”Das War Ich”

Anneliese Preis was especially nervous that day. She was going to sing a solo in the Oktoberfest celebration at the German Club. Fräulein Eva had chosen her to sing the farewell song, Eine kleine Abschiedsträne, to close the Kindergruppe’s recital. Fräulein Eva chose someone new for solos every performance, but this time was special, because in the last performance, Anneliese’s twin, Hannelore, had sung the solo. Everyone knew they were the best singers in the Kindergruppe. The question was, which of the two was the best?

“Hannelore singt wie ein Engel!” Herr Funkel had declared then, and every time they saw him after that. Everyone in the club agreed. Anneliese, determined to feel the tingle that she imagined such praise aroused, practiced ever so hard, and battling the acute anxiety which paralyzed her, sang at Oktoberfest. She knew she had sung even more angelically than Hannelore. The club members clapped and congratulated her.

Then, Herr Funkel, president of the Club, made his speech, the Jugendgruppe put on their skit, the Tanzgruppe showed off their three newest dances, and Heidi Metzger was crowned Miss Oktoberfest for the third time (not in a row, they were careful about that). Now everyone could relax and enjoy the schnitzel, sauerkraut, and tortes the Frauengruppe had been preparing all week. The Fiedler Brothers’ band set up and the evening took off with waltzes and polkas. Anneliese spent a splendid rest of the evening leaping around the dance floor with Hannelore and the other kids from the Kindergruppe.

But the next time the Preis family went to the club, all the members had the same thing to say: “Ah, Oktoberfest! Hannelore singt wie ein Engel!”

Anneliese’s mouth fell open. Everyone always raved about Hannelore as their eyes glided blindly over her identical twin. And identical they were, superficially anyway. Some people looked at her as if she had the affrontery of executing a bad imitation.

Although she knew one should never interrupt adults, especially to correct them, she couldn’t stop herself. “Nein!” her voice, carrying nine years of hurt, came out like a whine, “Das war ich!”

Now, with all eyes on her, she wondered if it really mattered who had sung. In a tiny voice, she repeated, hoping that by changing the language, it would sound less selfish, “That was me. I sang at Oktoberfest, not Hannelore. Das war ich!”

“It Was Me”

“Tammy, Mrs. Hurst is in the hospital. She broke her leg.”

“So? She’s not our teacher anymore.”

“It might be nice to visit her. You know. Take her flowers. Want to come?” Anneliese was embarrassed to go alone.

“Well, I’m going to a party near the hospital later, so okay.”

“Great! I’ll get the flowers and meet you there.”

“Tammy!” Mrs. Hurst cried as the two walked in. When Anneliese bent down to give her the bouquet, the teacher accepted it with barely a glance. “Oh, you shouldn’t have, Tammy. They are lovely! Look!” she called to the nurse, “My student, Tammy, from grade ten biology class. She brought me these flowers.”

“Oh, how thoughtful.” They cooed and smiled past Anneliese, who was feeling her usual invisible self. She hoped her friend would at least share the credit, but if Tammy sensed what was happening, she didn’t let on. Anneliese would have to say it herself. But how would that look?

“It was me, actually.” She peeped.

The two women turned to her.

“What was you?” asked the nurse in a suspicious tone.

Anneliese regretted having spoken. Why didn’t she just shrug it off, let them gush over Tammy? Two good deeds for the price of one. What difference did it make? But it did make a difference. She needed Mrs. Hurst to know that there would have been no visit by her darling Tammy, nor any flowers, if it hadn’t been for her, Anneliese! Was that selfish?

“No, nothing. It was, well, my idea. That’s all.”

The nurse and the teacher raised their eyebrows at each other.

“Well,” said Mrs. Hurst, “in that case, thank you to you, too, of course.”

“You should know better, though,” the nurse grumbled, and looked directly at Anneliese, “Flowers are full of germs, and see? You dribbled water on the floor. Let’s hope no one breaks their neck!”

