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Markus_Zusak_The_Book_Thief_2007

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When they come and ask you for one of your children, Barbara Steiner explained, to no one in particular, youre supposed to say yes.

THE PROMISE KEEPERS WIFE

THE BASEMENT, 9 A.M.

Six hours till goodbye:

I played an accordion, Liesel. Someone elses.

He closes his eyes: It brought the house down.

Not counting the glass of champagne the previous summer, Hans Hubermann had not consumed a drop of alcohol for a decade. Then came the night before he left for training.

He made his way to the Knoller with Alex Steiner in the afternoon and stayed well into the evening. Ignoring the warnings of their wives, both men drank themselves into oblivion. It didnt help that the Knollers owner, Dieter Westheimer, gave them free drinks.

Apparently, while he was still sober, Hans was invited to the stage to play the accordion. Appropriately, he played the infamous Gloomy Sundaythe anthem of suicide from Hungaryand although he aroused all the sadness for which the song was renowned, he brought the house down. Liesel imagined the scene of it, and the sound. Mouths were full. Empty beer glasses were streaked with foam. The bellows sighed and the song was over. People clapped. Their beer-filled mouths cheered him back to the bar.

When they managed to find their way home, Hans couldnt get his key to fit the door. So he knocked. Repeatedly.

Rosa!

It was the wrong door.

Frau Holtzapfel was not thrilled.

Schwein! Youre at the wrong house. She rammed the words through the keyhole. Next door, you stupid

Sankerl.

Thanks, Frau Holtzapfel.

You know what you can do with your thanks, you asshole.

Excuse me?

Just go home.

Thanks, Frau Holtzapfel.

Didnt I just tell you what you can do with your thanks?

Did you?

(Its amazing what you can piece together from a basement conversation and a reading session in a nasty old womans kitchen.)

Just get lost, will you!

When at long last he came home, Papa made his way not to bed, but to Liesels room. He stood drunkenly in the doorway and watched her sleep. She awoke and thought immediately that it was Max.

Is it you? she asked.

No, he said. He knew exactly what she was thinking. Its Papa.

He backed out of the room and she heard his footsteps making their way down to the basement.

In the living room, Rosa was snoring with enthusiasm.

Close to nine oclock the next morning, in the kitchen, Liesel was given an order by Rosa. Hand me that bucket there.

She filled it with cold water and walked with it down to the basement. Liesel followed, in a vain attempt to stop her. Mama, you cant!

Cant I? She faced her briefly on the steps. Did I miss something, Saumensch? Do you give the orders around here now?

Both of them were completely still.

No answer from the girl.

I thought not.

They continued on and found him on his back, among a bed of drop sheets. He felt he didnt deserve Maxs mattress.

Now, lets seeRosa lifted the bucketif hes alive.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

The watermark was oval-shaped, from halfway up his chest to his head. His hair was plastered to one side and even his eyelashes dripped. What was that for?

You old drunk!

Jesus . . .

Steam was rising weirdly from his clothes. His hangover was visible. It heaved itself to his shoulders and sat there like a bag of wet cement.

Rosa swapped the bucket from left hand to right. Its lucky youre going to the war, she said. She held her finger in the air and wasnt afraid to wave it. Otherwise Id kill you myself, you know that, dont you?

Papa wiped a stream of water from his throat. Did you have to do that?

Yes. I did. She started up the steps. If youre not up there in five minutes, you get another bucketful.

Left in the basement with Papa, Liesel busied herself by mopping up the excess water with some drop sheets.

Papa spoke. With his wet hand, he made the girl stop. He held her forearm. Liesel? His face clung to her. Do you think hes alive?

Liesel sat.

She crossed her legs.

The wet drop sheet soaked onto her knee.

I hope so, Papa.

It felt like such a stupid thing to say, so obvious, but there seemed little alternative.

To say at least something of value, and to distract them from thoughts of Max, she made herself crouch and placed a finger in a small pool of water on the floor. Guten Morgen, Papa.

In response, Hans winked at her.

But it was not the usual wink. It was heavier, clumsier. The post-Max version, the hangover version. He sat up and told her about the accordion of the previous night, and Frau Holtzapfel.

THE KITCHEN: 1 P.M.

