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The Pact-Fiction by Edward Francisco
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Terrible Animal-Poem by Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal
I Am Borges-Poem by Dr. Mel Waldman
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At the Complaint Department-Poem by John Grey
My Mighty Pen-Poem by John Grey
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ALAT
Dark Tales from Gent's Pens

thepact.jpg
Art by Darren Blanch © 2019

The Pact

 

by Edward Francisco

 

“Your son, he seems so sweet and kind,” said Ingrid Mueller, nurse at the Sisters of St. Mercy Hospital, in Linz, to her patient, Klara Hiedler.

“He is impressionable and sensitive,” Klara said, smiling weakly. “So sweet a boy.”

The cancer had taken its toll on Klara, as had the mastectomy and the subsequent daily treatments of iodoform, an experimental form of chemotherapy burning her throat, making it difficult for her to swallow. Klara had consented to the excruciating regimen at the tearful requests of her son who could not bring himself to entertain the thought that his mother might succumb to the disease. Klara had honored her son’s wishes, though she had no illusions about her chances of survival. Although the year was 1906, and doctors were more skilled than they’d been fifty years ago, and treatments more advanced, Klara’s condition was hopeless. Time was running down, and each tick of the clock was certain assurance of the inevitable.

“How old is your son?” Ingrid Mueller asked, busying herself with disposing of the iodoform gauze applied at the site where Klara’s mastectomy incisions had been re-opened and her tissue exposed to the toxic treatments she’d received. The remedy was killing her as assuredly as the cancer.

“Eighteen,” Klara answered, thinking how young he was and how bereft he’d be at losing her.

“Has he chosen a profession?” the nurse asked.

“He wishes to be an artist,” Klara answered with a note of pride. “He plans to attend the Art Institute in Vienna.”

Of course, Klara had no way of knowing that her son’s aspirations of attending the art institute had been dashed by his failure to pass the entrance exam. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her and couldn’t bear the prospect of seeing the pained expression on her face, especially since she’d fought so hard in opposing his father’s desire that he become a civil servant. Klara understood that her son was not cut out for such work.

“Ja,” said Ingrid, “I understand. I had hopes that at least one of my five sons would profess holy orders. No such good fortune.”

Klara tried to be pleasant despite excruciating pain to which the bloody strips of gauze in the nurse’s hand bore witness. Klara opted to be stoical, assuming that both her disease and her fate were God’s will. Her son spoke often about how brave she was, tears glistening in his eyes and streaking down his cheeks. Under no circumstance would she disappoint him.

“What do your sons do?” Klara asked.

“One is a banker, another, a lawyer. Three are enlistees in the Imperial German Army. They are always talking about the prospect of war. It’s frightening.”

“I can imagine,” said Klara, “that your sons’ choice to become soldiers must fill you with much anxiety.”

“No one asks us mothers what we think,” the nurse spoke bitterly. “If mothers had a say, there would be no war.”

“Ja,” said Klara. “It is fathers who encourage sons to be soldiers, filling their heads with dreams of glory.”

“My own husband said as much. He stated that he’d served in the army, so why shouldn’t they?”

“Men can be short-sighted,” Klara noted. “Before his death three years ago, my son’s father scolded my son for wishing to be an artist. He opposed any mode of employment that didn’t ensure a steady income. He threatened to disown our son if he pursued the life of a vagabond or gypsy, as my husband described it. He said that artists were decadent and of no use to society. They should be targeted for sterilization, according to my husband.”

“A father’s words linger long after he’s dead,” said Ingrid, “especially to an impressionable lad like your son.”

“I fear you may be right,” said Klara.

“Men are inherently cruel and competitive,” Ingrid declared, “especially when it comes to sons. I think that my sons’ father won’t be happy until a caisson bearing the flag-draped casket of one of our boys passes along the street for his inspection.”

There was a long interval of silence between them. Both seemed to ponder their sons’ fates. In particular, Klara Hiedler wondered what would happen to her son’s dreams once she was gone. If Klara’s mood was marked by worry, Ingrid Mueller’s affect announced a palpable bitterness.

“My husband is fond of reciting the Latin phrase ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ It is right and fitting to die for the Fatherland. He speaks in reverent tones of the honor in making the supreme sacrifice. It is as if he longs for death and destruction.”

