A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Minorvogonpoet Started conversation Nov 21, 2020
Some days later, Danielle returned from the children’s house feeling hopeful. She enjoyed her work with the little children and felt it was good for Jeannot to have others to play with. Although she wasn’t being paid much for her work in the children’s home, she and Jeannot had lunch there, reducing her costs for food. She was plagued by worries about Michel. Sometimes when she saw a man approaching, she nurtured an irrational hope it would be him. When the man neared and proved to be someone else, a sense of disappointment flowed over her.
She stopped by the wall along the embankment and raised Jeannot up so that he could see the river.
“Let’s wave at the boats, ”she said, pointing at a couple of barges making their way downriver towards Bordeaux. The water in the river was high after the rain and eddied round the arches of the bridge.
Jeannot waved and said “Boat.”
She struggled up the stairs to her lodgings. Even here, she had made improvements, having cleaned the window and rigged up makeshift curtains with bright orange material. She had prepared a supper of soup and bread for Jeannot, and had placed a bowl, plate and spoon on the table, when there was a knock on her door. She opened it to see her landlord, who was carrying a big bag. For a moment, she was worried he might be there to increase the rent but he smiled.
“I thought it was time I mended that wardrobe door.” He looked at Jeannot, who had started yelling. “But I can come back if this is a bad time.”
She still felt nervous of him but was glad of his help. “That’s fine. I’m just giving Jeannot his tea, but that shouldn’t stop you. I’ll have mine later.”
Guillaume entered the room and took a few steps to the wardrobe door. Although he wasn’t a big man, the room was so small it seemed crowded. He knelt down by the wardrobe and opened his bag. “It only needs new hinges.” Having taken a couple of hinges and a screwdriver from his bag, he set to work.
Danielle sat down, picked Jeannot up, sat him on her lap, and offered him spoonfuls of soup. Watching Guillaume work reminded her of Michel, who had always been ready with tools. She thought of him mending a lorry in the garage: lying beside the vehicle on hard concrete and working on the suspension. The picture was becoming vague. Although she could imagine his face and arms, the background blurred.
“You said you were working,” said Guillaume, bringing her back from her daydream. “What are you doing?”
Danielle hesitated. In theory, the fact the home taught and cared for Jewish children was secret. In practice, it seemed everyone in the town knew. “I’m helping at a local children’s home.”
He nodded. “That’s a good thing to do. I don’t have any children myself. I was married but it didn’t last.” He stood up and wiped his hands on a cloth from his bag. “What about your husband?”
“He’s working further north,” she said, deliberately evasive.
Guillaume raised an eyebrow. “He’s a fool if he’s left you. A lovely woman like you.”
Danielle blushed and dropped Jeannot’s spoon on the floor. She bent to pick it up, hoping her action would conceal her confusion, but Jeannot gave another yell. “Sorry. Once he’s started eating, he doesn’t like being interrupted.”
Guillaume sat down on the bed. “I need to hang the door but I can wait until your little boy’s finished his supper.”
Danielle sat and helped Jeannot eat, cutting up pieces of bread and offering him spoonfuls of soup. She was aware of Guillaume sitting and watching her and his presence made her uneasy. It occurred to her she was in his power: the room was his and she couldn’t afford anything better. She guessed he would notice that she’d made the bed, as well as rigging up a makeshift curtain. The fact she was a clean and tidy tenant might recommend her. However, he could evict her if she did anything to annoy him, making her resume her travels again. The thought made her return to the garage at Caillac in her mind and surround it with a sort of glow. Although it had been dirty and cold when they first arrived, they had made it into a home. They had been forced to leave and her existence now felt fragile.
Guillaume finished hanging the door and took a step back to look at the result. He turned and smiled at her. “ I’m aware this place needs some work but it can be difficult getting hold of things, because of the war. I’ll do what I can. Even if it’s only to get to see you.”
She shut the door behind him and leaned against it. However pleasant Guillaume seemed to be, she didn’t trust him. It would be easy for him to refer her to the authorities in Megére, if he found out she was Jewish. Her connection with the Resistance made her doubly vulnerable. She needed to come up with a plausible cover story.
A week later, Danielle was sitting in the attic room, reading a bedtime story to Jeannot. The book was much thumbed and torn in places and she knew the story by heart, but it was good to see her little boy smiling and pointing to pictures. It was a pity Michel couldn't see his son growing and learning. She thought of Michel and the times they had spent together. It had been a good relationship and they had been happy together, in spite of the war. Until their flight and separation. Danielle realised she was thinking of Michel in the past and she brought up an image of his face in her mind. She she wasn’t going to let it blur. It worried her that she’d left photographs of him in the garage in their hurried departure.
There was a knock at the door and she opened it to find Guillaume.
“I wondered how you were managing,” he said and looked round the room. “If you came on your own, I don’t suppose you could carry much.”
“No but I’ve got clothes and bed linen.”
“I’m sure you could do with more.” He took a few steps into the room and sat down.
Looking at him closely, Danielle noticed he had blue eyes like her own. He was smartly dressed, wearing a red tie with a silver pin and she wondered where his money came from. Not renting out this shabby building. “Have you always lived here?” she asked.
He nodded. “My father was a shipping agent, sending goods up and down the Garonne. During the thirties, he bought up some properties in the town. He thought they’d go up in value but he’d reckoned without the war.”
“It’s a pretty town.”
“But you don’t come from here, do you?” he asked.
She was aware of his appraising eyes on her and guessed he’d realised she hadn’t told the whole truth. “I’m from Alsace. My father and I travelled south west until we found a farm we could stay at.”
“And what about your husband?”
“He worked in a garage but it was losing money, so he went north and got a job in a factory.”
“Why didn’t you go with him?”
“I thought I could get a job here and we needed the money.”
To her relief, he nodded, as if he accepted this account. Danielle became aware of a pressure on her arm and looked down to see Jeannot leaning on her, his eyes closed. This gave her an excuse for changing the subject. “I need to put my little boy on the potty and then to bed.”
Guillaume smiled. “He’s a good looking lad. Is he more like you or your husband?”
Danielle stroked Jeannot’s hair, which was changing colour to a light brown. “My husband. Michel”
“Don’t let me disturb you. I only came to give you these. ” Guillaume rose, felt in his pocket and took out a packet, which he held out to her.
With some reluctance, she took it and opened it and gasped. “Nylons! I haven’t been able to buy any for a long time.”
“I thought you might like them.”
Danielle was struck by a realisation she hadn’t done or said anything to deserve this gift. The fact it didn’t fit in the relationship between landlord and tenant made her uneasy. “Oh but I couldn’t accept them! They’re expensive and I couldn’t afford to buy them.”
He stood up. “ Don’t worry about that. It’s a small gift. That’s all.”
“Perhaps you should give them to someone else. A girlfriend.”
“No. I want you to have them.” He moved to the door and opened it. “Good night.”
Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor Posted Nov 21, 2020
Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array Posted Nov 21, 2020
Will they be together again is what I am wondering .
paulh, hiding under my bed Posted Nov 21, 2020
I wish we knew what Michel was doing at the same time.
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