by Ma~rianne Hauser
one afternoon at ar `party not long ago, a1 mass of peonies,
milk-white or faintly blue, set me dreaming. I saw them distantly
at first as I entered the room, their overripe, distended
blossoms floating like exhausted water lilies in th~e smoke against
a window of mauve sky. Thle party was nearly over. I had come
late. Guests were leaving in a steady trickle, ushered out
ceremoniously by ou host whose incandescent velvet coat lig e~d
the way down the long corridor past pagan masks, stuffed h'irds
an fat 'k-elangels. He was a collector of many things. I had
overheard a swan-necked lady dismiss his apartment as wocrse-
than~-provineal, thd~ opiumr dreamr of ao small town-b y lost in the
sayern-of New York C'ity. "So unselective, so .American, really -
don't you agrees" she had remarked, addressing me unexpectedly
over her shoulder as we had passed each other on the dia sytral
stairs. She may nott haEve wanted an Ranswer. I don't think we had
met before. Yet It had briefly stopped to reply that I wouldn't;
know, foreign born as I was, and still at heart an old Alsatian,
for all my years in the New World.
I too was a dreamer perhaps, easily seduced by my host's
multiple visions thos Chinese paper birds and butterflies
reflected in the illass eyes of Mb~xican saints the stiff
Victorian chairs wreathed with grapes of polished mahagony;
O3ne afternoon at a party not long ago, a mass of peonies,
milk-white or faintly blue, set me dreaming. 5 saw them distantly
lm~mrhmat as I entered the room their overripe, distended
blossoms floating like exhausted water lilies in the smoke
against a window of mauve sky. The party was nearly over. I had
come late. Guests were leaving in a steady trickle, ushered out
ceremoniously by our host whose incandescent velvet coat lighted
the way down the long corridor, past African masks, stuffed birds
of paradise, Florentine angels. He was a collector of many things.
I had overheard a swan-necked lady refer to his place as a museum
of A-LL--sht~e conflicting dreams. "So unselective, so American, really-
don't you agree? "she had remarked, addressing me unexpectedly
over her feather bpa- as we had passed each other on the dim stairs.
She may not have wanted an answer. I don't think we had met before.
SA~b1 I stopped briefly to say that I wouldn't know, foreign born
as I was, gind still at heart an old Alsatian, for all my years in
the New WYorldl.
But I thought as I entered. qtte (fF"
nflmCi8MMiff the New World might be the oldest, 1ImI~~mWA~lmamak~y se
duced by my hosts multiple uvistnrs those Chinese paper birds and
butterflies reflected in the glass eyes of Mriexbcan saints; the stiff
Bostobian chairs wreathed with grapesof polished mahagony; and
the funeral wreath over the fire place where a small fr
had burned itself out.
The room appeared deserted. the few die-hards, grpuped
around a beaded wooden horse were part of the room* They were
the eastern, the western,
talking ramut the conflicting hemispheres- Whon west, the east
the evr present threat of war, the safety of fall-out shelters
in peace or war. Words drifted my w~ay across the gay caroussel
and the funeral wreath over th~e fireplace where a small fire
hzad burned itself out.
The room appeared deserted. The few die-hards, grouped
around a headed, wooden horses might have been part of the
strange scenery. They were conversing about the ever present
threat of ware the atom, the safety of t-he fall-out shelter~
in peace or war. The~ir words drifted mly way aqrosq the gay
carrousel horse and blended with thte ringing of cocktail gladsies.
I almost heard a barrel organ plaryr Ot .Cusanna... Oh Strashourg...
But on the black upright beyond, under ae snowfall of petals,
thre sheet music was open on at madrigal by Gesualdo, P'rince
of Venosa. Peering at the blurred title (lo pur respire in cost
gran dolore) I remembered that the poasionate prince had:
instigated the murder of his young; wife,andf of her lover,and of
their child. The bloody anecdote, related to me long ago by
anw excitable uncles faded into an odor of sweet decay Rcottly,
rhythmically, the peonies shed their petals onto the yellowed
keyboard, the silent music, to send me back forty odd years
into that dank and lon abandoned garden of childhood. Th
overblown flowers were massed inside a porcelain blue and
surely antique chamber pot. It was, I saw without amasement,
"fitelike the qne that aed to wait ~r achf~ugl ym bed,
Deve-tten +l-4a-S-i~ttreaborg-8 ; the same blue pot, even as
to the nick in the fluted handles and the intricate roadmap
of cracks under the glaze.
I wase at theo ag~e of seven oh secrete happy shame of
that memory -, till wetting my bed, shocked as I would wake
up with a startl but soon asleep again, comforted by the ware,
odorous dam in which my body would dissolve, dreaming.
"G~ood L~ord not againl* Doarette would cry In the morning,
emerging from he virginal bed in a wrindy Clctober lZg~ht.r She
was more than twice my age, brow and shining and tarll and fully
developed. ul *n-ar- hepeteser Bub~ --Aber-was-nOc ccGEilon~iii ~in
hanisas.~33~~33~~3~ Shte was my accomplice and I adoared h~-er. Frantically
she pulled outt the sheets from ander me, so she alght hide thlem.
Rut always it would be too late. Always mother wrould stand in
the door, dressed in her usual black, as though in perpetual
mourning over my evil wayse I would imagine as I would sit,
exposed and with a guilty anar, in my long nightshlirt.
"You are hopeleass.." She too spoke those words. But
her trailing voice, her sigh, proposed a hopelessness beyond
my9 own. Her eyesZJ an opaque gray, looked past me and up to a hole
in the stuccoed ceiling. Shaking her head writh its coronet of
graying hair she began to mutter about thes war, blaming it all
on the wa my derelict bladder, my callous grin, an the
complicity between D~orette and moe, andi th~e cracked ceiling: all
cAt" this and more she blamed on the wrar, the Kaiser for whom
he husband, God have mercy on him, was forced to bear area.1
He still as, behind the lines heave be thanked, she whispered
dramatically. The P'russians knew better than to march a loyal
Alsatian to the front where he'd be sure to desert over to
the glorious French as would he only right :And proper, she
whispered fiercely. And glancing behind here she quickly shut
the door to guard against our maid Cecel1a who might be lurking
in the shadows somerwhlere, prying, spying for the H~osh, she
suspected with a dark look.
C "I surprised her in church. She was kneeling in front of
her patron saint, asking Saint Cecelia to save the Kaiser. The
big, fat hussyt" M-y mother, Fat herself, stamped her foot.
"I: wish I could throw her out by her ears. But how can 17 Ho~lw
can i afford toK Bithout her we might all be deard in our graves a')
fac-m--Padau-ptt She absently kicked the chamber pot under
the bed, and turned to face the windows the slow-flowing
Sriver hich carried the fallen sycamore leaves to I did not know
Swhat faraway placesC
"D~ead to ou graveaf" I echoed. Cecelia, I knew, supplied
us now and then with extra rations through the black market,
a term no less mysterious to mpe than the grave, pl~The farm to which
she would take occasional trip, was green and bright. I had seen
no blackness on that memorable summer day when I had been chosen
to smuggle the loot past the inspection officer on the old
milk train. Usually, maotheor would trust, only Selene on such
a mission. Selene, equad- Whiaree ph-ehe mema~duhPat HeF was
Sangel-Ifacd, and no inspector would guess what she might carry
buried under the potted grerniu or under the halo of her
But that one time, bless her heart, she had been sick in
bed. I had been chosen. Thle precious contraband, bacon, butter
and six tresh eggs wraplped in straw, had been sewn into my
underclothes by Cecel1a before we had returrned~ through ar
valley of buttercups. Bfrrel-shaped and shaking wjith, excitement,
I had stood on the windy platform of dthe old milk train, while
Cecelia had kissed the inspecting officer in a shower of so t.
Myi mouth wras waterin a, t the memeory, dtrrf-IThe` vi'ctunal
iudderm)-oly-eheekea~red-kits soon as Frane hrad beat the
Kaiser, our stomachs would be filled, my mother promised.