“Men have short memories when it comes to war,” Klara said, thinking of the crimes perpetrated in the name of patriotism. In Germany, in particular, war had achieved sacred status.

Ingrid Mueller stuffed gauze strips into a container whose contents would later be incinerated. Her and Klara’s conversation was interrupted by the appearance of Doctor Bloch at the door.

“Herr Doktor Bloch,” said the nurse in a greeting.

“Frau Mueller,” the doctor replied. Then: “Klara.”

The doctor nodded in the direction of his patient.

“Herr Doktor,” said Klara.

Eduard Bloch was a short, stout man who wore wire-rimmed glasses. Gray temples signaled that he was probably middle-aged. Although there was nothing about his appearance to distinguish him from dozens of other men, he was gentle and kind and spoke in comforting tones. He walked over to Klara’s bedside, lifting her hand into his own and holding it momentarily.

“How are you feeling today, Klara?” Doctor Bloch asked, knowing how she would respond.

Klara was patient and long-suffering—a model patient.

“Better,” said Klara.

“Better, eh?” said Doctor Bloch.

Klara’s condition was degrading daily. Pain had etched new lines in her face since the previous afternoon.

“Better,” she repeated.

The treatment that Doctor Bloch adopted as a last resort was agonizing. He had no doubt of it. It involved reopening her mastectomy incisions and applying a caustic substance directly to the tissues, in effect, burning both cancer cells and surrounding tissues. It was anyone’s guess whether Klara was dying faster from the cancer or the toxic consequences of the treatment. If it had been entirely his decision, Doctor Bloch would have permitted his patient to pass peacefully. As it was, for forty-eight days, he’d subjected her to a barbarous procedure at the entreaties of Klara and her son.

“Your son—I passed him in the hall on my way here,” said Doctor Bloch. “He’s frantic about your condition.”

Doctor Bloch wouldn’t examine Klara’s wounds today. He didn’t want to cause her more agony. Besides, it wasn’t necessary. The outcome was inevitable.

“I know,” said Klara bleakly. “He worries.”

“In fairness to your son, Klara,” said Doctor Bloch, “you should acquaint him with the hopelessness of your case.”

“I can’t bring myself to dash his hopes that I might still survive the cancer. He needs to believe that’s possible.”

“It’s an obstinate case, Klara,” Doctor Bloch announced, glancing at Nurse Mueller as if silently soliciting her support.

However, Ingrid Mueller was a mother, too, and knew Klara Hiedler’s need to cling to every breath.

“You see, my son and I share an especially close connection,” Klara said to Doctor Bloch, not expecting him to understand. “I lost my first three children to illness and despaired of having another. Then, when I found myself with child a fourth time, I was terrified, fearing it would be the same as before. I contemplated doing the unthinkable so as not to endure the mother-loss of another child sacrificed to cruel fate. Fortunately, a doctor, a Catholic, convinced me that the Church’s teachings prohibited such a thing. Now that child has grown into a young man intent on becoming an artist.”

Klara’s face beamed proudly despite her weakness. Doctor Bloch knew that it was useless to talk further to her. Ingrid Mueller had genuflected on hearing Klara’s plans for the infant. Ingrid was of the old school of Catholics who believed that being in the approximate occasion of sin could be sinful in itself.

“Well, then, ladies, I’ll be on my way,” said Doctor Bloch, bowing slightly before turning and exiting the room.

Neither woman spoke at first, listening to the soft echo of Doctor Bloch’s footfall fade down the hallway.

“Doctor Bloch is a nice man,” said Ingrid Mueller. “But he isn’t a mother. He doesn’t understand.”

“It’s impossible for a man to grasp the depth of feeling a mother has for her children.”

“Did you know he’s Jewish—Doktor Bloch, that is?”

“No,” said Klara, a little surprised that Nurse Mueller had mentioned this detail.

“He doesn’t work on Yom Kippur,” Ingrid explained. “Did you know that Jews comprise one percent of Germany’s population but twenty-five percent of the country’s doctors?”

“No,” Klara said, never having given a thought to the frequency of Jews or Jewish doctors in Germany or anywhere else.

“Ja, it’s true,” Ingrid insisted. “My husband says that Jews have survived by making themselves indispensable. When they are kicked out of one place, they simply set up shop in another. Jews carry their livelihoods in their heads and on their back.”

