The White Prince and the Wedding Dress – A True Pack of Lies

Ein Briefroman von Cornelia Steffen

Einführung und erster Brief

Characters from the present times:

Karla – Fifty-odd years old, German born, lives comfortably in the «Garden of England», married to Hans im Glück, HiG, still loves her former lover and cousin Clara, wants to save her from the past into her presence even though there are very few good reasons to do so.

Clara – The cousin from the past with a lot of past, apparently wanting to vanish into dementia even though she is just sixty years old.

HiG, Hans im Glück (Lucky Hans) – Sixty+ years old husband of Karla and not so lucky any more as he has lost his job as a Psychiatrist of a prestigious Private Clinic and is very close to lose Karla as well.

Uriel – In his thirties, young and dynamic music- and filmmaker, so much loved by his mother-of heart, Karla and neglected by his birthmother Clara.

Karim – Young fifty+ years old of Belgian and noble African origin, has his own painful family history, works part-time for the Sudanese Government and for Secret Services, attracts both Karla and Clara in the Sudan – and later catches up with Karla and HiG in England with «mixed» results.

Friend Donald – A journalist in Karla’s age, Karla’s former lover and Clara’s «flirt» but stays Karla’s best friend for a long time.

Miriam – Development worker in Sudan and in Geneva, with secretive work attached and «part-time» lover of Karla during their Sudan times.

Esther – Clara’s nurse and liaison for Karla

Sheba – Uriel’s present love and future wife

Animals: Rooster Theobald believes to be a dog and leaves quite some feathers for his passion. Pheasant Cesar sees Karla as his feathery companion. Pheasant hen Hannah gets a lot of favours, too.

Characters from the past:

Auntie Viola – Cousin of Karla’s and Clara’s fathers, can’t forget Jewish suffering and tells Karla all about dark family secrets before she dies.

Frieda – Karla’s nanny who shared concentration camp – times with Karla’s mother and other deep secrets and tries to protect young Karla from the White Prince.

The parents of Karla and Clara – Are sisters and brothers, never wanting to be addressed by their daughters by their first names but instead called «Father» and «Mother»

Karla’s mother – A strong survivor who wants to forget the past and to see what she wants to see and loves her piano more than her husband and daughter or her sister.

Karla’s father – Successful in forgetting the past, running the inherited garment business and hiding his obsessions, but loses in the end.

Clara’s mother – As strong as her sister, but even better in finding ways to safeguard her life.

Clara’s father – Has great similarities to his brother regarding his dealing with the past but in the end no more luck than him.

Grandparents of Karla’s and Clara’s fathers: Jewish Grandfather Krystof alias Christoph changes his past twice and develops a garment business.

Grandmother of Karla’s and Clara’s fathers: Jewish grandmother Anja can’t be «Aryanized» and has to vanish.

Blue-eyed Blonde – So called by Auntie Viola, «replaces» Anja and is very helpful in finding ways to let people vanish or to «Aryanize» beloved ones.

Grandparents of Karla’s and Clara’s mothers: Jewish Grandfather Paul’s medical knowledge is very appreciated by a German Oligarch who recommends «Aryanization» quite early on – and Paul follows his advice.

Jewish Grandmother Wilhelmine – Has the right first name but too many family members who can’t become Aryans – so she has to vanish, too.

Aryan Orphan has the right family background and becomes the one and only wife of Paul.

Animal from the past:

Karla’s mother’s beloved Airedale unfortunately ends up as a lampshade.

From the past and present:

The beauty of the landscape of Southeast England


Dear Reader,
To present to you the private letters of my aunt Karla to her cousin Clara, my mother, was not a decision I took lightly – it took me years. It was a difficult read for me – it might be one for you, too. But when you open your heart and mind to this complex family history about love and hate, innocence and crime, retaliation and redemption then, I am sure, you will discover a powerful and true story, which I was haunted and moved by.
Karla’s letters never got a reply – but she got a response in the end.
To protect the persons involved, I changed their names and locations.

Please, read with care.

Letter I

On the 20th day of January

Dear Clara love, dearest cousin,

A first letter for the first new month in a New Year. May it be a better one than the last: Happy New Year – late wishes are still wishes.
Hidden between old letters, I just found a present you gave me a long time ago, an eternity ring made of grass. I wonder whether you still have my first love token, the memory ring made of yellow ribbons.

