In this extract from my short story, A Temporary Uprooting, which ignited the inspiration for the novel, Tying Down The Lion, narrator Jacqueline is contemplating the imminent trip to Berlin.
The prospect of venturing Abroad throws into relief the existing conflict between her narrow-minded English grandmother and her German-born mother. Grandma's friend, Elsie, gleeful at the opportunity to stir up a hornet's nest, offers no help.
“Elsie says there are soldiers clicking triggers on every corner of Berlin,” Grandma tells my mother.
Elsie blushes to the black roots of her dandelion-clock hair.
I reassure Grandma that Germany is an ordinary country like ours, but she says, “What, with all that sausage?”
My mother has kept a newspaper picture of a Berlin bride in tears because her grandparents must watch the wedding from the other side of the Wall. The elderly couple strain to see the white froth of the dress from their bedroom window, their knotty, tired hands clasped together on a cushion laid on the sill.
But, divided city or not, I imagine the people on both sides wake up and groan at the cat for leaping on them before the alarm clock trills, accuse each other of leaving toothpaste-spit in the wash-basin and hope to shake out more than dust from the pit of the cornflakes box, the same as they do here.
For the people of Berlin, half of a city has to mean the whole of it.
Grandma says, “I don’t trust sausage with green bits.”
“Nell, they are only peppercorns,” my mother explains, elaborating the peppercorns with a whispered German swear-word that only I hear.
“Pepper's white," Grandma says. "And it's for mashed swede.”
My mother promises to make Grandma her four o'clock tea every day in Berlin, vowing to pack the lump sugar and a quarter pound of best leaf, even when Elsie says the guards will poke bayonets in her handbag. Mother won’t let anyone float a German lemon slice in the cup, but Grandma should not expect the milk to come from a bottle.I imagine them singing the praises of the British milkman to my West Berlin aunt. The other aunt lives behind the Wall with - according to Elsie's over-taxed imagination - a cupboard full of nothing but pickled cucumbers, coffee made from rotting sugar-beet and chocolate bars that taste of earth.
My mother and I have a one-day pass to visit her in East Berlin...