This was intended as part three of a four-part story that began with Wonderland Rehab. But this story was so impressively depressing I just gave up. At this point I don’t recall what the overarching theme was going to be, as I never got far into the fourth bit. Completed. 1,969 words.
Gunter grunted loudly and swiped a piece of salted potato from his curled mustache. News had reached Hallstatt the day before about increased clashes between the Social Democrats and Republicans. He was overjoyed that the media was calling it a full-blown civil war, though he doubted it would end up being remembered as such. Gunter prayed for victory for the VF. He rarely prayed, but this was his country and these were his people and it seemed like a decent gesture. Perhaps it might even be answered. He prayed it would.
Gunter also gave an enormous salary to the VF. He was a famous man, not only among the few hundred villagers but in the country as a whole. His operas and symphonies were immensely popular in Vienna and as far away as Prague and Leningrad. Recently he’d even begun writing soundtracks to moving pictures, though he viewed that sort of thing as a waste of time with no future. But it paid well. The more money he made, the more he could give to the VF.
“So, you plan to give more?” asked Ilsa, his wife of twenty-one years and the former love of his life.
“If it truly is war,” he said, “they will need money for rifles, and ammunition, and medicines. Who knows how long this could carry on. I won’t see the social democrats seize control back simply because the conservatives lacked money.”
“We discussed this,” she said quietly as she mopped a spot of spilled stew with her slice of bread. “Our sons need a trust and Hallstatt needs a better road. There are dozens of better uses than supporting a cause that’s worlds away.”
Gunter slapped his hand flat against the varnished table. “Enough, woman! I will spend my money as I see fit!”
“Father,” said Otto.
“What is it, son?”
“Couldn’t you establish a trust and support the VF?”
“Ha,” Gunter said. “You needn’t worry, Otto. When my old bones give out you’ll have plenty of money.”
“We don’t need any,” said Henrich. “We have strong shoulders and there’s more than enough money to be made in the salt mines above town.”
“And then you’ll send as much as you can to the VF.”
“I doubt that,” snickered Otto.
“And why is that, son?”
“Because the fascists—”
“The Vaterländische Front.”
“Because the VF bows to Herr Hitler and wants to take Austria from its people.”
“And what do you know of Herr Hitler?”
“That he’s the new chancellor of Germany and his party—the National Socialists—want to annex Austria into the greater German reich. That he wants to erase our identity.”
“I doubt Mathilda is teaching you the correct things, Otto. You’re too young to understand the workings of something this huge. This is grander even than our Empire…this is a new beginning.”
“I’m sixteen, father. And I didn’t hear this from Mathilda, I heard it from the mayor. Shouldn’t you be a socialist in any case? I mean, you don’t go to church and you don’t much like the Christlichsoziale Partei.”
“No!” Gunter growled, slamming his fist into the table again.
“Is it because you’re wealthy, and we live in the mountains in a village by the lake below a salt mine? We just got a decent road thirty years ago. Inflation, unemployment….”
“And what would you know of inflation and unemployment, Otto? You are a boy in a village by a lake below a salt mine in the mountains. I have hordes of money because I am a talented composer whose works are performed in Berlin and Budapest and Bucharest alike. What do you do? You learn things from an old woman and occasionally do chores for a coin. Truly, what do you know of unemployment?”
“What’s inflation?” asked Henrich. He was a year younger than Otto though larger about the midsection.
Otto turned to his younger brother. “It’s when the same amount of money is worth less than it was the day before.”
“That’s a simple answer to a complicated question,” snorted Gunter.
“Oh, leave it alone,” said Ilsa. “The stew is going cold while you men discuss problems that have no bearing on our lives in Hallsatt. The socialists, the conservatives…all those men holed up in some Viennese hotel…it doesn’t matter.”
“Of course it does!” shouted Gunter.
“How?” asked Henrich.
“Because when we unify with Germany we will once again be a great nation of men. It will be as we were before the Great War. A power the world fears!”
“I think that’s just Nazi propaganda,” said Otto.
Gunter reached over the table and clobbered his son about the head. The boy winced and whined but bit his tongue. It wouldn’t do to start a fistfight over dinner.
“Do not speak ill of things you know nothing about.”
“I know Hans ran off to Steyr to join the SDAPÖ yesterday,” said Henrich.
“Oh, and do you wish you could join him?”
“I…don’t know. What is so bad about being a democrat? What is so bad about workers unionizing and the common man standing up against the establishment?”
“Because your disdain for the ‘establishment’ is disdain for your family.”
“So the father’s job determines the ideas of his sons and wife?”
“Because the father’s job covers your head and fills your belly!” Gunter shouted. “Because without men like Herr Hitler, the world would bow to the whims of the majority like a jezebel bows to her clients!”
“Gunter!” said Ilsa. “That is not appropriate.”
“I will determine what is appropriate in my house!” Gunter roared.
“So you’re an autocrat, father?” said Otto defiantly. “You’ll be like Charles?”
