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The First Party by Karin Michaelis

Translated By Ann And Peter Thornton

Not to spill anything down one's dress. Not to upset anything. To blow one's nose. To say "Thank you for inviting me." Not to eat more than two cakes—and perhaps a bun. Not to get above oneself. Not to shout...

Trold nodded to all this, skipping with impatience while her mother made a final inspection of her ears and tied the white muslin pinafore over her starched, embroidered dress.

Hand in hand with Hans, she passed the Court House and the Gaol. She hoped the prisoners wouldn't guess she was going to a party while they were locked away in there on nothing but bread and water. God ought to send down an angel to sing to them a little. Luckily the sun was shining through the prison bars. Yes, she was definitely going to marry a prisoner—or perhaps a gaoler, because then one might manage, some dark night, to set them all free.

Hand in hand with Hans, she went up a street she didn't know; there she met three cows and Sennel, the errand boy. One of the cows had a bad eye, but Hans kept tight hold of her when she wanted to cross over and tell the boy that she was going to a party, and that boracic lotion was good for the eyes. Hans turned another corner; another unknown street. Here there were no buildings, just one long red house with eleven windows in a row and a long wooden fence on either side. The whole street smelt of beer-porridge with cream. It made one think of Saturdays and horse-fairs. "Do you think we're going to get beer- porridge?" "Shut up, silly," said Hans, "it's a brewery, stupid." But how was one be expected to know that?

Inside stood a very grand lady wearing a white cap and white lace apron. She helped one off with one's coat. One curtsied, said, "Thank you very much for inviting me," and "Mummy and Daddy sent their regards," and the lady laughed; it was very embarrassing. Then one was shown into a room with green silk on the chairs—like looking through a piece of green glass—and then into another room with velvet like convolvulus. One scarcely dared breathe, it was so magnificent. A great mass of glass hung down from the ceiling above a table with a blue cloth and silver centre-piece. Trold tried to remember it all so she could tell her mother when she got home. Lots of children were running about, far too many to count, all in white dresses and without pinafores. At last one was taken into a room with white walls, and there was a table loaded with so many cakes, one thought one must be dreaming. A beautiful lady came up to them and said, "Hallo, little Hans. So this is your sister. What pretty hair you've got. What is your name? I'm Magna's mother." Trold was too frightened to answer; the lady's voice was like winding a velvet ribbon round one's finger.

All the children sat down round the table, drank chocolate with whipped cream, and ate cream-cakes with jam. Trold wasn't frightened at all, at least not till she had finished the second cake and started on a rusk that made such a noise inside her mouth that she wanted to crawl under the table, but she couldn't just leave it. Two boys talked continuously to Hans. One had red hair and a nose that had been stuck on all wrong. He had spilt a lot of food on his clothes. "You are a sight, Fjolle" said the beautiful lady, "Fjolle, pull up your stockings".

A little girl jumped up on a chair: "Now do hurry up so we can go out and play." "Sit down Magna, we must wipe your faces first." In came the lady who had been in the hall, and another lady wearing the same white cap and apron. One of them carried a bowl of water and a huge sponge and the other a large bath towel. They wiped one's face with the sponge; one put one's hands in the big bowl and was dried in the towel. Trold couldn't help laughing, it was like being a baby all over again.

Then another new room, with wicker chairs like Mother's shopping basket, but with coloured cushions, and a birdcage full of green, red and yellow birds. At one side of the room was a door out to the garden and all the children rushed out in a bunch. At first Trold kept very carefully to the centre of the paths as she was rather frightened of hurting the lovely flowers. But then along came Magna—"I say let's, play 'Pirates'. I'm a pirate; what are you?" Trold longed to take off her black velvet ribbon with the amber heart and say, "Would you like it?" But before she could begin to undo it, Magna had run off.

Everything was in a whirl around her and inside her...

There was a little hill one could roll down and a pole with lots of ropes one could hang on to and be whirled round, seven at a time... And a see-saw and two swings. One was allowed to run or walk just as one liked, even through the flower-beds. One of the trees was so big that under it there was room for five red tables, thirteen white chairs and a hammock with three red cushions. One was allowed to pick fruit from all the trees and shake down the apples, and pick roses and unripe plums and turn somersaults. One could do exactly what one liked. Trold didn't enjoy playing 'Pirates'. Just think if there were real pirates about. But Grandmother's Steps she could play every day and never tire of.

Magna asked, "Shall we see-saw?" Trold didn't know how. Magna showed her:—"Now hold on!" She went up and up, and Magna went right down to the ground, now Magna flew up and she came down with a bump. She held her breath. She had a funny feeling deep, deep down inside. A lovely, peculiar feeling, quite different from any other—better than ice- cream, better than looking through yellow glass. She longed to laugh or scream but could only hang on tight and try it over and over again.

Afterwards she was quite silent; perhaps that was what it was like to be taken up to Heaven in a chariot of fire.

Two men went round the garden hanging up things called 'Chinese lanterns'. Magna had torn a great hole in her dress—"Who cares?" "Is your father never ill?" Magna laughed, "Ill? Why should he be ill?" Trold felt very silly. Perhaps Magna's mother always had enough money and no bills. Oh, what a wonderful time she was having. She never once thought of the prisoners, or of the earthworms Hans used as bait when he went fishing, or of the louse Caroline had drowned in the basin that morning, or of the poor stockings that couldn't darn themselves.

A bell rang. That must mean supper. Trold guessed it wouldn't be porridge—perhaps sandwiches with cheese and sausage; and then it turned out to be mock turtle stew! What would Mummy say? If only she could have saved half her helping; it felt all wrong to be eating all these lovely things, and not sharing them with Mummy and Caroline and Sanko and the babies. But the almond pudding she just left—even though it was what she loved most of all—because she suddenly remembered the prisoners who only had bread and water, and she nearly burst into tears.

Later, they all joined hands and rushed, in a long chain, through all the rooms—even more rooms than before; up some stairs through bedrooms beautiful enough for princesses or fairies; then downstairs again and out into the garden. Trold tore herself free and flung her arms round a tree-trunk. Oh, how lovely it all was—how wonderful. By now the trees were quite black, the sky was gone, but round about hung the coloured lanterns, like flowers. She would have liked to walk round and kiss each one.

Walking home with Hans through the dark streets she suddenly burst into tears. "What's wrong with you now, silly?" said Hans. He said it quite kindly. "I've got such a tummy-ache" she lied. She couldn't tell Hans that, in her heart of hearts, she regretted her vow to marry a gaoler because there surely would never be a party in a prison; no Chinese lanterns in the trees or anything.

At home she told her Mother and Caroline everything, right from the lady in the hall and all the beautiful rooms down to the Chinese lanterns in the garden. There was only one bit she left out—she didn't really know why. Only when she had said her prayers and Mummy had tucked her in did she whisper, "Mummy". "Yes Trold, what is it?" "Mummy, there was a see-saw...A SEE-SAW." "Was there? What fun that must have been; but now you must go to sleep." Trold shut her eyes. If only God would come and carry her off in a chariot of fire. Perhaps if she married a really rich man she could have a see-saw of her own. Then she would see-saw all day, up and down, up and down forever; and round about in the trees there would be Chinese lanterns—always... Trold was asleep.

 
 
 

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