das hinterland
β€” part one β€”


Henry Sommer was rarely left alone with his children at Das Hinterland. Contrary to typical family dynamics, when mother was away things at the Sommer farm were not all play. If anything, structure was more rigid than ever. Children woke at the crack of dawn and weren't permitted to dawdle idly throughout the house and grounds for fear that if they did their father would interrogate them with a series of questions that incited an intense feeling of uselessness. What are you doing? What's the point? Do you find that productive? These were questions usually softened by the presence of maman who would put her hand on Henry's shoulder and turn the solo interrogation into a cross-examination, though her wording was marginally nicer. Mostly, when both parents were at the farm they distracted each other and so the Sommer children found pockets of time to waste. Henry Sommer did not approve of "wasted time."

In August of 2002 the youngest Sommer sibling, Carl, was in his seventh month. He relied on his older siblings - even Noah, age four - to feed, clothe, and bathe him while Papa was consumed by shearing season. They were running late this year, filming schedules and necessary reshoots conflicting with farm work, seeing Henry on the other side of the world when he should've been home shaving the wool off his flock of sheep. He enjoyed his work - his day job, as it were - but he enjoyed the farm work just as deeply. As he grew older he started to appreciate that his waning youth wouldn't afford him roles as a leading man but, more importantly, his back wouldn't always be strong enough to wrangle a sheep. That summer Roy was eight years old, his mouth a minefield of loose baby teeth.

The younger children (this included anyone under thirteen) were resigned to house chores and simple farm work. Henry was rigid, not stupid, and paid farm hands were far more valuable in getting actual shearing done versus teaching his children the value of manual labor. There'd be a time for that, anyway, and while they were all prone to running wild each of the Sommer children were beholden to their daily chores (this included cleaning their rooms, cleaning the house, looking after Carl, and tending to the rest of the animals) - all of them held accountable by certain quotas Henry had laid out for them. Chicken and duck eggs had to be collected, bathrooms cleaned, beds made, dining room table wiped down and set for lunch, and again for dinner. Despite being out with the sheep for nearly twelve hours a day, Henry typically cooked dinner. Roy was often eager to help, handing his father whatever he asked for and watching diligently as he prepared their nightly meals. Tonight, however, Roy had been exiled from the kitchen after three broken eggs and one broken bowl.

It had been an accident. His foot had caught on a yellow and white chevron patterned rug and sent him hurdling forward, eggs cracking on the blue tiled kitchen floor. One clumsy moment might've been excused, but it was the subsequent two other catch and trips that made an overworked Henry tip his head back, sigh, and ask Noah for help instead. Replaced by his four-year-old brother, Roy had exited the kitchen with red eyes, bruised knees, and hands covered in egg yolk. It was during this walk of shame that Leon decided to instigate his baby brother by slapping the back of his head and calling him a newborn lamb - usually something Roy would like being compared to, but Leon's tone was jeering, mocking, his shit-eating grin the symbol of Roy's failure. Leon had slapped him then skipped into a run and was headed towards the stairs when Roy decided to chase after him.

An incomprehensible slew of insults left Roy's mouth as he ran after his older brother, who was a good few strides ahead of him, bounding up the stairs as he skipped two at a time - prompting Roy to scream show off!!! while picking up his pace. He came to the stairs and in an attempt to mimic his brother he skipped a step, making good time until his foot caught on a ledge.

Roy hit the stairs with a body slam loud enough to make even Leon (who was at the top by now) turn around and check on his brother. Roy had landed face first against the steps and in a dramatic show of shock he slid down the toile stair rug, only stopping when he reached the bottom - that was when the screaming started. Soon enough all of the siblings were surrounding the staircase. Flora (then nine) was the only one with the wherewithal to come down the steps to where brother lay, sprawled across the bottom two steps. Her bare feet landed on something sharp as she descended, lifting her foot with the expectation of finding an exposed nail or large splinter. What she found, instead, was a small pool of blood and indented into the wooden step: Roy's two front teeth.

By the time Henry appeared at the stairs most of the siblings had dispersed, unimpressed with the drama that was typical of their eight year old brother. The two that remained were Flora (who sat next to Roy with an arm around his shoulder) and Jonas (who had taken both of the baby teeth out of the step and cleaned up the mess). Roy's nose was bleeding on top of his lost teeth and he looked like a child monster - blood poured from his nose, into his mouth and out the corners, his eyes were puffy from crying and face a bright shade of red. Despite looking like a miniature horror, dimples still appeared on his cheeks.

"Moppelchen," Henry addressed Roy (after telling Noah to get him a warm rag and fill a cloth with ice). When Noah returned with the rag Henry knelt at the bottom step, giving Flora instruction to hold Roy's face still as he wiped away the blood and placed neatly rolled wads of tissue into his son's nostrils. He handed the cloth-filled-with-ice to Flora, showing her where to hold it against Roy's nose. When it was all over Henry stood up (towering, that's all Roy would remember of this moment) and said, "Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes."

Twenty minutes passed and the only sign that anything happened at all was Roy's still-red face and tissue-filled nostrils, screams of shock and pain subsided to high pitched laughter that was met with equal annoyance and endearment. It was an evening like any other in the Sommer household save for the absence of their mother. The table was packed to the edges with food which would, in all likelihood, be devoured by the end of dinner. A slow-baked duck sat in the middle of the spread, surrounded by innumerable variations of potatoes, vegetables both fermented and recently picked, and two loaves of bauernbrot made fresh that day. They waited for their father's signal - a short prayer he recited every meal and Roy could say backward if prompted. They were all of them then, baby Carl included - all nine siblings sitting at one table with their hands folded and heads bowed, not a single one of them kicking or fidgeting. It was a moment of quiet in an otherwise unquiet farmhouse and as soon as Henry uttered amen the table became a cacophony of sibling chatter and passing dishes and utensils clattering against plates.

At one point Roy stood on his chair to reach over the centerpiece bird and steal a duck leg from Leon's plate. Leon's protest was sedated by the dry look both Henry and Flora give him. Roy was completely unaware of their assistance, taking joy in his earned vengeance.