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Spargel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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There is only one word that I know how to say in German.

Mappenklemmplatte. Binder clip.

Why my father took this as a sign to pick up everything I knew – from my bed to my dog to my favorite pen to the “Our Happy Home” mat by the door – and move me to Germany with him is a mystery.

From my perspective, we were perfectly fine in our house by the highway, cars whizzing by, providing a gentle hum to fill in the noise of neither of us talking. He doesn’t like talking, my father, and I don’t like it much, either. He is fat, with a bushy, graying mustache, and he likes to cook. All he seemed to do after my mother died was cook, but I didn’t mind the silence much, because it meant I didn’t have a curfew and our dinners were always good, when we had dinner.

At night, the cars would send me to sleep, the yellowish-white of the headlights seeping through my thin curtains and running along the side of my walls, the buzzing providing a distant lullaby I’m sure my mother used to sing.

I liked it there.

And then we moved.

We didn’t move like other families do, with all the hubbub and special arrangements. I simply came home one day and found a suitcase on my bed. My father had scribbled a Post-it note: “Pack what you want. We’re leaving.”

Looking back, I guess it was inevitable. He couldn’t stay here. He had to run away. Run away from the memories, run away from the world, run away from the broken lights traversing his bedroom walls at night. Which is how I ended up here, watching his shining round face as he babbled in German and sold asparagus.

Or spargel, as I am continually corrected.

Bruiser rests his head in my lap. I scratch him behind the ears, sighing, looking up at the sky, straining for even the slightest sound of a passing car. When he had first said “Germany,” mumbling it over his shoulder at the airport, I was fine. I thought of the Autobahn. I thought of the sound of things going at top speed, of freedom, of moving on, of moving forward.

I hadn’t thought of this.

I hadn’t thought of sitting in a godforsaken spargel stand by a dirt road, smiling at ruddy-faced Germans as they scrutinized the spargel we were selling, comparing it to the spargel the other spargel vendors were selling, because not only was it spargel season, it was Spargelfest.

And I had to watch my father change here. Drinking beer until his face turned permanently red, the sweat rolling down the side of his face from the hot sun, and sometimes I would catch him crying, wiping the tears from his eyes and then pressing his fingers to his mouth, as if his tears may have turned to alcohol and he could just drink them away.

I kiss the top of Bruiser’s head, and he knocks his giant noggin into my face as if to acknowledge the gesture. I laugh, toppling out of the plastic chair to get on my hands and knees to play with him, the only companion who speaks my language anymore. My phone has no service here; our computer makes no connections. I am isolated from everyone who used to make me, me.

Except for Bruiser. He doesn’t know two words of German, either.

A blond boy approaches us. My father is busy laughing over something with another fat man, so I stand up, not even bothering to dust the dirt off my jeans. They are already discolored from infrequent washing, splotched with brown; I can’t bring myself to bother anymore.

The guy is cute. His hair is long and windswept forward, and he wears big John Lennon glasses that reflect the clouds. He looks like Josh, my boyfriend before we left. I never told him I was going, let alone where. I never told anyone. We just … left.

“Hi,” I say, hoping that it’s enough to convey that I don’t speak German. I point to the boxes of green vegetable in our cart. “Spargel,” I say. He nods, confirming that the vegetable is, indeed, spargel.

Bruiser, upset that I’ve abandoned him, bounds over. Before I can stop him, he’s kicking up dust in the middle of the road, jumping up, putting his paws up on the German version of Josh. I hoist myself over the stand, the bottoms of my Converse dangling out of the shoes, holding on by a thread. German-Josh is saying something in German, and if I understood it, I’m sure it would have been a long string of swears.

“Sorry!” I say, grabbing Bruiser’s shoulders and pulling him off. He’s a Great Dane and hard to handle. I had forgotten though. He never jumped on anyone back home. “I’m sorry. I really am. We should keep him on a leash ….”

He continues to issue words I can’t understand. I stand there, pulling Bruiser down. “Bad dog,” I hiss, “bad, get down, Bruiser, damn it ….”

“The kid says you need to get a leash,” my dad shouts. I glare at the German version of Josh.

“I know. The dog’s a bastard.”

Josh-the-German rips off his glasses and says something else. I look to my father, who looks slightly confused, then tunes in again. “And he says that dog is a bastard.”

I look pathetically at the boy, and point to our stand. “Spargel.”

***

I hate Germany.

I have to hate it. It is an obligation, not a choice. Like how you’re supposed to naturally hate a stepmother, or a bratty little sibling. Germany is my new evil stepmother. And I am Cinderella, crawling around on my hands and knees, trying to please it, trying to make things even remotely better for myself.

I’m not doing a very good job.

The day after the German-Josh incident, I snuck into the money my father had been saving and bought myself a German-English dictionary. I sit here now, reading it in the shade of our stand. My father sips a bottle of beer and bellows a crude song with two other vendors. I don’t even want to look up the words.

“Hallo,” says a voice I barely recognize. I look up, squinting against the sun, and see German-Josh. I turn around: Bruiser is breaking the neck of a sheep squeaky-toy I had brought with us, far in the distance. I turn back. My face and the words of the dictionary are reflected in his glasses. I wonder what color his eyes are.

He points to the stand. “Spargel?”

“Spargel,” I confirm, and I stand up, raising my chin, hoping I look like a salesperson. I point to the sign that lists our prices, acting as though I would know the difference. I still have no idea how the whole euro thing works yet.

