The Other Side of Time

                    by Jonna Turner

Chapter One 

        Terrified, Leni clutched the woolen shawl about her nine-year-old body as she fled through the cobblestoned streets of the village—now deserted. She searched for a place to hide as yellow flames licked skyward from shuttered windows of the brick-and-stucco houses along the strasse. Red tiles burst from the rooftops. Leni screamed and pulled the shawl over her head as red-hot shards pelted her. In the distance, she heard the pop of gunfire and felt the street shudder from nearby explosions.

            When she rounded a corner, the old stone church came into view. She raced toward it, jerked open the black wrought-iron gate, and scanned the courtyard. A tall hedge in a corner caught her attention. She ran across the courtyard and pressed herself behind the bush against the stone wall. The branches scratched her face and arms as she slid her body into a squatting position, wrapped her arms tightly around her knees, and tried to stop shaking. Her dark eyes darted through the branches around the area. She prayed to God that no one would find her here. When she looked up, her breath caught in her throat. She stood without thinking and reached out to touch something above her.

            “Hier ist ein weiteres Kind!, Here’s another kid!” a harsh male voice called out.

            Startled, Leni screamed and moved farther into the dark corner. Trapped, she looked upward and pleaded for help. “Bitte helfen Sie mir!”

            The tall, gray-uniformed Unterfeldwebel opened the gate as Leni’s cries for help echoed off the stone. Slowly, the soldier walked toward the small Jewess, his face hardened in a mask of hatred. He spread his arms, ready to grab Leni if she bolted.

            “Nein!” the child cried as large hands reached down to grab her.

                                            

            “No!” Agatha banged her fist on the armrest. She was determined not to let the dream invade her waking hours.

            Sandy, intent on the pre-auction bustle of activity, turned toward her mother-in-law. “Did you say something?”

            “I’m…I’m sorry, dear. I…I was just thinking out loud.” Agatha wasn’t ready to tell anyone about the nightmare that had plagued her sleep for the past two weeks. Now, it had worked its way into her daytime thoughts as well.

            Sandy touched Agatha’s arm. “Your face is flushed. Are you sure you’re all right?”

            Agatha breathed deeply and forced a smile, which didn’t quite reach her midnight-blue eyes. She pushed her short, gray-streaked auburn hair away from her face and patted her daughter-in-law’s hand. “Of course. I’m fine.”

            Minutes later, as the auction started, Sandy leaned close. Her shiny, chestnut hair brushed her shoulder. “Look at that Waterford crystal bowl. Wouldn’t it be stunning on your dining room table?”

            Agatha shook her head. “No, dear,” she whispered. “No more dust collectors.  Anyway, there’s no point now that Clayton’s gone. I don’t have the least desire to buy anything else for the house.” She sighed, settled into her cushioned chair, and halfheartedly listened to the auctioneer¾dressed in a gray morning suit¾drone on about antique crystal from the Winthrop Collection. She opened her catalog, dated March 16, 1982, and absently reviewed the items listed for sale.

            The collection, so it appeared to her, had attracted buyers from all over the country to Boston’s newly renovated wood-and-glass auction gallery. Agatha shifted in her seat. She scanned the crowd and noticed an older, elegantly dressed couple who quietly discussed items listed in the brochure. Envious of the couple’s apparent closeness, Agatha told herself that she and Clayton could have attended the auction together if he were still alive.

            Sandy glanced over to see what had caught Agatha’s attention. Worry clouded her sea-green eyes. She sighed and whispered, “You’ve still got a life to live even if Clayton’s gone. Today’s the first time you’ve been out of the house in weeks.”

            “I know.” Agatha nodded. “I just need time.” She understood Sandy’s good intentions. “You and Mark have your own lives, so don’t feel you have to babysit me.”

            “...stained-glass window, which came from Europe.”

            Agatha straightened in her chair. She stared at the window that rested on an easel beside the auctioneer¾a stained-glass portrait of an angel. She tried to speak, but the words stuck in her throat.

            “The window was supposed to have a history card with it.” The auctioneer looked around the podium. “It appears the card has been misplaced. Uh…. I don’t have the exact year the window was constructed, but notice the exquisite detail of the fair-haired angel holding a white lamb. The sunburst that makes up the background is formed in purest shades of yellow, blue, and violet and gives the window a two-dimensional quality. Let’s start the bidding at five hundred, shall we?”

            Agatha grabbed Sandy’s arm.

            Sandy turned to look at her mother-in-law. “Good Lord! You’re as pale as a¾

            “I’ve seen that window before,” Agatha whispered.

            “How could you? You’ve never been to Europe,” Sandy said.

            “I can’t remember where I’ve seen it, but I have…and it’s important.” Agatha couldn’t take her eyes off the window. She watched as three bidders signaled the auctioneer.

            “Twenty-five hundred is my bid.” The auctioneer paused. “Going once, going twice.”

            Agatha jumped to her feet. “Three thousand!”

            “What are you doing?” Sandy pulled on Agatha’s sleeve. “Please sit down! People are staring.”

            Agatha sat on the edge of her chair, but ignored Sandy.

