A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Müller cleared the coffee table they had been using for their light dinner in the library. Ingeborg had known him all through the years she had lived in Berlin. He was as familiar to her as a family member. Still, here in Schneezwerg, he looked odd and almost out of place.
In contrast Elsie, who crossed paths with him as he walked out of the library with the leftovers of the dinner and she walked in with the tea tray, looked as if she had always been there and should always be there, even if Ingeborg had only met her a few hours ago.
As Elsie laid out the porcelain tea set, Grete curled up in the corner of the couch. She draped her coat over her shoulders, in a way that highlighted the line of her neck and didn’t do much to cover her. Besides, the library was comfortably warm and cosy. She took out her cigarette case and lighter from one pocket of the coat and lit a cigarette as she waited for Elsie to be finished with the tea.
“Thank you, Elsie,” Dagmar said as the girl served her last. “You may go now. We will call if we need anything.”
Elsie curtsied and left.
Grete was lazily smoking now. Dagmar took up the cup and cradled it. Ingeborg looked from one to the other and wondered how long their contest of will would last.
She wasn’t that patient.
“So, Grete,” she said without taking up her tea. “Now that we are all nice and fed, you may perhaps tell us the reason for this meeting.”
Grete blew out a pearly cloud of smoke.
“Are you getting remarried?” Dagmar smirked behind her cup.
Ingeborg shot her an alarmed look. But Grete cut an amused scowl at Dagmar.
“I’d just communicate you the date if I ever.” She leaned forward with an elegant move to tossed ash in the ashtray on the coffee table. Then she leaned back on the couch and paused, thinking. “No. I’m going to talk business.”
Dagmar cocked her head in a mild question. Ingeborg finally took up her cup. Not because she wanted to drink, but because she needed something in her hands. In all the years Grete had taken care of the family business, she had never need to talk about it with them.
“Last year was a disaster. But I have a feeling that 1923 will be remembered as a financial disaster by many businesses.” Grete said. “We are taking up quite nicely, now. I’ve come in touch with representatives of the film and theatre industry and that had made a great difference. Berlin is hungry for this kind of cosmetic products.”
Dagmar gave an amused smirk. “I can totally see you in that environment.”
“And you should mingle with it a bit more, sister,” Grete responded in the same tone. “When you come to Berlin, I’ll bring you to all the fashionable theatres and to watch the latest pictures.”
Dagmar dismissed the thought with a shrug. “I’ll leave that to you modern women.”
Grete chuckled, but then became serious again.
“The theatres helped us weather the hyperinflation last year. It took a lot of work, but now we have a stock of faithful clients, and they are starting to ask more off us. Not just cosmetics, but entire treatments. Ways to relax. Ways of being more healthy.” A short pause. “Are you familiar with the concept of beauty resort?”
Dagmar furrowed her brow. Ingeborg said, “Is that a place where people go to have beauty treatments and doing sports?” The spot between the shoulder blades was hitching.
“Exactly, my dear. These are usually places in the mountains or the seaside. Or the countryside. Secluded places of peace. Like, say… Schneezwerg.” She drew at her cigarette as she looked sideways to them.
Dagmar slowly placed the cup back onto the saucer. Ingeborg cradled her cup in her lap. The hitch between her shoulder blades became uncomfortable.
“I have been thinking,” Grete went on. “Schneezwerg is empty most of the time. It takes a lot of money to keep it running – basically for nothing since nobody lives here now. And nobody is likely to do. You Dagmar, you’ve always preferred the dorf.” She pointed with her cigarette. “And you, Inge, you live in Berlin now.”THE FROZEN MAZE – Episode 7 – Talking Business? – What do you do when your ancestral home becomes too costly to keep? Do you let it go? Or do you fight to keep it at all costs? Is there a way in between? #fairytaleretelling #readnow Click To Tweet
She looked from one to the other. Neither said anything.
Grete crushed the cigarette in the ashtray.
“We could turn the manor into a beauty resort.”
Dagmar’s lips paled.
Ingeborg’s breath tripped inside her throat.
