Unyielding

By Marion Kummerow

Historical fiction

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767
11 mins

Chapter 1


October 24, 1936

“Do you, Wilhelm Quedlin, want to take the here present Hildegard Dremmer as your legal wife? Then answer with ‘Yes.’”
Hilde looked striking in her knee-length dress, the accentuated waistline hugging her figure to perfection. The red fabric with the white polka dots contrasted nicely with her bright blue eyes while her light brown hair gently brushed her shoulders. But Q didn’t have much time to admire the woman he loved.
“Yes, I do,” he said, his firm voice underscoring his certainty.
The marriage registrar turned to look at Hilde and asked the same question, “Do you, Hildegard Dremmer, want to take the here present Wilhelm Quedlin as your legal husband? Then answer with ‘Yes.’”
“Yes, I do,” she responded, absolutely glowing as she smiled at the man she loved. In her smile, he could see the tension of the last year resolve. Sometimes it had seemed they’d never succeed, but they did it. They were seconds away from being married.
“Herewith I declare you husband and wife according to German law. You may exchange the rings now.”
Erika stood from her seat and delivered the rings. Q had bought matching wedding bands, but unlike his own, Hilde’s ring sported a beautiful princess cut diamond.
After exchanging the rings, the official congratulated them and smiled. “You may now kiss your bride.”
Who could resist such a proposal? Q took Hilde into his arms and kissed her lips until she squirmed in his embrace and the witnesses, Erika and Gertrud, clapped their hands.
Q and Hilde, as well as the two witnesses, signed the marriage register, and less than fifteen minutes after they walked into the sober room, the ceremony was over.
Apart from the two obligatory witnesses, no other guests were present. While Q himself was actually glad that the civil marriage ceremony had taken place without foolish emotionalism and pathos, he knew Hilde had wanted something more personal.
He leaned over to whisper into Hilde’s ear. “I’m sorry you didn’t get the big wedding you originally planned.”
Hilde shook her head, a soft smile appearing on her face. “I don’t need a big wedding. I just need to be your wife.”
Q laughed. “That has been a problem, hasn’t it?”
They’d been trying to make this day happen for more than a year, hunting down the paperwork and wading through a sea of red tape in order to receive a marriage license.
Hilde’s friends congratulated them, and Q nodded in their direction. “Shall we, ladies?”
He helped all of them into their coats, and once more, his eyes rested on Hilde, who looked absolutely stunning in her pale green woolen coat with three huge wooden buttons.
Hilde and her two friends had chosen everyday clothing. Once they’d decided on a clandestine wedding, they wanted to make it as low-key as possible. Part of the plan was to evade the bevy of photographers waiting outside the registry office to take – and sell – pictures of the bridal couples and the wedding parties.
“Ready?” Q asked, and when they all nodded, he held the door open for the three women, following them outside. It was a nice day with blue skies and just a bite of impending winter in the air.
The photographers immediately gathered around them, raising their cameras, but looked confused when they couldn’t make out which woman was the bride. Q reached out and slipped his arms through both Erika’s and Gertrud’s, and the three of them made silly faces. Moments later, Hilde took Erika’s place.
They continued to work their way past the photographers asking them to stop and pose. Q couldn’t resist taunting them and asked, “No pictures, boys?”
“Who’s the bride?” one of them shot back.
“Wouldn’t you like to know?” Q answered with a chuckle. He knew the photographers were there to earn money, but too often, their pictures appeared in the gossip column of the local newspaper. Q shuddered at the thought of being so blatantly displayed. Long ago, he and Hilde decided to keep a low profile, and that included not showing up in the papers.
The photographers finally gave up, moving out of their way and continuing to the next, more willing, bridal party.
Hilde and Q waved goodbye to Erika and Gertrud, who needed to get back to work.
“We’ll see you tonight at the restaurant,” Hilde added before slipping her arm around Q.
