Aunt Martha's flour sack, towels wholesale
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A mystery novel
Translated from the French by Holger Fock and Sabine Müller
© Editions Grasset & Fasquelle, 2004 © the German translation Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 2005
All rights reserved, in particular that of the public lecture as well as broadcasting by radio and television, including individual parts. No part of the work may be reproduced in any form (by photography, microfilm or other processes) or processed, duplicated or distributed using electronic systems without the written consent of the publisher. Typesetting: Hümmer GmbH, Waldbüttelbrunn Printing: Friedrich Pustet, Regensburg Printed in Germany First edition 2006 ISBN 3-518-41750-9
As an only child, it is not easy for Philippe. He is skinny, not the talented, strong son his parents - both enthusiastic athletes - would have liked. Even the big brother, whom he fantasizes about in his daydreams, cannot help: no pride, only disappointment and emptiness lie in the father's gaze. Philippe was fifteen when Louise, a close friend of the family, revealed a secret that had been kept for many years. The Grimberts are Jews. And they did not survive life in occupied Paris as unscathed and uneventful as they would have their son believe. Philippe is carefully introduced to a past that lies before his birth and has been repressed by everyone, in which the big brother of his imagination actually existed. Now - almost 50 years after the events - the French author and psychoanalyst Philippe Grimbert has decided to write the moving story of his family.
For Tania and Maxime, for Simon.
As an only child, I had a brother for a long time. My holiday acquaintances, my playmates, had to take my word for it when I served them this fairy tale. I had a brother. More beautiful than me, stronger than me. An older brother, successful and invisible. Whenever I was visiting a friend, I was always jealous when the door opened and someone else appeared who looked a little like him. Tousled hair, a mocking smile, he was introduced to me in two words: "My brother." A riddle, this intruder with whom everything had to be shared, even love. A real brother. Someone you looked like, in whose face you discovered common features, an unruly strand or a wolf's tooth, a roommate you knew inside out, whose moods, preferences, weaknesses, and smells were familiar to you. For me, who ruled alone over the realm of our four-room apartment, a strange being. Although I didn't have to share the love and tenderness of my parents with anyone, I slept restlessly, tossed and turned in bed with bad dreams. I cried as soon as the lamp was switched off, I didn't know who the tears were for, which ran down my pillow and sank into the night. Since I was ashamed, and often felt guilty for no reason, without knowing the cause, I delayed the moment of falling asleep. My children's world gave me daily reasons for sadness and fears that I harbored in my loneliness. Someone had to be found to share these tears with me.
Then one day I was no longer alone. I hadn't let myself be dissuaded from accompanying my mother to the old maids room under the attic, which we used as a storeroom and where she wanted to tidy up a bit. I discovered this unfamiliar room with its musty smell, rickety furniture, and piles of suitcases with rusty locks. She had lifted the lid of a suitcase hoping to find old fashion magazines that had previously published her drawings. When she saw a small dog with Bakelite eyes lying there on a pile of blankets, she winced briefly. The plush was worn, the muzzle dusty, and he was wearing a knitted dog blanket. I grabbed it immediately and held it to my chest; but when I felt my mother's discomfort, I refrained from taking it to my room and put it back again. The following night, I pressed my wet cheek to a brother's chest for the first time. That was how he had come into my life and I would never leave him alone again. Since that day I lived in his shadow, I walked in his footsteps as if in a suit that was too big. He accompanied me to the playground, to school, and I told everyone I met about him. At home I even invented a game so that he could participate in our family life: I asked to wait for him before we sat at the table, to pour him before I was poured, to pack his vacation gear before mine was packed. I had made a brother for myself to hide behind, a brother whose burden I carried with all her weight. As skinny, sickly, and pale as I was, I really wanted to be my father's pride. I was idolized by my mother, after all, I was the only one with her well-toned abdominal muscles
grew up, was born between her athletic thighs. I was the first and the only one. Before me, nobody. Just one night, a sea of darkness, a couple of black and white photos of the meeting of two glorious bodies, hardened in every discipline of athletics, who later tied the knot to beget me, to love me and to lie to me .