“This which will allow us to raise money to maintain it,” Grete went on. “We could have a swimming pool, tennis and golf courts. Maybe even horses. This is the perfect place for a thing like this. Close to the Black Forest, but in a beautiful country spot. Imagine the sight of all the leisurely activity people will spot from their windows. Actors and actresses will kill to get a room here.”
There came a long silence.
The crackling of the fire in the crate sounded funnily loud.
“And where do you plan to do all this stuff?” Dagmar finally asked, her voice as gloom as the winter outside.
Grete swatted the matter away with that gesture of hers, which looked less elegant and more tensed now. “There will be plenty of place once we take the maze down.”
A gasped scaped Ingeborg’s mouth before she even realised it.
Dagmar sat unmoving.
Grete leaned towards her. There was an eagerness, an urgency to her move. “It is necessary if we want to make this project true.”
“And what if we don’t?” Dagmar said.
Ingeborg’s gaze darted to her.
Grete glared at Dagmar. “Why wouldn’t we?”
Dagmar raised her chin, such a small move that still changed her entire attitude. “Give up our home – our ancestral home – to strangers. Strangers who don’t seek health, but eternal beauty and youth. For isn’t that what they want from your cosmetics?” Her eyes darkened. She pressed her lips together. “Julian would never agree.”
Grete snapped her back straight. She glared back at Dagmar, but Ingeborg saw more under the makeup covering her sudden paleness. “Useless to look back,” she said in a grim voice. “We must look ahead.”
“And burn everything behind us?” Dagmar retorted. “Who will we be if we forget where we come from?”
“We’ll only go down if we don’t choose a different path, and Schneezwerg will go down with us. It was built for a different time, Dagmar, don’t pretend you don’t know it.”
Dagmar squared her shoulders, her face became even sterner.
Grete’s eyes were burning. “We must adjust to the new world.”
They glared at each other across the coffee table, and Ingeborg looked at them in turn. Dagmar, her fair hair bobbed around her rosy cheeks, her grey eyes as stormy as a winter sky. And Grete, her glossy black bob highlighting her red lips.
In the silence and the crackling of the fire, Ingeborg asked. “But why do you want to take the maze down?”
Both women turned to her. Sharply, as if they had only just remembered her presence. There was a flash in both their gazes. Clear and hopeful in Dagmar’s. Dark and surprised in Grete’s.
“Certainly you see that’s necessary, darling,” Grete said. “We need space for this project.”
Of course, Ingeborg thought. Have you gone dumb all at once? A project like this needs space. But her breath caught in her throat once again and she could say nothing.
Grete studied her closely, then went on.
“It’s a matter of look, darling. Looks is as important as the real stuff. When people arrive here, they need to see this is the place of their dreams, where they can enjoy themselves.” She straightened after leaning to her. “It must be healthy and tidy. Surely, you see the maze is everything but. In fact, we’ll have to take it down anyway, in the end.”
Ingeborg shook her head no. Why, she didn’t know. Grete was right, a four-year-old would see it. It made sense on all accounts. The manor needed to be lived in, or it would ruin down. Yet— what would become of Schneezwerg if they gave it up? And the maze?
“It is an evil place, Inge.” Ingeborg started when Grete grasped her wrist with unexpected force. “You sure know that. People may get lost inside that thing. I can’t allow it to be inside the resort.”
They looked into each other. There was a fierce passion in Grete’s eyes, and at that moment Ingeborg knew there was more, much more about it than she could see now.
They both snapped their attention to Dagmar. “We should let Ingeborg think about this on her time. This is not our to decide.”
Grete straightened. Slowly. And loosened her grip. “Of course,” she conceded, darkly. Then she smiled to Ingeborg. “Of course, darling. Schneezwerg is yours to decide upon.”
She took another cigarette out of her box. In spite of her nonchalant move, her hand might have shaken slightly.
Dagmar looked quiet now, her cup of tea forgotten on the table. Contrary to usual, her face was unreadable to Ingeborg.
Grete’s face was dark.
Ingeborg liked her lips. Her chest felt as if a tennis ball had been bouncing off every available space inside her.
“Yes, I… I need to think about it,” she said with a small voice.
Grete didn’t look like the content cat she normally did. But she said, “Sure, darling,” in a low purr. “Sure.”