“How long have you been living in Canada?”
“Almost two years.”
“On a work permit?”
Greta stood on the sidewalk in front of the rundown apartment complex, surveying the building for structural weaknesses. She noticed significant rot in the lower left side and decided to focus her attention there. She took a deep breath and screamed.
The sound waves pounded the building, obliterating the rotten section and sending intense vibrations across the façade. Windows shattered, wood splintered, and stone shattered. When she could see the building begin to come apart, she closed her mouth.
The scream echoed across the city as she doubled over and tried to catch her breath. She started coughing from the hoarseness of her throat. Her boss, Farouk el-Hashem, stepped up beside her and handed her a bottle of water. She emptied it in a single gulp.
She looked up at the building; it was unstable but somehow still standing. She glanced at Farouk and shrugged.He smiled and put his earmuffs back on.
She took another deep breath and yelled, “Boom!”
The building shuddered and collapsed in on itself. Greta stepped back and leaned against the grill of Farouk’s dump truck as her coworkers stepped up to clear the rubble.
Henning Petersen’s blond hair stood on end as he closed his eyes and bowed his head. The pile of debris stirred and shifted as a metal beam rose from within it and hovered in the air. He turned toward Greta and the beam floated into the bed of the truck.
Waving his arms like a conductor, Anders Bendix lifted a chunk of stone from the rubble and deposited it in the truck. The two of them continued like this, alternating between stone and steel, until finally, several truckloads later, all that remained of the building was a heap of splintered wood, insulation, and other odds and ends.
“How old are you?”
“What’s your living situation?”
“I rent an apartment with my cousin, Jackie.”
“Tell me about her.”
Returning home after work, Greta fixed herself a cup of chamomile tea with honey to soothe her throat. She sat on the couch and closed her eyes, enjoying the silence.
She bolted upright as the front door slammed shut and Jackie stormed across the living room wearing her Tim Hortons uniform. She was ranting in English; Greta only caught about half the words, most of them profanity. Jackie disappeared into her bedroom and slammed that door, too.
The door reopened several minutes later and Jackie emerged wearing a leather jacket, torn black jeans, and a pair of studded combat boots.
“Hurry and get ready,” Jackie said in English. “We’re going to be late for the show.”
“What show?” Greta asked.
“My show, duh,” Jackie replied. “Tonight’s the qualifying round of the battle of the bands and I need you out there cheering for me.”
Greta glanced down at her tea and said, “I think I—”
“You need this as much as I do,” Jackie said, and crossed her arms. “I won’t take ‘nein’ for an answer.”
“She is… loud. Forceful. But kind.”
“Do you get along well?”
“Oh yes. We are very close.”
“That’s good to hear. Is she a Canadian citizen?”
“Yes. Her mother moved here before she was born.”
“What does your cousin do for a living?”
“She works at a coffee shop. And she is also a musician.”
“What sort of music does she play?”
“Um… heavy metal.”
Greta sat in a booth at the Valhalla Club, nursing a drink and trying to follow the conversation between Jackie and her friends. Between the noise of the crowd and the excitedness of their words, she only understood a few snippets here and there.
A middle-aged man with shaggy blond hair climbed up onto the stage and took the microphone. The audience cheered and saluted him with the sign of the horns.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” he said, speaking in a British accent. “I’m your host, John Arthur Owens, and I’d like to welcome you all to the Twilight of the Gods Metal Tournament! Are you folks ready to bang your heads?”
A collective “Yeah!” rose up from the crowd alongside the general hooting and hollering.
“Then let’s give a big round of applause to the first band of the night,” he said, gesturing to three men standing behind him, “Mockingbird!”
John Arthur hopped down from the stage as the band members, each dressed in leather pants and silk shirts, picked up their instruments and moved into position.
“There’s my nemesis,” Jackie said as a beautiful woman stepped onto the stage from behind the curtains.
Wearing a black miniskirt and a red corset that matched her hair, the woman sauntered past the band and stepped up to the microphone.
“We are Mockingbird!” she yelled. “And this is ‘Beware the Siren’!”