“C’était Moi”

“Marie-Claude! Ça va? Look, Monique, ç’est Marie-Claude.” Philippe waved.

Marie-Claude turned and acknowledged them with a nod. “A bientot, Anneliese.”

Philippe and Monique turned to Anneliese with a look of awe. “You know Marie-Claude?”

They were seated on the floor in the corridor waiting for their French literature class to begin. While Hannelore had chosen the University of Toronto, nice and close to home, Anneliese had chosen Laval University in Quebec City. Nice and far.

“Well, yes…” Anneliese began.

“Oh, ç’est divine!” Philippe idolized what he considered strong women, and had never bothered much with Anneliese. Now, his full attention was focused on her. “The other day we were at her apartment…”

Monique broke in, “You should see it!”

“She knows so much about culture…”

“She’s got CDs from all over the world!”

“Like the Russian Red Army Chorus…” Philippe was getting excited.

“Hungarian Gypsy music!”

“And even two or three CDs of Inuit singers! Can you believe it? C’est vraiment cool, ça!”

Those were Anneliese’s CDs. Her tastes had always been considered odd at best, never cool.

“So, how do you know Marie-Claude?” Monique leaned closer.

“She’s my roommate.”

“Wow! You live in that fantastique apartment? Lucky you! With all her cool stuff!”

“Well, actually, it’s mine. My place.” Anneliese’s voice was bright with hope. They would see her in a new light now. “Marie-Claude is staying with me for the semester.”

Philippe’s face was a portrait of disappointment, “You mean those books and CDs…”

“Are mine! Ces choses sont á moi.” Anneliese grinned.

“And those prints…Hopper, Chagall, Picasso, Munch?” Monique watched in disbelief as Anneliese nodded, then added, challenge in her voice, “But not those cool beaded curtains and those woven Indian rugs?”

Anneliese saw in their faces that owning CDs of Hungarian gypsy music and the Red Army Chorus was only cool if you were already cool. They turned away from her and exchanged a significant look.

“Well, if it is your place,” Philippe winked at Monique, “You could keep it a bit cleaner!”

“Fui Yo!”

After university, Anneliese took her language degrees to Latin America. An orphanage in Honduras sought a teacher.

The year, full of intense new experiences, raced by, and she found herself in the great assembly held in June. The children recited poetry, sang and performed traditional dances. Diplomas were awarded for exceptional performance to both students and teachers.

Graziano, a scholarly-looking Italian on staff, took a seat next to Anneliese. Nothing had happened between them yet, but everyone sensed that something soon would. “I hear there is an award for the gardens.” He whispered.

Anneliese gasped. Her gardens! There had been an unsightly, neglected plot of land behind the school. They couldn’t afford gardeners to groom it, and the staff were already overworked. Anneliese had had an idea, but was afraid, as a new teacher, to bring it up at a meeting. Graziano pushed her. “You have to voice your ideas.”

“Why don’t the students who are learning about agriculture plant crops there? It is so much easier to learn things,” she argued, “if you are actually doing them, not just reading about them in books!”

The principal and other teachers reacted just as she had expected, “No es posible,” they said. It would be too expensive, too time-consuming, too much responsibility. Who would take charge of it? It had never been done before.

“Un momento!” It was Padre Silvano, one of the science teachers. “Me gusta la idea.” He went on to explain that if Anneliese were willing to take the project on as her own, there was nothing to lose, and quite possibly, the children would benefit.

Anneliese and Graziano grinned at each other.

Now, eight months later, they were grinning again.

“En reconocimiento por el gran proyecto “El Jardín de la Infancia”, damos este modesto diploma a…Padre Silvano.”

“Ma che?” Graziano gasped amid the clapping. She could feel his rage running through the fingers which had clasped themselves around hers. It’s okay, she wanted to tell him, less embarrassing.

But Graziano was already on his feet. “And Anneliese? The whole project was her idea, and she worked on it day and night for months!”

A patronizing chuckle ran through the hierarchy of the school, “Bueno, calmate, joven. Did Anneliese help?” The principal looked around at the shrugging board members, “Others helped, too. We can’t give awards to everyone!”

