“The Steamer Trunk” by C.R. Hodges
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Welcome page for more information about us. In this week’s story, a young stowaway falls in love on his way to America.
We present our Feature Story: “The Steamer Trunk” by C.R. Hodges.
I crawl out of the steamer trunk through the concealed flap that Großvater fashioned on his workbench. The gramophone is playing in the lounge above, so it must be morning. If we’re on schedule, and if I’ve counted the days properly since we departed from Frankfurt, then tonight we’ll reach America.
In the absolute darkness of the luggage compartment, I sit on the wooden trunk, swinging my legs, waiting for her. I pass the time by practicing the English phrases Großmutter taught me.
“I am called Izaak,” I say to the void. The words sound queer. Her name is Adele. She spotted me the first evening as I peeked out into the passageway.
“I am with Onkel Eduard to live.” No, that is wrong twice over. “I’m to live with my uncle Ed.” Better. I wish she’d practice English with me, but I’m embarrassed to ask. She wore a taffeta dress that night, as she headed for the dining salon. She has secretly visited me every day since.
“I’m an orphan.” The last word is alien and new, the meaning familiar and cruel. My parents were dragged out of the root cellar in which we were hiding and shot, my mother for being a Jew, my father for not turning her in. I haven’t told Adele about my parents; she hasn’t told her parents about me.
Two taps at the door, one short, one long: A, for Adele.
I’m in love.
She’s late, or so I reckon, by at least three quarters of an hour, but I’m not complaining—she’s my angel. The crew keeps the door locked, but there’s a knob on the inside, just as Großvater told me there would be. He was an engineer once, before. I open the door quickly, keeping to the deep shadows.
My favorite part of each day on board is the instant she enters, when I can briefly see her. Once the door closes, the compartment, deep in the airship’s keel, is as dark as the lining of a coffin.
Today Adele wears a lavender dress, with lace on the sleeves and a matching ribbon in her straight blond hair. The daughter of a banker, she’s fourteen, two years older than I.
“Schnell,” I hiss, as I spot an officer in his crisp white uniform walking down the narrow corridor, inspecting his logbook. I close the door behind her soundlessly, or nearly so.
“Guten Morgen, Izaak. How was your sleep?” she asks, in the dark. Adele always asks this; she’s too polite by half.
“Good morning to you. I slept fine,” I say, lying, but I like that she asks. The trunk is too short for me to stretch out, and the straw is soiled.
“We shall land today. Is that not grand?” Adele speaks High German like a countess, elegant and crisp.
“What will you do first in America?” My German is low and coarse.
“Visit New York City. Mother says we shall stay with my uncle Hermann on Fifth Avenue, with a view of the park and the Empire State Building. Where shall you stay?” She smells of lilac and soap; I haven’t bathed in a month.
“With my uncle. In Newark.”
“Fabulous. Newark is quite near New York. Does he own a fine house?”
“Ach ja, with a white fence and flowers in the garden.” Another lie. My uncle rents a room above a general store. But one day I will live in such a house. With Adele.
“He will meet you at Lakehurst, yes?”
“Onkel Eduard has many automobiles. I am sure he will send one.” One quarter true. He doesn’t know I’m coming, but he does have cars, at least to work on. He’s a mechanic’s helper.
Her hand brushes my shoulder, them her fingers glide down my forearm. She places a round object, smooth and waxed, in my open palm. The apple crunches loudly as I bite into it. She giggles in the dark.
“Will I see you again?” she asks, sincere.
After we are married, every day, I think. “You haven’t seen me yet,” I say.
“If you stand by the door just when I leave, I shall be able see you.” Her words flow like nectar, and I know that she must be smiling in the dark.
“Sächlich,” I say, nervous now, not at all certain it will be okay. My pale face last felt the sun a year ago, and my clothes are tattered.
She says nothing. Perhaps her smile has disappeared.
Another moment passes, and yet she’s still quiet. Perhaps she’s reconsidering. “How do you know that I am not a hideous ogre?” I ask, to break awkward silence.
Adele laughs, and I join in, much relieved. “A greasy Jewish ogre with yellow fangs,” she says, laughing again.
The klaxon blares just as my apple hits the decking. The captain’s voice follows, deep and amplified: “The Hindenburg will land at half past seven. Please prepare for arrival.”
She hastily departs. I curl up like a cat in the trunk, tears soaking the straw until I have no more to cry. I know I shouldn’t do so, but I grope in the inky blackness for Großvater’s Siddur and Großmutter’s candle to read the prayers by.
C.R. Hodges lives in Colorado with his wife, three daughters, a dog and a turtle. His fiction has been published in EscapePod, The First Line, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Kazka Press and he was a first place contest winner in “On the Premises.” One of his short stories, “Three-Quarters Martin,” was recently selected as a Million Writers Award Notable Story of 2011. When he is not writing, he runs a product development company, coaches youth softball and plays the tuba poorly. His online haunts include his website and Facebook.
Tags: c.r. hodges, chuck hodges, metro fiction, short stories