Highly Commended by Chapter One Promotions, UK,and published in their anthology
Every day for as long as he could remember, the spindly Heime Goldstein had risen at five am, bathed in a vertical position, then meticulously donned his suit and waistcoat. Next on his list were his teeth which he diligently brushed, paying particular attention to the four gold ones.
He would repeatedly check his gold fob watch and chain were positioned correctly and that his winged collar was starched to his approval. And not one solitary hair was permitted to stray from its allotted position.
Every corpuscle of his body and every neuron of his brain was definitively structured to the point of absurdity. There was a strict order to his manic routine that secretly infuriated his obedient wife Leila, but she never once exploded in front of him. She did what he expected and she did what she was instructed.
Heime didn’t know it, but Leila was well aware of the endless lists that Heime kept in one of his desk drawers. He had lists of what to do and when to do it; what to buy and when to buy it; what to say and when to say it. He even had a list outlining what other lists he had.
She was amused to know that every night he would write two items of ‘Things To Do’ on the list for the pending day, knowing he’d already done them that day. He’d then immediately cross them off, so that when he arose the following day, he felt he’d already achieved and was off to a flying start.
Her husband’s paranoia with perfection had led to her own world being methodically organised and planned. Every household item had a place of its own and so did the chattels and bric-a-brac in the garden shed.
Every plant in the garden was recorded and so was every minor and major event. Love-making was restricted to Sunday mornings between the hours of seven and seven fifteen am. Spontaneity was a sin.
As for their jewellery business in the Rathausviertel sector of Linz, the contents of no other shop in the world were so minutely and lovingly catalogued.
When Heime sold an item, it was like losing a son or daughter. He wanted the sale and the money but he begrudgingly parted with the necklace or ring or pendant.
In the Autumn of 1937, after two years of mediocre marriage, Heime had decided it was to time to “make a baby.” It hadn’t exactly taken much time - about four minutes - with loyal Leila looking forward much more to motherhood than she ever did to fornication.
Leila was a waif of a lady who brimmed with grace and generosity but who, like so many of her contemporaries, lived the life of subservience. As owners tend to grow to resemble their pets, she had regressed into the manic mould of her man. She’d tried to resist but …orders were orders.
She was implicitly a child who did what she was told and who lived her entire existence within the framework of her husband’s will.
Even in these tough economic years, Goldstein Jewellers was able to secure a fairly comfortable living for the couple, with Heime content to display his spouse as a chattel to be admired. Foibles and freakishness aside, he lavished his benign wife with the clothes she adored.
Beneath her perfectly crafted bun of silky brunette hair, her neck and shoulders were almost always adorned with expensive intricate lace protruding from the long sombre black dress.
She didn’t know it but her dark blue eyes were peaceful and penetrating. To all intents and purposes, she was Heime’s own personal delicate Dresden doll that he could display by day, make perform like a puppet at his whim - and see her eyes shut as he laid her down at night. Leila was but his child, now poised to have her own.
Each week as her belly stretched, every increment of girth growth was dutifully recorded on Heime’s ‘baby’ chart. The predicted birth date was set aside with all Jewish customs to be honoured and respected and all relatives poised for the occasion.
For Heime, it was carved in stone the baby would be a boy. He’d even secured a quote to have the words ‘and Son’ added in gold paint to the signboard above his shop.
But all the planning in the world had suddenly gone horribly wrong. On July 27th, instead of a son and heir springing painfully forth from Leila’s loins, a tiny girl emerged with wisps of black hair, stunning dark blue eyes….and a body buckled by cerebral palsy.
For Leila, it mattered not, but her tears of joy rapidly turned to devastation when she witnessed her husband’s reaction of horror.
One minute, pure heaven-sent love was bubbling and bursting from her eyes and lips. The next, she heard Heime ranting and raging and yelling ‘Why has God done this to us?’ His vitriolic abuse had included unabashed, uncontrolled blasphemy and had threatened retribution on the world.
In her moment of greatest need, the child-like doll of 69 Habsburg Strasse, in Linz was emotionally and morally alone with her fifteen minute old ‘deformed’ baby girl.
“We won’t be keeping her,” wailed Heime, his eyes bulging in fury behind his spectacles and his left hand checking his fob watch was still there.
“She is crippled and we can’t look after her. She’ll also be mentally retarded…..she has to go.”
Leila’s tears splashed onto the pillow. Surely she was not hearing correctly. Her calm, orderly, husband had lost his mental balance and was in shock. His words sliced through her like a knife.
She simply could not believe it was the same man she’d married; a man who always politely tipped his hat to neighbours and business folk and who for three years had placed her on a pedestal and pampered her like a princess, then lovingly tucked her into her cot each night.
