A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Array Started conversation Nov 28, 2020
Henri knew something unusual had happened that day. He was working in the orchard, picking peaches and he missed the men from the maquis. They sometimes turned up ready to work, glad of a small amount of money and some food. He told himself he didn’t care about their allegiances but in fact, he wondered if Michel was doing something similar. Today the harvest was hard work and less of a sociable event. There were still two boys of his cousins' family and Cecilie, with little Annette picking flowers. Cecilie was expecting their second child, so she could do little real work.
In the late afternoon, Henri was checking a trailer full of fruit when he saw a lorry bumping down the track.
“Someone's coming,” he said to Cecilie. “I'll go and see who it is.”
He walked through the orchard in time to meet the lorry at the gate.
A man jumped out, and Henri knew at once he was a maquisard. He wore a military style tunic and rough trousers, both of which were torn.
“There's been a shoot out on the road from Bournac,”said the man. “We tried to ambush a column of German tanks. A few of our men were killed and our commander, your brother Michel was hurt. They took him to hospital.”
Henri stared at him. “How badly hurt? Is he going to live?” The news hit him like a charging bullock. He suddenly knew how much it mattered that his brother would live. There were weeks when he didn't even think about Michel but, nevertheless, for a moment he forgot about the peach harvest and the farm. He and Michel had had their differences, from fights in the farmyard as boys, to their arguments about Danielle. All the same, Michel was still his brother.
“ He got a bullet in his collar bone. The hospital operated but they didn't want to keep him there and we wanted to bring him somewhere safe afterwards. So we came here.”
Henri gestured at the lorry. “You mean he's in there? In that case, we must get him out.”
The maquisard opened the back of the lorry and both men scrambled in. Michel was lying on a wooden pallet, very pale and moaning slightly.
“He's not fully over the anaesthetic. The hospital wanted him out before the Germans arrived.”
“ We can lift him if I take one end, and you take the other.”
The two men lifted the pallet and carefully carried it into the farmhouse kitchen, laying it down on the rush matting.
Cecilie appeared from the yard and stood for a moment in the doorway, with Annette's hand in hers. She grew pale, then turned to the little girl. “Go and play, Annette.” Annette ran out of the room.
“I thought we weren't going to get involved.” Cecilie said.
Henri growled. “Michel's injured. This is one of his fighters. We are involved, whether you like it or not. Now go and make up the bed.”
Cecilie hurried away.
Henri looked at the maquisard's stained clothes and red eyes. “Come and sit down and I'll ask my wife to find some food and better clothes.”
“Thanks,”said the maquisard, sinking onto a chair. “I'm Thomas.”
Henri sat in silence at the table, while Thomas told the story of the attack on the convoy.
“He was a good commander, but we called him Le Mecanicien because he was good with lorries. I hope he gets better.”
Henri nodded. “We'll do what we can. I always stayed out of the resistance, because I thought it was enough to keep the farm going. But perhaps I was wrong.”
As soon as the bed was made, Henri and Thomas carried the pallet into the spare bedroom and lifted Michel into the bed. He was beginning to stir.
Henri left Thomas tucking into a plate of bread and sausages and went to sit by his brother's bedside. He remembered their childhood adventures together. They used to load fishing gear on their bikes and cycle to a lake in the next valley. There was always a contest between them about who could land the biggest fish. When they had contests of strength, Henri usually won, but Michel won if the game involved guessing the number of steps to a certain gate, or apples in a box. As memories flooded his mind, Henri thought about their row over Danielle, and Michel's departure to the garage. Michel's flight from the garage returned to his mind, and he wondered again who had betrayed him to the authorities.
Thomas had left to return the lorry to the maquis base before Michel opened his eyes.
“Henri. Where am I?”
“At home,” said Henri.
By the next morning, Michel had recovered his normal colour and was able to sit up and talk. He had a livid wound in his shoulder and he was still in pain. Nevertheless, he managed to smile at Henri. “I've turned up again like a bad penny.”
“You're welcome. Stay as long as you like.”
Over the next few days, Michel told his brother the story of his flight from the garage, the parting with Danielle and everything that had happened since. While Cecilie dressed Michel's wound with clean cloths, she said little to him and hurried away as soon as possible. Henri gained the impression she was afraid of him. While Michel slept, Henri found Cecilie in the farmhouse kitchen washing pans, shut the door and turned to face her.
“I want to know the truth,” he demanded. “Was it you who told the police about Michel and Danielle?
She bent over a saucepan she had been scrubbing.
“I think it was. Otherwise, why are you afraid of Michel? I know you are. I can tell.”
Cecilie dried her hands on a cloth and turned to face him, the colour draining from her face.
He had never hurt her, but now he seized her shoulders with his big hands. “Because, if you did, I’m tempted to tell the maquisards. And they'll shoot you.”
“No, Henri, please!”
“I know I didn’t always agree with Michel, but if he’d been able to stay at the garage, he and Danielle might still be here. Instead, Michel's injured and nobody knows what's happened to Danielle.”
“Michel would always have been in trouble.”
“Shall I tell Michel it was you?”
Cecilie started to cry. “It wasn’t my fault. It was François.”
“Was that the François who used to hang out near your shop?”
“He was our neighbour before we married and he became a gendarme. He said he’d kill me if I knew something and didn’t tell him.”
Henri gave her a sudden push, making her topple backwards against the range. “I knew it was you. You betrayed him and me. I'm minded to throw you out of here. I don’t want you here any longer and if you don't leave, I’ll tell the maquisards.”
She pushed herself upright, wailing. “What about Annette and the new baby?”
He looked at his wife's face, running with tears. She had disappointed him, proving herself weak and selfish.
“You can stay until the new baby's born.”
“ You wouldn't throw me out with a tiny baby, would you? Please Henri.”
Henri hesitated. He knew in his heart he had been partly to blame for Michel and Danielle's departure. He knew he could have let them stay in the barn for a few nights. That decision might have made a difference. And it was jealousy that had made him angry with Michel. No-one got all the decisions in their lives right. On the whole, she had been a good wife, cooking, cleaning and looking after Annette. As far as he knew, she had been faithful. He sighed. “All right. You can stay. But you look after Michel properly. And if the new baby's a girl, we'll call her Danielle.”
Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array Posted Nov 28, 2020
Nothing is ever easy. Good idea to call a girl Danielle.
Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor Posted Nov 28, 2020
paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late Posted Nov 28, 2020
I can't believe that the publishers aren't lining up to publish your book, MVP. It is just superb. I would take my hat off to you if I wore a hat. No, wait, I wear knitted caps, which count. Okay, I take it off.
Key: Complain about this post
- 1: Array (Nov 28, 2020)
- 2: Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor (Nov 28, 2020)
- 3: Caiman raptor elk - Escaping the Array (Nov 28, 2020)
- 4: Array (Nov 28, 2020)
- 5: Fwr (Nov 28, 2020)
- 6: Fwr (Nov 28, 2020)
- 7: Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor (Nov 28, 2020)
- 8: paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late (Nov 28, 2020)