            “Going once! Going twice! Sold!” the auctioneer said.

            Agatha watched the auctioneer slam his gavel on the podium¾as if in slow motion¾with a sound that reverberated throughout the hall. When she turned, she noticed that the two hundred or so people who sat around her also appeared to talk, gesture, and move in slow motion. She closed her eyes, suddenly lightheaded.

            “What’s come over you?” Sandy said, her voice sounding as if coming from a tunnel.

            Agatha shook her head in an attempt to clear her brain. “I’ll be back.” She grabbed her handbag, stood, and threaded her way along the row of bidders’ handbags and feet.

            Sandy trailed behind, bewilderment evident on her face. When she caught up with her mother-in-law, she was at the cashier’s desk.

            Agatha provided delivery instructions to the cashier along with a check for the window. She turned to leave but stopped in mid-stride and turned back to the cashier. “Excuse me, can you tell me the name of the buyer for the gallery?”

            “Of course.” The young blonde cashier smiled. “Mr. Johnstone bought this shipment.”

            “I see,” Agatha pulled out her address book and pen. “Do you have an address or telephone number where I might reach him?”

            “That won’t be necessary. He’s in the gallery today.” The cashier stretched to look around Agatha and Sandy. “I saw him a few minutes ago. Ah…yes. There he is. He’s standing beside that antique birdcage. The man with a red rose in his lapel.”

            Agatha thanked the cashier and walked toward the plump man with a complexion that matched his rose.

            Sandy followed closely behind but said nothing.

            “Mr. Johnstone?” Agatha approached the man.

            “Yes. May I help you?” Johnstone peered at Agatha over half glasses, as if appraising an objet d’art, then flipped through the papers on his clipboard.

            “I’m Agatha Windham.” She extended her hand, which he touched briefly and nodded. “I bought the stained-glass window you brought into the gallery. Can you tell me anything about it?”

             He gave her a cursory smile as he looked down at her. “Congratulations on the winning bid, Mrs….uh…?”

            “Windham. Agatha Windham.” Impatient with his condescending tone, but unwilling to acknowledge it, she shifted her handbag strap from one shoulder to the other.

            “Mrs. Windham. Yes. Well we’ve apparently lost the history card, as the auctioneer said.” Johnstone ran his finger down a list on the first sheet on his clipboard. “According to this I bought the window at a shop in Berlin during my winter trip.”

            “I understand that, but....” Agatha touched his arm.

            Johnstone cut his eyes down at her hand, which she quickly withdrew.

            “I know I’ve seen the window before, but I can’t remember where.” Agatha said.  “I need to know where it came from. Is there a possibility it might have come from a church somewhere on the east coast rather than from Germany?”

             “I told you all I know about the window,” Johnstone said. “It was shipped from Germany.”

            “But, I’ve never been to¾

            Johnstone’s face turned a deeper shade of florid. “Madam, are you questioning the authenticity of the window?”

            Startled, Agatha said, “Of course not.”

            Johnstone dropped his hands to his side, obviously irritated. “You can see there’s an auction going on, and I’m quite busy.  I assume you gave the cashier your name and address?”

            “Yes, of course—”

            “Good. If I come across the history card, I’ll send it to you straightaway. Is that satisfactory?”

            Disappointed, Agatha said, “I suppose so.”

            “Good day.” Johnstone curtly nodded to Agatha and Sandy and then turned to leave. Under his breath, he said, “And, good riddance.”

            “What did you say?” Agatha asked, two steps behind Johnstone.

            He stopped and turned. “I beg your pardon?”

            “What did you say about ‘good riddance’?”

            A shadow passed over Johnstone’s face. “Nothing. I must ask you to excuse me.”

            Before he got away, Agatha said, “If I have other questions about the window, where can I reach you?”

            He sighed, fished inside his jacket, and produced a white card, which he handed to Agatha. “I’m leaving for my London office soon, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you further. Good day.” He moved quickly away and down a hallway.

             Sandy turned to her mother-in-law, hands on her hips. A frown creased her brow. “I can’t believe how rude that man was! You ought to speak to the manager of the—”

            “Nevermind.” Agatha waved her hand in dismissal. “It’s not important.” She stuffed the business card into her address book.

            “What on earth are you going to do with a six-foot-tall stained-glass window?” Sandy said.

            Agatha looked up at her daughter-in-law, who was five inches taller than her five-foot-four-inch height. “This window is important to me, and it’s something I want.” Thoughtful for a moment, she continued, a twinkle in her blue eyes. “Although in retrospect, I wish I’d only bid twenty-six hundred.”

Sandy grimaced.

“Do you see anything you would like to bid on, or are you ready to leave?” Agatha asked.

            “No and yes,” Sandy said. “I think I need to get you out of here. For someone who didn’t want to buy anything else for her house, you certainly jumped right into the middle of the bidding. Couldn’t you have bought something a little less expensive?”

            Agatha bit her tongue to avoid an argument. Whose money were they talking about anyway? “Probably. Would you like some lunch before we head back to the Cape?”