“Mrs. Quedlin,” he said, giving her a little wink. “I need a coffee and a pastry to recover from the stress of getting married. What about you?”
She giggled in response and let him lead her the fifteen-minute walk to a pastry shop near their new apartment.
They ordered freshly brewed coffee and two sinfully sweet cream cakes. Hilde’s with egg liqueur, Q’s with chocolate.
“Aren’t you sad that your mother and your friends couldn’t attend the ceremony?” Hilde asked him.
Q frowned for a moment before answering, “Sure. I wish Mother could have been present, but she’s so fragile lately, I didn’t want to make her travel across Berlin for such a short ceremony. We’ll visit her next week and take some nice pastry to celebrate.” He squeezed Hilde’s hand. “For me, the ceremony in itself wasn’t important. It was an administrative deed – nothing more. I’m just glad it’s over, and you’re mine now.”
He grinned at her and lifted her hand to his lips, kissing his way up to her elbow. Hilde’s cheeks took on a rosy hue, and she quickly removed her hand from his grasp. “Yes, the preparations were tedious, and more than once I thought we’d never be allowed to get married.”
“I’m still at a loss at how Gunther managed to finally receive our grandmother’s baptism certificate from the priest in Hungary,” Q said, smiling at the memory of how hard his brother worked to get that precious slip of paper.
“He really went above and beyond to help us, ” she agreed.
“I have a surprise for you,” Q said as they finished their coffee and pastry.
“What is it?” Hilde’s eyes glowed as she asked, glancing once more at the precious ring on her right hand.
“Jakob asked one of his friends, who is an interior designer, to open up his warehouse for us this afternoon. He has a new shipment of furniture that we can look at.”
Hilde pouted, but there was amusement in the gesture. “I still have to get used to your idea of being romantic, but it’s a great idea. A comfortable couch would be rather nice.”
While Q had moved into their new apartment in the district of Charlottenburg a while ago, Hilde had done so only this morning before going to the registry office.
“Let’s go then,” he said, once again surprised at her different way of thinking. Hadn’t she always complained that the apartment wasn’t properly furnished, and the front room contained nothing more than two wooden chairs, borrowed from the kitchen table? So what could be more appropriate than buying furniture on their wedding day?
They had a lot of fun looking at and test-sitting the selection, and after an hour, they purchased two couches and arranged to have them delivered the next day. Jacob’s friend congratulated them on their choice of the studio couches. “Well done, my friends. Those are the last high-quality cover fabrics our Fatherland used to make.”
Q raised an eyebrow. “How so?”
“Nowadays, all we get are b-grade quality fabrics. The good ones are reserved for military purposes.”
Hilde wrinkled her nose. Nobody wanted to believe in the imminence of another war, but the signs became more prominent with every passing day.
Q thanked Jacob’s friend once again for the generous offer to buy the couches at a nice discount and then he and Hilde walked back to their apartment.
Hilde had visited the market first thing that morning. Now she removed plates containing cold meats and cheese from the refrigerator. She retrieved the rolls she had purchased as well as some mustard and a small plate of sliced vegetables, while Q set the table for two.
It was a sight to behold, his beautiful wife in the kitchen of the apartment that was now their common home.
“I still can’t believe we’re finally married, Mrs. Quedlin,” he said and kissed her lips. They sat at the kitchen table and ate a cold lunch, feeding one another small bites from time to time. They’d meet a few of their best friends later for a celebratory dinner, but that wasn’t for hours yet.
And Q already had plans on how to spend those hours. Once it looked like Hilde had eaten her fill, he scooted his chair back and swept her up into his arms.
“Q! What are you doing?” she asked with a laughing shriek.
He paused for a moment and looked down into her blue eyes. “Are we, or are we not, now legally married?”
She looped her arms around his neck. “We are.”
Q nodded and carried her towards the bedroom, pushing the door shut behind them with his foot. “Good. Let’s act like it then.”