My apologies for not having written earlier are accompanied by the spring-heralding perfumes of white snowdrop-waves and the sun-bathing cups of the first crocuses and early-flowering narcissi – so precious presents from my – even in winter – overwhelmingly beautiful garden.
I miss you, Clara. I will try not to be too sentimental with you, my favourite drama-queen from the past. Hope to bring you back into my present life. Remember how we loved practising semaphore; and now imagine the flags that would read: «FOLLOW ME, DEAREST». Please, do, Clara.

I feel the freshness of the cold surface under my elbows while I am writing to you, sitting at the glass table you always detested «…because it makes you look old.» Opposite is the mirror you always admired «…because an old mirror makes us look young». What you see in it now, is my face with all the lines getting deeper and the eyes getting darker. Yes, I still colour my white and grey hair flaming red. My eyes are still bluer than blue, like yours. Our velvet-thick and night-black eyelashes will be always admired. Only the blacks get white eyelashes with age, don’t they, we saw that in the slums of Port Sudan. Yes, I am still quite proud of my small waistline and my figure fitting into size ten or so. Much younger men and women still look at me with this specific curiosity whether it would be worth «laying me’. Last week I was asked by a schoolboy, whether I would like to be «coco-ed». At first, I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about. Couldn’t believe it afterwards.

Sometimes, I fear, I look old. Sometimes, I fear, I look ridiculous. I am not sure we will always love with the same wild intensity, Clara, but let us bathe now in the first warm sunshine of the New Year. No one can ever separate us – only we can do that.

Actually, I dressed up before I started to write this letter to you. You will love the silkiness of my olive green and azure blue cashmere suit that matches the dominant colours of my home – all the greens and blues of the sea and the woods. I put make up on, only a little bit of mascara and a blue eyeliner and for my lips «rose-light blush» of our favourite «Labello» lip care. And Nivea crème for the skin to glow and into the tips of my long hair to curl up so that you could get a good grip on them. Would you still like to do that.

I remember you telling me that you hate question marks, and that I should not ask questions in order to avoid lies. So I don’t put question marks into my letters, Clara: Feel free to ignore my questions – I do not want to oblige you to answer any, I don’t want to risk hearing lies from you.

Except from the secret places exclusively reserved for the orange-blossom-perfume, I sprayed your beloved rose perfume on almost every part of my still young and longing skin. Sometimes, we intertwined our bodies like dancing snakes. Cold blooded as we are. Are you still wearing the red stilettos. It would be a shame not to use them. But your feet may be too fat for them now. My red stilettos are reserved for special occasions. Yes, I will always wear them when I write letters to you.

What a difference sunshine makes, all senses become stronger and immediate. I can only hope that the sun shines on you in the city, even though the darkness of long winters might be still around you. I hope you are not losing track of the better times ahead.

I feel quite helpless about what to write and what not to – I just want you to know that I think of you, and I send with this little letter a little blue crocus. See it as a messenger, and as a promise that we will see each other soon, «either here or there or everywhere». That’s what we sometimes said as a good-bye to each other, knowing that you or I were to drive into dangerous territory, towards the night into the desert, towards the dark frontier to pick up food and medicine for «our Sudanese refugees». (I sometimes still feel sick when I think of our self-awarded halos. Yours was bigger than mine, I am sure – please, smile, I always liked your smile.)

I met Uriel, your-ever-so beautiful son, a few weeks ago, in December: he invited me to see his new «über-cool», Aryan-archaic-styled production studio in Berlin-Mitte for his London-Amsterdam-Berlin «Company for Creative Films». I forgot whether he told me if you have seen it and what you thought of his new enterprise. Anyway, I was glad to learn on that occasion, that he still plays his old Sudanese bongos and percussion, and that he has his own band for gigs in Amsterdam, Berlin and London. He also composes the music for all his very Rainer Maria Fassbinder-like films. I will try to get to one of his screenings soon. I am quite proud of him. He is still very young, don’t you agree, being just thirty years of age. I was never keen to hear about Uriel’s love affairs, Clara, and I was not over the moon when he introduced me to his girlfriend at his Berlin-studio (I am sure he told you all about her):

«Karla, please meet Sheba», he proudly said, putting both hands theatrically to his heart: «My one and only QUEEN of my heart!»

And from behind his back appeared what looked like a gothic, fairy-like Lolita, dressed in black all over her slim body, with colossal red, long, curly hair and a little face with big blue eyes in the middle of all the hair. I felt absolutely stupid in my latest Burberry outfit, totally «déplacée», Clara. And, you might not believe it, but this young girl-woman Sheba with a rebellious, dismissive expression on her face, looked like a young version of myself, the wild Karla from the long forgotten past! I could clearly see that Uriel was in love, definitely for sure.