According to your stories, I always had this name, which is very common in our country. My ancestry no longer condemned me to certain death, I was no longer that thin branch at the top of a family tree that had to be cut. My baptism took place so late that I can still well remember: the priest's hand gesture, the imprint of the wet cross on my forehead, the feeling as I snuggled up against the priest and under the embroidered end of his stole from the church stepped out. A bulwark that would save me from heavenly wrath. Should the storm break out again, the entry in the baptismal register would protect me. I didn't know anything about it; I played the game quietly and obediently, trying, like everyone who celebrated with me, to believe that we were only making up for one mistake. The indelible mark on my sexual organ shrank as a reminder of a necessary surgical procedure. There was nothing more of a ritual, it was a completely normal decision, made for purely medical reasons. Even our last name had its scars: at my father's request, two letters had been officially changed, and the other one
As it was spelled, it took root in French soil.
The extermination work that the butchers had carried out a few years before I was born continued in secret: it buried everything that was kept secret and concealed, mutilated family names, produced lies, but remained ashamed. Though the pursuers were defeated, they still triumphed. Despite these precautions, the truth emerged. There were little things: a few slices of unleavened bread dipped in golden-brown baked scrambled eggs, a modern samovar on the mantelpiece in the living room and, locked in the buffet, a candlestick between the tableware. And again and again these questions: People regularly inquired about the origin of the name Grimbert, thought about its correct spelling; they dug up the "n" that had been replaced by an "m", they found the "g" that was supposed to be replaced by a "t", and whenever I reported such speculations at home, my father brushed them off aside with a wave of the hand. We would always have been called like that, he hammered into me, this self-evident fact tolerates no contradiction: the trace of our family name can be traced back to the Middle Ages.
An "m" for an "n", a "t" for a "g", two tiny changes. But the "aime" (love) had covered the "haine" (hatred); Since I was deprived of the "j'ai" (I have), from now on I obeyed the commandment of the "tais" (silence). I kept bumping into this painful wall behind which
my parents had holed up, but I loved them too much to risk crossing borders, touching old wounds. I was determined not to find out. For a long time, my brother helped me overcome my fears. I felt the pressure of his fingers on my arm, his hand running through my hair, and I drew strength from it to overcome obstacles. When I felt his shoulder against mine at the school desk, I felt safe, and when asked, he often whispered the correct answer in my ear.
He displayed the pride of the rebels who defied everything, the schoolyard heroes who flew after the ball, the conquerors who climbed the fences. Unable to measure myself against them, I leaned my back against the wall, admired them and waited for the liberating ringing to finally get back to my notebooks. I had chosen a victorious brother. Nobody could surpass him, he won in all disciplines while I showed my weakness to my father and ignored the disappointment in his gaze. My dearly beloved parents: every muscle in them shone like the statues that bewitched me in the corridors of the Louvre. My mother did high diving and floor exercises, my father wrestling and apparatus gymnastics, both played tennis and volleyball. Two bodies that were made to meet, to marry, to reproduce. I was the fruit of this sportiness, but with a morbid joy I planted myself in front of the mirror to list my shortcomings: pointed knees, a protruding one
Pelvis, spindly arms. And I got excited about the hole under my solar plexus that would have fit a fist that hollowed out my chest as if a blow had crushed it forever. Doctors' offices, ambulances, hospitals. The smell of disinfectant barely masked that of the acrid sweat, a pernicious atmosphere to which I contributed my mite by coughing under the stethoscope, freeing my arm for the syringe. Every week my mother went with me to one of these examinations that I was already familiar with, helped me to undress, so that I could leave my symptoms to a specialist who then withdrew for a quiet conversation with her. I sat calmly on the examination table and waited for the verdict: an operation in the near future, a lengthy treatment, at best vitamins or inhalations. I have spent years treating this frail anatomy. Meanwhile, my brother was showing off his broad shoulders in an insolent way, the tanned skin beneath his blond fluff.
Horizontal bar, training bench, rung ladder, my father trained daily in a room in our apartment that he had converted into a gym. Even if my mother spent less time there, she did her warm-up exercises, waiting for the slightest slackness in order to counteract it immediately.