Two hours till goodbye: Dont go, Papa. Please. Her spoon-holding hand is shaking. First we lost Max.

I cant lose you now, too. In response, the hungover man digs his elbow into the table and covers his right eye.

Youre half a woman now, Liesel. He wants to break down but wards it off. He rides through it. Look after

Mama, will you? The girl can make only half a nod to agree. Yes, Papa.

He left Himmel Street wearing his hangover and a suit.

Alex Steiner was not leaving for another four days. He came over an hour before they left for the station and wished Hans all the best. The whole Steiner family had come. They all shook his hand. Barbara embraced him, kissing both cheeks. Come back alive.

Yes, Barbara, and the way hed said it was full of confidence. Of course I will. He even managed to laugh. Its just a war, you know. Ive survived one before.

When they walked up Himmel Street, the wiry woman from next door came out and stood on the pavement.

Goodbye, Frau Holtzapfel. My apologies for last night.

Goodbye, Hans, you drunken Saukerl, but she offered him a note of friendship, too. Come home soon.

Yes, Frau Holtzapfel. Thank you.

She even played along a little. You know what you can do with your thanks.

At the corner, Frau Diller watched defensively from her shop window and Liesel took Papas hand. She held it all the way along Munich Street, to the Bahnhof. The train was already there.

They stood on the platform.

Rosa embraced him first.

No words.

Her head was buried tightly into his chest, then gone.

Then the girl.

Papa?

Nothing.

Dont go, Papa. Just dont go. Let them come for you if you stay. But dont go, please dont go.

Papa?

THE TRAIN STATION, 3 P.M.

No hours, no minutes till goodbye:

He holds her. To say something, to say anything , he speaks over her shoulder. Could you look after my accordion, Liesel? I decided not to take it.

Now he finds something he truly means. And if there are more raids, keep reading in the shelter. The girl feels the continued sign of her slightly

growing chest. It hurts as it touches the bottom of his ribs. Yes, Papa. A millimeter from her eyes, she

stares at the fabric of his suit. She speaks into him. Will you play us something when you come home?

Hans Hubermann smiled at his daughter then and the train was ready to leave. He reached out and gently held her face in his hand. I promise, he said, and he made his way into the carriage.

They watched each other as the train pulled away.

Liesel and Rosa waved.

Hans Hubermann grew smaller and smaller, and his hand held nothing now but empty air.

On the platform, people disappeared around them until no one else was left. There was only the wardrobe-shaped woman and the thirteen-year-old girl.

For the next few weeks, while Hans Hubermann and Alex Steiner were at their various fast-tracked training camps, Himmel Street was swollen. Rudy was not the samehe didnt talk. Mama was not the sameshe didnt berate. Liesel, too, was feeling the effects. There was no desire to steal a book, no matter how much she tried to convince herself that it would cheer her up.

After twelve days of Alex Steiners absence, Rudy decided hed had enough. He hurried through the gate and knocked on Liesels door.

Kommst?

Ja.

She didnt care where he was going or what he was planning, but he would not be going without her. They walked up Himmel, along Munich Street and out of Molching altogether. It was after approximately an hour that Liesel asked the vital question. Up till then, shed only glanced over at Rudys determined face, or examined his stiff arms and the fisted hands in his pockets.

Where are we going?

Isnt it obvious?

She struggled to keep up. Well, to tell you the truthnot really.

Im going to find him.

Your papa?

Yes. He thought about it. Actually, no. I think Ill find the Fhrer instead.

Faster footsteps. Why?

Rudy stopped. Because I want to kill him. He even turned on the spot, to the rest of the world. Did you hear that, you bastards? he shouted. I want to kill the Fhrer!

They resumed walking and made it another few miles or so. That was when Liesel felt the urge to turn around. Itll be dark soon, Rudy.

He walked on. So what?

Im going back.

Rudy stopped and watched her now as if she were betraying him. Thats right, book thief. Leave me now. I bet if there was a lousy book at the end of this road, youd keep walking. Wouldnt you?

For a while, neither of them spoke, but Liesel soon found the will. You think youre the only one, Saukerl? She turned away. And you only lost your father. . . .

What does that mean?

Liesel took a moment to count.

