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
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
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
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
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.