Skeletons at the Feast

Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian Read Free Book Online

Book: Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian Read Free Book Online
Authors: Chris Bohjalian
Tags: Fiction, General
the presence of all those handsome young men--the Germans, the Brits, and that one very young Scot--made it a burden Anna was willing to shoulder. This was true, at least in part, because she didn't honestly believe the fighting would ever come this far west. It couldn't. Even the naval officers said this was a mere precaution. And so she would flirt with the Brits during the day in the fields, where she would work, too, and dance with the naval officers in the evenings in the manor house's small but elegant ballroom. Mutti would play the piano, joined after that first night by Callum Finella on Uncle Felix's accordion, while her father--though distracted by the news from the east--would look on benignly. Sometimes Theo would put his toy cavalrymen away and watch as well, appalled in the manner of any ten-year-old boy that these brave and accomplished soldiers wanted to waste their time with the likes of his sister and her friends. He followed the men around like a puppy.
    Helmut did, too. But Helmut actually would work with the officers as long as their father allowed him away from the harvest, helping them to find their way around the endless acres of Kaminheim, and thus mark out the optimum design and placement of the trench. Then, after dinner, he would dance with Anna's friends--girls who, previously, he had insisted were too puerile to be interesting. Seeing them now through the eyes of the navy men, however, he was suddenly discovering their charms.
    Certainly Anna worried about her older brother, Werner, who had already been wounded once in this war and was fighting somewhere to the south. But she had rarely spent any time with men as interesting as this eclectic group who had descended upon their farm that autumn. She and Helmut had learned to speak English in school, though she had taken her studies far more seriously than her brother, which meant that she alone in the assemblage could speak easily to everybody--the POWs during the day and the naval officers at night--and appreciate how erudite and experienced everyone was. At least, she thought, in comparison to her. She was, on occasion, left almost dizzy as she swiveled among conversations and translated asides and remarks. And the longer stories? She felt like a star-struck child. When she was in grade school she had met English families the winter her family had gone skiing in Switzerland, but by 1944 she remembered little more than a very large man in a very poor bear costume, and the way she and the English children together had endured his clownish shenanigans because all of the parents had thought the fellow was wildly entertaining. But since the war had begun, she hadn't been west of Berlin. In the early years, they had still taken summer holidays on the beaches of the Baltic or ventured to Danzig for concerts, but lately even those trips had ceased completely. Two of their POWs, however, had seen the pyramids; another had been to America; and Callum--the youngest of the group, the tallest of the group, and the only one from Scotland--had been born in India, where his father had been a colonial official, and had traveled extensively throughout Bengali and Burma and Madras as a little boy.
    Even the German naval officers were more interesting than any of the country boys--or men--she had met in her district. They, too, had seen places in Europe and Africa she'd only read about in books.
    Initially, she had worried that there might be unpleasant sparks when the Germans and the Brits crossed paths, especially on the first morning when the naval officers would be marking out a segment of the antitank trench in the very same beet fields where the POWs were working. But the two groups of men had largely ignored each other.
    It was the next day, when she was working alongside the prisoners in the apple orchard, that one of the POWs--that exuberant young giant named Callum--segued from the usual flirtatious banter to which she had grown accustomed and had come to

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