It’s your aunt’s birthday, and despite the fact that you soon are 18, it’s no question that you accompany your parents.

Someone placed you next to an old grand-aunt you hardly know. You try to make small talk, but end up spilling all the things you soon will be able to do.

“Just 3 more weeks, then I finally can drive a car,” you say, all thrilled by the fact.

“When I was your age, I counted days to the big dance,” your grand-aunt tells you. “We sewed our dresses ourselves. Mine was red. It was the most beautiful dress.”

You try to imagine her, a young girl your age. It’s almost impossible.

She sees your look, laughs, points at her feet. “They were perfect, once. And my hair, all shiny and long.”

Then she picks up at the story again, and you still think she is talking about a dance that happened long ago.

“I counted the days. Couldn’t wait for the day of the dance. Up to then, it was the best summer, ever.” She stops at that point, looks at you, at the others, at the decoration hanging from the ceiling: balloons in all colours and shapes. She still smiles when she continues. “Then war broke,” she says. “The one I would go with the dance with had to go to the army instead. We had one last day together. He borrowed his brother’s motorbike, and we drove to the lake. On the way back, we thought of fleeing, or of surrendering together. We even looked for a fitting tree.”

She laughs again, her bright, timeless laugh.

Again, you can’t imagine any of this. You don’t know what to say, and at the same time, want her to continue. “And then?” you ask.

Her eyes shine. Tears, you think. And wonder about all the days these eyes saw. She blinks them away. “Then I learned to survive,” she says.

© 2011 Dorothee Lang

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