The keyboardist closed his eyes and started playing an organ-style toccata reminiscent of Bach. The woman grabbed the microphone and let out a single, operatic note, holding it for several seconds until the rest of the band joined in with their instruments and the song kicked into high gear.
Greta’s jaw dropped. The music was heavy, but with an underlying majesty. The lyrics were lost to Greta, but the vocalist sang them with such real emotion that the words seemed almost irrelevant. The keyboardist’s fingers seemed to blur as they pounded the keys.
At the end of the song, the singer bowed and blew kisses at the audience, while the rest of the band packed up their equipment in silence. The music replayed in Greta’s head as she watched them depart, wishing she could turn back time and listen to them again.
“Hate her so much,” Jackie muttered, standing from her seat.
“Where are you going?” Greta asked.
“We’re playing next,” Jackie replied. “Just our luck that we have to follow them. You better remember to cheer.”
Jackie followed her friends to the stage and waited for Mockingbird to finish tearing down. Climbing up, Jackie plugged her bass into the sound system and lowered the microphone stand to her face.
“Tonight,” she said, “you all get the privilege of having your asses kicked by the best band in Victory City: Dragonfire! Here’s ‘The Coming Winter’.”
She strummed her bass and a deep rumble rolled over the audience, quickly building up into a thundering gallop. The guitar and drums kicked in, and Jackie leaned into the microphone to sing. Her voice was rough, but it fit the music, which was fast and raw.
When the song ended, Greta cheered loudly, knocking several patrons off their feet. She clasped her hands over her mouth and sank down in her seat. Jackie looked out across the club and winked.
At the end of the long night, John Arthur climbed back up onto the stage and took the microphone again.
“That was a hell of a show, eh?” he said. “I want to thank everyone for coming out and rocking out tonight. It’s been a real blast.”
He took a piece of paper from the pocket of his studded leather jacket.
“The results are in,” he said. “These sixteen bands will compete in a series of elimination rounds over the next two weeks until only one remains standing. The winner gets to sign a record deal with yours truly.”
He unfolded the paper and started reading. The names ranged from descriptions of grotesque imagery to phrases plucked from old fantasy novels.
“And finally,” he said, “we have two bands led by two lovely ladies: Mockingbird and Dragonfire!”
Jackie screamed in Greta’s ear, grabbed her cousin in a tight hug, and screamed again.
“Ah, I see. Do you like that kind of music?”
“It… has grown on me.”
“I’m more of a blues man, myself, but to each his own. I saw something in the paper recently about a tournament. Is your cousin competing in that?”
“Yes. The final round starts in an hour.”
“Oh really? Well, I’ll see if I can get you out of here quickly so you don’t miss it.”
“I… Thank you.”
Greta stood in front of the hollowed-out exterior of an old grocery store humming “Beware the Siren” to herself. She’d had the song stuck in her head for the past few days, the singer’s voice replaying over and over again. She wanted nothing more than to hear them perform again.
She screamed, and the brick building in front of her started shaking apart. The roof collapsed first, and then the walls fell inward like a house of cards. Anders and Henning made quick work of the rubble.
The crew headed to a diner down the street for lunch, and gathered around a quiet table in the back. A waitress took their orders and disappeared into the kitchen. Farouk glanced across the table at Greta and smiled.
“Any news about your residency application?” he said in German.
“I haven’t heard anything in months,” she replied. “I’m starting to get worried.”
“Don’t be,” he said, unfolding a cloth napkin onto his lap. “These things usually take time.”
“Time isn’t exactly on my side anymore,” she said. “I only have a few weeks left on my work permit. What if they don’t get back to me?”
“My dear, this country would be foolish not to have you,” Farouk said. “And if they are foolish, I will find you a husband so you can stay.”
“No,” she said. “I need to earn this.”
Farouk smiled. “Good girl.”
When the food arrived, Henning closed his eyes and guided his fork magnetically between his salad and his mouth. Anders grinned and placed his hands on the table; his ceramic bowl of soup floated up to his lips.
