It was all Diedrick’s idea.
Since they were boys it was usually Diedrick’s idea, and Ranulf blindly followed.
That Sunday morning, he had the hired girl dress the children smartly for church. Since the daughter had been old enough to sit still and still sein he’d been taking them to mass every Sunday. “Your mutti would want you to go to church,” he said stiffly as they walked the two blocks. The children didn’t remember Adelaide, but they went along without complaint. It was a cold home.
“You should remarry,” Diedrick suggested one evening. “My sister knows a family. Their eldest daughter would be good for you, she says.”
Ranulf gave no indication that he was interested, but then, Diedrick didn’t need approval. Even when Adelaide had been alive, it was Diedrick who made decisions for him. The next Sunday he was waiting in front of the house when they returned from mass with a picture and a small greeting card.
The girl in the picture was the age Adelaide had been when she died, almost three years ago. Her hair was fair and lovely. Ranulf couldn’t imagine why such a girl would want to meet a man nearing 40 with two children of his own already. The card read simply:
To Mr. König:
I am Frieda Krause. Your good friend Diedreick Huber recommended you to me. I was raised strong Catholic and have a good woman’s education.
Marlene will bring her to your church soon, so that you can meet her,” Diedrick said. “For now we must send her a photo of you and the children.” He pulled out a small, bulky camera. “Stand there,” he indicated the brick and stone stretch in front of the house. Ranulf took the boy’s hand in his and steered them into a line. “If you must,” he murmured. The shutter snapped closed/open once.
Over coffee, Diedrick revealed more. Frieda was only 26, but had been married at the young age of 19. Her husband died shortly after, and Frieda devoted herself to church. She had a small degree in German Literature and had, for a short time, worked as a schoolteacher. She had no children from her first marriage, and had recently discovered that she was barren. Hearing about Ranulf, she hoped to finally have a stable marriage and children to mother.
“You should write her a short letter. Here,” Diedrick found the stationery. “You dictate and I’ll write.”
Ranulf hid a smile in a sip of coffee and began, knowing that his friend was twisting his words.
To Frieda Krause:
I am Ranulf König, a widower and father of two children: a boy aged 6 and a girl aged 4. We are a Catholic family. Our home is not very big, but it is comfortable and we have all that we need. Marlene Huber, as I understand, has invited you to our church. I hope you will come. Danke.
I enclose a picture of my family.
The hired girl put the children to bed, and Diedrick stuffed the letter into an envelope. “I will develop the picture in the morning and send it with Marlene.” He seemed excited as he went out into the late afternoon. Ranulf closed the curtains with a sigh. Since they were boys he had loved Diedrick. Loved him like a friend, and a brother and a man. It had been Diedrick who introduced him to Adelaide so many years ago, after taking her out once or twice and deciding she was far too nice a girl for him.
Diedrick himself never married.
Ranulf poured himself a drink and wandered upstairs, pausing to admire the sleeping faces of his children.
In the first years of his mourning, Diedrick had been strangely absent. It was only now that he was constantly present again. Ranulf looked and looked for a note of melancholy or regret in his friend’s eye, but there was none. Diedrick was happy to be a bachelor and more than happy to see Ranulf’s heartache as loneliness whose only cure was a beautiful blonde Catholic girl.
Frieda’s picture is slanted against the table in the hallway, beside the telephone. She would make a good mother, wouldn’t she? And she was barren. She wouldn’t insist on the rituals of flesh every night. She would lay quietly and not invite him to touch her. She would lay peacefully, as peacefully as Adelaide did. And if she ever came to notice the way that he followed Diedrick, she would not say a word, as Adelaide had.
Because then he would be twice a widower.