Suddenly, he was a dark, sinister figure devoid of compassion and moral principle. In a matter of minutes he’d transformed into a nasty, cruel monster who was screaming his determination to give away their newborn infant.
It wasn’t just the child that was defenceless. Leila was too. Like her crippled daughter, she’d never stood up for herself and she didn’t know how to.
The next seven days were a week of tears and torment for Leila, but of carefully constructed lies by Heime, who told the distraught extended Austrian family the baby suffered a terminal illness and had to be ‘handed over’ for specialist care.
At precisely seven minutes to three o’clock in the morning of August 2nd, Leila sobbed helplessly after kissing her un-named baby farewell, then turned her back on her husband and her marriage as he placed his blanketed daughter into a basket…. and walked out.
Exactly twenty one and a half minutes later, on a mild Summer’s morn - witnessed disapprovingly by a half moon and two billion stars - he calmly rested the basket and his daughter on the main steps of the ancient Schloss Hartheim near Alkoven.
Heime had written a short note to the managers of the castle’s charity which was dedicated to the nurture and care of many helpless, abandoned physically and mentally handicapped children.
Tucked into an envelope and positioned over the baby’s heart inside her tightly wrapped blue blankets, the note bore the simple words ‘Thank you’ . With it were several hundred Schillings - a paltry attempt at penance.
Another short prayer appealing for forgiveness and another twenty one and a half minutes drive through the empty streets of Linz, took Heime back to his now emotionally remote wife.
Married she may still be, but a partner she would never be again. Home number 69 may have once been. It was now merely a house. She was but a broken Dresden doll who’s heart had been clinically removed.
To all who peered into his shop, everything looked straight. To the casual observer, nothing was out of line. Not so for Heime Goldstein.
Every one of the 24 clocks on his shelves recorded the time as 4.25pm. A few privileged ones even offered the date, November 9th. But to his spirit-level eyes, a ruby ring and a gold bracelet adorned with sapphires were crooked, plus a figurine of ‘Lady Hannah’ was precisely two degrees out of correct alignment. Who could possibly have moved them?
He leant into the display window to adjust the pieces to his satisfaction, then went to his tiny office to double check he’d locked the safe.
Outside in the distance he could hear a murmuring, babbling sound; a blend of excited human voices and of crashing, crunching wood and glass and metal. The cacophony grew louder, more menacing, until it paused momentarily outside Goldstein Jewellers - then all hell broke loose from a crazed vitriolic mob sweeping along the Rathausviertel.
Seconds later, squatting and trembling on the floor, he watched his own front window shatter and greedy jacketed, bleeding arms reach in and snatch watches, earrings and necklaces. ‘Death to Jews’ were the words that rang in his ears and the words daubed on his door.
Heime was terrified. He buried himself under his counter and held his breath while his meticulous world was savaged and until the wave of racist abuse moved on to the businesses or homes of other poor unfortunate Jewish families.
Trembling, he waited until his mind told him it was safe and his clocks told him it was six pm. Lady Hannah lay shattered on top of the debris. One leg was missing and her torso was cracked in two, directly through the heart.
Heime glanced at her and felt the pain. He then bundled all remaining valuables into xes and bags, emptied the safe and headed cautiously home via back roads.
The streets of the Jewish business district were littered with glass and shame. He didn’t know it, but on this Kristallnacht - the Night of Broken Glass, some 90 of his fellow Austrian Jews were being murdered, 27,000 others were being rounded up, beaten and dragged off to concentration camps, more than 250 synagogues torched and 7,500 homes and businesses destroyed.
Frau Goldstein had spent yet another painful day sobbing at her own loss. Lady Leila had been broken for months. While she’d become almost numb to the carnage and the cruelty regularly exacted against her community and faith, the grief and pain she felt every second of her life and in her every bone came from her anguish over the baby girl she’d been forced to abandon. It was far more than a leg that was missing.
For the first few months after losing her child, she’d summoned sufficient courage to insist that her husband not physically touch her, but it became too much for him and he ordered her submission.
Her anguish and his bullying had allowed her slender body to succumb to his demands. Like ‘Lady Hannah’, Lady Leila had been precisely positioned in life to be best displayed to the world.
When she’d awakened that morning, she’d pledged she would that night confront her husband once and for all and demand he not touch her again. She didn’t love him any more. She despised him. Leila Goldstein never got the chance.
As the hall clock chimed six times, Nazi thugs dragged her into the street and bundled her onto the back of a truck, squashed among 24 other Jewish men, women and children, all heading for the concentration camp at Dachau and an unknown fate.
At precisely 6.22pm and at exactly 137 metres from his own front door, Heime Goldstein was hauled from his car and beaten relentlessly with a steel bar. He was crippled with almost every limb crushed. It took him one hour, six minutes and eleven seconds to die.
Copyright Spencer Ratcliff 2010