Number the Stars
Chapter VIII: There Has Been a Death
Early in the morning, Annemarie wakes up to the sounds of her sister and her mother in the kitchen. She leaves Ellen asleep in bed and goes downstairs. Kirsti is playing with a kitten they found the day before. She has named him Thor, after the God of Thunder. Kirsti tries to make the kitten drink water. She says she could take him to see the cow. Mrs. Johansen shows Annemarie a pitcher of fresh milk, which they have not had in a long time. There is also some butter that Uncle Henrik managed to save from the army. Annemarie asks if they also "relocate" butter. They all laugh at the idea of butter being marched away by soldiers. The joking makes Annemarie feel that all guns and soldiers are "a ghost story, a joke with which to frighten children in the dark."
The girls spend the day playing outside. Annemarie takes Ellen to meet the cow, Blossom. When Henrik comes home, Annemarie hears him tell her mother that the next day "will be a day for fishing." She is perplexed, just as she was when she heard her father use the same phrase on the phone to Henrik. Her uncle says they will leave in the early morning and that he will stay on the boat that night. He asks if they have "prepared the living room." Annemarie asks why the living room needs to be prepared. To her surprise, Uncle Henrik announces that their Great-aunt Birte has passed away. The funeral is to be held in the traditional way—in a relative's home—that night. Annemarie is very confused. She does not understand why no one seems sad. She is also quite positive that no such aunt ever existed, but she holds her tongue for the moment.
Chapter IX: Why Are You Lying?
After supper, Annemarie goes to the barn and confronts Uncle Henrik, who is milking the cow. She angrily accuses him of lying to her. She is sure there is no Great-aunt Birte. Instead of answering her directly, Uncle Henrik asks Annemarie how brave she is. This is a question that she does not want to hear or deal with. She is afraid of her own answer. She answers that she is not very brave. Henrik tells her he thinks that is not true. He thinks if she had to be, she could be very courageous. He explains that it is easier to be brave sometimes if you do not know everything. Annemarie begins to understand what he means when she remembers the time they encountered the soldiers. It was easier to be brave then, because she did not know that Ellen was in danger. Henrik admits there is no great aunt, but for her sake he will say no more.
The casket is placed in the living room. Kirsti has been sent to bed. Ellen tells Annemarie she is sorry about her aunt's death. Annemarie does not reveal that there is no aunt Birte. She realizes that she is protecting Ellen. Others arrive. Mrs. Johansen says they were friends of her aunt. She knows that her mother is lying, and also that her mother knows she knows. They look at each other and Annemarie feels that they have become equals. Annemarie goes back to the kitchen to help prepare food. As she helps, she wonders why they are making food, when usually friends brings food to the family of the deceased. Uncle Henrik gets ready to leave for the boat. Peter Neilsen comes in and kisses Annemarie hello. Ellen comes inside with her parents.
While Annemarie jokes with her mother and her sister about the butter being relocated, for a moment Annemarie experiences relief. She feels comfortable for an instant. This sense of comfort is like being back in the good days for Annemarie. While they are joking, the entire war briefly seems like a made-up story. Here again the war is equated with fiction or fairy tales. The changes Annemarie has gone through are so traumatic that they seem made-up as soon as Annemarie relaxes. For a day, or part of it, she is able to play outside without worries.
The faked death of an invented person named Great-aunt Birte causes a new issue to surface for Annemarie. She knows that her uncle and her mother are not telling her the truth, but she has no idea why. This is particularly upsetting to her because it is inconsistent with her movement into the adult world. Her talk with Uncle Henrik illuminates several things for Annemarie. It is the first time that she has a direct discussion about bravery, a concept that has become significant to her. Because of their talk, Annemarie is able to admit her doubts about her own bravery. Her uncertainty about how brave she could be has further confused Annemarie about her position in the world. All the adults she looks up to are brave, as far as she can tell. But Uncle Henrik's explanation of why it is best not to know too much shows Annemarie that it is hard for adults to be brave too. Henrik admits that neither he nor Mrs. Johansen know everything either. So Annemarie sees that she is in the same position they are. She finds herself in an adult's position when she lies to Ellen only moments later, concealing the truth for Ellen's safety. This makes it clear to Annemarie that it is not a question of not being old enough to know the truth, but a question of doing your best to protect the people you love.
As the night goes on, Annemarie still has doubts about what she is being told. However, now she can understand and accept the necessity of not knowing everything. She is sure that is not being told the truth, which is not the same as being lied to. Annemarie has a very powerful feeling when she and her mother look at each other. For the first time, they are on the same page. Each understands that Mrs. Johansen cannot tell Annemarie everything, and that Annemarie knows and accepts this. Annemarie says that she feels she has become equal to her mother. Whether or not this is true in Mrs. Johansen's eyes, it is important to Annemarie's growing sense of belonging with the adults.
Transformation is a theme in this chapter. Annemarie's idea about lying is transformed, as is her notion of bravery. To Annemarie, this is a turning point in her status. She has been transformed, at least for now, from a child to an adult. When Peter arrives he is also transformed. He is more serious and urgent. He is the same person, but he acts differently. Even the house they are staying in has been transformed to accommodate the funeral and the mourners. The theme of transformation also hints at the dual purpose that Henrik's boat is about to serve.
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