When he gallantly introduced me to Sheba, I felt like the potential mother-in-law: «Sheba, meet the one and only MOTHER of my heart, Karla.»

(Don’t be offended, Clara – this is what Uriel said – or, more honest: how I remember it.)

And while constantly watching my face, he said: «Regards from Clara.» And then halfway turning to Sheba, he continued: «They are cousins – Clara, my birth mother, and Karla» and turning again to me: «She was your best of all friends, wasn’t she, Karla.»

I don’t know why but I was embarrassed by his question, and I blushed. And then Uriel blushed too, and out of the blue we both had tears in our eyes and had to find solace in each other’s arms while little Sheba stood irritatingly close to us with no intention of leaving some private space for Uriel and me. She seems to like to be in control of a situation.

Uriel went on telling me that Sheba is a Jewish girl, born in London into a very religious family (Sheba looked heavenwards, rolling her eyes) with «a lot of dough» (Sheba looked embarrassed but proud). She seems to be quite a hand full. She does not live up to her royal name: She has an almost nine-year-old son, Clara. And she does not know who the father is. (Does sound familiar, doesn’t it).

And poor, deeply in love Uriel said with a stupid and happy smile on his face: «But it can be me, I mean, the producer of Sheba’s son Ricky, Karla, I was her hottest lover at that time!».

Sheba, with an ironic smile on her face, surprised me with her fluent German and her «matter of fact»-voice: «We have a totally relaxed relationship, we aren’t each other’s private possession.»

And Uriel, nodding in agreement, added: «Son Ricky is okay with me. I am his friend. I am doing okay without a father, never wanted to know who or where he is.»

And with a kiss on my forehead, he pulled me to the café behind his studio for a «Hot chocolate session» while Sheba prepared herself for Friend Donald’s party in the evening. I have to admit, she is such a beauty that she could wear a garbage bag, and she would still be attractive, Clara.

I am not sure whether Uriel really does not care to know about the biological father of Sheba’s Ricky. But I can’t do anything but believe him.

I was quite touched by his invitation to a Hot chocolate. I sometimes very much doubt if we cared enough for him, Clara, we, his two mothers. We too often put our own interests – our being in love with each other – first. Especially in the beginning of our Sudan episode, you remember that, don’t you, Clara. It was in the early eighties, and Uriel was still such a young boy.

Considering my fair share of this blame, I tried hard to restore his trust in me after coming back from the Sudan. «Our Hot chocolate session», that’s what Uriel has always called our heart-to-heart talks. I thought it was a reminiscence of these «old times» when Uriel led me to the little cafe.

And it was then that Uriel told me about your recent problems with your memory and coordination, and that you could not stay any longer in your luxurious SW1-apartment and that he had to find a new home for you. Welcome to your new address in London, welcome to St John’s Wood. Well, hopefully no danger for you «not to see the wood for the trees», Clara. Sorry for the joke, you have to forgive me, the country-bumpkin from the south-east English countryside: I don’t exactly know where St John’s Wood is, I have to look it up, to get an idea where you are at the moment, dearest. And I don’t know in what state you are when this letter reaches you, please forgive me if I am going into too much detail.

Your beguiling son Uriel – for the party he wore his long hair loose, and one could clearly see that he has inherited your curly black hair. And his darkest of dark eyes make him look so vulnerable and so dangerous – his eyes always bewitched me. We celebrated Friend Donald’s 60th birthday – he just recently moved from Heidelberg to Berlin «to be where the action is» – and at midnight, Donald announced his decision to take a year’s sabbatical leave: He wants to vanish into the distance of the Amazon’s jungle, he wants «to be silent for a while». I miss him terribly, he is one of my last «confidants’ but I have to respect his wish for «silence». (I hope he stops his dangerous job of chasing old Nazi-criminals for a while.)

Uriel was my companion for the night, even though Sheba accompanied him. I managed to ignore her. I am not sure whether you’ve ever had the chance to spend a night out with your son, Clara – he is an exceptionally good dancer, so slim, so muscular, such long legs, such a tiny, firm bottom, very sexy, if I may say so without making you too jealous, you Jewish mother, you! But you have plenty of reasons to be jealous of Sheba – at least that is what happened to me. Ridiculous, I know. No cogent reasoning necessary.