Padre Silvano got to his feet, “Graziano is right. I had help. As Christians, we should always help without expecting recognition, but if Anneliese feels she has been wronged, we must right that! I am a modest man. Un gran aplauso para Anneliese!” He motioned for her to stand and began clapping enthusiastically, with a wide smile that looked more at home on a soap opera star than on a priest.

She had won, but she hadn’t. Her cheeks flamed.

This time, she just repeated in her head, “Fui yo!”

“Sono Stato Io!”

“No hay mal que por bien no venga.” Padre Silvano flashed his toothy grin as he gave them his blessing.

“In English, we say, ‘every cloud has a silver lining.’” Anneliese offered.

After Graziano’s outburst, they knew neither he nor Anneliese would be welcome the following year. Besides, the events had accelerated a romance that had been wordlessly simmering since September. The priest himself suggested he perform the marriage ceremony before they leave.

Bastardo!” Graziano cursed, on their way to the airport. “He acts as if he had engineered this whole thing for our own good.”

“Always taking the credit for everything.” Anneliese squeezed her new husband’s arm. “But thanks to him, we are on our way home to Rome. Who knows how long it would have taken you to propose otherwise!”


“Benvenutti i signori marchesi.” The concierge of the palazzo in the Via Veneto bowed, but winked at Anneliese the moment Graziano’s back was turned.

“What did he call us?”

“I’ll explain later. Here, take this. It’s three flights.”

“Is the elevator broken? It’s one of those lovely wrought iron ones!”

“No. Yes. It’s only three flights. I’ll get the cases.”

The concierge followed them with exaggerated servility, “Prego, signor marchese…” he made a great show of producing a set of keys, “per la signora marchesa.” He bowed to Anneliese and made another show of unlocking the elevator and opening it wide.

Graziano hesitated, then nodded. “Grazie, Bitto.”

“You are a marquis? Royalty!” She perched on the tiny upholstered bench as they ascended.

“Nobility. Not royalty. And I hate it. I never use the title.”

Castles, palaces, and diamond-studded tiaras swirled around Anneliese’s imagination. But she soon learned that that is where they would stay.

At first, her mother-in-law’s apartment looked grand to her. Spacious for Europe, everything was made of marble, carved wood and wrought iron. Heavy drapes darkened the rooms, and statues of saints startled her around every corner. Soon, however, Anneliese discovered that the heating didn’t work, the kitchen hadn’t been renovated since World War II, and leaks, cracks, and crumbling plaster hid in the shadows.

“Old money,” Graziano joked, “really means no money.”

Well, Anneliese had never been money-minded. While she had been backpacking around the world, Hannelore had, after her reign as Miss Oktoberfest, married a boy from the German Club. They worked in an insurance company, had two cars, a house with a pool, and were expecting their second child.

Anneliese skipped around the somber rooms and danced down the echo-y halls with their authentic but threadbare Oriental rugs, frowned upon by ancestors captured in oils. She relished the sounds of creaking floors and dripping taps and inhaled the scent of dusty books and musty linen. Nothing Hannelore had in her boring life could ever be as exciting as this!

Graziano grinned at her girlish delight.

Besides some rent which dribbled in from a dilapidated farm, and la signora marchesa’s pension, the family had no income. Anneliese would have to tutor children after school to help with expenses, which included a loyal servant who attended to her mother-in-law. But Anneliese was never to use her married name.

“I could apply for a job in a private school.”

“It would disgrace my mother if anyone discovered her son or daughter-in-law worked.”

“You worked in Honduras!”

“That was different. It was charity.”

“Don’t any royals, I mean nobles, work?”

“Not many. But it’s not that. My father lost most of the family money through bad investments and…bad judgement. I don’t care what people think, but for Mamma, it is a matter of dignity.”

So, while Anneliese peddled her languages from home to home, Graziano kept his mother company. The attentive son took her to the doctor, shopping, or to have coffee with other elderly ladies. Everyone was told that Anneliese was studying.

