Encouraged by his confessor, Pilenz writes down his recollections about the complicated cat-and-mouse relationship he had with Mahlke, his friend from school. He begins with a sunny day on the baseball field, when he set a cat on Mahlke’s enormous Adam’s apple; unable to resist, the cat scratched Mahlke, embarrassing him. Pilenz identifies himself with the “eternal cat” that will be Mahlke’s undoing.
A group of boys that included Pilenz, Mahlke, Hotten Sontag, and Schilling spent their summers swimming around the abandoned wreck of a Polish minesweeper in the Danzig harbor. Mahlke went to a great deal of trouble to learn to swim, and soon he swam and dived better than any of the other boys. He often swam down into the minesweeper, bringing back a variety of objects, including a medallion of the Virgin Mary, a fire extinguisher, and a Victrola. Sometimes the boys were joined by Tulla Pokriefke, a girl who greatly admired Mahlke.
Because of his enormous Adam’s apple, Mahlke wore a variety of objects around his neck, including the medallion and a screwdriver he brought up from the minesweeper. Once he even started a fashion trend by wearing yarn pom-poms as if they were a bow tie. These objects, according to Pilenz, did as much to draw attention to as they did to distract from Mahlke’s Adam’s apple.
One summer, Mahlke, exploring the insides of the minesweeper, found that he could reach a radio room that was not underwater. This became Mahlke’s sanctuary, and he transported many of his treasures to the room, cleverly protecting them from water damage on the way. He took the Victrola and several records to his secret room, where he played music while the boys sunned themselves on top of the minesweeper.
Mahlke, a Roman Catholic, was remarkably devoted to the Virgin Mary, although he professed no faith in God or in Christ. This excessive devotion set him apart from the other boys, even from Pilenz, who was often an altar boy at the church Mahlke attended. Mahlke...
(The entire section is 828 words.)