Farouk snapped at them in Danish and they stopped using their powers. Greta chuckled and picked up her ham sandwich. She stared down at the table as she ate, listening to her coworkers’ banter and hoping she never had to lose this.
“How would you rate your fluency in English?”
“Reading and writing, I am good. Speaking, not as great, but I am improving.”
“How about French?”
“Did you learn English in school, or did you pick it up later?”
“A little in school. Mostly later, after I left Germany.”
When Greta returned home in the evening, she found Jackie sitting at the kitchen counter with her head in her hands. She looked up at Greta, tears streaming down her face. Greta hurried over and pulled up a stool across from Jackie.
“What is the matter?” Greta asked in English.
Jackie grabbed a black marker and a stack of loose leaf, and wrote in capital letters, “LARYNGITIS.”
“You… lost your voice?” Greta said.
Jackie nodded and wiped her nose with the back of her hand.
“How long will it last?” Greta asked.
“DAYS?” she wrote. “WEEKS?”
Greta swore in German and, in English, said, “Is there anything I can do to help?”
Jackie stared blankly at Greta for a moment, and then her eyes lit up. She scribbled frantically on a sheet of paper and held it up.
“SING FOR US.”
“Me?” Greta asked. “But I….”
“YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE GOOD,” Jackie wrote. “PLEASE.”
Greta sighed and glanced down at the table.
“When is the show?”
“Tomorrow?” Greta stammered. “I cannot learn your songs in a day.”
Jackie shook her head and wrote, “JUST ONE SONG.”
She held up her index finger and dashed off to her bedroom. She returned moments later with a recordable CD; written on the label were the words “Dragonfire Demo.” Jackie placed the disc into her stereo and skipped through several tracks.
The song came on with a blast of drums and a stream of grinding guitar riffs, followed shortly by Jackie’s singing. The quality of the recording was poor, but clear enough to follow along. As the song continued, Jackie grabbed another piece of paper.
“ONE CHORUS, TWO VERSES,” she wrote. “EASY.”
“What part of Germany are you from?”
“Do you still have family there?”
“None at all?”
“My parents died when I was very young. I was raised by my grandmother… but she passed two years ago.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Forgive me if this is too forward, but I’m curious about the timing: did her death have something to do with your decision to come to Canada?”
Greta stared out at the sea of faces swelling from the back of the room to the edge of the stage. She glanced back at her cousin, standing off to the side with her bass. Jackie smiled and gave her the thumbs up.
Greta positioned her hands on the microphone so that she could read the lyrics written on her palms, trying not to smear the ink. Even after a full day of rehearsals, she still hadn’t memorized everything.
She closed her eyes as the drum solo started, trying to synchronize her thoughts with the timing of the music. She hid her face behind her hands and sang softly, missing the beat at first but recovering quickly.
She made it through the first verse but fumbled the chorus, skipping a few words to keep up the pace. By the time she got to the second verse, the lyrics on her hand were too smeared to read clearly, so she improvised in German, substituting the words to an old lullaby.
The chorus repeated several more times, interspersed with extended guitar solos, until finally the song ended with another blast of the drums. Greta stepped back from the microphone, breathing sharply and staring down at her feet. She could barely hear the applause for the pounding in her chest.
She felt a tug on her arm and she followed Jackie off the stage as another band started setting up. A cacophony of crunching guitars and growling vocals erupted as Greta leaned against the wall and looked up at Jackie.
“Sorry,” Greta said. “I was not good.”
Jackie placed a piece of paper on the wall and wrote, “YOU WERE FINE.”
Greta smiled and stared down at her hands; her palms were black with smeared ink, now completely unreadable.
“Excuse me,” she said.
She made her way to the ladies’ room and spent a couple minutes scrubbing her hands with hot water until most of the ink came off. She sighed, fixed her hair, and stepped back out into the hallway.
“Nice touch with the German,” a British voice said. “Forget the words?”
Greta turned to see John Arthur leaning against the wall opposite the men’s room. She nodded and glanced at her hands for a moment.
“Not bad for your first time, though,” he said.
Her eyes shot up to his face.
“How did you know?” she asked.