Ingrid Mueller paused to let her words sink in.

“All the same,” said Klara, “Herr Doktor Bloch has been kind and attentive to me and respectful of my desire for my son not to know more than he needs to know. That’s why I feel a twinge of guilt at not being entirely truthful with him about why I kept the baby. It had nothing to do with being Catholic.”

“Really? What did it have to do with, then?” Ingrid asked, a little surprised by Klara’s forthright confession.

“Do I have your word that you will never breathe what I’m about to tell you to another living soul?”

“You have my word,” said Nurse Mueller, growing more curious by the second.

“It was a gypsy,” Klara admitted.

“A gypsy?” Ingrid repeated.

“She was a fortune teller in Braunau. I needed to know what the future held for my unborn child. I lost my first three babies. It was as if fate had cursed me. I lost my faith in God. Then I heard about a young girl with second sight. She was a beautiful girl with luxuriant, black curls and black eyes that snapped. I felt strangely comforted in her presence. She had an aura that drew me to her.”

“I’ve heard that such people possess a ball letting them see events in the future.”

“I never saw a ball, as such. What she did was amazing, though. She placed her hands on my belly, and the baby quickened at her touch. I still recall her words: “The baby is a boy. As a man, he will impact the world in unimaginable ways.”

“That must have been a great relief to you,” Ingrid conjectured.

“It was and is,” Klara assented. “She inspired in me the confidence that my son would not come to an early end like the three children before him and the hope that he would have a bright future as a man. It’s strange how things turn out. Who can discount the possibility that, in the fulfillment of destiny, my son’s siblings sacrificed their lives so that he might live? My only regret is that I won’t live to see the impact that he will make on the world as foretold by the gypsy.”

Nurse Mueller thought for a minute.

“The world is a very large place, Frau Hiedler,” the nurse said finally, as if struck by the possibility of considering something she’d not had to consider before.

Klara’s voice interrupted her reverie.

“Nurse Mueller,” said Klara, “you have been so kind to me that I wish not to trouble you much longer.”

There was a note of urgency in Klara Hiedler’s voice.

“Pish!” Ingrid exclaimed. “You’re no trouble at all.”

It was true. Klara was a model patient, withstanding her agonies courageously.

“That’s why I hesitate to ask if you will indulge me in one final act of kindness,” said Klara.

“Anything,” Ingrid said.

“It is a pact that will connect us for eternity,” said Klara, “in this life and the one to come.”

“What sort of pact?” Ingrid asked.

“I know how you must worry about your sons serving in the army and about the terrible perils of war,” Klara said, “even as I worry about my son’s fate once I’m no longer here.”

“Ja,” Ingrid quickly agreed. “We mothers share terrible burdens.”

“My thought was that perhaps I could be a guardian angel to your children from above and you could be a guardian angel to my son below, following his progress in life.”

Ingrid Mueller’s heart was touched by Klara’s appeal. The nurse laid a hand atop Klara’s own frail and trembling hand. Tears glistened in both women’s eyes.

“I will do it. You have my word. I will visit him from time to time, too,” Ingrid promised.

“You have no idea how much your offer comforts me,” Klara said with a relaxed sigh. “Tell him, when he has difficulties, that he has the love of two mothers to sustain him.”

Klara was announcing that she was about to die, wanting to leave no unfinished business behind.

“I’ll need to write down your son’s name and address,” announced Ingrid, reaching in the pocket of her nurse’s apron to retrieve a pencil and sheet of paper on which she wrote patients’ medicine schedules.

“Now, I’m ready,” said Ingrid, poised to write. “I assume that your son’s last name is the same as your own.”

“No,” Klara said with a note of hesitation. “There was a falling out between my son and his father. My son spells his name differently now.”

“Say the name, and I’ll write it down,” Ingrid instructed.

“Adolf,” Klara pronounced the name lovingly. “Adolf Hitler.”




Edward Francisco is the author of 10 books, including novels, poetry collections, and works of scholarship. His stories and poems have appeared in more than 100 magazines and journals. He is professor of English and Writer in Residence at Pellissippi State College in Knoxville, TN. 



Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and means of any story.

Digital arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.

View the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.




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