Together they ran a wholesaler on Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé, in that square in one of the oldest districts of the city
from Paris, which was reserved for the trade in jerseys and knitwear. Most of the sportswear stores used them to supply jerseys, leotards and sports underwear. I sat down next to my mother at the cash register to greet the customers. Sometimes I would help my father, tripping after him to one or the other warehouse, watching him effortlessly lift stacks of boxes adorned with sports photos: gymnasts on the rings, swimmers, javelin throwers piled high on the shelves. The men wore my father's slightly wavy, short hair, the women had my mother's dark, flowing hair, tied with a ribbon. Some time after my discovery in the closet, I had insisted on going up to the maids' room again, and this time my mother couldn't stop me from taking the little dog with her. That same evening I put him on my bed. Whenever I had an argument with my brother, I would take refuge in my new friend, Sim. How did I come up with his name? Was it the dusty smell of the plush? Was it the silence of my mother, the sadness of my father? Sim, Sim! I was walking my dog in the apartment and I refused to acknowledge my parents' confusion when I called him by name.
The older I got, the more tense my relationship with my brother became. I made up arguments between us, I rebelled against his authority. I wanted him to
Move to give in, but I seldom emerged victorious from our arguments. He had changed over the years. The protector had become a mocking, sometimes contemptuous tyrant. Nevertheless, I continued to tell him about my fears, my defeats, while I let the rhythm of his breaths lull me to sleep. He listened to my secrets without saying a word, but his gaze shrank me to nothing, he examined my weaknesses, lifted the covers, suppressed a laugh. Then I got angry and grabbed his throat. Back to your night, enemy brother, false brother, shadow brother! I put my fingers in his eyes and pressed hard against his face to sink it into the quicksand of the pillow.
He laughed and we rolled under the covers, reinventing circus games in the darkness of our nursery. Distraught by the touch, I imagined how delicate his skin was. My bones grew longer, I was getting leaner. The school doctor worriedly called my parents to make sure I was getting enough to eat. The conversation was hurtful to her. I blamed myself for shaming them, but that made me look up at them even more: I hated my bodies, and my admiration for their bodies was limitless. I discovered a new way of enjoying my loser existence. The lack of sleep hollowed out my cheeks a little more every day, my sickly appearance contrasted even more with the radiant health of my parents.
My ashen face and the bluish circles under the eyes betrayed the child, exhausted by lonely practices. When I locked myself in my room, I always took with me the image of a body, the warmth of a body. Either I clung to my brother with all my might, or I surrendered to the brief flashing image that had previously blinded me in the schoolyard. During the long break I took refuge at the edge of the square reserved for the girls. Far away from the ball games and the screaming that could be heard in the boys' area, they played hopscotch or jump rope there. I sat on the asphalt floor near their clear voices, letting their laughter and counting verses carry me away, and when they jumped up I caught a glimpse of the little white knickers under their skirts. I was infinitely curious about bodies. The protective clothing cover could soon no longer hide anything from me, my eyes functioned like those magical glasses whose qualities were praised in a magazine advertisement that I had seen and compared to those of X-rays. Stripped of their uniform urban clothing, passers-by revealed both their merits and weaknesses. At first glance I caught a crooked leg, a high chest, a protruding stomach. My practiced eye made for a rich yield of pictures, a veritable anatomical collection that I leafed through as soon as night fell. When the rue du Bourg-l’Abbé was very busy, I used the time to explore the storage rooms. The warehouse was on the first floor of a dilapidated building; a staircase led to the rooms of a former apartment, dark rooms, the walls filled with shelves of goods that smelled like
Cardboard boxes and finishing agents ran out. I let my gaze wander over the labels as if I were going through the shelves of a library looking for a particular book: jerseys, gym shorts, gym shorts. I was interested in clothing sizes, compared the sizes for boys, men, girls, and women, and each of these numbers reminded me of a new figure to whom I immediately put on these sports clothes. When I was sure that nobody would bother me, I lifted the lids of the boxes with a pounding heart and took out their contents. I dipped my face into the clothes, then spread them out on the counter and pressed my abdomen against the edge of the oak to let the figure of a gymnast, a basketball player, or a long-distance runner appear before my eyes at will.In addition to the shop, Mademoiselle Louise's practice was also located on the ground floor of the building. It was housed in two rooms painted white: an office and a treatment room with a linoleum floor. A few bleached plants adorned a shop window on which the following services were offered in enamel letters: home care, injections, massages. Louise was part of the family, I knew her from an early age. On quiet days she would come, put her elbows on the cash register, and chat. On her table covered with a white sheet, she regularly massaged my parents. Once a week she injected me with vitamins or planted me on the chair in front of the inhalation device: I was sprayed with aerosol into my nostrils through two hoses, while I sat motionless, lost in thought and put to sleep by the hum of the device. Louise was past sixty, and there were traces of drinking and smoking on her face
