December 20th

For the first time in Manfred and Michael’s house, there was a kind of peace and quiet that felt like it was going to last and not be just a short relief before the next storm. There was toast for breakfast and smiles from their mother. When they left for school, she hugged them both extra tight. Not a hug that was really an apology, but one that said that everything was all going to be all right.

“You know, I don’t care about presents anymore,” Michael told his big brother when they were walking to school.
“Why’s that?” Manfred asked.
“I think we already got the best present of them all.”

Manfred nodded, and put an arm around his younger brother.
After school their mother was surprised to see them home so quickly, she didn’t even have lunch ready. The two boys usually went wandering off on their way home, but not today. Now they were eager to come home to their mother, who looked happier and younger than they had ever seen her.

There was Wiener Schnitzel for lunch, the boys’ favourite – as well as every other Austrian child’s. For dessert, their mother had made Kaiserschmarrn; it felt to them as if Christmas had come a few days early this year and they grinned from ear to ear as they were digging into their meal.

“You are still grounded, you know,” she reminded her sons, who were still beaming at her as they nodded dutifully.

She wondered if she had ever seen her sons so relaxed and enthusiastic. The guilt inside was eating her up, but she had had long talks with Meli who had promised to organise some help and allow her to finally get out of this relationship. All she could do now was love her boys and make sure they had a great Christmas. Thanks to the pastor, they would even get some presents.

If the day couldn’t get even stranger, the boys did the little homework they still had on the kitchen table, quickly and without being told, before going on to play in the living room. Usually, they would retreat into their bedroom and stay there until dinnertime. The two boys and their mother had a great time playing together all afternoon. They all knew that things would be much better in the future.

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