            “No, thanks.” Sandy held out her hands. “Can you understand that I’m only trying to look out for you? You’ve been through a rough year, and I don’t want you doing something you’ll regret after you’ve thought it through.”

            “I appreciate your concern,” Agatha said idly looking for an exit.  “Let’s see if we can get out of here.” She maneuvered her way through the crowd of people who inspected items to be presented for bid.

            Once out on the sidewalk, Sandy continued. “Where are you going to put the window?”

            “I’m not sure.” Agatha looped her arm through Sandy’s. “Let’s forget about the window for now.” They strolled along Newbury Street toward the parking lot looking in the windows of the smart shops set in quaint Victorian brick row houses. Agatha remembered when the area was strictly residential. “I didn’t realize how much I missed Boston¾the activity, the people.”

            Sandy gave Agatha a wry smile and squeezed her hand.

            “Thanks for inviting me today,” Agatha said. She lifted her face and enjoyed the warmth of the sun on her skin and the light breeze that ruffled her hair. “It’s good to be out on such a glorious spring day.”

            Sandy laughed and appeared to relax. “I’m glad to see you’re enjoying yourself. You’re overdue.”

            After they were in the Wrangler, Sandy drove out into the stream of heavy traffic.

            “I know I’ve been unbearable since Clayton died,” Agatha said when they stopped at a red light on Arlington next to Boston Public Gardens. “I’ve neglected you and Mark, and especially Polly.”

            Sandy glanced over at her mother-in-law. “Polly really misses her time with you. She’s always asking when she can sleep over at Gran’s.”

            Agatha smiled. “We’ll have to do that soon. I’ve really let too many things go, especially the house. You could write the ‘Gettysburg Address’ in the dust on my desk.”

            Sandy grinned. “A little furniture polish will take care of that.”

            Silent for a moment, Agatha said, “About the window, I know you think I’m being impulsive to pay so much for it, but buying it is exciting for me. I can’t quite explain the feeling¾it’s like now I’ve got something to look forward to.”

             “I’m sorry to be so negative.” Sandy pushed her hair out of her eyes. “It’s good to see a smile on your face again. I know I come on strong, but I worry about you. You only have Mark and me to look after you now.”

            Agatha chuckled. “I’m not that old yet. I should be able to take care of myself for at least one or two more years.”

            “You know what I mean. If something were to happen to you…. Suppose you got sick or had an accident? I’m trying to say we love you and care about you. We’ve missed spending time with you.” She paused. “Even David misses you.”

            Agatha rolled her eyes. “What’s he doing these days?”

            “Number-two son is still wheeling and dealing the Cape real estate, as usual, so we don’t see much of him, which is fine with me. I don’t want Mark getting sucked into any more of David’s sure-fire-can’t-miss-gonna-make-a-bundle deals.”

            “I’ve never understood why Mark is levelheaded like Clayton, but David took after Clayton’s Uncle Earl.”  Agatha shook her head. “I make it a rule to keep my checkbook tucked safely inside my desk when I see David drive up.”

            “Maybe David will meet a really nice woman one of these days and change his ways,” Sandy said.

            Agatha shrugged.  “Maybe.” She knew that unless David changed, no self-respecting woman would ever put up with him. Did she and Clayton fail him in some way or spoil him too much because he was the youngest?

            Sandy took a deep breath. “I’d like to make one more comment about the window, and then I’ll drop the subject.”

            Agatha stifled a heavy sigh. “If you have to.”

            “It’s not so much the money you spent today. I know you can afford it. But, you bought the window on a whim, which is not like you. I hope you aren’t going to make a habit of spending so much so easily.”

            “Point well taken.” Agatha could almost see the wheels turn in Sandy’s brain. A psychology major at William and Mary, she probably thought Agatha’s impulsive behavior was a manifestation of her depression and, unless controlled, Agatha would squander her life savings. But, she had no intention of doing that.  

       When they reached Route Six on their way to Shipton, Agatha watched the gusty Cape breeze send ripples through the flaxen beach grass in the marshes. She noticed that a pale-green haze covered the scrub oak and heather that clung to the rolling moors. Spring was literally bursting out on Cape Cod.

            With a start, Agatha realized she hadn’t thought about her recurrent nightmare for the last hour. She had agreed to attend the auction today with Sandy in hopes that the outing would help her forget the horrible dreams. For two weeks, the nightmares had plagued her sleep and now had invaded her waking hours as well. But, she had told no one about them. She wouldn’t dare tell Sandy because she’d probably quote chapter and verse from one of her textbooks, promptly diagnose Agatha as paranoid or delusional, and pack her off to a clinic for evaluation.

            Agatha leaned her head on the back of the seat and closed her eyes to rest for a few minutes. As her body relaxed, the vivid images of the nightmare returned. She could plainly see the large hands of the German soldier reach for the child. Her body jerked to avoid falling asleep.

            Sandy hit the brakes and turned toward Agatha. “Are you okay?”

            Horns honked. Tires screeched.

            Agatha looked over at her daughter-in-law. “I’m fine…really.”

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 Copyright 2011, Jonna Turner - All Rights Reserved