A journal of narrative writing.
At Brokmeyer’s House
by Claude Clayton Smith

Taylor descended to the back yard, a small square of grass set off by tall hedges. Brokmeyer had put out another chair, green canvas and sturdy varnished wood. “You have slept well?”

“I’ll say.”

“Wery good.”

“What a day!”

“It is wery hot for July. We must take the sun when we can.” Brokmeyer poured

himself a scotch. Except for the missing v, his English—spoken with a slight British accent—was more than competent.

“I have been to town already.”

“What for?”

“My parents’ business. Cigarette machines. Each day I must put in more cigarettes. It takes one hour.”

“Is it a hassle living at home?”

“A hassle?”

“Is it difficult—a problem?”

“No—not a hassle. All my friends live at home. After the war there were not so many houses. My grandparents lived here. Now my parents and me. I do what I want.”

Taylor took a swig from the wine bottle. He’d neglected to bring a glass. He took a bit of cheese and a bite of an apple. “You play chess?”

“Of course.”

“I sponsor the chess club at the high school. They stick new teachers with stuff like that.”

“Yes. You wrote about it. We must play.”

“I’m not very good—unless I have time to think.”

Brokmeyer took a piece of bread. “Take what time you need.”

* * *

The sun was setting when they got up to go in. Taylor had finished the bottle of wine and, more than a little drunk, made a foolish move that cost him the game.

“We can get cleaned up now,” Brokmeyer announced. “Then I will show you the Studiker.”

Taylor laughed. “Wery good. Just let me change my shirt.”

Brokmeyer excused himself, emerging moments later from the master bedroom upstairs in baggy khakis and, despite the heat, a dark turtleneck. They took his VW into town.

The Studiker—a student bar near the university—was dark and subterranean. Rock music pulsed from a futuristic-looking jukebox. The place was crowded, even in the middle of the week. Taylor couldn’t remember what day it was, and the fact that it didn’t matter made him feel good. He slid into a booth opposite Brokmeyer.

“This is where I met Francine.”


“She lives in Brussels. Her office has business in Bielefeld.”

“Does she speak German?”

“Wery little.”

“How do you communicate?”

Brokmeyer pointed at the small dance floor where a dozen couples were moving slowly to an old American ballad.

Taylor nodded. “I guess some things don’t have to be said.”

“Francine lives with her mother but wants to leave. Her mother thinks she is coming this week for business, but it is the start of her holidays.”

“What’s she like?”

“You will see.”

“And German girls?”

“Too intelligent–like German men.”

Taylor waited for Brokmeyer to smile, but his face remained serious.

* * *

In the morning the sun returned, mocking the “continental weather” Taylor had

experienced in Paris. In Paris it had rained daily. In Bielefeld it was hard to find a cloud.

After the cigarette machines, Brokmeyer showed Taylor a local castle that had fortified Bielefeld during the Middle Ages. It was so unlike the castles in England or the chateaus he’s seen in France, its boxy design less ornate, more practical.

Brokmeyer loved the castle. He explained the insignias on the flags along the parapet, recounting particulars of a famous siege in which the Germans had withstood the French. Later, in the cafeteria, he treated Taylor to bratwurst. On the wall above their table was a poster Taylor had seen at the Studiker, something to do with Picasso. He tried to call it to Brokmeyer’s attention but was interrupted by a discourse on bratwurst. Then Brokmeyer ordered scotch and beer, and they drank the afternoon away, leaving in time

to get to the local stadium for a football match between Bielefeld and a team from Italy. The German offense was impressive, advancing the ball with methodical, deliberate passes. The stingy defense held the flustered Italians scoreless, and Bielefeld won easily, by four goals.

At the Studiker again, Brokemeyer explained at length the finer points of German football. He was proud of the Bielefeld team, proud that Germany had won three World Cups.

“We call it soccer,” Taylor said, “And someday the American men will win the World Cup, just like our women.”

Brokmeyer refilled Taylor’s beer mug from the huge pitcher, then sipped his own scotch. “Not so, friend Taylor. Not so.”

“Just you wait, Ricardo.”

Brokmeyer grinned. “Not a hassle.”

* * *

On Thursday afternoon Brokmeyer went alone to fill the cigarette machines. Taylor had drunk too much at lunch. It was another sky-blue day, and with the food and warm wine in his stomach, he had fallen asleep on a lawn chair in the garden.

When he woke, Brokmeyer was sitting beside him, setting up the chessboard. “You have mail,” he said.