A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Minorvogonpoet Started conversation Nov 22, 2020
Michel was bored. Life in his little maquis group had become tedious. They spent their time training, doing guard duty, cleaning their weapons and foraging for food. He had done his best to get the group's decrepit lorry roadworthy, but he lacked the tools and equipment he needed. It was difficult for the group to claim to be any effective force.. Sometimes he sat and read on his makeshift bunk in the hut. From time to time, he took a photograph of Danielle and Jeannot out of his pocket and looked at their picture. He felt lost without them, as if he’d parted with the very reasons for his existence. When he wondered where Danielle had gone, he imagined her in a safe place, with family or a group. As for the members of the maquis, he was clear that their morale needed keeping up and they needed some action which would bring success.
“We could raid the base of the Young Peoples' Work Camps,” Michel said to his group, as they sat in their wood cabin grilling stale bread over a fire.
“Where's that?”asked Pedro.
“Further west. There's an area of forestry. They were supposed to be working there.”
“Are there still working there?”
“It's empty now,” said Charles, one of the young men. “I know that because I was supposed to go and work there. But I decided to come here instead.”
“Is it guarded?”
“We'd have to check.”
Over the course of several weeks, Michel and Pedro took turns making cautious trips to the nearby villages. Passing himself off as a delivery man, Michel ambled to a café, bought a glass of red wine and asked a few questions of villagers. From these, he learned that the camp had no regular guard. Instead, the authorities relied on sending a couple of men up in a lorry once a day. The timings of the visits varied.
One day, Michel and Pedro walked from the village, carrying bags that contained various tools. They were armed only with revolvers to avoid the suspicion that would be caused by carrying rifles. The area of forestry clothed a hill, with a wide track climbing up it which had obviously been used by lorries. They walked up the track, keeping watch for signs of human activity. Leaves were drifting from the trees and blowing into piles along the banks of the track. They stopped when they saw the outskirts of the camp though the trees, moved off the track and slipped through the trees.
They could see signs of recent activity. Piles of neatly cut timber were stacked along one side of a clearing. On the other was a well-constructed wooden building, large enough to house about twenty people. The windows were covered with shutters. For a while, they stayed hidden among the trees, looking for activity. Nothing stirred, except the wind among the trees.
Michel moved forward in a kind of crouching run until he reached the side of the hut. From there he crawled to the door, stood up and tried the lock. It was firmly closed. Pedro followed and examined the lock, took a bundle of tools out of his pack, chose one and slipped it into the lock. Nothing happened. He tried another tool and, after a series of clicks, the lock sprang open.
“I didn't know you included lock picking among your skills,”said Michel.
Pedro grinned. “I've done a few interesting things.”
“Tell me some time.”
As soon as they walked into the hut, they could see a great deal of equipment had been left behind. There were piles of clothes, stacks of boots and a cupboard full of tinned food. They also found a locked store.
As Pedro was trying his lock picks, they heard a vehicle approaching up the track.
“Quick!” yelled Michel, ran out of the building, dived into the wood and threw himself down.
Pedro locked the door, ran after him and stumbled behind a tree. A moment later a police vehicle drove into the clearing. A couple of gendarmes jumped out, walked round the site and checked the lock on the door. Apparently satisfied, they drove away. Michel and Pedro waited until the sounds of the vehicle's engine had died away.
“We’re in luck,” said Michel. “We know they won’t return until tomorrow.”
They walked back down into the village and returned in the lorry. Although they were not expecting the gendarmes to return, Michel drove the lorry off the track and parked it between the trees. Pedro quickly unlocked the door of the base and started fiddling with the the lock of the cupboard. After a while, he gave a whoop of success and flung the door open. Inside several rifles, revolvers and a box of ammunition were stashed. They laughed and slapped each other on the back. It took them nearly an hour to stack bundles of clothes, boxes of food, tools and weapons into the lorry. Michel covered the load with tarpaulins, in case the gendarmes stopped them and looked inside the back. They returned to the base of the maquis in the quarry, where their success was received with rejoicing.
