Originally written on December 5, 2016, here I was far too concerned with laying the foundation for two themes that run through Verity, and the writing suffers greatly from my focus on plot mechanics over character. The first theme is “read in my eyes all that which I cannot say to you,” which on the one hand refers to the things that people do not say in words but which are betrayed by their nearly imperceptible physiological reactions. On the other hand it also means the things that words simply cannot express and must instead be communicated in another way, metaphorically through the eyes. The second theme was to be Mildred’s renaming by Ada, which is obviously about her transformation into a different person. That got cut, though, possibly to be relocated to another scene if I get around to writing it.
Mildred’s misunderstanding is actually my own years-long misunderstanding about a quote that resonated deeply with me in college, but I gave it to her because she is a version of me. Certainly it stretches the imagination to uncomfortable lengths to assume that both women could have not only studied German but also read and remembered Lessing’s Minna von Barnhelm, and I should probably just find another way of introducing the quote.
A Misremembered Quote
“Guten Morgen!” said Ada with rather more enthusiasm than Mildred had come to expect from her patient.
“Guten M…”, she began to reply before realizing how weird it was. “Wait. You speak German?” she asked. “How did you know I would understand?”
“Whenever you drop something or knock something over, you mutter ‘Scheiße’ under your breath,” Ada responded, a slightly mischievous glint in her eye.
“Well, it’s been a while,” continued Mildred, “I’ve forgotten quite a lot, but the basics are still there. What about you? Are you fluent?”
“I’ve kept up fairly well. I mostly just studied in high school and college, but for some reason I fell in love with the language. I make an effort to read something in German every now and then, just so I don’t get too rusty.”
Mildred had gotten a faraway look while Ada spoke, as if she were digging up some mostly buried memory and dusting it off. “I remember,” she began wistfully, “we read this play by Lessing, it was, uh, Minna von Barnhelm. It had a line that I absolutely adored and that stuck with me all these years. How was it? ‘Lies es in meinen Augen was ich dir nicht alles sagen kann.’”
“Read in my eyes all that which I cannot say to you,” Ada translated.
“Right!” Mildred continued, becoming animated. “It was right at the end, when the way is cleared for Tellheim to be with Minna, and he’s so overwhelmed with love and gratitude that he can’t even express to her how he’s feeling. I thought it was the most romantic thing I had ever heard.” Mildred trailed off as a wistful expression came over her face.
Ada chuckled lightly but tenderly. “I think you’re misremembering,” she smiled. “It was Tellheim who said it, you’re right, and it was after he realized he could be with Minna, but he said it to his friend Werner, the one who went to so much effort to save Tellheim’s good name. He said it out of friendship and gratitude. You could say it was out of love, but not romantic love.”
“Are you sure?” Mildred countered with rather some skepticism, not to mention a certain amount of resistance to the idea that she had been wrong for so long about her impression of that one line. How could it not have been meant romantically? How many times had she longed to hear a man say that to her, even in English? She was none too pleased with having to reinterpret that little snippet that had stuck in her head for so long. “Why don’t we look it up?”
Ada grinned slightly in assent. She had the look of someone certain they were right, but without a hint of smugness. In fact, she seemed almost excited to have a bit of truth to share with Mildred, like a child about to open a gigantic present on Christmas, only the present was for Mildred instead of for herself.
Mildred quickly did a search on her tablet and found the passage. “Damn. You’re right. He says it to Werner,” she conceded. “How did I misremember that so completely?”
“I don’t know, how old were you when you read it?” asked Ada with all the tenderness of a mother giving her child a piece of disappointing news.
“It was college. I was probably 20,” answered Mildred.
“And by any chance were boys on your mind a lot at the time?”
“I guess I was quite the hopeless romantic,” Mildred admitted. “Funny how we can interpret things to fit what we want them to mean.” She was quiet for a moment, collecting her thoughts. Ada continued to smile softly at her, now almost with a kind of pride that her star pupil had worked through to a discovery on her own.
There originally followed a few awful and clumsy paragraphs in which Ada renamed Mildred. It was going to be “Milla” because it’s closer to Minna from Lessing’s play. It was terrible and awkward, and I cannot allow you to see it.