"u'ine will be flowing. We'll he dancing in the streets," she
muase, surveting the autumna4 river) the travellinr leaves.J
I imagined fountains spouting wine. It saw the stone apostles
leap of their pLdeatals by the ca edr 1~~ door and waits through
th streets. 12
"Vive la france et merde la Prussel" I[ yelled.
"Hush!" warned my mother.
"Hlush!"* warned Dorette behind may mother's back. Winking at
se, she kicked up, her black-stockinged leg and ,inned a er gran
b~lack-white-red cockade to a frivolous Parision ganrter. Dorate .i(L
~as in love with a Prusalan lieutenalnt sese~rety, m~adly "she
had confessed to me last a unmer~u` r_, ,
"Vive la Prussel"* I amended fseer-pbeasu~re. Inded ) ?
loyalties were forever divided. My political universe was
confused, reflecting the confusion of tonges at our house
where French might alternate with German~o Alsatian(,a patois
parsh and Aloemannic through which French idioms flitted like
clever birdsSI I sang the Masrseilraise and The M'atch on the Rhine
off key and with equal gusto. I had decorated my doll's hous
with the French tricolor as well as with an Tron Crosse won
in battle by God knew wht~at German soldier. I had found it in1
the park last spring. There lit had lain at y feetr in the young
grass, reminding me of a doll's tombstone.
He were in the third year of the long war The freight
trains would whistle and howl through th~e night, carrying
reinforcements to a mythical front from ani-enknown, never-
ending prairies I imangined. Sometimes I would mistake the distant
ho 1 fo gjr raid siren, and disciplined ait least in~-that-ene
r ~~al~a~ eme~rgen16 4, I ould tear out of my wet sheets, expecting
to be h~erded down six flights ~egmshmh into the cellar. we lived
onr the top floo~r of crowded apartment house. There were
sporadic token raid greeted by my mother with feverish bravos
and tense supplicaltions. "Rlow ap the garrisonal Spare ou house"
she cried to the night sky where the search lights had drowned
C *"Allons enfants de la patrie..." Singinge we were marched
into the cellar, with candles, in a Chiristnmslike parade.
~I had beten wrrapped in ar moth-chewed army blanket my father's
b~ lanket? 8lu ;had forgotten my father3 The cellar wse buzzing
with stirred-up tenantse odd a aritions whose shladowse hovered
like goblins ulpon thle damp walla Always in that musty cellar i
had a,notion of ~wonders to c op.elenesu S i~;Fi; dg her guitar,;- -;r"
making mru ic for herself alone, II thought as i watched the pale,
unclouded sooon of her heaid float above an upended fish barrel)
The candles burned and danced. The tallow dripped, My mother
light-foeted for all her bulk ini the ctuilted robe, was making
the social rounds, easily stepping among the tenants to pick up
gossip and pour ersatz coffee from a big enameled piot. Shrapnel
splashed into the river Yomeawhere, not too far aways a-itomb
exploded and the coffee spilled. "Dea~r Godl" Dorette cried into
a sudden silence. And she dropped thie GaEllic war which she had
carried underground to study she had said with a pious look.
But out of C~aesar spilled Nana, gaudily bound. She did not
even notice the accident. Shie stared into space. A strand of her
long hair came lonoseand ran down aovr her eyes like black water.c
Thlis was the longest autumn of my short memory. Tlhe soldiers,
lamely stomping through the fallen leaves by the rivers looked
hollow and ragged.r I aved at them. I bounced mey red ball. The
ball flew away from me and toward a crippled soldier who caught
it with uncanny deftness under thle stump which had been his
right arm. "I have a little girl like you. there la your father?"~
tI had forgotten my f~ather Hes arrived with chocolates,on
a brief furlough. But I ha forgotten him. He1 haid grown a
pointed beard which ran like ar little dagger against my cheek as
he Lifted me up with one hand. I wras as light as as spalrrow, he
said in a stranger's voice. But Selene too h~ad not enough
flesh on her bones, be~-coaa p~4 e so aCa~nadu -hac~snr...And-P~mothemee
manaly-Jsb~S1-rtea ~d-with-ity -she~9 scagepeat~qred byreakf ,Da~ *ore ttie
bloomed like a rose It was a miracle, t
Hecr bronze skin throbbedl with health. Hler dark-gsewkng eyes
were eagerly scanning the river bridge in quest of her le~ve?
%I-wornded~;'rsafa;Mpl ercea-mingesss A tow more days, and her
Prussian 166utenant would be seri to thle front. Sobbing: she
had climbed into bed writh me to disclosed the sad news. Oh love.
Ohr Trauers one amour~, adieu. My pillow had been wet with her
tears. Bult in the morning she saong. She would harve a7 final
rendeshous with her lieutenant, after dark, after dark, she sang,
at the rGrang~erie, that formral park where love g~rewr wild behind
clipped eveege**en hedges, nute mother wrould of conese believe thatt
she was attending a birthday dance at t~he-mayeods~ house.
",Swear that SyaS won't to 1 a soull Ceeye-er?
He fell into each other's arms and waltz~ed. We jumped across the
chamber pot. Hlow we Ilaughedl There would be a moon, a juicy
orange of a moo arbove the nrange~rie, Dorette predicted,
indifferent on-b&nd~ in her love to the drizzle that blurred
the wrindow. The river flowed inh hands of smoke. The Gothics
single steeple of the cathedral was lost in the clouds as I
walked to school, with the satchel strlapped to my back, in a
My father the forgotten man had left again. Hiis beard, his
rain gray uniform were gon, back to an unknown destination
tW"PPrub-Smh Hle was working on a ~ne and terrible explosives
I had3 been told. 'ry mother's outcry th~at he was forced ~to bear arm
for the Kaiser, was just a phrase. He was, by profesalon, a
chemists and adl been assigned to a oshamickt a plant. Maybe
he would devdge a wa to blow up the German qurderr factory
before it would blow us up, shQe-ka~gh-ss without conviction.
She knew he waen 4- tho-Ee a-4o--oemai~-sea-botag~e. hoeve the-victor'i
CLamencoean~o bm he K;;iser, to him it nwee-t.he .o~-nsamems -of Piih'r
he had to her chagrin .joined an underground movement which
favored a free and heutral Alsacef.F AsIf there weren't enough
l i title nat ions arlrea dy, ralli over .l'uropel m y----mhP-eated
rgoride49e47 But of course it was his younger brother who had
poisoned his mind that unbalanced schoolteacher that amateur
politician, she might complain writh a dreamy sigh. F~or she liked
my anlcl veryr muh. He had so many talents, improvising for her
on the piano deep into the night. And be was a man. How many had
the Kaiser left us?
Reedy, narrow-chested and oblique, he seemed to lean
forever against the wind. He was a windbag, said m~y-aeshe
Rut she asked him to the house all the time, spellbound, she'll
listen as he would storm through the Polonaise or sgolloquize
for hours on end, hiis prodigious feet in, the black boots Featlessly
paici~ng, his long, webbed fingers catchingJ invisible moths from
the dusk. He~ had only half a lung. That was what kept h~m out of
the, armry. Howr could a man with only half a lung he so fu~ll of wind?
"Oh ragel OIh dieseapotr!" he would declaimn, reading from3
Le Cid, her favorite tragedy. ut; soon he would be off on his
favorite tragedy, "l,'Alsace pour leqtl Alsacienet* he would
Scarll out in such grand tones, it might seem to me and even to her
perhaps, that he were still reading use from nei~
Pooar-man, she sa~id. Poor ailing bachlelor, she was willing
to close her eyes to his folly. But she couldn't, she said, forgive
him for having lured my father into a political dea 6nd street.
