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All There Is

A novel by Mert Guswiler

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© 1997 - all rights reserved


It was 1936 and Hitler was assuring the world that Germany only wanted the return of her former colonies in which lived true Germans who only wanted the same thing.

"All he wants is everything," the gray-haired matron muttered in anger as she jabbed her darning needle through a heavy black stocking. She then shook both at the radio in the corner of the room.

"That's all I want, too," gasped the large-eyed, dark-haired woman in the hospital bed beside which the matron sat.

"My dear, you have everything," the matron replied as she put the darning aside and leaned over to wipe the perspiration from the other woman's brow. "And soon you will have this lovely baby."

"Damn the baby," gasped the woman. "That was one thing I never wanted."

It was true. Angelina Prentiss-Gruner, popular concert pianist at home and abroad at the tender age of fourteen, a feat she regarded as merely her due and the icing on the cake of beauty. Now at the age of thirty-three, with her fortune dwindled and little social privilege, she did not want any babies. She had always had everything, never wanted nor waited long for anything she did not have, and had never been refused anything she had ever wanted until now. And it wasn't only now, right now, she agonized silently, with this dreadful baby almost here, that the verdict on the last sixteen years was in. She would never have what she wanted most: The baby's father.

Charles England, at forty-two years old, was already married and was going to stay married to that timorous, non-threatening creature called Marietta, the daughter of the president of one of the nation's largest railroads. Charles told Angelina often enough that "the shadow," as Angelina secretly called Marietta, had given him the life he had worked so hard to achieve. He had not slaved for nothing as a railroad fireman to get the added needed money to supplement his scholarship to Harvard.

It wasn't just Marietta's money that kept Charles in the marriage, Angelina had come to realize. It was the whole idea of being married to Marietta, the prestige attendant on being the son-in-law, protege and eventual heir of Marietta's father, a fortune-building sonless man taken with, and so ready to be taken by, the young, bright, ambitious boy who reflected the growing and ambitious nation in which all things were possible.

Angelina's teeth drew blood from her lower lip and she grunted as pain washed over her.

"Here's the doctor now, dear," said the matron as she relinquished her chair to the stocky little man in white.

"Turn that thing off," he ordered the matron who now stood by the radio. "Let's go, Angelina, shall we?"

She could feel the ride to surgery pinpricked by the fuzzy-looking overhead corridor lights.

"Oh Charles, Charles," she screamed silently. "This is your son, the only one you'll ever have. Oh god Charles ... I need you ..."

Waves of Mozart's music surrounded her inner vision of Charles as she had first seen him when she was seventeen and he twenty-five. She had returned to the concert hall after the party that followed the recital. She came to pick up the diamond clasp on her dressing table that she had forgotten to pin on as she rushed to leave for the party. The chauffeur waited for her at the side entrance. When she returned, the pin safely in her small evening purse, the chauffeur was talking to the most striking man Angelina had ever seen. A man visiting town on some business for the railroad, she later was to find out. A man who loved music, a man who loved life, a man who, like herself but for different reasons, placed himself first at the top of the list ... and there was no second.

That was the beginning of the sixteen years, a beginning whose end was in this baby's soon-to-be beginning. Angelina had not really wanted marriage, a "common enough state," she often said. She only wanted Charles and all those things that were now over. The dozen American Beauty roses delivered every single Saturday, the glittering resorts of America and the silent hideaways in Europe wherever the concerts took her. Where Charles so often somehow managed to come to her, be with her, the constant refrain of that song they both felt was their own - "you'll never know just how much I miss you," - these were the things and all of them were now over.

"My last performance," Angelina giggled as the ether took effect, the soft, gray spiraling momentarily halted by a blazing thought: Charles will want his son ...

From the darkness of buried pain, into the darkness of one-half hour after midnight, the baby - a girl - was born.

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