“I’ve been in this business longer than you’ve been alive,” he replied. “I know a rookie when I see one. Word of advice: volume is everything. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t be afraid to shout. Next round, I want to hear you make some serious noise, okay?”
“Next round?” she asked. “We… did not lose?”
“Of course not,” he replied. “You may be green, but you’re better than that shite.”
He gestured out to the stage area as the band finished their song to weak applause. He nodded to Greta and strolled down the hallway.
“Great job, fellas,” his voice reverberated over the sound system. “Soon, you’ll all know which eight of these bands will move on to the next round. But first, our final match of the night: Mockingbird versus Deathworld!”
“It did, yes. I grew up believing that my grandmother was my only family in the world. It was not until after she died that I found out she had lied to me.”
“Why would she do that?”
“She never forgave my aunt for leaving Germany during the Cold War. She destroyed all photographs of her and told me that my mother was her only child. I met my aunt and my cousin for the first time at my grandmother’s funeral. They did not know I existed, either.”
“That must have been quite the shock.”
“It was. At first I was… overwhelmed. I ran away and hid in my room. But Jackie drew me out. We did not speak the same language, but we became fast friends in those few short days she was in Berlin. When she returned home to Canada, I knew I had to follow.”
Greta closed her eyes and visualized Mockingbird on stage the other night. Replaying the singer’s voice in her mind, Greta took a deep breath and sang a single note. She held it for ten seconds, twenty seconds, half a minute, until she ran out of air and gasped for breath.
When she opened her eyes, a pile of rubble sat in front of her where a condemned schoolhouse had stood moments earlier. She reached out for her water bottle, but Farouk was just standing there, staring at her. Henning and Anders froze mid-conversation to do the same.
“I didn’t know you could do that,” Farouk said in German.
“Neither did I,” she replied.
She stooped and grabbed a cracked brick from the ground, turning it over in her hand. Henning and Anders set to work on the rubble, chatting tensely in Danish.
“I’ve clearly been wasting your talents all this time,” Farouk said. “You should be up on stage in an opera house singing Wagner, not down here in the rubble.”
Greta tossed the brick to Farouk and said, “I’m happy with the symphony of destruction.”
“Okay,” Farouk said, “but if I ever find out you’ve passed up better opportunities just to be here, you’re fired.”
“You moved halfway around the world for someone you’d only known for a few days? Why?”
“My grandmother was a very… controlling person. When I was in school, she would not allow me to spend time with other children outside of class. She forbade me to attend university. She made me work at her antique shop as soon as I turned fifteen. Friendship with someone my own age was something foreign to me.”
“Until your cousin came along.”
“Yes. She showed me what I had missed all my life. I would have done anything to hold onto that.”
Greta sat in the booth watching Mockingbird perform. The song was slow, melodic, driven more by keyboard than guitar. The singer’s voice was as powerful as ever, but tighter, more focused. Greta wanted to do what this woman could do, but it was all so far over her head.
She glanced at Jackie, who was amusing herself drawing stick figures of Mockingbird’s singer in various compromising positions. She looked up at Greta, smiled, and flipped to a new page.
“NERVOUS?” she wrote.
“DON’T BE,” Jackie wrote. “YOU DID GREAT IN REHEARSAL.”
“Thank you,” Greta said, glancing down at her hands.
She didn’t have the lyrics written on her palm this time; she was relying purely on memory tonight. She thought back to John Arthur’s words, his advice about volume. It was worth a try.
Mockingbird’s song ended with another long, operatic note, followed by an extended chord on the keyboard. The audience screamed as John Arthur hopped up onto the stage and grabbed a spare microphone.
“Fantastic!” he said. “Mockingbird, ladies and gentlemen. And now, last but not least, our final match of the night: Dragonfire versus Scouring the Shire.”
Greta finished off her beer and followed Jackie onto the stage. As the rest of the band set up their instruments, Greta stood in front of the microphone, reciting the lyrics in her head, hoping she would get them right this time. She squeezed her thumb for luck.