Hre used to be so rational, and thoughtful always, as a husband.~
Yet no sup~ler h\ad he arrived on his brief furlough, when he had
Is amnate b whisked off again, away~ro ~ou restful home~
her restful bosom, a~nd thrroughl a mazee of alleys smelling of dead
fish and sour wine, il uncle lived in th~e medieval heart of
town, in a fluid world of rivulets and sarill carnald abovo-at-wine
sEhop -, In rLittle Venitce, h-e likedl to sary. rBut whee my mother
akesd was hlis mable palace? hre ancient houses~hunchbacked and
~9-squifnting from under their lopsided roofs, were mirrored in the
dark green water upside down among= the soapy floats of warsher-
w'omen and swimmling clouds. Myyncle's house was a crilsseross of
blackened beams and drooping shingles. There inl his cramped
qua terse the a ~t':pnomists ccrd Si,,,c:rA thC2Kanr~aatns h
hatd no doubt that our family doctor was one of the~ leaders.
" Instead of a prescription for cou~gh syrurp,he had absentmindedly
handed Selene a list of names for a future Alsatian cabinet.q
Osf course he was an old man. B3ut Most of the active membersr
wer old men or invalids or mere boys. F~or aill thle able-bodied
men had been paked into the 1Caiser's alrmy. 11,Isace ~for fhe, ,
A~lsatianss ]I h ti-acrip to add this to- mup-S61emo-of-stognsi as
Jr I would, in mry m~i partake in the wvonderful sefrecy rof P
those meetings behind my uncle's closed and ho sted shultters above
c~i the wine shop.j
5-ween YL~"t4"ewed-te"s mtted$"ThTHW"TTprees Dut !,hen he was
alone, i might visit him and hIelp Am-~pull the lever of
the small printing press which he had insta~lld in his book-lined
kitchen, atop a rusity iron stove. T~Roe at enr'bL Lold. But the
leaflets which he composed and printed .Q~liLrF "How~ long,
ohl citizenst how long will you permit youlr greedy neighbors
to teas your fertile and historic land back and~ forth and-fseeh..
sad hrak acrosd~ (hg hine?" he read out aloud invoking a
hiilarious vision et churches, vineyards, factories and schools
tossed high into the air in aI md jumbhle. aMy schoolhouse f~ell
into the Rhine. I laurghed till I ached. "Does it sound funny?"
he asked with a flutter, his thin nose twitching. And he sat
dlown at the kitchen table under the weak-glowing gas lamp, to make
Hfe plotted behind shuttered windows to be safe from prying
eyes. H-e suciwbii~uh a narrow alleQg ( he might from his window
hold hands writh the pretty young seamstress in the opposite house
he had bragged to my mother, Buot didt hd ever open his windows?2
Msif rooms were stuffy. He workd by artificial light, even who
he ws engrcrl jr~J ulP act, correcting school pape~rs,
~insliewee. His shutters r~emainedf otwar day and nights like those
of the two ladies who lived across the ball from us, in semi-
darkness. But they had excluded the world for a different reason,
and with a hang of furious grief a long lame ag. et I could
s till .fee t he echa.. lhaiibereneae~PI ug he ir shrouded qularters as
I would e~nterdi na snowfall of plasters to bring; themp a pot of
soup or a cake my mother hlad baked for tlhem with horded flour.
Th two ladiess we never referred to them otherwise as though
their very~ names should be blacked out until Alsace was once again
under the French banner, the French aun. They had closed their
wooden shutters and even boarded the windows up from the insides
whlen the first victorious Prusseian troops, helmeted, mounted on
horseback, had entered the shelled and bleeding eity -, was it
in 18717 yes, that longago, though to the ladies it had been
yesterday. For them the Franco-Prussian war had never ended.
France never had lost that war
"Allons enfants de la patrie,.." I could hear their
voicose a thin, girlish twitter behind the door, as I would
approach faintheartedly with my mother's offerings. The door would
spring open befor I could knock, as though they had expected my
unannounced visit, and wer perhaps eternally waiting for m behind
that door. They spoke in unison. "Come in...Come in..." Always they
would huddle close together, like two spinster sisters grown
fleshiless and toothless in the same dark, and indeed there was
a sisterhood, as each had married the other's brother, and the
brothers had fought in the same French regiments and had died
together, in each other's arms, the two ladies believed.
"Lie Jour de gloire est arrive..." The brothers had died
or~ the glory of France, they twittered. But where was their
double grave? Andl they would kiss me on the head aind Itr to hlold
on to my skirts clawing at my skirt with feeble taj~ons as I
would fle~e through clumps of sh~adow furniture and dust under
a trickle of plaster.
I never went there on my own free will. Rut my mother
commanded me to show charity. She held the two ladies in the
highest estesrr~ such spirit of defianceln ~ shemaled. 5e;i
200 They would not even seek shelter during the heabpme*
SThey stayed in bed. She wished she were able to stay in bed.
O ut how could she? Hov could she, what with three children on
her han~ds, and a treacherous maid?) Of course she defied the
l[n-iser in her ow fashion. She used to dress in Elna f~colors.
But last winter she had decided to dress in black ,Cand keep
herse.4lf in bilackuruntil the rT1~s r was heaten. Som pecople thought
shre w;as in mournikng andl wecren't we all?~ sh~e mai:;t ask distanrtlyt
talking; to mle thlroughl thSe mirror as~ sher would twisl t her hair inito
a crown~ Jt used to b~e a golden grown, shle sa~id, Tlut it had
; faded, and she was getting Gray before her tin bmerhesoe-at--M
Rati~sor This cruel and senseless war might never ecnd. ught she
to shroud her head? rhughti she like thle two bra~ve ladies, shroud
her windows? Brut her children needed air rsand-isgh Teynede
sunhin ahoh r;D~f-L(orette might 3rel continue to flowe even
in perpetual night, she :4ight reflec~ wifth-a-puzzled sigh. We@
gebreiri-br*awuld cloud the mirror.
IDorette was sure to flower tonight. I agreed. But I[ held
my topgue. She had ordered a moon for her rendezvous at-ehe
Tampprm, mong those formal trees likie frozen dancers. I
r~emnembered her thrrilling plans for the night as I wal~ked back
from school in thle same old rain, w\e had been d'ismissed ealy,
in deference to our principals~ a recent conscript, who had
fallen at a mythical battle front its s3ubstitutes a heiavyi
shapeless woman inL rain wet lodens, had announced hris death at
assembly, referring to him in stony tones as the third victim.
Our two other malre teachers ha fallen last yea~lr. "We have no
other men to sacrificed" Her face had been like a stone. There
had hoen silence, and th~en a scraping of chairs as we hard stood
up to sing. The government across the Rhine had ruled that every
assembilly end with Deutschland Gher alles to remind us of ou
masters, But barerly hrad we com eto Deutschllandl uher a when she
hrad stop~pedl n and askedi that we sing roh Strasesb~ur instead;
at old yet always timely song which mourned in simple melody
thle countless soldiers who lay buriedl in oulr towtn.
OhJ St~ras~hurg oh1 Strassb~urg D~u waiind~ers~chhnon Statdt...
Th tune kept running through mry head inI be time as ii
hrur~ried up a c:ooked street in thle rai. h death of-~ear-priarpE
hob~d cast no shadow. He always hlad been hlig1 above, as t
in heaven. Hils invisib~le hand had clos-edl our school before
noon, providing as with a rare chance. For once I would get
inside th~e cathedral on time, ahWcdeem-4mto t'he vault to waetch
the Astronomic Clock in full action. That was my happy thought.
That would be my moments to be there at thle stroke of noon whten,
the twelve apostles stepped out upon the lofty stage above She-
numerous nmgic dials and bowred their hea as Christ blessed
each to the crowing of a golden cock. twsahavayppe
show. But usually 1 missed i2 tclimarx. Usually I was ;oo late,
the last apostle turning his back at me, as I would fly, bronthlesia.
into ~the swut~hwanit~irt-~-ho ~t~hcve gye Yes, I might always catch
the little old puppet Death as heo would take thle stage with his
scythes and a bone. But he was no special treat. Hle could be seen
QA the hour even at night.