(I know, «Jew» or «Jewish» were taboo-words for the two of us since early childhood. Does it upset you to be called «Jewish mother»- would you prefer «Jewish Princess» - any way, I risk it: Wake up, Clara.)

Oh gosh, oy vey and Jehovah, too – I just realize, you haven’t heard from me for ages. But YOU should remember, Clara, that I haven’t heard a single word, not even a syllable, from you for years on end. The last time I saw you, at our fathers’ funeral, you plainly avoided speaking to me. I wanted to speak provocatively of «dead silence» on that occasion. (Ha, do you now try to shut me up with a «Ssh!» like our mothers liked to do, do you.) Anyway, after the funeral you vanished again, out of my life and into secret work for the Service (I learnt that later both from the Service and from Uriel). But I shouldn’t have been «reactive», as you would like to call it, wouldn’t you, to answer silence with silence. There are so many different forms of silence. In your current situation, I hope that you prefer to listen so that the silence does not become too loud.

So, yes, I am sorry for not having contacted you earlier. I was just too busy keeping everything together as our world was falling apart – and I don’t want to waste too much of your time and energy on it, but Hans-im-Glück, my Lucky Hans-husband, is not so lucky any longer, as he has lost his job at the clinic. I can’t understand why they first headhunted him, and now they have fired him without warning. I don’t know all the details, and I am sure that you would not be interested anyway. You always hated psychiatrists, didn’t you. That was one of the reasons why we two drifted apart, wasn’t it. In your current situation, perhaps you should change your mind and ask for help from one of them. Don’t be stupidly stubborn. Let me know if you want some recommendations.

Anyway, this letter will try to update you and put you in the picture. I really like the English language, and I am assuming that your wish that I always write to you in English still exists and has not been affected by your current inconvenience. I can’t remember why we have chosen that name but I sometimes miss our «English lessons» – especially when you wanted the «English invasion», these deep kisses, you princess of all Jewish princesses, (smile!). Am I too awful for words as an entertainer. Stop your mumbling complaints! Yes, I hear them, even being some air- and land-miles away.

Actually, I feel quite miserable having to write all of Lucky Hans’s correspondence, everything that is «Private and Confidential», «To be Opened by Addressee Only» in the dispute with his colleagues which Hans im Glück continues to pursue. Endless letters, petitions, notes, reports, because my dear husband doesn’t trust any secretary – he has had too many lovers in this profession, obviously, ha.

And it might still take ages to get his reputation restored. We might have to experience how hunger feels – and desolation. He is not young any longer. And nor am I. I still love him very much. You always tried to persuade me to stay away from «shrinks». Sorry, still no success, dearest Clara! Even though my Hans im Glück, my HiG, has ridden us into the shit, so deep that we can hardly breathe. (I am just thinking that «Glück» is synonymous with «Shit» in German. What more of an indication do you need for an anal fixated people.) Sorry for the language, but you don’t want to know how hard life is at the moment for me in my chosen Homeland. I still fear your malicious joy about any failures of mine. Yes, yes, I see your gloating smile again from former times, the left side of your lips going down and the right up, ambivalent but beautiful – your smile, you yourself, yes, beautiful in former times. Definitely, jawohl.

In my English exile, I will not give up to try to build my own «Jerusalem» in my «Engel-, Angel-Land» with her «green and pleasant pastures». It is, and will always be, God’s own country, the «Land of Hope and Glory». I still sing all these patriotic songs with fervour whenever I feel sad and lost in space. No, I don’t need to hide. I stay put – they can’t treat me like an immigrant, I am from Europe, I am an EU citizen, they can’t threaten me with expulsion, with deportation, I know that, Clara. But the Angst is with me, I live in the Angst, and the others all live outside the Angst: My dark Angst-Haus is a construction of building-blocks of crimes from the past and black lies over generations and of stories I didn’t like – and Angst gives birth to more lies: so many rooms added by myself, doors all locked, everything under control, I feel safe. But I want to try to open at least some of them, let the light in, breathe… Yes, I have German and Polish blood in me, but I am also a Jew, even though nobody knows that, almost nobody. I have to control Angst growing into phobia and paranoia, Clara.

