World War I was over - except for my father. He still had his own peace to make with his brothers and sisters who had fought for the kaiser. So we went to Germany. My grandfather's house on the Rhine was the meeting place.
Our aunts and uncles took a long time coming. While we waited week after week, my father made small trips around the country, returning each time sadder than the time before. He despaired because of Germany's despair, Mother explained.
Pretty soon his anguish began to rub off on us, and I would run off and sit on our balustrade overlooking the quiet river and try to figure it all out. One day as I sat there, a bird started singing, except that it wasn't a bird. It was a piper with his flute. His music was like a joyful dance that dried up my dreariness and lit up life again.
I never did see him, but from then on the piper came and played for me every day.
One morning at breakfast, Dad was especially sad. ``What's going to happen to Germany? What can I do? Is there anything at all I can do for her?'' he asked. Mother tried to soothe him, but suddenly I had an idea. I grabbed his hand, pulled him up, and we headed out of the house, past the rose garden and the Neptune fountain, to my balustrade.
It was a lovely morning. I told him to sit on the balustrade beside me and wait for my surprise. A breeze was livening up the river, and a tugboat scooted past. But Dad didn't notice.
Now the river sounds began to bow out and my piper's music began. The notes were as clear and kind as Mother's humming. I looked at Dad out of the corner of my eye. At least his hands were still.
Now the melting music became the notes of a clown turning somersaults, clicking his heels in the air. Then the music changed again; it rocked like a cradle and swooped like a swallow. And Dad was listening.
``Huh, Schubert,'' he said, low, to himself. ``He plays Schubert!''
I didn't care what tune my piper played, but under my breath I called out to him: ``Piper, Dad needs you. Please play for him today!''
Dad had his arm around me, but not the quick way he does when we say good morning. This time it was as if he were climbing a steep hill and needed me to be there.
``Daja,'' he said, ``It's so dark.''
I could hardly hear him, his voice was so low. ``It's as dark as night. Dark, dark.''
``But it's morning, Dad!'' I told him as clearly as I could. ``It's only just after breakfast and the sun is summer-bright! Can't you see?''
He sighed the longest sigh. ``I know. I know. It's just that I have been walking in my own night lately, and it's very dark.''
``But there are stars in the night!''
``Stars?'' He sounded as if he'd never heard of stars.
``Millions of them!''
``Yes, of course. I guess I'd forgotten about the stars.''
I was trying to keep him away from the dark. ``They twinkle, Dad, and shine and look in my window every night!''
He took a quick breath, and for a second his eyes came alive. `` `Stars - eternity in a flash of light, the everlasting in the commonplace of night.' Oh Daja, that's what I once wrote about stars. Can you understand?''
The piper was still playing. I couldn't make out whether Dad was hearing him, but the music was still there. Dad's words were coming more quickly now. ``I wrote about stars once because they told me something I needed to know, that now I need desperately to know. But oh, Daja, I forgot what it was!''
He was holding me tighter than he'd ever held me. But he was so still I could only be sure he was breathing if I listened hard.
The flute still played on, gently. We sat thinking for such a long time, Dad and I, that I hardly knew whether it was day or starry night. My eyes said it was morning, but my thoughts saw the light of stars. I slid off the balustrade and put my arms around him.
I looked up at his face. Night and day, clouds and stars moved across it until at last I knew that he knew it was morning.