This short describes a WWII romance.
| The Collaborator
She sat silently in the old rocker, staring down at the black satin garment draped over her knees. The lace & shimmer of the ebony fabric seemed out of place in this dusty room. She looked up at the cracked mirror on that wall to her right. The scar on her forehead was already beginning to fade. The images of the gleeful faces in the crowd might take longer. When her hair grew back, possibly she could arrange her tresses just so, as to cover the wound above her eyebrows.
He had loved her hair. He would often spend the late evening hours brushing her long dark locks watching them sheen in the candlelight, knowing that the ritual helped to soothe her fears. For a brief moment she was glad he was not alive to see her like this.
“We’re enemies, you and I”. He spoke to her softly but with a tone of irony. The blue eyes revealed a hint of amusement.
“So I am told.” She tried to be flippant with her response.
“You don’t fear me?”
“How could I fear you when I’ve just made love with you?”
“Could it be the forbidden fruit that enticed you my dear?”
She pondered his question briefly. The allure had been strong. She had watched him from the side of Cherbourg’s main road that first day. The quiet crowd had gathered to stare glumly at the troops marching into the city with their odd goosestep. One man standing beside her in the crowd wept openly as the soldiers marched in unison down the
red bricked streets of Cherbourg.
“I succumbed to this handsome face and those strong arms, I was helpless! She laughed.
“For your sake we should be discreet.”
“Yes, I suppose that we should.”
This fall day in 1944 had been unusually warm and pleasant in France. The warm breeze almost made one forget the surrounding war torn countryside. He had wanted to escape as much as she even if it would only be for a couple of hours. She had to slip away quietly so as not to be noticed.
“I used to walk out to this spot when I wanted to be alone.”
She tried to remember the last time she was here.
“Do you want to be alone now?”
“Were you seen?”
“I don’t believe that I was.”
She saw no reason to alarm him needlessly. She had in fact been seen but only by a child playing behind the old hollow stump off the edge of the path. The boy was not likely to know why she had been silently hurrying up the hill along the rocky path.
The narrow passage had become almost a tunnel through the hedgerows that were centuries old. If the hedges that were matted with thick roots and old stones had closed in growth, the thicket would have been impossible to penetrate. Unbeknownst to her he had previously probed the wider trail for land mines and found it to be clear. Nevertheless, he felt this private path to be much safer. The smaller secluded trail would take her through the wooded area and into a clearing, an oasis away from the shelling and destruction that had plagued the French city before occupation. It would be their own escape from the Hell on Earth in which they had found themselves to be existing.
She had chosen to ignore the boy and continued her pursuit for the afternoon of paradise that surely awaited her.
“Why must it be this way? Our countries are at war but we are not. Why must we be forbidden from one another as if we had borders etched upon our hearts?”
She shivered slightly as he followed the curve of her spine with his fingertips. The afternoon sun which had been beaming through the treetops earlier in the afternoon had warmed their bodies but was now beginning to lower itself to the horizon, producing a swirl of rose and lavender clouds.
“We are not forbidden as such but the repercussions of sleeping with the enemy could be harsh.” He watched the goose bumps appear on her flesh as he neared the base of her spine, tracing its path slowly with his index finger.
“I would be shunned.”
“Being shunned by the townspeople would most likely be the mildest punishment they would inflict upon you.”
“So let them all hate me for loving you.”
“Their hatred runs deeply my darling.” He thought of feeling the bitter stares boring into his back and of the elderly French woman who had spat in his direction. He could have easily shot the tiny woman on sight but chose to leave her to her venom.
“The war can’t last much longer. When it is over then they will have to accept us.” She sat up and began pulling her stockings past her ankles and up to her knees. The air was beginning to chill her now that the sun was rapidly sinking behind the distant hills. He smiled at her naivete’ as he helped her into her petticoat and fastened the metal clasp at the back of the collar on her faded dress. She had to dress quickly. She would have to go alone and he did not want her having to find her way through the woods in the dark. She watched him don his olive green uniform with the red symbol on the arm. The intersecting bars against a white circle upon a red background, which symbolized the fall of France and had struck fear in the hearts of Europeans everywhere, was to be worn on the arm of such a tender and caring man.
He kissed her gently.
“We must not linger here any longer my love.”
“I don’t want to leave you.”
“I am wrong to endanger you. Go now, quickly.”
She ran out of the clearing the through the thicket with the sure footed precision of a young deer. The familiar trail from her childhood made navigating through the dusk a simple feat. The air blew the loose strands of hair back away from her face as she hurried back down the path leading to the shell damaged buildings at the edge of the town.