Sometimes I think people notice my nose, they look at my nose. Mother wanted to have it operated on for ages. I fainted at the slightest mention of such a barbarian act. I am not proud of my nose. I can actually see that it’s too long and will perhaps be in the middle of my mouth when I am old because the tip of it will reach my chin in a bow, an elegant bow, I presume. When I have a good laugh, my nose already hangs over my upper lip. When I saw photos from the Berlin party, looking at my nose in profile, I thought of a «cliff-hanger». And my nose is so wide that I always see it when I look left or right, or down, like now, writing to you, Clara. Nosy person, nosy people. We are good at smelling things. We just don’t do the smell of fear. We don’t know how it smells, do we. We can’t smell each other.

I have just opened the windows of the studio for a moment, the sun wants to come in. The wind has picked up slightly, and the black and grey branches of the trees are waving and spinning their beautiful pattern in the air and over the meadow. The large leaves of the cherry laurel send their silvery shine into my eyes. Like the moonlight at night. There is still the keenness of ice in the air.

We have to be watchful, Clara.

Don’t interrupt me. I know that your nose is so much smaller – and fine like a miniature. You look different, too. But not so obviously different. My Angst, Clara: I am not sure whether I can trust them «up there» that they know they can’t throw out Jews from England back into Germany, never again. It is so unsettling to hear about new immigration regulations, brought upon all of us because of too many Polish people rushing into London or to the country-side where they harvest leeks or strawberries or whatever. Really, you can now buy Sauergurken and Polish Wurst in almost every supermarket. Yes, you and I could feel at home again, if we want to think of the past as our home. But we don’t want that, do we. A true pack of lies of our families are waiting there for us. Your father and my father, your mother and my mother, trying to be such good Germans. Ridiculous. Our fathers dying their hair blond, though our mothers chose to stick to their own red hair. I am sure that their blue eyes saved all of us – if we have been really «saved’. I sometimes doubt that very much.

I have just seen the brown Orpington cock from our neighbours running wild across the meadow with the dogs again: Theobald, his name is, and he thinks he is a dog, so he runs after them and wants to play with them no matter how many feathers he has already lost in their rough play. And, as well behaved as any other domesticated canine mammal, he comes home with the dogs when they have done their duty with the sheep in the fields. Totally exhausted, he usually falls behind quite dramatically so that I feel obliged to pick him up, giving him a good clean from the mud and some corn to eat. But today it’s different, it’s spring in the air, and I watch how he tries to get onto the back of a young bitch.

Obviously, for me: the first thing Theobald saw in his life must have been a dog when he hatched out of his little egg. So he thought: «Mummy, mummy…» not understanding that what this creature, standing in front of him, had dangling from his mouth, was his real mother. That’s my theory, anyway, often discussed in great detail with the locals at the Crown and Thistle, our village pub – and loudly and lengthily argued about with everyone who dared to have a different opinion. I have to interrupt this letter briefly, dear Clara, the cock needs my «intervention», so to speak, because Theobald uses his very sharp beak when he gets over-excited and runs it harshly and rapidly into the nearest bit of dog’s back he can get hold of before ejaculating - and that can, depending on the character of his female friend, lead to his immediate extinction.

Yes, I saved Theobald; he is now lying next to me on his left side with half-closed eyes, spreading every possible feather towards the sunshine that floods my room. Satisfaction of another kind that is, dear Clara. How stupid he is. How happy he is. He doesn’t know any better. And, in a way, he is right in his assumption that there are much smaller creatures than him called «dog”. And, believing he is a dog makes him so much fitter and faster than any other cock in our village.

I think that our families succeeded in being more German than many Germans, our fathers «occupying» Poland with their felt-, upholstery- and textiles industry, getting their Jewish workforce from the «Arbeitslager», the labour camps or the concentration camps. How scared they must have been to be uncovered as Jews – so that’s one possible explanation for their viciousness.

Lies, lies, as many as flies fly.

They must have believed that they are the better dogs. Or cocks. You must have had your thoughts about it, too – tell me!

Don’t get lost, Clara. Or I will follow you – and what would be gained by that. Nothing. So, let us remember in our own space and time and timidity. We know that we are chicken, hens. What the hell. But we can be strong, we are the only ones who are able to remember, don’t forget that. Let me end here – I don’t know how much you can read in one go. But you can always read this letter again another time, if you wish. I know from Uriel that I can’t expect any response from you soon, as you have difficulties in concentrating at the moment. I am patient, I wait for you.

Yours truly, Karla

PS: Take the dried little blue crocus from this letter and put it next to your mirror, so that you can see your face in the company of something from me, a reminder of sweetest kisses I herewith send to you.