A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Array Started conversation Nov 26, 2020
When Michel came round later, he was lying on a bed with a blanket over him. To his amazement, a pretty young woman with light brown hair was standing beside him. For a while, he had the odd idea she was Cecilie, his sister-in-law. He told himself he was imagining things, as he knew Cecilie had no sympathy with the Resistance. “Who are you?” he asked.
“My name's Jacqui. I'm a nurse. You've a badly broken arm and a couple of broken ribs. They’ll heal eventually. ”
“I'm lucky if that's all.”
“Yes, if you will go crashing lorries.”
He was silent for a while and watched her. She slid away the blanket and examined the dressings on his chest. Even her gentle touch hurt and he bit his lip to stop himself crying out.
“The doctor said your lungs weren’t damaged, so you should be all right,”Jacqui said. She was packing up her bandages into a bag.
“Are you going?”he asked.
“Yes, I've other patients to see. But I'll be back tomorrow.”
He turned to watch her leave the room but the movement hurt too much and he sank back into his bed. For the first time in many years, he thought of his father, coming back from the First World War with his lungs damaged by gas. He had never been able to do the heavy jobs on the farm afterwards, as they would make him cough and gasp for breath. Michel had known since he joined the Resistance that he might not survive this war. However, the idea of being alive but disabled troubled him. Would he be able to return to working in the garage, or on a farm?
He remembered how gently Danielle had treated the injured English airman. The memory made him realise he hadn't thought much about her or Jeannot for a while. It wasn't that he didn't care; he'd simply been too busy. It occurred to him he didn’t know what had happened to the photographs of them he’d carried in his pocket since they’d left the garage. He explored his clothes, but he’d been given loose pyjamas. The idea he’d lost them grieved him.
Soon afterwards, Pedro sneaked into the room.
“I'm not supposed to keep you talking too much. But I thought I'd tell you, we got Marcel out.”
“Any other casualties?”
“Not on our side, but poor Marcel had been badly beaten .”
Michel groaned. He didn’t feel he could cope with more bad news “Could you do me a favour? There were some photos in my shirt pocket. Could someone look for them?”
By the time Nurse Jacqui returned the next day, Michel was feeling brighter. His photos had been returned and his arm was less painful. He had looked forward to her reappearance.
“You remind me of someone, Cecilie Lacombe,”he said, in an attempt to get her talking.
She shook her head. “I don't know her. I'm from Castelnau.”
“A pretty girl like you must have a man friend.”
She sighed. “I was married but my husband didn't return from the Battle of France.”
“I'm sorry,”he said, mechanically.
“No you're not.”She tightened his bandage hard enough to make him gasp.
Michel wasn't going to give up his attempt to find out more about her. “What made you work for us lot?”
“It was more or less an accident. I was working at the hospital in Castelnau and one of the doctors said he wanted a nurse to help him look after an injured fighter. I didn't realise at first he was from the maquis. Then I thought they're carrying on the battle my husband died fighting. So it was the right thing to help them.”
As the days passed, Michel's strength began to return. Nurse Jacqueline, aided by one of the fighters, managed to help him into a chair. This improved his morale considerably. He was able to sit up, look round and take more interest in what was going on. The full story of the raid was told to him. It appeared the intelligence they had been given, that the Germans meant to use a car to transfer Marcel, had been right at the time. However, there had been a change of plan at the last moment. At first, Michel worried that news of their intended rescue might have leaked out. However, it appeared that the car had been commandeered by a senior officer at short notice. There were only three German soldiers in the bus and they had been overpowered. The bus driver, who was French, had been killed, however. Michel was sorry about that. Although the man had been working just another innocent victim of the conflict.
For a long while, Michel could hardly get out of bed. His broken arm was in a sling, which stopped him from using it but limited the pain. However his broken ribs made breathing and sitting up painful. He spent hours lying on a camp bed, covered with blankets to keep out the cold. Although he had tablets to dull the pain, he found it difficult to sleep and spent hours watching patterns of ice form on the window panes. He was always glad when Pedro and other members of the maquis came to talk to him and lent him books. Michel realised he hadn’t read books for pleasure for a long time. He thought back over his life and, in particular, his parting from Danielle and Jeannot.
He realised he’d always chafed against idleness and yearned for the chance to act and bring about change. That yearning had impelled him to get involved in the resistance and made him reluctant to accept the role of a refugee, looking after his wife and child. This enforced idleness felt like a punishment. The first time he walked out of the medical bay and joined the men, they cheered.