Click, and th~at puppet too would vanish. the clock eR E~--
all its gilded, thumated-majesty, would be like any other clock
to E.Q~ Its intricate wheels, exposed behind glass blelowr the
words concert ecclesiastique in flow~ing letters, seemed to turn.
tao no good purpose as I stood disappointed among buttressed pillars.
The Last Judegment, a1 pillar carved with trumpetingr angels
wrouldn't let me forget that i had missed the show. again. 1
Ikit today I would see thle show from begiannng to end. I
told myself that I had all the timle. 4441 I ran like the wind.
iRain clouds had awallowred the Gothic steeples that long, transparent
finge of God, according to the white-robed nu who led our school
a choirs But now God's finger was invisible like oo principal, like
God limelf.Dismbodedsthe statuary of the "liquid facade swam
into mry vrision hecnl Foolish ViFrgns and the ~i~se wer ecrying thle
same tearsI D:ut over th~e portal, the huge stained glase rosette
whirled like a multicolored sun as I skipped into the sanctuary,
through a lighted forest of sandstone pillars, and downstairs
toward the clock.
Il had, upon previous visits, foun other, luckier children in
thle vault, their eyes dance wit~h thle spectacle it had missed, as
they would leave while I would enter. There maight be grownups too,
a sprinklcing of tourists. Thle cllock was the eighth wonder of the
world, ii had been advised. 'or its ornate dials revealed not only
Sour timet, but thrat of the stars, the setting and rising of sun and
moon, the course of the planets, thle moon eclipses and the birthdays
of saints. But less and less touriate cared to cross over from the
other side of the Rhine even for the sake of a wonder.Arnd a Fi~;ttizr
distance to the west was France of course. On the map the border
was still running neatly in black, though it had long since
spilled into one battlefield and the border was6 a river of
blood, my uncle said.
Those days few adults came to watch the clock. Nfo on had
thre time. But on that rainy autumn days a hubb ps of voices echoed
from the ancient w11skebeow as i cbErd d.An ador of Lyso1 and
sweat mae me gag, and on the instant I was swallowed by a flood
of field dgray uiforms, bbota, bandages, crutches. I could
neither advance nor retreat. I stood immlobilized. Now I too
was in the army, the beaten army, I thought and I thought I
A Red Cross nuse (I vaguely discerned the flutter of her
white cap; and it was aho who had brought the soldiers here
fromP theo military hospital to chleer them up, I later heard) was1
giving the long history of the cathedral in shirill staccatos.
"It's almost noon!" she cried between data that covereOd
the centuries. "Onre more minute and you'11 see action!" But
I[ saw nothing, safe for those uniforms around and above. Even
the Last Judg~ment pillar that tree of sounding angels, had
Bloomr, and the bells began to sound, louder than on Judgeme!nt
D~ay. The uniforms heaved and swelled like a mounting tide,
drowning me I thought with terror And I tried to hold on to
some soldier~a crutch. Bu another soldier, taller than life
had already grabbed my waist and holated me all the way up ontoo
his shoulders. "I have a little girl like you. Can you see?
C1n you see the clock?" Across his bandaged head the puppets
adide their solemn entrance. Never befor had I come so close to
the twelve apostles. I stared. Yet I scarcely saw them. Mry eyes
watered and burned foca the odor of desinfectants that hovered
thickly around his bandaged head.
110 too saw nothing, pErhabpan I[ don't think thart h ever looked
at the clock. His head, a cauliflower of gray gause, remained
lowered. His hands were clasped around my muddy a~~~
"I3 have a little girl like you...In thle Black Forest../" gggge
garnw and~~I1~I....g y
nut every soldier,stopping me in the cathedral or by the
river, said the same thing, and I1 no longer ge~tt believed any
iowv did I asptewho- myself tha'Annoobn? I don't remember how
I managed to escape from the vaul't, that lAst aInd turbulent
retreat of a beaten army. But I well remaember the sudden and
absolute calm of the nav as I emerged the vastness of the AT-L
,stone floor pale rose, and the vertical order of flutedr colum~ns
t.whose uppermost ribs joined in a vistaR of diminishing heavens
K on to the rounded apse. My hell-ridden fears wer gone. Ii
crossed m~yself, -thankll to be out of" the armry. i lighted ai
candle for no particular soul and knelt- by the altar, certain,
even before I walked out through a side door, thaRt the old rain
had stopped. "Q '
D~orette would have he moongarfte-a~lk The sky had cleared
in bright blue patches that shone like mountain lakes, serene
and still, amid snow-capped clouds. I lingered on the church
steps, and filled mry lungs with the alpine air thatt must have
blown my w~ayr from the Swliss border. There was that clarity.
There was peace. The~ farthest roots seemed close enough for me
to touch, their staired gables sharply)ranged in a cool sunlight.
t-The pavement hard died to a dark lustre, and across the
square, abwov the pearly shim~mer of the Palais Rohan, a toy
bat~oon sailed like an errant mnoon. higher and highrerS
Dut I. looked down. There! was the Red Cross truck, loaded
with te~ invalid soldiers. Thiey seemed to have diminished in size,
and their faded uniforms, their caps, were far removed from any
earthly hattle. They were singing, but not of the war The
soldier, h~e w~ho haid carried me onl his shouldesrs, was leaning
over the side of the truck, weaving ad-sea, smiling. How fragile
hao looked Hie too had shrunk, I th~ought. I was surprised by his
gentle, unshiattered faces the sandy beard flecked: with g~old,
And the spectacles like two little dormer windows below the
bandage. Dlown in the vault, I had not seen his face. Down there
i had only seeh the awul bandage. reP~ ~ e .tk 90-*
"Thlank you Thank youl" Ii waved back with both my arms,
profoundly relieved that he had his own face, and grateful as
though he had made me a gift of the tabled clock. "Thank youl
et; well sioont"
"Ah, not too soon, I hope.... He smiled and smiled.
"I'm in no ur~ry."
The Red Cross truck h~ad vanished behind an island of trees.
n~ut my soldier's smile remained behin racing every stone with
a fine shadow. The blindfolded stone -fle(, Ta Syna~ogue Vaincue,
was smiling down at me from her portal niche, and I thought it saw
her eyelids flutter under the stone be rage,. Hler ghin hung lowr
11er lance was broken. Yet there was t at mpesaert ShI smile, and
suddenly i understood wh my uncle had singled her out as hiis
favorite statue. Her shrouded body seemed to breathe, an
altogether she was more beautiful in her defeat than her stone
sister to my left was in he triumph, L'Eglise Chretienne a
~1LA..1anced at the crowned sister, her ch~alice and unbroken staffo
h~er uplifted chinAand wide eyes which did not see me. But
la SYnagog~ue wvas b~~ltnking at e through hler bandage, I lewR a
kiss into the air and bowed. "ztay I hav the next dance?"
A wind was corning up, blowi~ng bits of straw from a deserted
stork nest amolng the shingled roots or towersn asi ppoceeded on
my way at last, circuitously through crowded alleye.s. Thtorks,
I. assumed, hiad flown away fort the winters to Frances as it said
in the8 old nursery song. (And how my mother envied those birds
their freedom to cross the border)
Cigogn' cigogn' t'as d'1a chance
Tous les ana tu pass's on France
It was a harmless little song* hut it had been banned as P'rpc qb
propaganda. Indeed thea new lady teacher l(imsported from P'otedom
tr eninla- me-tr"Becone ear-rttem"WRFU~s had warned us that
the stork was P~russian to the bone and not ashamed to show its
colors which were black-white-red, There wasn't a blue feather on
that patriotic bird, Fr lulein Vogel had warned the class, and
of course I had at once reported to my uncle, in gleeful expectation
of his wrath. For he had recently designed a flag with a stork
as the emtblem of free Alsace. Let the Germans keep their greedy
erlgle, and the French their crowing cockl o~ur symbol was the
peace-loving stork whose wings spread wide over earcUWRWTESEf~
v: 23 forest ~ d vineyari a -w os act viiee incrppls oure
population, my uncle had'c~ied, flapping his long rarm like
wings and going clap-clap-clap with his big shoes.
