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Air Conditioning - 1954

Anton brought it home from his office, a cumbersome unit bartered to the doctor for lack of funds. He drops it off midday, with no explanation of purpose.

"What is it?" Gretchen asked, skeptically eying the box-like structured.

Hans reads the English writing on the unit - it has no manual. "I have heard of these," he says. "A room cooler."

"What? What need have we of this? Anton shouldn't let patients trade."

Hans sets it in the window. Turns it on.

As the hot Argentinian summer fades into a cool breeze, Gretchen allows they might keep it a while.
1. The Second World War.
2. Marie-Pierre.
3. Metody.
4. My age.
5. American Politics.

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Never Have I Ever

"What is wrong with Hans?" Anton asked his wife, frustrated again as another attempt at socialization with his brother-in-law went south.

"The war," Gretchen answered vaguely, shaking her head. "You know how this is..."

"I was in the war too! I am fine."

"You were a doctor, darling - and Hans, you know..."

Anton sighed and rubbed his forehead. "I know. I just - I try, but the fellow is so hard to communicate with. The children have some success at least, but I..."

"Keep trying," Gretchen urged. "I am sure, somewhere deep down, he appreciates the effort."

And so it was that Anton kept inviting his reticent, stoic brother in law to a variety of social events - until finally one weekend he agreed to poker and beer with the boys. Anton's social circle of friends consisted primarily of other German nationals in Buenos Aires, though there was a boisterous and friendly local who worked with him at the hospital. Most of the Germans had been in the regular army during the war - country boys like Anton, who had less of a belief in the rightness of their cause than a love of all things fighting.

"My brother-in-law is joining us this evening," Anton said. He'd spoken of Hans before - and a hush came over the group. An SS man - from an aristocratic background at that - they weren't sure how to act.

"Good evening," Hans said, taking his place at the table, his back ramrod stiff.

The poker game was unusually subdued, and Anton began to wonder if this had been a good idea. Only one thing could save this evening. "Let's break out the beer," he suggested. Relieved smiles, and nods of approval.

After three or four beers, everyone was feeling better.

"Let us play drinking game!" Carlo suggested, in his halting German. He explained the rules for Never Have I Ever to the group - which seemed best played with shots. Anton sighed, and somewhat reluctantly brought out a couple bottles of his favorite schnapps. When everyone had a drink in front of them, the questions began. As the game went on, they increased in difficulty.

Early on: "Never have I ever passed gas in public..." , to which everyone but Erhard drank - and Anton knew for a fact that he was lying. Hans looked somewhat unamused, but drained his glass along with the others.

Mid-game: "Never have I ever disobeyed an order..." , to which everyone but Anton drank. He gave a surprised look at Hans, but his brother-in-law said nothing as he slammed the shot down.

By the end of the schnapps, everyone was fairly sloshed. The turn had come around to Anton, and a question came to mind- something he had wondered a long while. "Never have I ever killed an innocent man," he said, his voice slightly slurred by the drink.

Anton did not pick up a glass. None of his friends picked up a glass. Everyone's eyes fell on Hans, who slowly raised his - as if in toast. He downed the drink, eyes cold, expression never changing - then stood up from the table and walked away - his posture as perfect and stiff as it had been the moment he sat down. A chill ran up Anton's spine.

He never asked his brother-in-law to play poker, or drinking games again.



Hans Ernst Varner

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