Being hurt brought an unexpected bonus in the shape of Jacqueline. She visited him once a week until he got out of bed. In the course of her visits, he'd tried to persuade her to talk about her family. She claimed she didn’t have time to chat but he learnt some things. She'd married her childhood sweetheart shortly before he was called up to fight. When she’d received the news that he’d been killed she’d sat in their house on her own, stunned, until her mother arrived. She’d returned to live with her parents, although her mother was devastated her daughter had been left a widow at such a young age.
The last time Jacqueline came, she asked him to move his arm, breathe in and out and walk across the room. “You're so much better now. You don't need me any longer.”
He turned towards her and his side gave him a stab of pain. “Aren't you going to come any here any longer?”
“I can't. I've got other patients who need me more. I've told you that.”
He lurched across to where she stood by the bed. “But can I see you sometime anyway?”
She smiled at him. “If you come down to the hospital at about seven in the evening, I usually finish a shift then. You might see me there.”
The idea of venturing out appealed to Michel. It would be his first chance to see the outside world since his injury. As he needed to be able to pass himself off as an ordinary civilian, he'd changed into the rough woollen trousers and jersey that might be worn by a farmer. He'd begged a place in a lorry being driven down to the town by a group of fighters. Although he had no reason to think anyone was looking for him, he was aware that he must do nothing to attract people’s attention . He traced a route through back streets towards the hospital.
As he passed the ambulance park, he noticed how few vehicles were in working order. Although an ambulance might make a good vehicle for the maquis to use, it wouldn’t be right to steal one. The maquis needed the goodwill of the hospital staff. Michel wondered if he could develop a side line in mending ambulances.
Not long after Michel arrived, Jacqueline emerged from a staff entrance.
“You came,”she said. “I didn't know you'd come. Is it safe for you here?”
“Probably not. I don't think it's safe anywhere.”
“There's a cafe I know where the manager's friendly.”
They walked to a cafe which was empty apart from one young couple in a corner. It was dark and smoky inside. Michel and Jacqueline sat at a table with a zinc top. They looked at the menu but there was very little on offer, so they settled for ham sandwiches and a glass of inferior wine each. The bread was stale and the ham slices were thin. He took out two Gauloises and gave her one.
“It's nice being out,” Michel said. “I felt like a captive. And it's nice being with you of course.”
She was pretty, with her light brown hair and hazel eyes and her smile transformed her face. “I bet you say that to all the girls.”
“There have been no other women in my life since Danielle and I parted. Honestly.”
She looked at him. “Have you got pictures of them?”
He found the photographs which had been returned to him. Now, he passed them to Jacqui.
“She’s beautiful,”Jacqui said. “And he’s a sweet little boy.”
Michel nodded. “ I don’t know where they are now. I hope they’re all right.”
“Why did you part?”
“ We were found out.” He gave a brief account of their flight from Caillac, and his capture by the gendarmes. His anger with Henri for refusing to shelter the family had faded but, when he told of his futile search for Danielle and Jeannot, he felt tears in his eyes .
Jacqui touched his hands. “You love them.”
“I loved Gerard too, but he’s dead. Which means I’m free but I might not have you for long.” Michel removed his hands from his face and looked at her. “But you might not have me for long anyway, not in my line of business. I might be killed tomorrow.”
She took his hands and squeezed them. “Then let’s make the most of the time we have.”
After they had finished their meal with another glass of wine, they left the cafe and wandered back through the streets until they reached the cemetery. Jacqui opened the gate and slipped through. Rows of family graves stood along paths, which vanished into the shade of cypresses, where the darkness was even deeper.
“This is a cheerful place,” Michel said.
“The dead won't hurt us. It's the living we have to worry about.”
Michel took off his coat and spread it under a cypress tree. He drew Jacqueline into his arms and kissed her, starting with her lips and continuing down her throat. She took her coat off and soon, they were lying on two coats, touching, kissing, and forgetting the world outside with all its troubles.
Array Posted Nov 26, 2020
Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor Posted Nov 26, 2020
People say that happens a lot!
paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late Posted Nov 26, 2020
That's true during wartime especially. And maybe during plagues.
Fwr Posted Nov 26, 2020
paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late Posted Nov 26, 2020
A lot of things do. My uncle and aunt married as soon as the aunt was 18 (the uncle was just 20, and about to join the navy). They divorced in the early 1970s. They stayed together only because of the children.
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