“Charles was an honorable man until the moment his heart gave out! You will respect your emperor or I will knock it into your lousy hide!”
“An emperor of empty fields and dry rivers,” Otto muttered.
“You will be silent!”
“Or what? Will you withdraw my inheritance? I don’t need it. I don’t want it if you think it allows you to dictate what is right and wrong. I can figure that out myself.”
“Can you, boy? Can you? You want to go out in the world, leave Hallsatt and do what?”
“I don’t know.”
“Of course you don’t, because you’ve never been anywhere else.”
“I saw your ‘Hoch auf dem Baum und der Schnee’in Vienna last year.”
“That’s right, you did,” said Gunter with a little less anger.
“How many consecutive times did Wiener Staatsoper sell out?” asked Ilsa with a wary eye on her husband.
“Too many to count, I think,” said Gunter. “I believe they thought it was the greatest Christmas arrangement they’ve ever heard.”
“It was quite good,” said Henrich.
“Of course it was!” laughed the father. “Because it was written by the greatest Austrian composer who ever lived. Herr Gunter von Glockenspiel!”
“The same Herr von Glockenspiel who gives his riches to the Viennese lapdogs who bow to Chancellor Hitler’s whims,” Otto said quietly. It was not quiet enough.
This time when Gunter reached across the table, the bowl of stew upended directly onto Ilsa’s lap and she cried out from the heat.
“Look what you’ve done, boy!” shouted Gunter.
“I’ll get the mop,” said Henrich.
“I need to go get some air,” said Otto.
“Oh no you don’t, boy!”
The father tried again to reach over the table, but the son was fast where he should have been silent. He darted from the kitchen and dining area, snatched a ring of keys and Gunter’s winter hat, then swung open the front door. The whole house shook when he slammed it.
“I’m going to beat that boy…!” shrieked Gunter as he rose to pursue.
“Father, we need to help mother,” said Henrich. It was too late. The rage had overtaken Gunter and it wouldn’t be calmed. Couldn’t be calmed, not even by the moans of the former love of his life whose passion was constantly tempered by fits of anger from her spouse.
When Gunter reached the stone dust carriageway in front of their lavish home, he heard sputtering. Otto had stolen his pride-and-joy, the only modern automobile in Hallstatt. He caught a flash of red paint and the headlights swerving around a bend in the road to the south.
Overtaken by his furor, he pursued on foot. It was a sight to see; the lanky, tall Gunter, Hallsatt’s richest and most respected man, was chasing a car that slid all over the ice and snow drifts.
It took only ten minutes to catch up, for Otto had crashed the 1929 Opel Tourer into a tree. It was the only tree in the vicinity, and it overlooked a steep, stony incline that dropped directly into Hallstätter See, the lake that gave the village its name.
“You great buffoon!” shouted Gunter when he spotted his son trying desperately to push the automobile back from the tree and onto the road.
“Oh, you’re not quite sorry yet, but you will be!”
Gunter rounded on Otto and swung a great blow. His son dodged quite easily.
“You stand still when your punishment is being administered!”
“I will not,” said Otto. Then the son took a swing at his father. It connected and Gunter began howling.
“You’ll rue the day you turned your back on me!”
“So you’ll take money away from me? See what I care! It’s meaningless when attached to you. You, who grows old and weak beating his wife and children. Should I tell the village of what you do, father? Should the world know the man behind the music? What do you think?”
“I’ll show you weak!”
With that, Gunter charged directly into Otto. The boy cried out and his young, soft ankle gave way. His arms windmilled about.
Gunter stood and stared at what he had done. His son’s head was split down the middle and his legs twitched.
What had he done? What had he done! He shook himself, hit himself with his fists. His eldest, his precious Otto! He’d killed his son. His son was dead!
What would Ilsa say? Would she forgive him? Of course she wouldn’t. He was rotten to her. He was a bad husband and a bad father, he thought. He was overtaken by his grief and concern for the world’s impression of him.
He couldn’t stand to see his name tarnished so poorly. His music was glorious and great, but he’d be known as the man who killed his son. Son-killer. No one would ever buy a ticket to the Vienna State Opera to see von Glockenspiel’s works. No one would ever hear ‘Hoch auf dem Baum und der Schnee’ again. He would be forgotten.
Instead of that, he hurled himself down the same incline. Better that he die along with his son. A car bashed against a tree, both occupants found dead at the bottom of a cliff. His name would soar with the stars and people would be listening to his works a hundred years from now.
But his head missed the boulder that had taken his son’s life and instead he found himself in the frigid February water of the lake.
He could swim, but his arms and legs were shattered.
As he sank, his life flashed before his eyes.
An image of his childhood friend stopped and hung in his vision. It was the last thing he ever saw. Florian, his play partner when they were adolescents in Graz. Perhaps, when they went off to boarding school in Salzburg, they had been more than friends.
Gunter von Glockenspiel thought of his friend sadly as his lungs hemorrhaged water and he came to rest at the bottom of the lake.