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Long Awaited Promises
“Marianne, close the shutters,” Mama said. She was seated next to the kitchen table, my little brother, Anton, on her lap. There were deep circles under her eyes and her skin was dry and stretched tightly across her cheekbones. Hair which had once been golden and thick was cut short and wrapped under a head scarf. I could remember when she had been full of life, her skin glowing and her eyes bright. I tried to picture her as that then, instead of the stressed old lady she was turning into.
“Yes, Mama,” I wiped my hands on the apron and went over to the window. I glanced around outside before I did; the sun was setting slowly over the horizon, cobblestone streets empty and quiet. Everyone else had already shut themselves in for curfew. I thought I could see a dark figure on the street corner, a Nazi soldier standing guard. Even as I tried to hide it, my hands shook slightly as I latched the window shut.
“Shall I put Anton to bed?” I asked, facing Mama again. I would do anything to help ease the strain on her. She nodded her head.
“First why don't you go downstairs and grab some bread. We haven't had our loaf yet today,” We lived above la boulangerie, the bakery. My own Mama baked all the bread, she used to make sweets and cakes too, but there wasn't enough sugar rations anymore. We'd be given extra flour and such, which wasn't much, barely enough to make loaves for the neighbors. I bobbed my head and headed downstairs. Shelves which used to be full of breads and cakes were now empty, there was only one stack of bread, and that was kept under the counter. I grabbed the last package and ran back upstairs, being in the shop at night creeped me out.
“The bread, Mama,” I held it out to her when I'd returned. She set Anton down, even though he continued to follow her around the kitchen. The loaf was cut into thin slices, to last longer, and given to us plain. It was better than nothing, at least.
After Anton was tucked into bed I went back into the living room to sit with Mama. Sometimes I'd read to her, or we'd listen to the radio. Before Papa had left we'd listen to music and dance, but everything had changed since then. Papa was sent to fight the war, and they didn't play music on the radios anymore. Everything was German or too fuzzy to discern. Before the war my German hadn't been very good, but throughout the last couple years my vocabulary had grown as I'd had to use it regularly.
Suddenly I heard a soft tapping. I looked up, wondering if it was my imagination. Mama had heard it too, she was already looking around for the source.
“Marianne, go check the back door,” She ordered, hands clenched in her lap. I got up and hurried to the back of the house, where there was a small balcony over the backstreet. I would be able to see from there if there was anyone in the alley. Tentatively I opened the large window and looked down. It was dark outside, but I saw someone down in the street, waiting outside the door. They saw me too.
“Marianne! Quick, come let me in!” Came the urgent whisper. I recognized the voice as Luc's, a boy around my same age, whom I'd grown up with and was a close friend. My senses were instantly on alert; questions flooded my mind. Why Luc had risked coming over during curfew, was someone in trouble? I tucked my long pale blonde hair behind my ear and rushed downstairs. I undid the locks with quivering hands and hoped no soldiers had heard Luc's knocking. By time I had opened the door Luc had a huge grin across his face.
“Marianne, you'll never believe it,” even though he was still whispering I could hear the excitement in his voice. I relocked the door behind him, and waited for him to explain. Instead I was caught up in a hug, and two kisses planted on each of my cheeks.
“I've just heard from Jean, there's going to be an armistice! He heard on BBC, and came over to tell me. You know the Nazis took away our radio weeks ago, so I wouldn't have know. But I came right over to tell you!” His sentences came out fast, jumbled into one long word. It took me a couple seconds to catch onto what he was saying, but then his words began to sink in.
“Are you sure?” I asked, not daring to hope.
“Yes, I'm positive. This bloody thing's going to be over soon!” I was caught up in another embrace and swung around. Luc was laughing, something I hadn't heard since his Father had been taken to Germany.
“Look I've brought over some wine,” He pulled a bottle out of his jacket. It amazed me that with all the food shortages there was still wine everywhere.
“Let's go tell Mama. She'll be worried,” I didn't allow myself to be as happy as Luc. As much as I wanted to believe this whole nightmare would be over soon, it was too good to be true. I'd believe it when I saw the German soldiers leave our town.
“Mama, it's Luc. He says there's to be an armistice. They heard it on BBC,” We re-entered the living room, where Mama was still sitting.
“You know I don't like you boys doing that. It's dangerous, you've already had your radio taken away,” Mama said, scolding him. She was a worrier, and a pessimist. That's probably where I'd gotten my own dim outlook on the war from.
“Don't worry about us,” Luc scoffed, bending down to kiss Mama's cheeks. “I've brought some wine to celebrate.”
We all had a glass, then Mama said she was going to go to bed. Luc and I were left sitting at the kitchen table, sipping wine in the low light of a couple candles.
“I brought over some sugar, for you, too,” Luc set a packet of sugar on the table.
“How'd you get that?” I wondered, studying the package. He held up coupons from his pocket. I noticed something was just a tiny bit off with them.
“Counterfeit?” I asked. Luc nodded. He probably would have joined the resistance, but he knew if he was taken away it would kill his mama. Still, he did what he could to break the Nazi's rules.
“I'll bring you some cake, then,” I replied, stowing the sugar in the cupboard. Luc smiled.
“Are you worried about your Papa?” I asked, suddenly. The smile faded from Luc's face.
“He is strong. I think he'll come back to us,” He whispered. His papa had been taken to Germany after they began occupying most of North France. It was part of the “obligatory work service”. My papa had joined with the French army when the war had first began. Neither of us had heard from them in months. It was scary to think about.
“You know, when our Papa's come back, and life get's back to normal, I think we should marry,” Luc said, looking at me intently. I was a little taken aback, but it was something I had expected for a while. Luc was handsome, and we'd been friends since birth. He'd often called me beautiful, and doted upon me with gifts.
“When my Papa comes back, you'll have to ask his permission first,” I gave him a rare smile.
A week passed and a morning dawned bright and early. It had been a cloudy spring, with lots of rain and clouds. It seemed like the sky knew of our pain, and was reflecting it in the skies. But today the sun shone brightly, beating down on my face with warmth. Mama sent me to the market to shop around for some more seeds. We would be planting our garden very soon, hoping to avoid hunger in the winter. I'd brought bread to trade with, because there hadn't been much money in circulation since the war.
As my feet carried me to the market my eyes took in my surroundings. I kept noticing an absence soldiers stationed around street corners and lurking in shops. In fact, the ones I did see were American soldiers. A convoy of them had arrived about the same time the German convoy had been leaving. Promise fluttered in my chest, ready to take flight like a fledgling spreading its wings. Maybe the war really was over.