He buys some. He turns to leave but stops, coming back. He points to his temple, then gives me something wrapped in brown paper that he had been carrying in the crook of his arm. I take it, and he waits. I unwrap it, glancing warily at him to make sure that it is, in fact, a gift for me.

I let the paper fall to the ground and lift the gift up, blocking the sun with it. It’s a leash.

I smile. “Thank you,” I say, hoping he understands.

Bitte schön,” he says.

***

He comes back for more spargel every day for the next three weeks. We never say anything, and I have no idea whether he’s paying me the right amount; in fact, he’s probably just using me to get cheap spargel for his spargel soup for Spargelfest for his spargel-happy family.

But I secretly hope not.

Today, I stop him from leaving. I hold out my hand, and he turns, looking at me, then warily at Bruiser, who’s at my feet, panting in the heat. He stares, waiting. I swallow, and close my eyes, trying to remember. I can do this, I tell myself. I can do this.

Danke für den Kaufen unseres Spargeles,” I say. Thank you for buying our spargel – at least, I think that’s what I said. I hope that’s what I said.

“Thank you for you to sell the spargel to me,” he says.

I smile. I smile, and I do not know what to say next.

So I say the only thing I can.

Mappenklemmplatte.”

Binder clip.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the July 2009 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.





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This article has 145 comments. Post your own!

aspiring.author.09 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 9:22 pm:
I've read and re-read this story about ten times now, trying to find some constructive criticism for you so you can make it better. But you really can't build on perfection. This story was  light-hearted and adorable. The characters were vivid and setting unique and realistic. This is an incredible piece - please keep this up, your voice is memorable and entertaining! :)
 
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 21, 2010 at 9:42 am :
Thank you so much for your comments: that is quite possibly one of the nicest reviews I've ever recieved for this story, and it honestly made my day. (: I can't express how much feedback like yours (and, of course, feedback in general, but this was great) means to me.
 
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Kimbla said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 4:49 pm:
cute story :)
 
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bellasbyline This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Apr. 17, 2010 at 12:37 am:
I really loved the story. How much of it was real?
 
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 21, 2010 at 9:52 am :
None, I'm afraid. ;) Thanks for commenting! Glad you enjoyed it.
 
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Alaskan92 said...
Mar. 29, 2010 at 9:14 pm:
Wonderfully written, humorous story! I loved it! 
 
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Seren said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 8:43 pm:
This was a good humorous story. The hatred toward Germany was very portrayed and I loved your character she was fun to read about. I hope I read more from you.
 
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PoAph said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 11:08 am:
Wow! You're an amazing writer! I love your story :)
 
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SeaStorm This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Mar. 26, 2010 at 2:55 am:
his made me laugh and smile and sneeze and cough and giggle.
I liked it. I liked it a lot.
And I could relate because my evil parents made me move to France, and I couldn't even say hello in French (sorta pathetic).
 
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 21, 2010 at 9:51 am :

Sorry for getting back to you a bit late, but I'm just going through because it's taken me this long to realize that it's possible to reply to comments. xD I'm so glad you enjoyed my story, and I can't believe you can relate! I mean, I assumed that being moved to a different country without knowing the language isn't unheard of, but ... Well, I don't know. But I hope things are okay now that you're in France. I can say Bonjour. And au reviour, and I don't even think that's spelled right.

... (more »)
 
LiSuAn This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 25, 2010 at 3:14 am :

Haha, well, I'm used to it (the rambling, I mean. I restarted this comment completely because I was doing it myself.)

This is the tenth move I've ever had, and the eighth country-to-country.

And I'm honored a totally awesomely famous writer bothered to respond to my comment. I will forever love you for that :)

 
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 25, 2010 at 6:05 pm :

Bah, awesomely famous. (: I wish this was the general consensus of everyone in the world. But I'm flattered all the same.

I am also wildly jealous of your worldliness, having lived in the same house all my life, although I can kind of also understand the suckitude. Pros and cons, etc. Etc. is what I say when I get distracted by people like my mother and, bothered by the fact that I did have more to say but had it driven by my mind, I hope that you can fill in the remainder of the blank... (more »)

 
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GreenEyedGirl14 said...
Mar. 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm:
The story was REALLY good. It kept me held on for the whole time. The asparagus selling is funny and I love how she says what she can at the end. Adorable, and sweet. This was definetly worth reading. Keep writing! I'd really like to see a sequel to this maybe. :)
 
Julia_H This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 22, 2010 at 10:49 am :

Having just realized that it is in my power to reply to comments (exciting news), I'm going through and smiling again at all my reviews.

Thank you so much for this feedback, it really means the world to me. (: Unfortunately, I'm not going to write a sequel, I feel like ending it here is the best way to go, but you never know. If I think of a good way to extend it I'll surely do so. It's at least good to know that someone liked it enough to want to read the sequel. (: I do have some oth... (more »)

 
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AlexMariex said...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 10:05 pm:
This was very good. I want to know what else happens. keep writing (:
 
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loveydoveycool9 said...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 5:39 pm:
I thought it was good can anyone check out my story. It's called The screames of a silent girl
 
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millz said...
Mar. 4, 2010 at 11:31 am:
That was really great! You are a very good writter.
 
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the_Horsegirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 10, 2010 at 6:19 pm:
This is so sweet. 5 stars!
 
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Elisabawth said...
Feb. 9, 2010 at 8:23 pm:
This is a very cute story. I could relate to it. Very nice. :)
 
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soccercrazy said...
Dec. 28, 2009 at 6:55 pm:
this is so cute! i love bruiser. he's my favorite character. lol
it's a really nice story, well put together, and funny! i love a funny story.
 
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