***

Several hours later and long into the afternoon, Q blinked his eyes open, stretching his arms above his head. Then he turned his head, kissing the tousled hair of a soundly sleeping Hilde. I’m a married man. The mere thought constricted his heart, and he wondered if any man on earth could be happier than him. He’d known he loved her since the first moment he met her two years ago, but actually being married felt different.
She smiled in her sleep, and he couldn’t resist stroking her light brown hair, her bare white shoulders, and then trailed a finger down her back. Hilde stirred, but wouldn’t wake. When he kissed her on the lips, she murmured something, but still wouldn’t open her eyes. A warm feeling took possession of him. She’s mine. And she’s the best life companion I could have wished for.
“Time to wake up, love.”
Hilde’s eyes fluttered open, a cute blush covering her cheeks as reality settled in. “Hmm, this is how married couples spend their days?” she asked, returning his kiss.
Q grinned. “Since this is the first time I’ve been married, I tend to believe it is.”
“Isn’t it wonderful?” She asked and snuggled up closer.
“You are wonderful, my love. I have loved you before, but now it feels like you took total possession of my life, body, and soul.”
Hilde giggled. “Wow, that’s an unusual statement for a scientist.”
Q shifted slightly, furrowing his brows. “I can’t explain it. The mere act of signing a paper shouldn’t have made any difference to my emotional state, but it did. For some odd reason, I love you even more now, Mrs. Quedlin.”
“And I like the sound of Mrs. Quedlin,” she said and turned in his arms. Through the window, they saw the sun standing low behind a tree, painting like an artist highlights in the most spectacular forms and colors on the white wall opposite the window. Circles in yellow hues alternated with oval-shaped grey shadows and bright orange patterns that resembled an abstract painting.
“What time is it?” Hilde asked after watching the spectacle for a few minutes.
Q took a look at his watch on the nightstand. “Five-thirty. We probably should hurry up, or we’ll miss our own wedding celebration.”
Hilde sat up, the sheet slipping down her body. “Five-thirty! We slept all afternoon?”
“Hmm, I remember we did more than just sleep.” The fine blonde hairs on her arms stood on end, and he almost regretted that they needed to attend their own wedding celebration. He kissed her bare back. “Go get dressed. I’ll use the bathroom after you.”
Forty-five minutes later, she stepped into the front room, wearing the same figure-hugging red dress with white polka dots she’d donned earlier that morning, but starring matching red five-inch strappy heels instead of the flat ballerinas. Her tousled hair was carefully combed back into a banana updo, and her face was primped with matching red lipstick while blue eyeshadow lit up her bright blue eyes. Q whistled low. “My love, you look absolutely stunning.”
Hilde ran her eyes up and down his body and returned the compliment. “You look rather handsome today as well. And happy.”
“That’s because I am,” he said and placed a careful kiss on her painted lips.

Chapter 2

As they arrived at the Chinese restaurant near the famous shopping mall Kaufhaus des Westens, Hilde asked, “Do you think your friends suspect something?”
Q shrugged. “Let’s go in and find out.”
Erika and Gertrud were already waiting on them, together with Q’s best friends, Jakob, Otto, and Leopold with his wife, Dörthe. They exchanged hugs with everyone, making the introductions and went to sit at the reserved table when Leopold eyed Hilde suspiciously. “So, what’s the occasion for this get-together?”
Gertrud and Erika started giggling, and Hilde shot them an evil look. “Occasion?” She drawled out the word, squeezing Q’s hand under the table.
Leopold cocked his head, looking from Hilde to Q and back. “You two are up to something. You look different.”
Another fit of giggles came from the girls, and Jakob busied himself with the menu. All three of them had been sworn to secrecy.
“Different?” Hilde parroted his words and clasped her hand over her mouth to retain the violent giggle forming inside.
Dörthe’s eyes went wide, and she shouted, “Look at the ring. She’s wearing a ring!”
Q whispered into Hilde’s ear, “Next time use the other hand,” before he announced in a loud voice, “Hilde and I got married this morning.”
Hilde managed to whisper back, “There won’t be a next clandestine wedding for me,” before everyone got up to congratulate them.
The waiter appeared as soon as everyone had settled down again and suggested they order the special five-course house menu for the eight of them. Everyone agreed, and he soon returned with a plum brandy on the house for the newlyweds and their guests.
The first course was Egg Drop Soup and the chatter at the table slowed down while eight hungry mouths dug into the delicious soup. Next, the waiter brought out a platter containing small egg rolls, lobster spring rolls, and pot stickers.
Hilde laughed out loud at the faces of her girlfriends searching for cutlery and pointed at the wooden chopsticks lying beside each plate. Erika sent her a startled glance. “You expect me to use…that?”
Q nodded and showed both Erika and Gertrud, who’d never eaten Chinese food before, how to use the chopsticks. The rest of the group merrily laughed at their clumsy efforts, and Hilde was glad she’d secretly perfected her domination of those treacherous sticks during the last week.
While Gertrud mastered the technique rather quickly, Erika gave up. The waiter apparently noticed her desperation and silently slid a fork beside her plate.
The dinner continued with lots of chatter and idle gossip by everyone, for once forgetting the difficult times. The main course consisted of sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, a spicy beef and vegetable dish, and teriyaki kabobs.
When the waiter finally removed their plates, Hilde leaned against Q. “There’s no way I can eat even a single morsel of food more.”
Q kissed her temple and smirked. “That’s too bad for you. But I’ll gladly eat your dessert.”
“Eat my dessert? You better not! That might be grounds to ask for a divorce,” she joked and giggled at his pouty face.
Q narrowed his eyes. “But you said you were full.”
The waiter brought out a platter of desserts, fried bananas in honey, dumplings filled with poppy seeds and little pink, green, and white slimy balls Hilde couldn’t identify. She licked her lips and armed herself with the chopsticks, saying, “If you didn’t know it, I have one stomach for food and an entirely different one for dessert. And that one is still empty.”
Everyone around the table laughed and deferred to the bride to take the first serving. Once both stomachs were full, her head whirled with the lively conversation, and she couldn’t imagine a better way to end the day.
Jakob and Otto, though, could. They had discovered a new bar just a few short blocks away that served the most delicious Hungarian wines. The walk felt good. Hilde loved the way Q tenderly and possessively wrapped his arm around her shoulders. But even more, she loved the knowledge that from now on, they’d be going home together at the end of the night.
After more than one round of sweet Hungarian wine, Q leaned over to Leopold and reminded his friend of the first night he’d seen Hilde at the movie theater. “Told you she was going to be my wife.”
Leopold sipped his wine. “Yes, you did. And I didn’t believe it.”
“You did what?” Hilde asked, but before she could say more, Erika produced a small package and gave it to the bridal couple.
Hilde opened the wrapping to reveal a book titled 1000 Spoonerisms and Shuffle Rhymes.
After thanking Erika for the gift, Q took the book from Hilde’s hand and said with a serious voice, “Let’s see what we find in here.” Then he opened the book on page twenty-four and recited the first verse:

Ich hoff’, dass diese heile Welt
noch eine ganze Weile hält.
(I hope this perfect world
Will stay perfect for another while)

Hilde leaned against Q, tears of emotion filling her eyes. The outer world had stopped being perfect a long while ago, but her personal world had fallen into place like a puzzle. Admiring the ring on her finger, she thought, Yes. It’s a perfect world with Q, and I hope it’ll last a lifetime.
Then she opened the booklet on page twenty-seven, his birthday, and recited:

It is kisstomary to cuss the bride.

Everyone laughed as Q mockingly cursed her before taking her in his arms and kissing her. Hilde felt slightly tipsy, and she had no idea if it was the slaphappy atmosphere, the wine, or both.
Jacob took the book from her hand, and everyone took turns reciting verses, amidst much laughter and fun.

Do you see the butterfly, flutter by?

The Hungarian owners of the bar, as well as some of their countrymen, became curious about those hilarious Germans and joined them with more wine and their own funny rhymes until a dark-haired, bearded guy with the physique of a bull produced a guitar and started playing energetic melodies with passionate gypsy sounds.
After listening to the first song, Q asked the man if he could play the “Hungarian Dance No. 5” by Johannes Brahms for them. The man nodded. “Sure I can.”
Q looked at Hilde with a mischievous grin.
“What?” she asked.
“I believe this is our traditional bridal waltz.”
The man had started to play the captivating yet simple melody, and Q dragged Hilde to the makeshift dance floor beside the bar. “But this is not a waltz…” she protested faintly.
“And this wedding is not traditional,” Q answered and captured her in his arms, leaving her no other recourse than to hold on for dear life and follow his steps. Soon everyone joined them, dancing, singing, and having fun.
Shortly before midnight, the group bid their new Hungarian friends goodbye, and the owner of the bar said, “I never thought Germans could be so funny. Keep this joy in your hearts, and your marriage will always prosper.”
Back at home – their mutual home – they slipped into bed, tired after a long and exciting day. Q stroked her hair. “Did you have a good day?”
Hilde nodded. “The best. How about you?”
“Spectacular.” He grew silent for a moment and then asked, “Are you terribly upset that we cannot embark on our honeymoon right away?”
She thought for a moment and then shook her head. “No. I like the idea of traipsing around Europe in the springtime much better than in the winter.”
“Good. Oh, I forgot something.” Q slipped from the bed and returned moments later with a leather-clad box in his hands. “This was delivered yesterday. It’s from Carl and Emma.”
Hilde sat up on the bed and took the box, opening it to reveal an elegant yet simple silver cutlery set. She trailed a finger over the smooth material that quickly warmed under her touch.
“It’s not engraved…” he said.
She shook her head. “I wouldn’t want it to be. My father would have known that. It’s perfect.”
“So are you.”
Hilde returned the spoon to the leather box. “I love you, Dr. Wilhelm Quedlin. Thank you for this wonderful day.”




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