excessive indulgence had bags under her eyes, her pale skin floating on her devastated face. Only her energetic hands, sticking out of the sleeves of her blouse, seemed to have a skeleton: two imperious hands with long fingers and short-clipped nails, which opened as she spoke and accentuated what she was saying. I loved being with her and squeezed my way down the narrow, boxed-up hallway to visit her as often as possible. I spent more time with her than with us because I could speak freely with her. I felt close to her, no doubt because of her deformity: she owed her hobbling gait to a clubfoot stuck in an orthopedic shoe, a block of black leather that she always pulled behind her. Her unsteady form, swaying back and forth between the walls of the hallway, matched her face, a sack of skin that was not supported by any scaffolding. Despite her predisposition to rheumatic attacks, Louise swept away the dull pain caused by the inflamed joints with an angry wave of the hand. I understood the reason for this gesture: she hated the way she looked. I was intrigued by that skeleton-less body that our bodies were so intimately familiar with: my parents when they stretched out exhausted on their massage table, and mine when I stretched my bum to her for one of those growth-inducing agents . Louise claimed to have known my parents since they opened their shop on rue du Bourg-l’Abbé. She spoke highly of my mother's beauty, my father's elegance, and when she uttered their names, a twitch went through her.
We had our rituals. On each of my visits, she prepared a hot chocolate for me on the rechaud on which she was boiling the needles of her syringes. I drank it in small sips and Louise kept me company with a glass of amber liquor that she hid in her medicine cabinet. Curiously, I asked her questions that I would never have allowed myself to ask my parents. She made no secret of her life, it happened here, in this dark practice, day after day she took care of her regular customers and listened to them. Everything else was uninteresting: she lived in the house in which she was born and raised. Her horizon was limited to the two practice rooms and the limestone house on the outskirts of the city, which is surrounded by a small garden. Since the death of her father, she cared for her mother there, repeating the same activities in the evening for the frail old woman that occurred during the day in her practice. On certain days favorable to confession, Louise spoke of the childhood of a limping girl who was mocked and in the shadow of her more agile comrades. I could recognize myself in it. I would have liked to know more about it, but like every time she broached a painful subject, she quickly finished with the gesture that was supposed to drive the pain away: she swept her hand through the air and looked at me in anticipation of what I was doing would tell about me, asking in the eyes. Then I could let myself go and tell her about my dreams. She underlined my words with sighs that took shape in the smoke from her cigarette. For many years she had listened to my parents with the same attention while her hands massaged them vigorously
and took away all worries from them. Besides their tiredness, they also kept their secrets with Louise.
For a long time I was a little boy who dreamed up an ideal family. Based on the few pictures my parents gave me a quick look at, I imagined how they met. A few words they lost about their childhood, fragments from their youth, about their love story, these were the building blocks on which I threw myself to create my improbable story. I wound up the ball of yarn of her life in my own way and made up the encounter of the two people who begat me in the same way as my brother, as if I were writing a novel. The shared enthusiasm for the sport brought Maxime and Tania together: My story could only begin in the stadium, to which I accompanied them so often. The Club Alsacienne sports grounds with swimming pool and gym stretches along the Marne. Before you reach the entrance gate, which is crowned by a wrought-iron stork, you pass the many excursion and dance clubs on the river bank. On Sundays, everyone crowds to the restaurants with dance floors, where you can enjoy a quarter of tart white wine with a plate of fried fish. Shirt-sleeved young men and girls in flowered dresses embrace each other to the sound of an accordion, and in midsummer they undress to jump into the cool water. The carelessness of the bathers and the cheers of the dancers contrast with the panting and groaning of the ascetics in the
white jerseys that show on the pitch of the stadium that they are fully focused on their sport.
