A Snow White retelling set in 1920s Germany
Have I Ever Advised You Poorly?
They had breakfast in the dining room. Ingeborg was so accustomed to Berlin’s small apartments that dining in that big room proved to be surprisingly intimidating. Far gone were the days when she had considered it normal.
The breakfast had been prepared by Hanna and was the earthy one she remembered from her childhood, not the light, quick one she would consume in Berlin. Hannah had prepared a breakfast that could have fed all the people in the house – and eventually it would, Ingeborg suspected. The table was laden with white and brown bread, wurst to slice and to spread, butter, cheese of three different types, also sliced. Three different types of jam, included Ingeborg’s favourite wild red berries. Coffee, tea and milk as if they rained. Ingeborg noticed Grete barely touched it, but she wolfed it down as if her life depended on it. It had been such a long time! She had forgotten what all of this tasted.
“I could kill for a newspaper,” Grete said, sipping her coffee. “How can you bear to have breakfast without a newspaper.”
“I’ve managed that beautifully for many years,” Dagmar replied, scrapping butter on a toast.
“It’s so silent,” Grete said, eyeing the toasts and dismissing them. “The whole world could have died while we slept, for all I hear.” She finally opted for just one gingerbread biscuit.
“I would call it peaceful morning,” Dagmar said, without lifting her gaze as she scraped a thin layer of butter on a slice of untoasted brown bread. “I, for one, certainly don’t miss all of Berlin’s racket.” She made a show of shivering, then bit into her bread.
Ingeborg chuckled. “I don’t mind the silence.”
Grete finally pushed her cup of tea on the side and clasped her hand on the table. Her face was perfectly made up and illuminated by the chandelier electric light because the morning was too grey to let any real light in.
“So, gals,” she said, “how do you like my idea of a party?”
“It’s horrible,” Dagmar said as if she were commenting on the unbecoming morning weather.
Ingeborg glanced at her aunt. Then at Grete. Then she slowly set her coffee cup down.
When the silence stretched, Dagmar looked at Grete. “You are serious,” she said, just a hint of surprise in her voice.
Grete squared her shoulders. “It’s the best way for you two to get a real feel for what the manor could become. Meet the people who’re interested. Discuss different ideas. Besides, you’ll barely notice any preparation. My staff can handle everything. They are accustomed to such events.”
Dagmar held the bread in one hand, the other hand around the cup. She didn’t move.
“Grete,” Ingeborg started.
But Dagmar interrupted. “What if I say no?” she challenged.
Grete tensed. But then Dagmar sighed. “Why don’t you just say that you’ve planned this all along and you’ll do it whether we want it or not?”
“Because I want you to want it,” she said, half a joke, half serious. Then her face turned stern. “Besides, it isn’t my home. I should ask the lady of the house.” And looked to Ingeborg.
There was such a strange expression in her eyes. Ingeborg would have paid to know what was going on behind them. “Why would you say that?” She finally said. “Of course it’s your home.”
Grete dropped her gaze on her hands as she gathered her napkin and placed it beside her cup. “So.” She made an audible sigh. “What do you think?” And this time she turned to Dagmar.
Who sat with her back straight and her hands almost abandoned at the sides of her cup. She was looking into her tea as if she would read the solution to the problem there. After a moment she raised her head and turned to Grete.
“If it’ so important to you–” She couldn’t quite complete the sentence, but it impressed Ingeborg that she was making an effort to go along with this idea even if she quite clearly hated it.
Ingeborg was about to call the party off when Dagmar went on. “There’s not a lot to do to make the manor ready. We work all year round to keep it alive.” She shot a grim look at Grete, who took it with a stern face. “Just a deeper cleaning and a heat-up of the rooms, since I suppose your guests will stay overnight. I’ll ask Hannah to rinse all the sheets too.”
Her voice had a strange ring to it. There was restraint, from her dislike of the idea, surely. But Ingeborg though she could detect a hind of hope, strange as it might seem.
“You won’t have to bother about anything else, sister. My staff can handle all the rest of the work.” Grete smiled. “I’m sure we’ll work wonderfully together.” She clutched the napkin in her hand, then let it go. “I expect the first guests to arrive today.”