She rocked slowly now in the rocker. If she had made the decision to flee and find refuge within a neutral country as so many had done, things could have turned out differently. Perhaps she would not be alone here in this wooden rocker gazing into a cracked mirror. Perhaps if she had been more cautious in the presence of the child playing at the old stump the boy would not have been curious enough to follow her through the thicket that warm afternoon. He had told of what he saw. “Morale Woman” they had all labeled her.
“When it is over then they will have to accept us.” She smiled bitterly at her own words. He lay dead in the doorway of the crumbling brick building less than a year later. He had defended his station as the American troops ambushed the French town liberating it from German occupation. He was a remaining “sniper” they said. He fired at the overpowering enemy until his death.
D-Day plus 6; it had been a bloody battle. The Normandy Invasion had taxed the beaches of Omaha and Utah to full capacity. The necessity of taking Cherbourg’s huge port had become paramount for the American troops. They had discovered the lovers’ clearance at the top of the wooded hill that had overlooked the old railroad yard. Then artillery had been aimed at the town below them until the city had become a huge ball of fire and appeared to be engulfed in flames. The saturation bombing had shaken Cherbourg as if having to endure a monumental earthquake.
His corner building had remained a strong point. He had been one of the stubborn Germans still holding out. His own gunfire had continued to ring out in hollow pops amid the flames. The American infantrymen had been ordered to burn out any resistance. “Burn out”, a battle phrase that simply meant to fight and kill them.
But he had not wanted to die. The day had been much too beautiful. He had not wanted this to be his last day to see the sun beaming down through the smoky haze of the bombs.
And he had not wanted to be taken from his unborn child.
The first shell from the clearing landed just beyond its target. The second clipped the side of the old building causing it to partially crumble. He had continued to fire in the direction of the hill, in true David vs. Goliath fashion. The third shell landed inside the building spraying brick and shrapnel into his body. He had not suffered-he’d died instantly, reassured another “morale woman” who had witnessed the scene while cowering behind cover across the shell-cratered street.
She knew his blue eyes had stared in a lifeless and fixed state. She knew his blood had trickled into the dust and debris around him. She had no way of knowing what had become of the body.
She became again aware of the black shiny gown resting upon her lap. She smiled softly as she admired the delicacy of the satin and crimson trim. The newness and beauty of it was so rare in these ugly days of war and hatred. French fashion had been nearly impossible to come by during the occupation years. He had brought it to her during the most difficult of times. He desperately had wanted to put a small light in her hellish young life since that they had all found out. After all he’d felt responsible for bringing all of this upon her. The smile faded; she knew it would never be worn.
The French Resistance thirsty for revenge, was fighting back. All who had ever been a threat to the French Cause were now going to answer for their disloyalty. France would punish her own traitorous citizens far more severely than any foreign prisoner could ever expect.
When they came for her she was ordered out into the street and she was told she would be joining the other collaborators. She was initially unsure of the meaning of that word.
She was now to pay her dues they had told her. She would be branded so that all would know her shame. She would wear the mark for defiling France and her God.
They would have ended the punishment with the sheering. Her hair had been shaven to the scalp leaving burns where the razor had scraped too closely. The man with the cigarette had watched to be sure that no growth remained; that she was left only with her humiliation. They would have stopped there.
The branding was to be her payment for her unspeakable immorality. No painted mark for her-she had crossed the line to earn any such mercy. Her hair had fallen in clumps around her and blown across the red bricked ground like fall leaves scattering in the wind. They had then approached her with the iron that had been smoldering in the coals which was to be her true keepsake from France.
It was thin but had been molded with precision. It had glowed slightly. She had screamed only once as it was seared quickly into her forehead. The true horror was not in the pain but in the putrid odor of her own burning flesh.
The man with the cigarette had smiled at her pain. “Wear it for all to see as you parade your bastard child through the streets” he had taunted her.
The sudden squalling of the infant jarred her thoughts back into the present. He lay at her feet in the makeshift bed. There was to be no cradle for this babe of nearly 8 weeks. His face was reddening as if in anger-demanding his overdue feeding.
She lifted him from the old wooden drawer and placed him in the crook of her arm. His sobs quieted as he hungrily suckled at her breast. She smiled inwardly as she saw his father’s eyes. His silky down of black hair intensified the clear blueness of them. The irony of her child’s crowning glory while her own had been shaven to the skin briefly amused her.
They had not harmed him, this “German sired bastard”. Feigning compassion, they’d declared their quarrel had not been with the child. He was however to see the crossbars, the hated swastika from whence he came burned into his mother’s face-to stay for the duration of her years. “No painted mark for this one” hissed the man with the cigarette.
She thought of fleeing with the infant but the war was nearing its end and there was nowhere to run. She looked into the fractured mirror once again. Yes, when the locks reappeared with time, she would wear them as to cover the fading wound above her eyebrows.