* * *Marta Braun survived an impoverished childhood in Berlin, the Russian invasion of Germany during World War II, the betrayal of her husband, and the back-breaking drudgery of two hourly jobs to give her only son the American dream. As I looked across the table at her, I could see the cost and the weariness in her face. She looked toward the window, her eyes bleary with a hard history I could barely imagine. “My son only lives ten miles from here, but he never comes to visit. He can’t even pick up the phone. I gave my life for him.” She waves off my dishonest protest. “He is ashamed of me because I am old and worn out. His wife thinks I’m a peasant. His children think I’m a troll. So many times in my life I should have died but didn’t and now I wish I had.”
“Marta, for godsakes. Snap out of it and make some changes in your life.”
She folded her hands in her lap. “I need you to sell my house for me.”
“Well, of course, that’s what I do for a living, but I thought you said this was your dream house.”
“Not any more. Bad dream. Don’t put any For Sale signs out front. I don’t want anyone to know.”
I did as Marta asked. The house sold quickly and she told me she was going to take a vacation after she finished packing. Where, she wouldn’t say. She would send me a postcard from this mysterious getaway if I kept her secret. I hoped it would revive her spirits.
A month after her departure, her son showed up in my office. He was elegantly dressed in a dark blue suit and silk tie. He said he remembered I was a friend of his mother as he whipped his ringing cell phone out of his pocket. He was concerned that she didn’t answer her door and that her phone had been disconnected. I could only tell him that she sold her house and I hadn’t heard from her since. She wanted a change, I explained.
We stared at each other in stunned silence.
Days later, I received a cheery postcard from Belize. Marta had bought a house in an expat community. She would not be coming back home, but I was invited to visit whenever I liked, provided I kept her secret.
Mum’s the word.