Number the Stars
Chapter XIV: On the Dark Path
Annemarie shivers in the early morning cold. She is on the path to the boat. The light of the meadow soon fades away and only the dark woods lie ahead. It is hard to run with the basket on her arm. Annemarie thinks of a story she has sometimes told Kirsti, the story of Little Red Riding-Hood. She smiles remembering her sister's constant interruptions. Annemarie starts to tell the story to herself. She hears a noise on the path and stops, but nothing is there. Annemarie tells herself that Kirsti would have been scared, that she would have thought it was a wolf, like in the story. But these woods are not like the ones in the story, Annemarie says to herself. She comes to a split in the path. One way leads to a bigger, lighter road, but it is too risky. Annemarie continues on the path through the woods. She sees why the people going to Henrik's boat needed guidance.
Annemarie continues telling herself the story of Little Red Riding-Hood. When she tells her sister the story, Annemarie sometimes changes her description of the path. Today she makes the path in the story full of light and bird songs. She runs by a meadow where cows usually graze. This is where Mrs. Johansen's dog had waited for her after school when she was a child. Annemarie can hear the sea and see the light coming from over Sweden. She goes by the blueberry patch, one of her favorite spots in summers past. Reentering the dark woods, Annemarie thinks of her mother's ankle. She hopes that the doctor has come by now.
One last turn and she is almost at her destination, a familiar path. The story continues in her head: Little Red Riding-Hood hears a noise. At this point in the story, Kirsti would have been excited. Kirsti always pressed her sister on; she knew it was a wolf. But Annemarie would tell her sister that Little Red Riding-Hood did not know what it was. As she thinks this, Annemarie hears a noise. She stops. Ahead she can see the very last turn. She thinks her imagination might be tricking her. She hears a growl. Four soldiers appear with a pair of dogs.
Chapter XV: My Dogs Smell Meat!
Annemarie's mind rushes to what her mother told her. She must pretend to be nothing more than a silly, innocent child. She remembers how Kirsti acted when the soldier stopped them on the way home from school. Her sister was not afraid because she did not recognize the danger. Annemarie tries her hardest to act like Kirsti might. One soldier asks what she is doing. Annemarie holds the basket up. She says her uncle forgot his lunch, talking more than she needs to. The soldiers want to know if she is alone. The dogs grow at the basket. The soldier demands to know why her uncle doesn't eat fish like the other fishermen. Annemarie plays her part, giggling and babbling about how her uncle does not like smelly fish, particularly raw! The soldier reaches for the bread in the basket and throws it to the dogs. He wants her to tell him if she has seen anyone in the woods. Annemarie says she has not and innocently asks what he is doing in the woods.
The soldier keeps going through the basket. Annemarie silently hopes that he will not lift the napkin and see the packet. But he does see the packet, and demands to know what it is. Annemarie is lost. She tries to act like Kirsti and finds that she is crying and saying her mother will be angry and her uncle, too. She does not know what the packet is, she says. Annemarie realizes that it is true; she really has no idea what it is. The soldier tears the packet open and tells her to stop her idiot tears; it is only a handkerchief. The packet is thrown to the ground where the rest of the basket's contents already lie. The dogs sniff it, but are uninterested. All four soldiers push by her in the direction she came from.
Annemarie picks up the packet and runs to the harbor. Uncle Henrik's boat is still there. Annemarie calls out to him. He looks worried to see her, but he is relieved when Annemarie tells him she has brought his lunch. She says soldiers stopped her and took his bread. Henrik thanks her. Annemarie is confused; the boat looks empty. Henrik assures Annemarie that because of her, everything will be all right. Henrik tell her to go home and tell Mrs. Johansen that he will be home in the evening.
Annemarie mixes fiction with reality as she makes the trip to her uncle's boat. She tells herself the story of Little Red Riding-Hood the way she would to her little sister. Without realizing it, she is comforting herself the same way she would comfort Kirsti. Annemarie's instinct to go over the fairy tale in her head reflects the confusing position she is in. She must be brave and do an adult's job, but she is frightened. Annemarie is replacing her mother, but to protect herself she knows she may have to act like Kristi. Annemarie finds comfort and direction by thinking of herself as the heroine in a fairy tale that ends happily. The story of Little Red Riding-Hood is literally and metaphorically just like Annemarie's own. Both girls carry baskets given them by their mother and travel through the woods on their own. Though we do not know how Annemarie's story ends, we probably do know what happens to Little Red Riding-Hood.
The path that Annemarie travels conjures up memories of her childhood. The blueberry patch was a special place, as was the pasture of cows. She thinks of the country doctor who is probably on his way to the house. She also remembers going to see her uncle as he was bringing in the day's catch. These memories are interspersed with the scenes from Little Red Riding-Hood. The path Annemarie walks is symbolic of Annemarie's childhood. Her travel through the woods is a metaphor for the transition she is making from being a child to being an adult. It is not an easy path; there are roots that could make her stumble and the darkness makes it hard to see what lies ahead. But Annemarie knows she must keep on, just as all children must become adults.
Annemarie's encounter with the soldiers forces her to regress. She does as her mother has told her and acts as much like a "silly little girl" as possible. Innocence turns out to be her best protection. Pretending to be a clueless child is an extreme form of what she and Uncle Henrik talked about. Yet again Annemarie sees that knowing little or nothing at all can make you safe. Annemarie is safer because she does not know what she is really carrying. The encounter also shows that Annemarie is living in a world of extremes. One moment she is playing the role that her mother would, and the next she has to act like her little sister. When Annemarie reaches the boat, Henrik's assertion that "everything is all right" applies to more than the trip he is about to make. Now that Annemarie has delivered the basket, order will be restored in Annemarie's life, too. Henrik tells her to go home and make sure her mother does not worry. The role of worrying has been handed back to Mrs. Johansen. Annemarie has been relieved of heavy responsibility—she can be herself again.
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