Snowbells danced around Edith's skirt as she turned her face toward the sun. She only needed a few for the vase. Perhaps a little joy would soothe the inevitable unease at the table that night. It was always tense when meeting with their neighbors with her husband present. She considered them friends, though her husband was still unsure about them, and they were unsure about both Edith and her husband. She hoped enough time had passed. They had to know there was nothing she could do to change what had happened, right?
She gathered the flowers before heading back home. Hugo recently had the shutters repainted. He wanted to remove every trace of the previous inhabitants, and it was now sunny enough outside to work on such things. Edith thought it was silly to worry about such small details, but her husband insisted that the past of that home be erased, so erase they did.
Edith entered the house and smiled at Hugo, who was perched at the edge of a kitchen chair, rifling through a stack of photos. He never seemed to relax, even in their home. He was always tense, ready to pounce. Pounce at what, she wasn't quite sure. For the time being, his battles were over. He had earned his rest with a bullet through his shoulder. Still, he would never simply accept respite and regain his strength. He was always looking for something to help "the cause." She hoped that this dinner she had arranged with the Fischers would help get his mind off work, if for only a moment.
She placed the snowbells in an ornate vase, a gift from Hugo's commander, and set it on the table. "I picked these this morning. I thought that they would brighten up the place."
The house was scarcely decorated. Most of what they had was leftover furniture from their flat and gifts from friends.
"Mmhm," Hugo muttered without looking.
Edith tried not to let that discourage her. "My mother used to grow these in her garden. Or, at least she would try."
Hugo didn't respond to her joke. He continued sifting through the photos, making neat piles. Edith kept her eyes off of them. As necessary as the actions they depicted were, she was still disturbed by them.
"You should get cleaned up," she said. "It's almost time."
Hugo nodded and sorted the last of the photos before packing them away in his briefcase. Edith began preparing the rest of the meal as she heard his footsteps ascend the stairs.
Soon after, there was a knock at the door. Before Edith could finish setting the table, Hugo was greeting the Fischers and leading them to their seats. Edith flashed a smile at Eva and Richard as they sat.
"Would either of you care for a drink?" Edith asked, presenting a bottle of white wine.
"Yes, thank you," Richard answered for the both of them.
Edith poured four glasses before joining them.
For what felt like a lifetime, the only sound to be heard was the scraping of forks against plates. Richard was the first to break the silence. "I imagine you're relieved to have some time off," he addressed Hugo.
"Hardly," Hugo responded. "My time would be much better spent on the front lines."
Richard conceded immediately, changing the subject. "There used to be a large cabinet in here. One that David built."
"David?" Edith inquired.
"The previous owner."
Of course, Edith thought. Eva had mentioned once in private that they were friends with the previous owners, Alma and David. However, that wasn't something to advertise, not in their fragile position, and definitely not in front of Hugo. She could already see Hugo's jaw clenching.
"I burned it," Hugo told Richard, "along with the rest of the furniture."
Richard shrunk back into his seat. "A smart choice," he replied, his voice strained. "It took up far too much room."
They resumed their silence, eyes averted from one another. Edith felt the tension crushing her like a vice. She searched for something to break it. She noticed Eva staring at the vase in the center of the table and grinned. "Do you like them?" she asked. "They're Alpine snowbells. I picked them fresh this morning."
Edith could see tears forming in Eva's eyes. "Eva?" Edith asked gently.
Eva glanced nervously at Hugo, then at Edith. "Alma used to pick snowbells for David..."
Before Edith could answer, Hugo stood and grabbed the vase. Without a word, he brought it to the open window and dropped it. Edith flinched as she heard the glass break into pieces against the ground. Hugo returned in silence, acting as if nothing had happened.
Richard stood and took Eva's trembling hand in his. "We should be going," he said, pulling his wife toward the door.
Edith rose to walk them out. "Thank you for joining us," she said, glancing back at her husband. He sat at the table, jaw clenched, staring at the couple intensely.
Edith looked back at the Fischers, making sure to catch their eyes as she raised her right arm at an angle above her head. "Heil Hitler," she said with pleading eyes.
Richard and Eva paused, then responded in forced tones, "Heil Hitler."