by Scott Rhoades
Franz rose slowly to answer the knock on his apartment door. The morning cold had taken its toll on his back and knees.
"Herr Mitterfeld, Herr Mitterfeld! Are you there?"
"Moment! I'm coming already. Jessasmaria. All of Vienna can hear you shouting." He slid open the peep hole on his door and looked out. The porter stood in the hall, flushed with worry.
"It's Frau Schmidt, Herr Mitterfeld, I've come to--"
"Frau Schmidt? That cannot be. She's an old woman. I see the face of a young girl, a child of forty."
"Herr Mitterfeld, are you well? You’re late going to the market."
"Of course I’m well." He was tired. Dreams had troubled his sleep. When he awoke, his thoughts had turned instantly to Elise and how she used to stroke his forehead to calm him when he dreamed.
He opened the door. "I was waiting for you. Won't you come in? I am a busy man, but for you I can make time."
She blushed and held up a glove. "I found this while I was sweeping the entry this morning. I thought it might be yours." She stretched her neck to survey the room behind him.
Franz recognized the glove. She had used it as an excuse before when he had not gone downstairs at his usual nine o'clock. "No, it’s not mine. That's a woman's glove, Frau Schmidt. I'm afraid it would not fit three of my fingers. But if it would please you, then I shall take it from you and wear it always."
She looked away. "So it is not yours?"
"Very well. If you hear that somebody has lost one, you will tell them I have it?"
"Thank you. Auf Wiederschauen, Herr Mitterfeld."
"What? You're not going to leave? But you just now arrived. I thought that we could..." Franz raised his eyebrows and motioned toward the back of his apartment with a twitch of his head.
"You are an evil man, Herr Mitterfeld. You should be ashamed. Good day!" She turned and stormed away.
Franz laughed softly. He whistled a waltz as he finished his morning preparations. His knees no longer ached so badly, and there was a spring in his step. On his way out, he smiled and tipped his hat to Frau Schmidt, who was sweeping the sidewalk in front of the house door. She blushed and turned, sweeping frantically with her back to him.
"Thank you for the nice view."
Frau Schmidt slapped the air. “Old fool.” She quickly leaned her backside against the wall.
Franz walked through the door and into the morning. It was a pleasant day for a walk.
The air smelled fresh and clean like it always did following a storm and the breeze was not cold enough to affect his knees much.
He turned right on Kanalgasse and spotted Alois struggling up the steps. He thought about the wedding of Alois's sister. He first danced with Elise there, a waltz that had lasted fifteen years.
With the help of a cane that Franz had made, Alois walked bent at the waist, his hunched back parallel to the ground. He twisted his neck to the left so he could see.
Franz tipped his hat. "Grüss Gott, Loisl. Nice day, isn’t it?"
"The rain has stopped. Are you going to the market?"
"Yes, where else?" Alois craned his neck so his gaze could meet Franz's. "Not to meet some young lover. It doesn't work like it once did, eh?" He extended his index finger, then slowly curled it. "So, how are you today?"
"The day I wake without pain, I'll know I'm dead. The thunderstorm really stiffened my knees yesterday, and I didn't sleep well, but I feel better this morning."
Alois lifted the tip of his cane off the ground and pointed it vaguely skyward. "Damned rain. Makes it impossible to do one's shopping."
"You'd think the Herrgott would give us nothing but sunshine for our last years, eh Loisl?"
"The sun will never shine on Vienna like in the old days." Alois held on to the stair rail as he lifted his cane hand to scratch his nose. "They try to make the city look like a happy place with all their new buildings and celebrations, but it will never be the same."
"What can you do? I see them tearing down the Empire with these new agreements with Hungary, the same way they demolished the walls of the city."
"And the young people today, au weh! How they carry on. They have no morals."
"Yes, I know, Loisl. Sometimes I thank God I won't be alive to see what these children become. It was so much better when we were young enough to carry on without morals. But come, let's not talk of this. The sun is out, at least for a little while. I say enjoy the spring. Who knows if we'll have another one?"
"Always the optimist. I have some years left in these crooked old bones, Franzl. I'd better get home. At this rate, I won't be there when Waltraud brings her basket of berries."
Franz helped him up the steps leading to Luftbadgasse. "That's a good goddaughter you gave me. You'd better go then. You wouldn't want to miss her fresh berries. And I have my shopping."
"Don't flirt too much with the woman selling beans, Franzl. She's mine. I saw desire in her eye when she looked at me this morning." Alois lifted a crooked thumb to his chest. "A man can always tell. She practically gave me these beans, she charged so little."
"Ha! But she'll want me more when she sees my jolly gait." He stiffened his index finger and held it erect. "Grüss Gott, Loisl."
Franz continued on his way, tipping his hat to the people he passed as he walked along Magdalenen Strasse, next to the Wien river. Hammers pounded away on the large archway being constructed over the river channel. The river would soon disappear from view, like so much of the Old Vienna he had loved.
-To be continued on April 23-