Cigogn' citgogn*, I heard the familiar sing-song as I
approached the walled-in orphanage yard. Roys and girls, dressed
alike in knee-length red and white checkered mocks, were
ciricling; the cheostnut tree, clapping their hands, singing.
cigogn' cigogn' rap~port' Nonls
D~ans ton bec un p'tit p~iou-PIOUJ
Their voices rose withl a sudden shar hjesse bringing: down a
windfall of horse chestnuts. I stuck my nose through the rusted
gate in the wall and joined in the illegal song, the clappingf,
myself ar free and happ~y orphan now, And wasn't II wearing the
-1 same checkered smock? Of course most children my age wore it
to school. Still I opened myg raincoat to show that I belonged.
Cigiogn' cigogn'... On I ambled through theo narrow streets
whistling and kiicking dlan empty bempbottle inr the brown-floodedl
gutter A* hoerse, rattling across thre cobbrle stones, stopped me
on a high note, and made mse-rasp-Uonto the strip of sidewalk,
against a stall of wilted cabbages. In a moment the hearse ~had
stopped too. And no a coffin came stalking out of ar hallwray as from
the mouth of a tunnel, and on its own four lege, it seemed to me.
I saw no pallbearers. Swiftly the box climbed aboard, even as
te~ cart wa in motion again, pulled on its wa byT a skinny
"Another angel for His throne. They're dying like flies,"
a sh~riveled woman said from beh nd toe cabbages. Did she mean to
tell me that t$ angels were rtping? B~ut already other women,
shriveled wilted like thte cabbages, I thought, were buzzing
around the stalls conversing about that new ep~demic. thle grippe,
which was, the vegetable woman said, a fearful messenger sent
from heaven in retribution (C this sinful wrar. The grippe
might dance into yor~ room furtively or with a thunder, in
the disguise of many sicknesses, and we were no safer in our worse--
heds than the soldiers were in their cold trenches. Whom would
the grippe dance next into his grave? "A ba~s la guerret"
"A bas la gruerre!" the crazy old woman yelled up the dim
shanft of the courtyard which lay a hundred feet or more below our
Ikitchlen window inr the back of thle apartment house. Blut she was
yelling day or night about thle war that was soon to come, I had
been cautioned. Shie believed the world to be still at peacel
although it was a fragile peace which hung, she warned, shaking
her fists at the windows, from one thin hair of her white head,
rthat emanationl of' light above her burning eyes. It was hier viriaon
of an approaching war which woulu yet he driving her out of her
hlead, she might shriek from the shadows. Andl she would kick hrer
felt alippetrs into the? grimny air and dance a .jig among the
trash cans, beating them like drums with her bare feet and hand
to the irate shouts of dlown-look~ing tenants (Sihut uzpt Shut up,
you tooll)0 till the grubby concierge might arrive with a bone
to lure her away like ar dog, or simply snatchl her up and toss her
into the street like a bundle of hones. B~ut soon she would be back,
leaping and screaming about the impending disaster in shrill
incantations, "H~ewaref" Her wispy hair would Reem to come loose
in her fists like th~e wig of mpy dloll, s shre would claw at her
skull and pull thle tattered skirt up over her hlead to dance on,
headlese,on her dwarfish legs ins thle infernal din of tumbling
"Thr~is is no alght for a child. Do get away from that
wvindow. Play somecthing," my mother might suggest half-heartedly,
draping a protective arm around moy shoulders as she might watch
with me, perhaps in a fragrant spring breeze, across a kitchen
garden of tender herbs-twTUWnB"e
H~ut la fo11se was sure to carry on at any season, and
I had BseenR her in the bitter winter kick off those felt slippers
and thrash the snow with her bare feet. where did she live? Who
was she? Nro one quite kneei She called herself by many illustrious
names. But we called her L~hfolle and she was such a familiar
visitor, she might have been a ghost member of mly own family.
Now and then she would be absent, locked up in jail for
disturbing the peace, I was told. Thren I: might fear that we
had lost her ~forever, though I[ knew from experience that she was
sure to return and prophesy war, as indeed she hatd prophesied
when the world had still been at peace, my uncle might remind
as poignantly. How foolish was la folle? he would demand,
swallowing hard. La flle was saner than the rest of us. That
was his verdict. And he would lift a prophetic finger, his
Adam's apple scraping the edge of the celluloid collar which he
was forced to wear, since laundry soap, like mother commodities -
plain-edemaon-sease, for instance, he snorted was being
rationed by the demented war lords.
Ihd la folle been jailed again for disturbing thaer peace?
I did not find her in the yard as I came home at last, famished
after my long wanderings Th~e kitdlen window was shut, and
through the warped pane I saw the trash cans oblique as
though about to fall, yet unmolested below a silver tent of
swarming pigeons. I stood by the window, missing her ghostly
antics as I ate the lukewarm turnip stew that had been kept; for me
in an earthen crock, in the cuiseurs a felt-lined box the srize
of a child's coffin and installed as another wartime economy
to save coal. Normally, the horrid box with its two wells in the
field-gray padding to keep the pots warm, would be enough to
kill my appetite. But for once I wasn't finicky, and besides
I had no audience to whom I might demonstrate my disgust,wriek~
ee Ir---nr acon qd-~gbZrownew
Everyone was frr the parlor, and my mot er's,wee was
already call' may asking would I pleasy d -
hand? T were adding the fin ae ches to the dress D~orette
wao wear tonight at th@s~lseaPawrhanae, they all believed.
O ';ly I-kn@W~r~w~ere she woul % JeC'SEMETg"TNTr whitell;;wht princess
dress. T ~llickd the w91Qn n aggag eandmnaushednPes;-;om-4be-MtWA
LL, The parlor, neat and conventional as a rule, with only a tangle
of terns in the orie1 window suggesting chraose weas In happygv.Mid
state of disarray. A feather -boa covered Napoleon's bust, and
from the bd-op ne below the mat-sizeg oilprint of an alpenglow,
r ~a long moirg sash streamed like emerald w~Tbeis.
"You may pick up the eash," my mother offered. "Just
hold it* Don't crush it."
The u its pattern of thzreadbare41. was nowd ovr b
bits of Jameb; There on a Footstool InthsnMDoeesoo
i ?~f pllike flushed bride above her attendants. Th~ey were knee~krg
T / a ~her, Cecelia, Selene pnd mother who had, to-my-srerpie
fastened a k ~jafbb to her black uniform.I was she expecting the
Kaiser's instant defeat? But BprE As she wanted to tr young tedeny.
The dress ini which Dorette would meet her lieutenant, h~ad been
made over from mother's old wedding gown. She so had hoped to
save it fPor Dorette's wedding. However, one must adjust to thle
times. Good fabrics pagEe ca ce th~ese-damp, and besides Dorette
never might step to the alta what with all the f youg men
being butchered by the Kaiser, she-9watred. She patted the lace
with a loving hld, and anippedl at a loose tlread.r8 "Not everybody
nOh, I will shiine," Dorette promised, throwing her chest out.
4 Ib~~- gigled from below the alpenglow. I struck a high C on the
keyboard. Dorette winked at me through flying feathers, as
Cecelia shook the boa off Napoleon's bust.
aA Prenchman.Phewl" Cecelia thumbed hegr nose and stuck her
tongue into the emperour's face.
"Stupid!" my mother hissed, bristlinll; with pins. But right
away they were at peace again, exclaiming with ahba and cha as
Selene lifted the eash off my arm,and tied it; around Dorette's
hourglass~~lr wite a with tha~t a e 6 patiBene, into a
aI laFg-end--~ perfect bow.
"Huh! Ich bin eine Sch~nheit ravissantel" Dorette cried
ini bilingual ecstasy, She leaped off the footstool. 6
-r-her hips, and now the long ends of the sash rippled and swirled
about her like a green mountain brook as she walked backwards,
jlwhirling with outstretched arms, until the Ferns in the window
"Don't soil the dresal" ey mother warned, alarmed.
