for a few more minutes and then shook her head. “I still think Katy threw it out. But if it makes you feel like Nancy Drew, then go for it. But get your homework done first.”
Juliana didn’t know who Nancy Drew was, but Sophie seemed to. Juliana would ask her later.
“But if that ice storm hits tomorrow,” Aunt Anne said, one foot out the door, “then you may have to postpone your sleuthing.”
“We’ll be fine,” Juliana said. “They said there was only a ten percent chance that we’d get it.”
The next morning, at ten, Aunt Anna brought Sophie over.
“Cool sunglasses,” Juliana said to Sophie, but Sophie didn’t look pleased. She stepped inside, left her boots on the tiny landing, walked up to the kitchen, and set the sunglasses on the small countertop under the side window.
Behind Sophie’s back, Aunt Anne rolled her eyes andshook her head. “You two,” she said, still standing outside the door at the side of the house. “I almost broke a hip walking over here.”
“I salted!” Juliana said.
The ice storm had indeed hit early morning, cancelling all school buses and closing all schools. Juliana would normally take a day like today to study and get ahead in her schoolwork, but the idea of searching for the photo was too enticing. Besides, with Dad on the road again, Mom at the grocery store, and Opa still in Cuba, Juliana could snoop around.
Aunt Anne smiled. “You only did your portion of the sidewalk. I’ll be back at lunch.” Aunt Anne shuffled back down the driveway. “It’s days like today where I wish I’d done figure skating instead of dance!” she shouted back. “And Sophie—wear your sunglasses if you go outside!”
“Whatever,” Sophie said, though not loud enough for her mom to hear.
Juliana closed the door behind her aunt.
“Everything okay?” Juliana asked as Sophie slid out of her coat.
“I just hate wearing sunglasses.”
“Oh...okay.” Juliana had never met anyone before who hated wearing sunglasses. Worried it had something to do with Sophie’s eyes, though, Juliana let the topic drop.
“Something to drink?” she asked.
“Nope.” Sophie took off her hat and mitts and went to hang everything in the hallway closet around the corner from the kitchen. When she returned, she was again the bright, happy girl Juliana knew. “Let’s get started. You said yesterday where you’ve already checked. Where do we start then?”
Juliana’s expression turned grim. “I think we need to start with the cellar,” she said.
“You mean the dungeon,” Sophie replied. “We always called it the dungeon when I was little.”
Changing its name from cellar to dungeon sent shivers up Juliana’s spine. She had only been down there once, at Christmas, soon after she and her family had arrived. It was the only place she could escape to when everyone was wanting her to be this polite, perfect, little daughter even though she had just been ripped away from her life back home.
“Okay,” she said, taking a deep breath. “But it’s gross in there.”
“You’re looking,” Sophie said, a huge smile on her face,“I’m the sidekick.”
“That is so not fair,” Juliana said, a mock-sarcastic tone in her voice.
“Your words, not mine,” Sophie replied and gestured to Juliana to go first.
“Good day!” Stefan said, removing his hat as they reached the wagon. His smile immediately brightened Elisabeth’s mood.
“Good day,” she replied, smiling back.
Rosina at first said nothing. Instead she stood still, staring at Stefan’s missing arm. Elisabeth nudged her and out flew a “Hello” as quiet as a butterfly, though Rosina’s eyes didn’t move.
Stefan jumped out of the wagon and helped both girls in as best he could. He was finally putting on a little weight, but it would take many meals before he looked like a grown man again.
Georg turned around to see that everyone had found a seat, his face still as usual. Rosina scrambled as far away from him as she could, pushing her spine into a corner of the wagon and pulling up her knees. Elisabeth’s face turned red. Georg snapped the reins and the wagon lurched into motion, the gravel crackling under the wagon’s wheels and the horse’s hooves clip-clopping in a steady rhythm.
“What did you do after church yesterday?” Stefan asked.
Elisabeth told him about Sunday: Maria’s family’s visit, the magazine, and the shoes. She stole a glance at Rosina and then whispered to Stefan, “I think one of my siblings took it and is lying about it.”
“What did you say?” Rosina asked. “I can’t hear you.”
“Nothing for your ears,” Elisabeth said.
Rosina’s eyes narrowed as her gaze traveled between Stefan and Elisabeth. “You said something about the magazine. I know you did. I didn’t steal it.” She stamped her footon the wagon floor, prompting Georg to turn around from his perch on the horse.
Rosina pulled her knees in tighter. “Maybe Georg stole it!”
Georg turned back around.
But to Elisabeth’s surprise, Stefan laughed.
“Isn’t it funny, Georg?” he shouted up to his friend. “The thought of you taking a women’s magazine?”
Georg didn’t turn around but shrugged slightly.
Elisabeth tried to keep a serious face to show Rosina she disapproved of her behaviour, but the more she tried to tighten her lips, the harder it was not to smile: the thought of big, strong Georg perusing a women’s magazine broke through her resolve and she laughed with Stefan. Even Rosina giggled.
