Lembit Scheidlen shut the back door, walked into his kitchen, took off and hung up his black coat and bowler hat, set a bottle of water and a small cup on his table. He rolled up his sleeves, stood at the table in the kitchen, sharpened his favourite knife and began to prepare supper for his small family.
His wife Elika was 27 years old, he was 30. They may not have been in the full bloom of love but after five years of marriage but they were companionable, loving and they enjoyed each other’s untroubled and untroubling company every day.
When they’d first met 10 years previously to the supper preparation, Elika worked in the bakery opposite Scheidlen’s butcher shop. They met on a sunny autumn day in the square where one bench remained with enough space for two people to sit comfortably and eat their lunches. He had more salt than he needed for this tomato salad, she had less than she needed for her tomato soup, a deal was struck and a conversation started.
They had talked about how trade was slow coming out of what had been a hot summer. Customers in their small town were saving up for the winter months when the tourists stayed away from the three ancient churches in the town and from the shrine up on the hill where a saintly young girl had seen visions a century before.
They’d met every day after, and soon were meeting on weekends for walks and a glass or two of rich, local red wine. Her father liked Scheidlen’s business and his “down to earth ways”. Her mother liked his “striking eyes and plainly honest face”. His parents were dead, together, in an avalanche years ago.
As neither of Elika nor Lembit followed a religion with any zeal or regular observation, and her parents were no inclined towards worship or unnecessary expenditure, they were married in the town’s register office. A party was held for them in the local Union Club where his father had been a leading light and had left some money for just such a purpose. Lembit had looked dapper, even slightly handsome with his bright smile and new haircut. Elika looked tremendously happy, and even pretty in her dress and new shoes. They both looked in love because they were in love.
They visited the capital city for two days and nights by way of a honeymoon and took in all the sights with great pleasure. They made love in their hotel room and discovered a deeper fondness for each other after the initial awkwardness had passed. The city was fast, full of men in different uniforms marching or running around always shouting. It both exciting and intimidating at the same time. Both Lembit and Elika felt very much the same way about politics as they did about religion, best not get involved; best let people get on with it.
He complained of the quality of the breads in the hotel restaurant and she noted how the beef was of an inferior quality to his stock from their local farmers. This complaining was all carried out quietly, mostly behind their hands, and with laughter on their parts.
On the train home later, they vowed to visit the capital every year of their lives and to stay at the same hotel where Magnus the maitre de had treated them so kindly and politely. Their married life began well.
Ten years on and they both worked in the same places although times were getting tighter by the day. Unfortunately they’d not had any children but had come to the understanding that this was actually all to the good. Her sisters and his had both produced vast broods of fat, happy, fit and healthy children who would pass on the family names with great vigour. Well, all expect the little crippled and retarded boy on his side of the family.
However, recent events had made this kink in the family line less of a problem than it could have been as the new government offered free State care in a special unit in the north of the country. They could visit if they felt inclined, whenever they wanted. This marvellous piece of good government made life easier even when times toughened and looking after your own became more of a struggle than the good days.
Lembit chopped potatoes and parsnips and shredded a fine, green cabbage for the pot that was already simmering on the stove half full with last nights carrot and onion soup. The goat bones that had provided such a lovely flavour a week ago was now more for show, so he removed a pair of pigs’ ears and a calf’s foot from his bag and added those. Tonight’s meal was not only going to be wonderfully tasty, it was also going to form the basis for the next week’s stocks and broths.
Outside their small, warm and snug little house on the town square the men from the local brigade were marching up and down, giving and taking commands. They stopped on one such command and stood to attention. Their new uniforms and wooden guns – weighted to simulate real weapons – had arrived the day before. They stood in the setting sunshine and listened to a senior officer make a rousing political speech.
“Our country was beautiful in its purpose, strength and soul. It can be so again!” shouted the elegantly dressed, fat, red faced man. Lembit nodded, half-listening through the open window as he cleaned down the workbench.
“Its beauty, its purity of purpose and clarity of destiny are born into us. We, therefore have it in us to return it! To re-energise and to empower our country. We do not need…” he emphasised that word, “…others to show us how to do best for our people, for all classes, all ages, all genders, all of our people! We must give back to the land, to the factories, to the dockyards, farms, power stations, roads, rivers and schools – most of all at this time to the schools so that they can give their strength back to us!”. The man was, it seemed to Lembit both screaming and whispering at the same time. He realised that he had been drying the same cup for minutes now, he felt embarrassed and put it into the cupboard.
It was at this moment that Elika came through the door bringing with her a loaf of reasonably fresh bread and her wide smile.
“Did you hear the gentleman in the square? Isn’t he wonderful!” She asked, putting the bread and a small pat of butter on the table.
He nodded and pressed his forehead for a kiss. She came over to where he was standing and squeezed his hand, kissing him where he had indicated even though she was well aware of this tradition on returning home, and he returned the loving gesture.
“New soup tonight?” she asked, removing the cup from the cupboard and filling it with water.
“Indeed, indeed. With meat and vegetables, but first I thought we could take a walk in the town and talk about our visit to the city next week. Give the soup a chance to enrich itself.”
Elika nodded eagerly and laid the table with plates, condiments and cutlery. “Let me change me head scarf and get into my boots”, she said.
As they shut their front door and walked into the evening air, the brigade disbanded and the members began to go their own ways. Smoke from the fireplace in the inn on the square rose to meet the moon, as the officer from the city was ushered into the inn by Mr Faszki the mayor and brigade leader.
“Good evening Lembit, Elika. Will you join us?” the mayor’s son and second in command asked them, breezily but with intent. He was a thin, tall man. He had been at school with Lembit. No one had much liked him then. “There is much to discuss about the state of the country and we have no yet heard your opinions. Tonight we are discussing the farms in the area and how we can all most benefit from them. Also, do we really need a church and a temple?”
Lembit thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe later Andre. For now we have new soup warming, a walk to make for our appetites and much to discuss about our trip to the city.” He looked at Elika and then back to the tall, thin man. “For the most part we’re happy to leave all these things to those of you who know how to make plans. We are content to do that.”
He looked to Elika who smiled and nodded.
“Goodnight then Lembit, Elika. Enjoy your walk”, Andre turned sharply on his heels and disappeared into the inn.
“Shall we?” asked Lembit, squeezing his wife’s hand.
“We shall”, she laughed and they headed off for their walk.