"Oshe'll have it torn before the night is ap," Cecelia
edcted, grinning and lifting the kitchen apron above her
"What do you known Dorett~e cried heatedly. But he cheeks
had grown pale under the fadtnd summer tan. She briefly pressed
her finger tips to her eyes and then left slowly in her white
satin slippers to look at herself in mother's clouded bedroom
My uncle was at the piano, his octaves and frantic
gl1ssandos rushing against the night. I was so used to his
improvising at a late hours the very thunder of his chords,
the constant change of key and rhythm, wot-uld he like the! long
familiar voice of a stream and sing me to sleep. But on thiat
night no song would form.* The notes split and exploded inl all
directions as I tossed in my dry sheets, next to Doretters
Of course I did not really try to sleep. Th laughter
ringing from the street might be Dorette'se and again I; climbed
out of bed, anxious to catch her on the stairs and have her
tell me the latest secrets about her lieutenant. Then i might
tell her about my smiling soldiers my secret love. i hadn't
been alone with her all day* All11 day they hlad prepared her for
the night, Scekenw-bufinfing rai efnenls ilthyshn lk
pearls, and meeLar brushing hem long black hair which had seemed
to grow longer and blacker upon each brush stroke. When they had
done with here I hlad barely known her anymore. She haed burned
like a dark fleame The sash had flown from under the hi~lleth~
cape asbi she hadLedt-C he h~58ais e and crossed the 8srree bridge in a.
chill wind, under a transluscent, green sheet of sky. I had
waved .from the window. But she had not turned her head at me.
I wanted to catch her before mother would. So I stole outr of
the apartment again, as-&-~hal.dcldant,,~capeatedLy-E-;ng-shepashoura,
Rut there was still no sign of her as I leaned over the shaky
banister. Th well of stairs yawned brown and empty, with my
unclear music trapped in th Mer"s-Hb;~*d~ps~ove, the merest
slither of a moon was scraping the soiled skylight, and from the
two ladies' shuttered apartment, a light more flimsy than that moon
was swimming through the crack under their door T~hey too were
aiting up for Dorette? per me? I could smell their st]ae old
clothes even before the door had opened in a warm draught.
"Come in... Come in...* Their twitter, merging with my uncle's
trills,chased me back through our door, and up the corridor into
the unlit dining room, its stale old smells. We hadn't eaten here
since my father's enlistment. I thought I felt some bread crumbs
from that last supper under my feet. The dining room was being
saved for the bright day of peace, my mother had said. And she had
remvedth lihtbulbs, so tht no electricity sho id be was ed.
But fthe~ 11uminatpd srloy :Cshowed though the s lid hg doors. They
nC everq I dhad closed p Fopprly, TheY hd o ang the dldle
pera st te utbeakofthe war. allowing tp~~J sp-rindetected
-@hewas sitting in the orie1 window among the ferns as in a
drowned garden, with the crescent moon behind her caught in the
net curtain like a small fish. m r8!5%k eaa
chn~inl ban herhnanm. neee-'anIT TW11. "Is this the Liebestrau~m?"
she asked into a ripple of broken chords, softly and with small
breaks in her own voice. But y ~nnele said neel it was a kind of
dirge, and he had composed it himself to protest our bondage
to other nations.
nIt still sounds like the Liebestraum," she insisted. He
merely sniffed. H~is fingers scurriedl oerr the black keys, and
his face wa lifted to the alpenglows that oth-'#CiPrtie of-* mountain
chain blood~ier than an battlefield, he might say with loathing,
nut now e was swept by the battle, and his bulging eyes were red.
"I must be on my way I mustn't be late for the meeting, *
Still he continued to play on, as thioughl he couldn't stop his
"Forget the meeting..."+ She was pleading at him through the
ferns. Hdad't he promised to stay till Dorette giot one?~ She had
sworn to be h8meznot later t an midnr ght. Sy-mthRer-anappedf-t he?
lid ot-het r watch-pen and einlid' ~P~;d* a 'twir-d. the-.chi ~;raNlawaround~-hr
fanger. "I wf an o to see here" she pleaded. "I want you to
see my old wedding gow~n."
"I ecan't. I must be on my way.r Some vital decisions will
hav to be made tonight." And now he actura~ll stopped in the
middle of a run although his big boots kept pressing down on
"You and our seret- meetings -babl" She~ pushed the ferns
apart and glared at him., Wihat was he doing at those midnight
meetings behind closed shutters -~ take the blood oath? she
demanded to know. Wear a false face? Ah, those false faceal
She recognized them all. He wanted to head the Department of
Education. That was wh he plotted for a free Alsace. She knew
his wild ambitions. And wasn't he taking that premedical course
at the university, just in case the post he aspired to most should
already Be filled, and one in the Healti Deprtmeent might still
aI'm in no mood to fight" my uncle said glumly. And he
pulled out his silver watch an shook lit and even threw it into
the air to make it run For it had stopped, as usual.
"A fine Minister of Health you'll, make!" Mly mother pointed
with hier thumb. Need she remind him how he had fainted when she
had cut hoer thumb t~ryingl to slice a loaf of that German bread
which was6lc as sin aggit gh as iro~ ~ )81 fit for any.-
human stomach need she remind hilg phatWPF'r
"Your French bread isnit fit for dogs," my unes growled,
throwing his watch on th~e floor."lI must be on my way."t
Dogs, dogs he wouldn't feed them bread. He'd feed them
poison, the-wrayrhe-was scared of theml liiy mother bared her teet~h.
Iladnt; he warned the children that every dog was a potential
killer? "Put them in the soo." That was his solution to the dog
question. Yet there he wass busy printing a eulogy of Louisa
Pastear and his humanity to dog on testupid old printing
preassin his filthy old kitchen. Did that mae sense did It?
she demanded in a rage which instantly transferred itself upon my
uncle. For now he was p dnt keys again a6-a-HettistrTWi~ip ij,
playing the Mdephisto Wpaltzythile hie barked a e hti
was not a canine question. It was a national question. Pasteur
had had the closest ties with this city, and so might well be
considered a native son as weFr ided most of the great* S
And ,1 th tpda r noting press,as she chose to call maankin~
niost glorious ai~ievements adbeee -hpnvente-~d right here in
Strasbourg, Alete Yet the Germaans claimed Gutenberg, aind the
French claimed the Marseingq and America claimed thre Statue of
Liberty which had been sculptured by one of us and so should be
gracing our vital and historic port left of the Rhine.
"Enought i've heard enough!" my motherlshouted. "You can
have your free Alsaces You can start another wa with America
and liberate the Statue of L~iberty!"
nI amr a man of ~peace!" But he played like th devil. And now
abe came diving out from under the trewlfttag ferns. Her face was
redder than the alpenglow. She seemed about to pounce on, hri and
I thought writh a delidoaus thrill that there might be a fist
fight. But no, rke had folded her hands, and in a momrent she
was sitting aheage~de him on the bench, with her head on his
lurching shoulder "You never did see my old wedding gown," she
said with a sob. And he stopped barking and playing and kissed her
I squeezed through the sliding doors and hoarsely demanded
somemcCMsrEto drink, well knowing that no liquid was allowed ise-lrt
this hour. "I'm dying of thirst..." I moaned and hung my tongue
out and rolled my eyes. My uncle frowned and absently pointed at
the bottle of cognac which had been set up near the curved divan,
together with two of ou finest ruby glasses. Those glasses,
etched with gambholing fauns and nymrphs, had been looked away in
the cubbeadld r' of-shecmF-whenonw-@t tu-om-ir years and years.
I hesitated squinting at mother. She was sitting in a. dream,
my F~~nP-91ts 1,n641 But when i made for the bottles, sh-1mald-4p.
the clapped her hands, a hair pin dropping onto the worn rug,
those faded ~69, as she ordered me back to bed.