Elisabeth exchanged kisses with Deaf Lissi, wife to Georg’s brother, Samuel. She wasn’t actually deaf—the nickname had been passed down through the family from an ancestor who had been hard of hearing. But with so many Elisabeths in the congregation and especially in the Schuhmacher family—it was also Mammi’s first name—nicknames helped keep everyone straight. Samuel and Deaf Lissi lived in the homestead on the family salasch.
The homestead on the salasch was similar to houses in the village: white walls and blue gables on the outside and two rooms on the inside with a kitchen in between. However, the back room, instead of being formally decorated to receive visitors, was sparsely furnished and used for tasks like weaving or making brooms. Behind the homestead were the stalls for the cows and horses followed by the smaller ones for the pigs. Konrad-Bátschi’s family raised animals for themselves and to sell at the market on Tuesdays, something Elisabeth’s family couldn’t do with the size of their portion of the land.
However, no German rightfully owned a home and did not adorn it with flowers. A fenced-in garden already beginning to blossom with tiny snowdrops lay in front of Samuel’s home.
Samuel limped as he pulled two horses attached to a plough out of the stalls of the salasch. Elisabeth knew he had had polio in childhood.
“I’m sorry I don’t get to see you often, anymore,” he called to Elisabeth as he got closer, doffing his cap. “But the salasch needs me and my wife now.”
Elisabeth nodded in return. “I understand,” she said, a smile on her face. “The distance from here to the village is too much to travel every day.” Indeed, she already found that the four kilometres to the fields and back took up too much of her day: over two hours.
The animals snorted and neighed, and Rosina rushed behind Elisabeth, who placed her arm around her young sister: horses used to scare Elisabeth, too. As a child, she had even woken up occasionally from a nightmare in which a horse had fallen on her. It had never happened to her in real life but the tall animals, with their barrel-like bodies and long faces, simply scared her then. But she had eventually learned to love them.
“Rosina can help me in the house,” Deaf Lissi offered and held out her hand for her young cousin. Rosina didn’t hesitate to accept.
“We’ll begin ploughing your fields today,” Georg said.
Samuel handed Elisabeth the horses’ reins so he and his brother could inspect the plough and tethers.
The more time Elisabeth spent with Georg, the harder she found it to understand Mammi’s refusal to let him help them. Mammi had even grumbled when Georg, Samuel, and Stefan had shown up last week to transfer her family’s dung pile into a wagon to carry out to their fields. But who else was going to do it?
“Thank you,” Elisabeth said. “You’ve really been a blessing to our family.”
Georg paused for a moment and looked at Elisabeth, but she couldn’t tell what the expression on his face meant. Was he about to smile? His lips tightened slightly as though they wanted to curve upwards. Samuel patted his brother on the back, which brought an annoyed look to Georg’s face. Elisabeth smiled: Samuel had done it once before in front of her and had said that Georg hated it. A moment later, though, Georg’s face returned to its usual stillness that left Elisabeth wondering how much of him was here on earth and how much in heaven.
“I’ll bring out the second plough shortly and then Stefan can help guide the animals,” Samuel said. “My brother inspected it yesterday, so it’s ready to go.”
As her cousins continued their inspection, Elisabeth stroked the horse’s mane, trying to figure out which of her siblings had stolen Maria’s precious magazine. She remembered that Rosina had chosen to knit in the front room, Luki had stepped outside to look after the animals, and Anna had needed the outhouse. All three had gone through the kitchen where Maria’s satchel had lain. Any one of them could’ve taken the magazine. Anna and Rosina had fallen in love with the modern designs. It can’t have been Luki, she thought. He likes Mammi’s shoes.
She jumped and one horse pulled its head back in response. Stefan had called her. “Yes?” She blushed. “Sorry.”
“Are you still thinking about who took that magazine?”
Elisabeth nodded. “I don’t see why Luki would take it,” she began, continuing her thoughts as though Stefan had heard the first ones. “He says he doesn’t think Mammi should make special shoes. But Rosina wanted to knit squares for them—” Stefan made a quizzical face at the suggestion—“and Anna wants to embroider the shoes, so she would love to study the magazine for designs, but she’s also angry at me for telling her she has to help more. She’s nice to visitors, but to me she’s horrid—she’d steal the magazine just to embarrass me in front of my friend.”
Stefan shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know your brother and sisters well, so I’m afraid I’m not much help. But I’m sure you’ll find it.”
Georg crouched down beside the plough and scraped dried dirt off one of its two shares. “Why is this magazine soimportant?”
His attention to such a topic surprised her. Georg usually spoke only when necessary.
“Aside from the fact that it’s not mine,” she said, “it has pictures of modern shoes in it. I’m certain Mammi could make them, but she wants to uphold tradition.” She described the shoes from the magazine. “And there were also these—I don’t know what you would call them—they go over shoes and have buttons up the side. They go perhaps a few inches above the ankle. They look so...”
“Modern?” Samuel offered as he tugged down on a buckle.
Elisabeth nodded. “Yes.”
The horses moved and Georg pulled his hands back sothey would not be sliced by the plough. Elisabeth stroked the horses’ muzzles and spoke to them to calm them down. Once the animals and tool were still again, Georg continued his work. “I would buy shoes like that for Eva,” he said. “She deserves something nice. I know she would wear them to the dances.”