Maxime is the ace of the troupe, he shines in the gym, puts his opponents on the mat while wrestling in the Greco-Roman style, sinks effortlessly on the rings on the cross slope. He has a lot to make up for, because he started working in his father's knitwear business at an early age. As a Romanian emigrant, Joseph did not have enough funds to enable his three children to continue their education. The two older ones were content with their fate, married early, and stoically pursued their father's career. But the youngest, Maxime, would have liked to become a doctor or a lawyer, he wanted to take up a profession that would have given him a title. With a "doctor" or a "maître" the foreign sound of his surname would have been forgotten, with which one smells the uprooting, the temptation to hear the "r" to which the kitchen smells of Central Europe cling, hallmarks that stand out too clearly in the eyes of a young man who would like to be a dandy. He is a passionate Parisian and wants to enjoy his city, join in its fashions, be infected by the lightheartedness that reigns here. He was the darling of his mother Caroline, who died when he was a child, and he enjoys being a seducer. He dresses tastefully and wears tailored shirts. He wants to shine, and his first major purchase is a convertible with leather seats and lots of chrome. His hair in the wind and his elbows casually on the driver's door, he drives back and forth through Paris, lurking for the looks of the
Passers-by, slow down in the queues at the taxi stands to offer a stranger a ride home. He saw early on how his charming facial features were reflected in the eyes of young women. On one of his aimless walks along the Marne, he also passes the premises of the Club Alsacienne. Impressed by these eagerly exercising young men and women, he immediately registers and takes up training in various sports in order to achieve his physical ideal. Through years of strength training and gymnastics, he finally develops his dream figure: With this broad-shouldered, athletic stature, nobody thinks about his origins anymore! Tania is the only one who notices the invisible lines that run through the stadium. The fashion draftswoman grasps them at a glance and adds them to abstract compositions: rails made of steel, sparks, tension and looseness, which she records in her sketchbook with a bouquet of bright colors. She is on the catwalk for fashion designers, and the rest of the time she makes fashion sketches that a magazine does for her. Half-profile women, swaying slightly on their hips, clad in printed fabrics and tufts of feathers in their hair. She lives at the foot of Montmartre on Rue Berthe in a three-room apartment that belongs to her mother's fashion studio. As a little girl she sat there for many hours on a stool and watched the waving hands of the plump woman in smock and slippers, hands that created marvels of elegance. Influenced by her mother's creations, her children's drawings became more and more sophisticated, then she filled entire notebooks with her drawings, invented silhouettes with broad shoulders and an emphatically narrow waist. With her sure line she found
immediately after graduation from elementary school and was accepted at a school for fashion draftsmen. The two women live alone. Martha cuts fabrics day and night to enable her daughter to live a prosperous life. Tania's father left her. On her bedside table is a portrait of him, on which, thanks to the art of the photographer, he is depicted as a gloomy virtuoso with a bow in hand and a bony face. He bequeathed her an exemplary, English-sounding name. Martha's name, on the other hand, bears the traces of her immigrant ancestors, the connotation of a Russian province with indefinite borders, Lithuania, which Tania would only find with great difficulty on a map.
As an unemployed violinist, André lived from short-term engagements, played songs such as Otschi Tschornije (Black Eyes) and Kaiinka in the Russian cabarets in Paris and accompanied vaudeville singers in nameless music halls. He tried to teach her to play the violin when she was a toddler, and these lessons remain a terrible memory. To satisfy his fatherly ambition, she should have been one of those child prodigies whose photos graced the front pages of the newspapers, but all she could do was elicit unbearably high-pitched tones that almost tore his eardrums and provoked fits of anger.
One day André disappeared without notice and they never saw him again. His last signs of life, scribbled on the back of postcards, came from Africa. What was he doing there? Tania faced hers
Father in a village in the bush as a violin teacher for little natives who were far more talented than they were. From this childhood she has remained longing for an artistic career. Tania knows that she is beautiful, but neither compliments nor the meaningful looks of passers-by give her enough self-confidence. As a schoolgirl, she suffered from not being able to shine: apart from her drawings, only her physical abilities were considered. A friend who trained at Club Alsacienne invited Tania to accompany her, and she was noticed very quickly there. Maxime noticed Tania's beauty, he wants to conquer her. For her part, Tania is charmed by the young man: she watches him, watches after him, sometimes goes to the gym to watch his fights. The sight of Maxime, in a wrestling suit, gripping his opponent with his legs, does not leave her indifferent.