"That child..Wlhy can't her be like Selene,,," Her murmur,
her old complaint ebbed away in the corridor. And soon there was
a deep silen~e. They were so silent, I could hear Selene's breath
come from my father's bed where mother had invited her to sleep
upon his enlistment~more years ago than I remembered, The beds
touched under one large counterpatne, and over the hreadboards
a stuffed seagull was spreading its wings arrested in its flight
forever. Mother would not sleep alone in such a room where time
itself had stopped, ash might remark. Sweet, loving Selene, she
was her only comfort during this interminable war, its never-
ending nights, she might sigh. "Wh can't you and Dorette be
I went into the timeless room. "Selenet Selene?" She didn't
atnswr moe. YPet her face had liffted ear little above the pillowy, and
suddenly I knew that she was merely feigning sleep, and t tl
she wase like all of us, waiting for Dorette'} --eCnanD.
The stuffed seagull was waiting in thle shadows and in the
kitchen, where I halted next, Cecelia too was waiting up for
Dorette, together withn a one-eyed soldier on whose Ilap she sat,
guzzling beer. "Thirst... thirst..." Ii moaned. She grinned and
pushed her glass at me, maye to spite mother A few darips had
made me droway. Yet I drank up, and when I cr 0 e;(t~c into berd,
I was half asleep.
I lORERE aggld9 ADkQ~a-4cr cer~nhLa-wheeker Dorette had really
come home that same nigh~ I later heard that she had not returned
till dawn. But it seem~ to me now that the sky in the open
wrindow was quite dark when I woke briefly to see her writhe in
hier wh~ite petticoats the lace dress in a heap on. the floor
her tresses undone and her hands clutching,at her hair, as iif,
like la folle, she woodrrying to pull her-hairk out by the roots.
"Oh my poor head. Oh my poor head." Perhapsr it was for the shrill
repetition of pain, so much lik la follels pro pe ying war amid
the-4enwah-cans, that; I wondered later on if I had nob-dreamed 4
it-all. Yet surely I must have heard her. For she had already
been dying then, of meningitis, one of the many disguises in
which thie grippe might dance Into one's bed, as the cabbage
woman had said in the etwreent.
Oh my poor head." Thu~sfr ~sma;'Prrhav UllrW t~FF;PINCOTHEN~.d r?"
She never said another word again. She simply fell asleep. That
was her death. Hler heart continued to beat. But she was already
far away, way beyond the bell of the alar clock in the
morning, or my mother's desperate struggle to bring her back.
"Speak to me..." The gray in her unkempt hair might have
been a spider's not as she had knelt by the bed in the ashen
light and kissed the hand which no longer had been Dorette'a,
the way itt h~ad hung over the edge of the bed like carved suggptone.
Ca /Cther had appeared crushed! by a thousand srtonesrl as she
had knelt; on the floor, blind to the torn wed ing gown inl the dust.
"P'orgive me. I have always .loved fou m rtur~ fe...* And had she
perhapg after 1 ]loved Dorette thre moast lr more "han _Selene?
I had won ered in the corridor where I hlad stood, abseked-end
exiled even before we hd been sent out of the house.
"Now she wan~ts be forgivenl" Selene whispered fiercely
into my ear. Mother, she whispered, had made a horrible scene
I ~when Dorette had finally come home in the gray of dawn, staggering,
clutching her head -"writh, that sickness eating at hier brain
of course. Blut mother slapped her and called her andrunken-
a: lut her own daughterl"t Selene'd~C cnotdwt ae
~~5 Yese she was shaking with hatred agai mother to whom she always
C~~ had shown such loyal devotion before, doting on her, inResakag
;r oea-M~c-and holding her hand during the Jonely nigh~ts.
d ~"You should have seen her. She was without pity," Selene,
pitiless herself, a fallen angel, was whispering into my ears
and all at once I felt that same sense of conspiracy I used to
feel with Dorette. Already Selene was taking Dorette's place i197
L~~ -44ef as we sat huddled 9in, long and secret conversation th my
5 grandmother's old house across the bridge. We had been sent there
i ~~on the very morning when Dorette had lain so still 6n her bed.I Ve~
Perhaps Selene always had hated mother? I did not shares
her feekings.s Il never had been mother's angel~of: course. Yet
I wouldn't defe hesr~ Selene's -new a c-~jeface made her an
accomplice whom La 11 ud- warle to lose q-a~-
"You should have heard herl "rDon't you complain of any
headache to me. M~y head aches worse from batting utp all night,
waiting, waiting, sick with worry over lyou..,'" Selene was trying
to ape mothers tragic tones. But her voice was like a blade *5f
shie repeated the ulnha'ppy mimatWWn e which, so i realized with
amazement and hitter triumphrl, shre must have overhearnd from my
old h~iding place Tdthle sliding~ doors. Ah, niother"a little
angel she must have sped on other dark occasions. She was a
deep one, I[ thought as, in a sisterly embrace, we looked out the
window, across a~n avenue of nakedl trees and toward thle bridges
in qluest of our house froro where we had been exiled together.
""Dorette will be on mother's conscience," That was Selene's
te rribl I jud ~fment L. She"~~r-we585'~t-~Pronune-he-enenw-Tfhe
fkee, -My mlothrer had already sentenced hlerself, ard, would blame
hocrself for lyear~s to comue, despite my uncle's nervous assurance
that Dorette hiad carried dea~th in her many days before the last
dance. !iorette was a victim of war, like otheiJ innocent children,
hie implored her to believe. B~ut his assurances would be of no .
a~vag1, and he would fall silent and dry per tears aps~e e1 as his
merw withi his; stained baciikerchief, leaving smears of printer's
1nlk on bothi their faces. ,~
lie shared he~ grief, and..even..ha.-g~a;i-3lt, pernh~apac Dorette
wa s on hris con c ie nce t oo, hre m ight admni t, thangh-wa~nlmt h~EEer.
He often told me in later years of thaut crucial morning when she
had in hier great despair sent Cecelia after h~im, as our family
doctor could not be found, and the few other civilian doctors
hld Lagf-their hainds fu~ll, what wvitht so many sick, and those who
used to bloomn the most aLready dying. C'eceia had kept~ hammering
at hirs door. He dared not guess how long he had let her pound the
door and shout for him to come out. He hadn't recognized her
voice, and h~e never would ha~ve answered a stranger of course,
as the secret meeting from the night before had still been
in session. In fact the old family doctor for whom we had hunted
all over town, had been right there in the shuttered room, my
uncle said, his eyelid twitching. The old man had been presiding~,
and it was he who finally had opened the door 6n bodily defiance
of my uncle who had done his best to block the way, ane that
the pto~lleeI had come to arrest them for treason.
"The precious time I wasted" my anole might cry. Yet his
own medical studies had taught him that Dorette could not have
hcon saved not really, he amended, not quite. She might have
lived on, yes, there was that pliught chance, and he had seen a few
of the doomed survivors, their bodies paralyzed, their mids--ik
o~W ight. was such a life not worse than death? he might demand
untcertalinly. For no one had an answer to that question, and her
continued to blame himself and his polities.
They had been so wrapped up in politics, especially after
that all night session, he and the old doctor, mry uncle confessed.
They had dragged the Alsatian case even into the sick room, the
death room, and poor Dorette's case, or that of any patient for
that matter, my uncle supposed, no longer could rouse the old
man from his obsession that he must cure the ills of poor
A3lsace. He had forgotten to puncture Dom6etew spine a basic
pae, Wb as my uncle had learned since then. But at the time
he had not Igot that far in h~ studies, and the old man had
been too rattled with politics.