“Grete!” Ingeborg snapped.THE FROZEN MAZE – Episode 12 – Have I Ever Advised You Poorly? – Dagmar hates Grete's plan for her home, but she makes an effort to go along with it. Why? #FairytaleRetelling Click To Tweet
Dagmar opened her mouth, and a strangled, surprised laugh came out.
“I had to do it,” Grete said as if that was the only sensible thing to do. “I couldn’t alert them to come once I was here. It’s several days journey from Berlin, even in a car.”
“And what if aunt Dagmar and I had insisted not to do it?” Ingeborg demanded.
Grete sighed, looking from one to the other, almost bewildered. “I knew you gals would have seen the wisdom of it. How could you ever decide without knowing the people and what they may offer?”
“Grete!” Ingeborg said again, a warning in her voice.
Without a word, Dagmar rose. They both looked up at her.
“I’d better get going. I suppose my staff needs briefing.” Her voice wasn’t angry, but Ingeborg noticed her hands were balled into fists as she walked to the door.
When the door clicked closed, Ingeborg turned to Grete. “I really wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“You’re pressing your will on aunt Dagmar, and I really wish you wouldn’t. Aunt Dagmar is doing a huge work here, and she’s doing it all alone.”
Grete’s face had turned dark. She took a cigarette from her case, which lay beside her napkin, lit it and blew a pearly cloud of smoke over her head.
“That’s why we understand each other so well, I suppose.”
Ingeborg sat still, puzzled.
“I’ve been working very hard too, wouldn’t you say?” Grete went on. “It’s the money from my business that has kept Schneezwerg going. And I don’t regret it, my child,” she added when Ingeborg made to speak. “That’s what your father asked of me.” She lowered her gaze when she mentioned her husband and licked her lips in the pause that followed. “We both know what we should do.” She looked up at Ingeborg. “But Schneezwerg is yours. You are the one who will decide. We can merely point out the problems and offer solutions, but you will have the last say.”
She drew from the cigarette and blew a new pearly cloud in the air while looking squarely at Ingeborg.
“What if I decide I don’t like this idea of yours?” Ingeborg said in a hushed voice.
Grete bit her lower lip. “I will accept your decision, of course,” she said, slowly, carefully. Then she leaned forward. “But seriously, why wouldn’t you? Do you really mean to keep Schnnezwerg the way it is? Would you live here – because that’s what you’d be required to do, to keep the property alive. If you can even keep it alive.” She sat back on the chair. “I mean it, Inge, and you know I’m not lying to you. It’s becoming too expensive. We need to do something, or we’ll lose it. To debts… or to disrepair.”
Ingeborg wriggled her napkin in her lap. She knew, of course she knew Grete was right. But Dagmar also was right.
“Do you think transforming Schneezwerg is what Dad would do?” She asked. “Do you think he would destroy the maze?”
Grete didn’t meet her gaze. She blew more smoke. Chipped at the cigarette with her nail, then grounded it into the ashtray. “That’s idle talking,” she said almost to herself. When she looked up, she didn’t meet Ingeborg’s gaze but turned to the empty chair on the head of the table. She wavered, and for a crazy moment, Ingeborg expected Grete to reach out as if Dad sat there and they could grasp their hands.
“I’ve done what he asked of me,” Grete said again, in a whisper, and finally turned to Ingeborg.
“I’ve kept it alive. I’ve split all the earnings with you gals. We are all associates in this.” She straightened. “In everything but Schneezwerg. Which is only yours to decide upon. But tell me, Ingeborg, have I ever advised you poorly?”
Ingeborg willed herself to let go of the napkin. Placed it on the table, smoothed it. Then she shook her head.
“Then trust me this time too. Let’s turn the manor into a firm. It’s the best thing.”
Ingeborg looked lever at her. “But what about the maze?”
Grete perfectly made-up face turned dark.
“It has to go, Inge. There is no other way. And why would you want to keep it? It is already dead.”
Ingeborg shook her head no. She didn’t know why she did it. There was a knowledge deep inside her.
Grete patted her hand and forced a smile. “Don’t decide now. Rest. Think. Then meet my guests and see how you like them. They’re all interesting people. Then you’ll decide.”
Ingeborg pressed her lips together, then she nodded. Silently.
In the photo Château de Chenonceau photographer unknown (from Instagram @francefr)