In the black swimsuit, which emphasizes her body shape, and with the white bathing cap, under which her facial features emerge particularly clearly, Tania looks dazzling. When she catapults herself up with a few bouncy jumps, she divides the sky, then she rolls up and draws perfect figures in the air, before she plunges straight into the water, which closes over her without a splash. Maxime never fails to sit at the edge of the diving pool when the women's team is training. He is out for easy conquests. He casts an eye on a delicate pair of legs, on a cleavage that shimmers in the sun. A smile, a brief, haunted look, and the young prey gets into his convertible. He takes her out to eat, looks her promisingly in the eye. Quickly inflamed
attracted by a detail, he confuses desire for love, but after the encounter the magic quickly fades. It's something different with Tania, he knows that very well. In contrast to the rest of the world, he decides not to rush anything. With his practiced eye, he inexorably identifies the weak point in every body, however promising it may appear. A stork's leg, a foot that is too wide, a barely perceptible sagging of the abdomen, and the well-rounded pelvis or breasts have lost their charm. Nothing like that with Tania: Everything about her body corresponds to his ideal.
In the course of time, the vulnerability and doubts of the apparently so confident champion swimmer become apparent to him. The little girl appears under the statue. After a few weeks he can no longer do without her presence. They also meet outside of the club, he takes them with him in a convertible, together they rediscover his favorite places in Paris: the Place de la Concorde when it rains, the rural magic under the four street lamps of the Place Furstenberg, the market on the Place d ' Aligre, the small cemetery that surrounds the Saint Germain de Charonne church. After a few months they move together to the quiet neighborhood where I was born. A year later they decide to get married. Tania is no longer on the catwalk, she is now helping Maxime on Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé, and under her influence the store specializes in the sportswear trade.
Maxime is still in love as on the first day. Tania is filled with the same happiness, but she would like to have a child. Maxim hesitates. He would like to have Tania to himself for a few more years. The impending war that is casting its shadow ahead provides him with one more argument: Is it then sensible to have a child in such dark times?
Paris is waiting eagerly. You can feel the unrest, the ferment in the streets, in the debates in front of the newspaper kiosks. Maxime and Tania are working harder than ever, more and more customers are coming into the store, as if the impending catastrophe increased the shopping frenzy. This excitement can also be felt on the sports grounds, where they continue to train diligently. Everyone wants to surpass themselves, the competitions in the hall are fierce, the opponents go into the fights more passionately, as if they were thirsting for more victories. You learn of the invasion of the German troops in Poland, alarming reports are constantly broadcast on the radio. In the small office they set up on the first floor above their shop, Maxime and Tania are leaning over the large walnut radio receiver. On the front pages of the newspapers, articles in black frames like obituaries announce the declaration of war. A feeling of unreality sets in with them: After political decisions that were made in distant offices and that they do not understand, two armies are supposed to fight against each other in northern France along borders that cannot be localized. You wouldn't hear explosions or the screams of the wounded. Under the protection of the Maginot Line, the insurmountability of which they have been assured, La France would quickly win
carry away. What goes on in the dirt of the trenches looks like a sporting competition in their eyes. Every time my parents talked about the time of the war, the name of the village would appear where they had been taken in when they had crossed the demarcation line because of the food shortage and the threat of confiscation. They closed the shop and entrusted the key to their loyal neighbor and friend Louise. She was supposed to see that the camp was not ransacked while she was away. One of her cousins, who worked in the town hall of a parish in the Indre department, got them the address of a family with whom they could find accommodation. With the certainty of having a roof over their heads, they left Paris and went to Saint-Gaultier, a name that they pronounced enthusiastically. They combined two extraordinary years, memories of the purest happiness, a haven of peace in the middle of war. They found refuge in a country estate on the banks of the Creuse with a retired colonel who lived there with his daughter, an unmarried elderly lady who was a teacher. Far from the noise of war, the market town is an island of calm. Apparently, one is not exposed to the fears, privations and food rationing from which one suffers in the big cities. The colonel has good relations with the farmers in the area, he has known them for a long time.Since the fighting began, these farmers have been slaughtering so that there is no shortage of meat and basic foodstuffs. In the first days after their arrival, Maxime and Tania think they are dreaming when they sit down at the Colonel's table and find eggs, butter from the barrel and roast meat.
They live in a room under the roof and share the tranquil life of their hosts, whose evenings are determined by the chimes of a wall clock. To make a living, Maxime works in the estate's park and in those of the neighboring country estates, splitting the wood for the winter and tending to vegetable patches and borders. Tania gives school children physical education. Besides that, you will find enough time to explore the area, you will ride your bike on mountainous roads through the surrounding hilly landscape. When the weather permits, Tania swims across the Creuse, and sometimes she climbs on the pillar of a ruined bridge where the current breaks and jumps into the cold water of the river. Sitting in the grass on the embankment, Maxime looks at her silhouette, which is bathed in the sun.
