It is the story about a young girl who goes back to the place of her mother’s friend, Mrs. Dorling, to find her old belongings only to find that they do not carry the same value in a different setting with unfamiliar people.
The setting of the story is post-WWII and the persecution of the Jews by Hitler’s Nazi forces. The girl and narrator and her mother Mrs. S are Jews who lived in Germany (or maybe Austria or Holland).
After the war had ended the narrator felt confident and safe enough to visit her old place. She found her old house was not there and started living in a small hut. Reminiscing the old times she decided to visit the address: House Number 46, Marconi Street.
This is the address of her mother’s old acquaintance Mrs. Dorling whom the narrator had only seen once and that was before the War.
She used to borrow her mother’s belongings and possessions like clothes, utensils, silverware, etc for safekeeping in case their family had to flee their house protecting themselves against the Nazi repression.
When the narrator, Marga Minco, reaches the address a broad-backed old lady opens the door incompletely as if to hide some secret. She is wearing her mother’s old cardigan.
The girl recognizes the woman and acknowledges the same. The woman claims to know nothing about her. The girl reminded her of Mrs. S, her mother and their house.
The woman realized who she was and enquired how did survive when the rest of her family died in the war and repression. The girl said she had returned to the place after the war and wanted to see her mother’s things.
The woman rebuffed her advances and said that she did not have time to get into old stuff at that moment and that the girl should return some other time. The woman’s daughter asked about the visitor from inside the house but the woman claimed that it was nobody familiar.
The betrayal of her mother’s old friend shocked and hurt the narrator. She decided to return with a heavy heart and dashed hopes.
On her way back the narrator remembers the day she came back to her mother’s at the beginning of the war. She may have returned from a hostel or a trip. She looked at the house and the rooms and found several pieces of furniture, crockery, silverware etc were not there.
She became worried and enquired about the missing stuff from her mother. Her mother downplayed the issue and instead appreciated her keen observation. One morning when the girl was striding down the stairs she saw a woman leaving her house and her mother escorting her out.
This woman was carrying their crockery and furniture and loading them in a carriage. She tells her mother about the woman and why she took their stuff. Her mother told her that it was Mrs. Dorling an old friend of hers who had reconnected with her in recent times.
She was taking their things to keep them safe in case they had to flee in an emergency. They would collect their things after peace was established and they were safe in their place. The girl did not feel comfortable and found the woman mysterious and sinister.
Her mother asked her to refrain from suspecting her friend as she was helping them at the risk of her own life. She told her about her address at Marconi Street.
It was house number 46. Unfortunately, the family was driven to the concentration camps and none survived to save the narrator.
Growing frustrated at her last visit, the narrator decides to go back to the same address and reclaim her mother’s belongings. She was determined and approached the door. But this time a new face opened the door. It was Mrs. Dorling’s daughter.
She asked the narrator to come inside and escorted her to the drawing-room. The room was filled with the narrator’s old things that belonged to her mother. The burnt mark on the tablecloth to the silver spoons, everything reminded her of the past.
The things looked the same but they were in a different place, lifeless and strange. They lacked the life they had before, they lacked the touch of her mother or the smell of their house. They were a reminder of what the narrator had actually lost and that it could never be recovered.
The girl obviously did not know that her mother was a conniving and wicked woman. The narrator asked her if she knew where her mother had got these things. She thought that her mother bought the objects at an auction.
The narrator was soon overwhelmed by the flushing memories and decided to leave the house and the possessions. Without giving any explanation to her host, she scampered from the house which became hauntingly difficult for her to stay in.
She made a commitment to never return to the place and those forgotten things. In the end, she decided to forget the address and all the history that went with it. For her, it was a burden she was relieved to get off her mind and heart.
The story depicts the complex human emotions of intimacy, trust, hope, and betrayal. It speaks of the greed and vices that afflict a human being and how it makes them do horrible things like breaking other people’s hopes, lying, stealing, cheating, etc.
Mrs. Dorling refuses to return what she took from her friend and do her duty as a friend and a responsible human being. She actually used the opportunity to take advantage of her friend’s difficult circumstances.
This represents the worst of human nature. The background of War and persecution of innocent lives has strong connotations and beautifully foreshadows the story itself.