One evening, as Danielle returned to the house, she passed the wash room on the ground floor where she went for water. She was surprised to see Guillaume crouched over the tap. He’d taken off his leather jacket and rolled up his sleeves but he still looked out of place. His shirt was white with a slight stripe and a stiff collar, while his trousers were good quality wool, not the sort of clothes a workman wore. The drain below the tap was always dirty, clogged with soap, hair and grease from food. He rose and smiled as he heard her approaching, and she got the impression that he’d been waiting for her. Although he had a bag of tools at his feet, she wasn’t sure he was doing anything useful.
“I think this tap needed a new washer,” he said.
“Haven’t you got a plumber for those things?”
“Of course, but I sometimes check what needs to be done.Anyway, I’ve got something for you, and your little boy.”
As he smiled, she realised it would be difficult to avoid inviting him into her room. She asked herself why he made her feel uneasy. He was well spoken and dressed, even good-looking in a quiet way, and he had treated her kindly. Yet something jarred. Having opened her room, she put Jeannot down on the floor, where he pulled himself up and tottered towards the old teddy bear she’d left by the bed. Although she had made the bed before she left in the morning, she’d left the nest of blankets where she laid Jeannot down to sleep.
“Your son’s doing well,” said Guillaume.
“I’m glad he can join with the children at the school. It’s good for him.”
Guillaume sat on the bed. “Do you want to see what I’ve got?”
Danielle hesitated. “You don’t need to give me things.”
He took a packet out of his pocket and unwrapped it. A bar of chocolate. “Give some to Jeannot, if you don’t want any yourself.”
Chocolate was such a rare luxury Jeannot had never tasted any. She took the proffered packet, broke off a few squares, crouched down beside Jeannot and offered them to him. He took a bite and grinned broadly, showing a few milk teeth. Unable to resist his obvious pleasure, she grinned back, then looked at Guillaume as she stood up. “Thank you. It’s kind of you, I don’t know where you get these things.”
Guillaume smiled. “I have my sources.”
A spiv. That’s what he was, Danielle thought. As well as property, he doubtless traded on the black market, buying things from a range of sources and selling them at a higher price. That was strictly illegal and of dubious honesty but she couldn’t be too hard on him for that. After all, for the past year, she and Michel had been hiding refugees, an offence the authorities considered serious. People did what they needed to do in order to survive in a time of confusion caused by war. Perhaps she’d been unfair to him.
“Shouldn’t your son have a proper cot?” Guillaume asked, nodding at the nest of clothes Danielle had built.
“I had to leave our cot behind when we left.”
“I could get one for you.”
Danielle rose and faced him. She knew Jeannot needed a cot. Now he was more mobile she sometimes woke to find him in the bed beside her and was afraid of rolling over and suffocating him. If Michel had been with her, he would have made a cot. As she thought of him, the times they had spent together and his many qualities, a great sense of loss swept over her and she blinked. She wanted to believe he was still alive and she would see him again, but she couldn’t be sure.
“Have I said something to upset you?”
“ I was just thinking of my husband. He was good at making things.”
“Why did he leave you?”
She shook her head, unwilling to tell Guillaume the truth. She didn’t trust him that far. “You know what it’s like in wartime. He had to go one way for work and I went the other.”
“A woman like you needs a man.” He rose, slipped his arm round her waist and kissed her.
As she felt his tongue pushing itself into her mouth, Danielle tried to pull back but his arms gripped her tightly. Filled with horror and panic, she wriggled, at last broke free and moved away from him. “You’ve got it wrong. Michel hasn’t left me, we had to part for a while, until we can sort things out.”
“Oh yes, and how long will that be?”
Danielle knew she couldn’t answer that question. It depended on how long the war lasted and whether they both survived. Even now, Michel might be dead. Her eyes filled with tears.
Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor Posted Nov 22, 2020
Key: Complain about this post