It was not an unhappy life. She enjoyed her work, and on weekends, she and Graziano visited museums and attended free concerts. Just wandering around the fascinating city was enough for her. They didn’t have a mortgage like other young couples, and between Anneliese’s measly income and her knack for economizing, she made the euros stretch. Slowly, the heating and plumbing got fixed, and the ceilings and walls re-plastered and painted. They paid off their debts in the building and were allowed to use the elevator again. Once, as a sort of belated honeymoon, she even scraped together enough money for a weekend in Bari for their third anniversary.

“Oh!” commented a neighbor to Anneliese when she saw their suitcases, “how lucky you are to be married to a marchese who takes you on holidays!”

Graziano smiled.

Similar comments reached her from across the ocean. Anneliese had, in her initial excitement, indiscreetly confided in her sister. Now, uncles, aunts, and cousins messaged joking comments:

“Won’t you invite us to his villa on the Riviera?”

”Why don’t you come home more often? Tell your royal husband to bring you in his private jet!”

“When Mamma goes,” Graziano bowed in reverence, “things will change, you know. We can sell the farm, and I might be able to use some of my contacts to get a job somewhere.” But Mamma, a robust 70-year-old, had no plans of going.

La signora was a fixture at church and they were expected to attend with her. Anneliese, longing to sing again and to have a hobby and friends of her own, joined the choir. It wasn’t long, however, before she heard some sniggering just out of earshot about la marchesa americana.

“It’s so hard to make ends meet, but you wouldn’t know about that, married to a marchese. Some of us have to work for a living!”

When they met up with Graziano’s friends, she passed him her freshly-earned euros under the table so he could treat everyone. “It is expected of me. You understand.”

She did understand, and she wished she could do much more to uphold appearances. But there was that old familiar twitch. Selfishness? She wanted to build him up quickly and so hurry up the day when she could build herself up and take credit for her own efforts. But that day was like a boat carried off by the tide, and it wore away at her soul when his friends turned to her and exclaimed, “Grande, Graziano. Che generoso!”

She screamed at them silently, behind her wife-of-the-marquis smile.

“Sono stato io!”


At 36, Anneliese’s calmly happy life darkened. Exhaustion set in, then pain, and with it, nostalgia. She asked the choir director to include Eine kleine Abschiedsträne in their repertoire. It was the farewell she had sung at Oktoberfest all those years ago.

That Was Anneliese

It was ovarian cancer. Quick. It killed her in a few months.

Graziano took to taking long, lonely walks through the streets that Anneliese had loved so much. One rainy afternoon, about a year after her death, a choir member ran into him in the street. “Oh, I remember you from Elsa’s funeral.”

“No. It was Anneliese’s funeral.”

Davvero? I could have sworn it was Elsa, the Austrian woman. She died of cancer. We sang a German farewell song for her. Che triste.

He shrugged and continued walking all the way to the fountain Anneliese had been so fond of in the Piazza Navona. It was raining harder now and the sound, combined with the rush of fountain water, drowned out his voice as he shouted, “I won’t forget you! E stata Anneliese!”

Was it Anneliese?

Five years later, after his mamma died, Graziano was showing his new wife, Barbara, around the old apartment.

“Che bella casa.” She turned her head this way and that.

“Well, it wasn’t always like this,” he chuckled, “Not long ago it was literally falling down on our heads. I worked really hard to fix it up. I had the heating and plumbing repaired. Then I had it all re-plastered and painted.” He didn’t mention the debts and the embarrassing elevator situation.

“Good for you! You must have sacrificed a lot. Did Anneliese live here then?”

“Anneliese…” Those pleasant memories were becoming wispier. He struggled to picture her face, and there were moments when he wondered if she hadn’t been just a dream. “I think…yes, for a while.” Or was it before?

Fu Anneliese?” she picked up a photograph from the dresser.

He reached for it, squinted, squinted a bit harder.

Was it Anneliese?