Her mother. Her brother. Max Vandenburg. Hans Hubermann. All of them gone. And shed never even had a real father.

It means, she said, Im going home.

For fifteen minutes she walked alone, and even when Rudy arrived at her side with jogging breath and sweaty cheeks, not another word was said for more than an hour. They only walked home together with aching feet and tired hearts.

There was a chapter called Tired Hearts in A Song in the Dark. A romantic girl had promised herself to a young man, but it appeared that he had run away with her best friend. Liesel was sure it was chapter thirteen. My heart is so tired, the girl had said. She was sitting in a chapel, writing in her diary.

No, thought Liesel as she walked. Its my heart that is tired. A thirteen-year-old heart shouldnt feel like this.

When they reached the perimeter of Molching, Liesel threw some words across. She could see Hubert Oval. Remember when we raced there, Rudy?

Of course. I was just thinking about that myselfhow we both fell.

You said you were covered in shit.

It was only mud. He couldnt hold his amusement now. I was covered in shit at Hitler Youth. Youre getting mixed up, Saumensch.

Im not mixed up at all. Im only telling you what you said. What someone says and what happened are usually two different things, Rudy, especially when it comes to you.

This was better.

When they walked down Munich Street again, Rudy stopped and looked into the window of his fathers shop. Before Alex left, he and Barbara had discussed whether she should keep it running in his absence. They decided against it, considering that work had been slow lately anyway, and there was at least a partial threat of party members making their presence felt. Business was never good for agitators. The army pay would have to do.

Suits hung from the rails and the mannequins held their ridiculous poses. I think that one likes you, Liesel said after a while. It was her way of telling him it was time to keep going.

On Himmel Street, Rosa Hubermann and Barbara Steiner stood together on the footpath.

Oh, Maria, Liesel said. Do they look worried?

They look mad.

There were many questions when they arrived, mainly of the Just where in the hell have you two been? nature, but the anger quickly gave way to relief.

It was Barbara who pursued the answers. Well, Rudy?

Liesel answered for him. He was killing the Fhrer, she said, and Rudy looked genuinely happy for a long enough moment to please her.

Bye, Liesel.

Several hours later, there was a noise in the living room. It stretched toward Liesel in bed. She awoke and remained still, thinking ghosts and Papa and intruders and Max. There was the sound of opening and dragging, and then the fuzzy silence who followed. The silence was always the greatest temptation.

Dont move.

She thought that thought many times, but she didnt think it enough.

Her feet scolded the floor.

Air breathed up her pajama sleeves.

She walked through the corridor darkness in the direction of silence that had once been noisy, toward the thread of moonlight standing in the living room. She stopped, feeling the bareness of her ankles and toes. She watched.

It took longer than she expected for her eyes to adjust, and when they did, there was no denying the fact that Rosa Hubermann was sitting on the edge of the bed with her husbands accordion tied to her chest. Her fingers hovered above the keys. She did not move. She didnt even appear to be breathing.

The sight of it propelled itself to the girl in the hallway.

A PAINTED IMAGE Rosa with Accordion. Moonlight on Dark.

51 Instrument Silence.

Liesel stayed and watched.

Many minutes dripped past. The book thiefs desire to hear a note was exhausting, and still, it would not come. The keys were not struck. The bellows didnt breathe. There was only the moonlight, like a long strand of hair in the curtain, and there was Rosa.

The accordion remained strapped to her chest. When she bowed her head, it sank to her lap. Liesel watched. She knew that for the next few days, Mama would be walking around with the imprint of an accordion on her body. There was also an acknowledgment that there was great beauty in what she was currently witnessing, and she chose not to disturb it.

She returned to bed and fell asleep to the vision of Mama and the silent music. Later, when she woke up from her usual dream and crept again to the hallway, Rosa was still there, as was the accordion.

Like an anchor, it pulled her forward. Her body was sinking. She appeared dead.

She cant possibly be breathing in that position, Liesel thought, but when she made her way closer, she could hear it.

Mama was snoring again.

Who needs bellows, she thought, when youve got a pair of lungs like that?

Eventually, when Liesel returned to bed, the image of Rosa Hubermann and the accordion would not leave her. The book thief s eyes remained open. She waited for the suffocation of sleep.