The song started with a rumbling bass line and a brief guitar solo. Greta held the microphone in her hands and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and sang, softly at first but quickly building in volume.
When she reached the chorus, she heard a thunderous boom and opened her eyes as sparks fell from overhead. Droning feedback blared from a pair of busted speakers and someone rushed up onto the stage to pull the plug. John Arthur climbed up as well and stood in front of Greta, facing the crowd.
“Sorry about that, folks!” he said. “We’re having technical difficulties but we’ll be back up and running in no time.”
Greta backed away slowly, her face growing increasingly warm. She dropped the microphone to the floor and dashed off through the curtains. She hurried down the narrow hallway and ducked into the washroom.
Locking herself in a stall, she sat on the toilet lid and wrapped her arms around her knees. A minute passed, and she heard the bathroom door opening, footsteps clicking across tile. They stopped in front of her stall, and a sheet of paper slid under the door.
“ARE YOU OKAY?” it read.
“Yes,” she replied. “Are you mad at me?”
Another sheet slid across the floor, reading, “WHY WOULD I BE MAD?”
“Because I ruined everything,” she said.
“WHATEVER,” the next sheet read. “WE GOT THIS FAR BECAUSE OF YOU.”
“And you lost because of me,” she said.
“IT’S OKAY,” another sheet read. “IT WAS AN ACCIDENT.”
Greta stood and opened the door.
“I wanted to sing like Mockingbird,” she said, averting her eyes.
“YOU SANG BETTER,” Jackie wrote. “LET’S GO HOME.”
Greta nodded and said, “Okay.”
They headed out of the bathroom and found John Arthur standing in the hallway, his arms crossed.
“Never thought I’d see the day that a band was too loud,” he said.
“I am so sorry,” Greta said. “I will pay for the damage if you….”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “If you win the next round, I’ll dock it from your signing bonus.”
“But… we only played half a song,” Greta said.
“That’s more than your opponents played,” John Arthur replied. “Something came up and they couldn’t make it. You win this round by default.”
Jackie’s papers scattered to the floor as she wrapped her arms around Greta and squeezed.
“Do you ever get homesick?”
“Berlin is a beautiful city and I do miss it sometimes, but I have not thought of it as my home for a very long time.”
“So where do you consider to be your home?”
“For me, home is not a place. Home is… a feeling. The feeling of belonging. I do not belong in Berlin anymore. Perhaps I never did.”
“Do you think you belong here?”
“I belong with the people I care about. The people who care about me. They are here, so yes, this is where I belong.”
Greta yawned as she stepped into the office. She’d been practicing with the band every night since the disastrous second round of the tournament, and the next match was just ten hours away. Farouk looked up from his desk and smiled weakly.
“Where is everyone?” she asked in German, glancing around.
Farouk sighed and ran a hand through his hair.
“Henning’s residency application was rejected,” he replied. “He’s moving back to Denmark next week. Anders is helping him get his affairs in order.”
Greta froze for a long moment, eventually managing to mutter, “Why?”
“Sometimes these things just don’t work out,” he said. “There’s really not much you can do about it.”
As Greta stared at the empty seats in the office, a hollow feeling crept into her chest, cutting off her air. She turned away and closed her eyes. She heard Farouk’s footsteps approach from behind, and he placed his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he said. “Henning probably failed the medical exam or something.”
“I just feel so… powerless,” she said. “The wait is killing me.”
“You know, the marriage offer is still on the table,” Farouk said, grinning. “I have three sons. You can take your pick. One prefers men, but I could convince him to pretend otherwise, if you like.”
Greta rolled her eyes. “That is not funny.”
“I just want you to feel better,” he said, and took her by the hand. “Come on, let’s find you a building to destroy.”
“So… would you say that you have no personal or professional ties to Germany?”
“I would, yes.”
“Have you thought about what you’ll do if your application is rejected?”
“I… will keep trying.”
“For how long?”
“As long as it takes.”
The second-last round of the tournament was down to four bands: Dragonfire, Mockingbird, Anvallus, and Euphoric Damnation. Anvallus was up first, playing an energetic blend of death metal and Celtic folk. It wasn’t Greta’s style, but the fiddle solos were nice.