"Alsiace was our only patient. We~JkestC~af#og my uncle
might say years after the war when we were back with France in
anrswer to my mother's prayers. H~e did not begrudge hier that
victory* Hle had abandloned politiCsi, and he neversoetohro
the old man's blunder, though she may have had her suspicions,
and must hanve been in the sic c-om with them, tormented by guilt,
a1nd! praiying for a miracle to save D~orette, a~nd her own reason
W~le ::id not see her while Dorertte lay sleeping. She-~ Blpt o
three long days. But time had fallen off at our grandmother's
1.a~use where rthe clock was dursted, yet nevr wound, ~nd] Qthe
calendar on thie wall shlowed last ygar*' Christmas. O~ld age \had
moade her blisatully indifferent to time, and our meals were
served nole at all tre wr~ong4 hours. Hfowevers which was thre right
hour? WTe had lost count as wre tore, dlemoralized, through he
sma1 ll flt. Our quaracntin had turned us into derelicts ove
night. :i'e fa~lt h-oYutcasts en orphanns, and our exclusion from
school which shiouldi have been a stroke of luck at least to me,
seemed<' to put the final stamp on our elo. So we rebelled, playing
moiefe dlestructive games, upsetting3 ehae-n thlrrkhy
yWTtows, and: jumping dpwa~nd dow on the hlorsehair sofa Iln our
f4s i: was host ait making noise. But Selene waRs more inventive.
o~f course she was older than 14 arnd it was her idea that we bite
as hole in~to each one of the waxen apples that were arranged, like
real fruit, in a pyramid abop the fide e~nar s swe
ur tookes had wooden soles, and the house was shaking with
our wa dance and with the protests of outraged neighbors.
Burt grarndmother laughed and laughed. She was to-ageaters
us so furll of .11&*,- and-.Basidea .ahe--wees-ralost d~eaf` Shle fondly
called us her little savages, heflming as she followed with
scrub pall and mtop in the wake of destruction. Andr when Selene,
she who nevr had smarshed anything, not to may knowledge smashed
thie midnight blue glass bowls a gift from mother, Ithe e44et ~lr old
lady was already standing by, broome i hand and with a smpug chluckle
as if she had known inx advance just what would break next.
She was alert to everything, except thle hlour. Shle could hlear
Sthe grass grow in every bac kyard on every grave, w ithout-rka-ifthe-ef
191719 PT 0 19RMUMTI}PF she often boasted. Could she also hear iherette?
She had not asked for her when we had m~ade our first belligerent
entrance Sh~e hacd not mentioned her nam sincq, then. But one
afternoon beyond time, she8 put on a fresh two_ rap, and brightly
announced that D~orette was back froml the front.
"She'a tired nursing all those wounded soldiers. Who wouldn't
be tired!" She chuckled slyly. "A ate- watch for her, ch66drent
You will see her cross the bridge," And though we both knew
instantly that- she was confusing Dorette writh one of h5er numerous
asher- grandchlildleen1n ied (;ross nuse whro was killed rat the front,
yet ran a opened thle window tc"Te unexpected ringing of Subhday
4i~t was just another weekday, outside the dingy grocery
store,three flights below us, was the usual broadline, and down
on the qluay were the wai~sherwomnen with theew bundles on their heads
like giant pumpkins. Soldiers with field packs an shouldered
rifles were glualy shuffling under the black trees. Notpen the
skye a yerllow mass Ilik curdled milk, suggested Runday
and perh~apa Ide e~lls w~ere ringing for some minor victoryT to
cover up the disastrous defeats tha~akamguwhen efb--d, as
napbmother had remarked of late with shining eyes. Already a
flag was being hoisted from the dome of a public building across
the stone brige. But there was no life to that flag. There was
Did grandmother really believe that Dorette had been at the
front? I felt myself grow stiff and frightened. But I did not
care to betray my fears to Selene who was leaning out the window
tog~ether with m~e. "G~randmaother) as kn w rew-oe
Wiies dozfc~ than la folleg "w netQ~bLa I~p~retended to be itn
stitches with mirth. I held my belly and laughed like an idiot,
even as I recognized mother's dark figure. A troop of little boys
were marching up theg bridge, playing soldiers, and she emerged
from behind themr, rising above their pap~er~ hats, tapm@PWWWC~ and
wooden rifles, their paper flags, andl I thought that I had never
rea 1 ee~ he r in black until now, perhaps because of the dark
veiirl like a tent ousewhe~R"WRM Her winter coat was buttoned,
thouh i wa wam ~and clos ~a false summers and she was walking
rapidly and was alreeady-yeasing those little soldiers who had
begun to beat their drum~s.
"She's come to take as hom." Rut Selene had disappeared.
My voices my shouts as I: called down into the tstaret;, were
d rowne d by t he v~ebery bellsi a ad-bad4 the 4mashee~~~~~jminCare~gdew I-la
neaiphy-gasedla eae,- ..Jar-ldbbhakddJb ddukabanuLtrmeakeps, f climbed onto
th pledge. I grabbed the window cross and hurwome one leg
in midair, hoping to draw mymmether's~ eye and make her fear
for my life. Still abe would not look up from under her black
tent. She passed by under the window at the same rapid pace, the
breadline opening qg before her, as though~ the~ shoppers, ~who
always guarded their positions jealously,' meant to allow her a
privileged spot in their midstc4,8ut 4 e did not join the bread-
line. She floated through it, the tent dissolving in a mokee
cloud. And all at once I wondered if I had really seen her and
not some stranger, one of the mrany war widows in their blac ,
I burst into tears then, overcome by a sense of loss that
quite transcended my understanding. I thought that I would surely
fall out the window for grief, although Selene had already
me eek6at-66-aws wt rm hand~ "We are going to escape.
We are going home;g she announced in that new, forceful voice
which made me bduchrwicth sha e my hoko tears. I covered my face,
peering through my fingers as she donned her heret and pulled it at
a smart angle, the way Dorette used to wear it, down over one eye.
For the beret, I knew as I blinked through a haze of tears was a
hand-me-down from DoretterBut now it was part of Selene, and its
pompn wav4RElike th w spots high on her cheeks.
How would weor sapsoxrnsohrBt ht
problema too Soe9e solved. Shle briskly stepped to tie iosc e dar
on the wall and toe *off there 24th of December. Vive la libertel
A~ufwiedersehen. She scribbed the message on the backside of
Christmas Eve, signed our names, and propped it up on the
sideboard, against the fallen pyraid of waxen apples.
It was so simple to escape. No one was holding as back,
Grandmother sat asleep at the kitchen table, with her face in
the flour that was to go into a cake for D~orette. The door to
the stairs was unlocked it always h~ad been. She must have lost
the key to it ages ago, I thought, as I ran behind Selene into
th~e loud ringing of bells. Already my sorrow ha givewy to "r
the adventure of flight. A plane was cutting throuh the yellow
sky, pointing the road, and the trees by the river appeared to
rush at me as I sprinted ahead of Selene, so I would be the first
to cross the bridge. Rut when I had reached its stone ramp, I let
her pass me. I stopped and looked over the balustrade, down at
the blowing autumn fog or smoke upon the river. B~ut the warm
and tarry smell was last summer's, and a swirl of bottle green water
under the arch brought back those lazy afternoons when we used to
go bathing, Dorette and I, some bridges further down the winding
river. I thought of th wooden raft where we had lain wet in the
srun the desk, smooth gleam ot~-;;the ~~pirdanks, theb-triat
of-a hearFded~ post--under waters the little fishes and from a
distant, pearly summer hazee the boomdee-boomadee-huzzaboom of
a military parade. It was on such an afternoon when she had told me
about her Prussianl lieutenant, s manliness, hi Glpn tw@W"KER
saberne he his soft Ilps. She had laughed and alghed and swoern me
to secrecy unto the grave. Hler turban had come loose, unfolding
]like a large white flower, as she had rolled &P to the edge
of the~ raft and hung her brown hand into the water.
I no longer could discern he face which saeemd to fall behind
may mrothe r 's~ v~eil13 as I loaoke d owxa Uwe san Amkustrade into the
br5tngsmoe o top I pey culdseCthe pand, its t.~rea~tW
gg) broken image Qissolving whle I ran' to eatch ~~gpS~1 with...Sc.1aness
Now all was memory, anrd what had ha~gppened, must have h~appened a
longS tim ego. F~~.r