They played two songs, and then Mockingbird took the stage. They were at the top of their game, as usual, but Greta was too busy thinking about her immigration application to enjoy it. Her newfound passion for music was just one more thing she stood to lose.
Jackie held up a piece of paper. “WHAT’S WRONG?”
“Nothing,” Greta replied.
“LIAR,” Jackie wrote.
Greta sighed and took a drink of her beer.
“My coworker, Henning,” she said. “He is being deported.”
Jackie drew a frowning face on the paper and squeezed Greta’s hand.
“I am scared, Jackie,” Greta said. “I do not want to go back to Berlin.”
“YOU WON’T,” Jackie wrote.
“If I do,” Greta said, “I… want you to know….”
“This is it folks!” John Arthur said as Mockingbird cleared the stage. “One more match will determine which two bands will compete in the final round this coming Friday. Now, please, give it up for Euphoric Damnation.”
The band played a gloomy, melancholy song with haunting guitars that gnawed at Greta’s mind and made her feel worse. She closed her eyes and took several deep breaths. She felt a hand touch her arm and looked up at a sheet of paper Jackie was holding.
“WE CAN LEAVE, IF YOU WANT.”
“What about the tournament?”
“THERE WILL BE OTHERS.”
“No,” Greta said. “I can do this. For you.”
Jackie smiled, and wrote, “K.”
Euphoric Damnation’s set ended, and Greta followed Dragonfire up onto the stage. She wrapped her hands around the microphone and held it at arm’s length, just like she’d practiced in rehearsal.
The first song was slow and anthemic. Greta closed her eyes and listened to the sound coming from the speakers. As she sang, she shifted the volume of her voice up and down, testing the system’s limits. Feedback rang out a few times before she finally found the right level.
The second song was more intense, but she managed to get through it without any mistakes. At the end, the audience cheered wildly and John Arthur climbed up onto the stage. He glanced back at Greta and smiled.
“That was more like it,” he said, winking, and turned to the crowd. “And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The final two bands, going head to head next week for a shot at fame and fortune.”
He took two pieces of paper from his jacket and held one up in front of his face.
“Mockingbird!” he said, and then held up the other sheet. “And Dragonfire!”
Jackie screamed ecstatically and immediately clasped her hand over her mouth.
Greta turned to cousin and said, “Your voice….”
Jackie smiled sheepishly and glanced down at the floor.
“Yeah,” she said.
“When did it return?” Greta asked.
“A few days ago,” Jackie replied.
“Why did you not tell me?” Greta asked.
“I didn’t think you’d want to stay in the band if you knew I could sing again,” Jackie said.
Greta smiled and said, “I would never leave.”
“That’s good,” Jackie said, “because we sound a lot better with you.”
“I’d like to switch gears for a moment and talk about your job. What exactly are your duties?”
“Sometimes office work. Sometimes heavy lifting. But mostly I knock down buildings.”
“And what qualifications do you have for that?”
“You know, explosives certification, heavy machinery license, that sort of thing.”
“Oh, I do not use those.”
“Then… what do you use?”
Greta watched as a metal beam floated shakily from the back of Farouk’s dump truck and landed on the ground with a heavy clang. The man lifting it let out a sigh and leaned against a telephone pole, wiping sweat from his forehead.
He looked to be in his thirties, with a crew cut and a muscular physique. He was wearing a reflective yellow vest with a garbage bag tucked into his belt, but under it all he had the air of a soldier.
“Thank you,” Farouk said in English. “We will be in touch.”
The man nodded and headed off down the street with a limp in his right leg. A cigarette butt floated after him and disappeared into the garbage bag. Farouk turned to Greta and smiled weakly.
“They don’t make telekinetics like they used to,” he said in German, crumpling the man’s resume into a ball and tossing it into a nearby dumpster. “I don’t know what I’m going to do. You, Anders, and Henning were the best demolitions team I could have asked for.”
He headed into the office and Greta followed him inside. Anders glanced up from his seat in the corner of the room and then stared back down at the floor again. Farouk grabbed a stack of resumes from his desk and flipped through them.
“What happens if you can’t find anyone?” Greta asked.
“I’ll keep looking,” Farouk said, and smiled. “Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”
“Greta!” a voice yelled, and Jackie burst in through the door. “I… you….”
Panting, Jackie shoved an envelope into Greta’s hands. The return address read “Citizenship and Immigration Canada.” Greta tore it open and found a letter.
“What’s it say?” Jackie asked.
“My application has been processed,” Greta replied. “They want me to come in for an interview on Friday.”
Jackie grinned. “This is it, isn’t it?” she said. “The home stretch.”
“Yes,” Greta said weakly. “I think so.”
Farouk opened a drawer in his desk and handed Greta a stapled stack of paper.
“These are the most common questions asked during an immigration interview,” he said in English. “Practice until you know them by heart.”
Greta glanced at the papers and then at Jackie.
“What about our show?” she asked. “It is also Friday.”
“This is more important,” Jackie said. “I’d give up a thousand record deals if it means keeping you in my life. You’re like a sister to me, dude.”
Greta’s eyes welled up and she pulled her cousin into a tight hug.
“I love you,” Greta said in German.
“I don’t know what that means,” Jackie said in English, “but ditto.”
“You have a super power?”
“Are you aware that Immigration Canada has special programs for people like you?”
“Why didn’t you take advantage of that? You could have fast-tracked this process and made it a whole lot easier on yourself.”
“I would not have earned it. I want to be accepted here for who I am, not for what. If I must take a shortcut to stay here, I do not deserve to.”
“Even if it means going back to Germany and being separated from your cousin?”
Greta sat in the waiting room at the immigration office, eyeing the clock on the wall and nervously smoothing her skirt across her knees. When her number was called, she squeezed her thumb for luck and approached the counter.
The receptionist directed her to a door at the end of the hall. A nameplate on the frosted glass window read, “P. Bruce, Immigration Officer.” Greta took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and knocked.
“Come in,” a man’s voice replied.
Greta opened the door and stepped into a small office. A middle-aged man sat behind a cluttered desk reviewing some paperwork. He looked up at Greta and smiled. She smiled back tensely; she hoped she didn’t look as terrified as she felt.
“Have a seat,” the man said, gesturing to a wooden chair opposite the desk.
She sat in the chair and smoothed her skirt again. She forced herself to look at the man instead of her knees. She clenched her fists to stop her hands from shaking.
“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I hope to make this as painless as possible. I’m just going to ask you a few questions about your background and various other topics. Nothing too personal, just enough to paint a picture of who you are and what makes you tick. Do you need a moment to collect your thoughts before we begin?”
Greta shook her head.
“Okay,” he said, and opened a notebook. “Name?”
“Well, I think I’ve heard enough. Is there anything else you’d like to add?”
“Very well. There are still a few details that need to be worked out – medical exam, criminal record check, that sort of thing – but based on what you’ve told me today, I’m going to recommend that your application for permanent resident status be approved.”
“Yes, really. Welcome to Canada, Miss Kurtz.”
Greta stopped running and leaned against the wall of the Valhalla Club for a minute until she caught her breath. She made her way around to the rear entrance and headed inside. John Arthur handed her a bottle of water as she slipped out of her jacket and made her way backstage.
“Good timing, love,” he said. “They just started. Everything all right?”
As she approached the curtains, she spotted the singer from Mockingbird leaning against the wall wearing a tight, red dress. The woman crossed her arms and nodded. Greta hesitated a moment, then nodded back.
“Everything is… perfect,” she said to John Arthur, and stepped out onto the stage.
She froze for a moment, all those faces watching her expectantly, the band stopping mid-song and turning to face her. She swallowed hard and approached the audience.
“What happened?” Jackie asked.
Greta smiled and gave her cousin the thumbs up.
“Nice,” Jackie said, and started the song over from the beginning.
Greta turned toward the crowd, still watching her, still waiting to see what she would do. She took a deep breath, kicked the microphone stand to the floor, and sang.