In the evening, when the small town falls asleep and they have kept the colonel and his daughter company enough, Maxime and Tania go out of the house, walk in the dark along the embankment, lean against one of the warm stone walls along the way and like to kiss Freshly in love. The babbling of the river reinforces the calm character of the place, the moon bathes the ramparts above them in a ghostly light: How should one think of the sirens that wake up terrified families? How do you imagine the fear of women and children who sit in dimly lit cellars that could become their graves and press against each other? When the coolness of the night settles over their shoulders, they turn around, climb the stairs arm in arm, avoiding anything
Cracking the oak steps and then silently making love in their cramped bed until dawn. I've believed for so long that I was the first, the only one. I would have loved to have been conceived on the nights of love my parents spent in their attic room in Saint-Gaultier after returning from their nightly walks. During the war they were exposed to fewer tests than others, did not experience the humiliations and crimes of the invaders first hand and compared their stay in the Indre with the long holidays. I imagined that a well-meaning switchman had diverted the long train of mourners, those who had suffered, and those who had been violated, so that his misery would not have wandered through the peaceful streets of the small community of Saint-Gaultier. The war had only unfolded its horror on the radio; it was limited to the information spread by reporters in nasal voices; the images of horror remained hidden between the covers of history books.
On their return to Paris, Maxime and Tania found their shop intact, but were annoyed to discover that the dealers in their neighborhood had grown rich. Those who were not forced to flee had been able to amass a real fortune due to the low competition and the extraordinarily high prices. Louise waited for them, taking care of their goods as if they were their own. She had survived all trials and humiliations. The first post-war years are far more uncomfortable for them than the years of their retreat in the Indre: Shopping is difficult, the goods trickle into them slowly, and the industry needs time to get going again. The
Looms in the Aube Valley are in operation day and night, the factories striving to keep their order books full. There are still ration cards, and the table at Maxime and Tania's is by no means well set. But they pick up on their old habits, customers are crowding into their shop as they used to be, and the two of them find their way back to the sports facilities on the Marne to train.
A few years later, the country's wounds appear to have healed. Tania comes back to her long-cherished wish that she really wants to have a child. But Maxime is still hesitant. He enjoys living together so much, his desire for Tania has not diminished a bit, his hesitation has the same background as before: he does not want to share his wife with anyone. When he later spoke of conception, he said with a laugh that this child had slipped out of him like that. With the announcement of my existence, Tania is happy to see her belly round, but things get more difficult with the delivery. There is talk of forceps delivery and even a caesarean section. The result of the union of two sporting cannons is finally here, it lies in the cradle. Contrary to what they had dreamed of, the child is a stunt, the baby almost died in childbirth.
Thanks to the good treatment from the doctors and my mother's love, I survived. My father too, at least I would like to believe, overcame his disappointment and loved me, cared for and cared for
around me and in his protective role found nourishment for his feelings. But his first look left its mark on me, and I kept discovering the glimmer of bitterness in his eyes.
At the beginning of each new school year, I set myself the same goal: to get my teachers' attention, become their favorite student, climb one of the three steps of the podium. It was the only competition in which I could claim victory. That was my domain, I had left the rest of the world to my brother, only he could conquer it.
The scent of new books made me drunk, and when I stuck my nose in my satchel, I got drunk on the smell of leather and the almond scent of our glue. The notebooks piled up in the drawers of my desk. I never read it through again. The strength that I lacked in physical activity drove me to peak performance when I wrote down pages of self-invented stories with my pen. Sometimes they were about me and my surroundings, family stories, reports about my parents, sometimes I got lost in horrific stories, through which torture, death and reunions ran, or gladiator fights, descriptions made with tears. The years passed and I easily took one hurdle after another. At school and at home, I was a model boy. My mother took me to the Louvre every week and my father shared his passionate love for Paris with me. Together we wandered through the city in search of the places that tourists still enjoy
had not discovered. My world was limited to our trio, on Sundays my parents met athletes who were friends and played with them at volleyball or tennis tournaments. I sat on the lawn with pen and exercise book and devoured these leaping bodies, glistening with sweat in the sun, with my eyes, expanded my picture gallery. I never took part in the games of the other children, who were already following in their parents' footsteps, I left that to my brother if he should argue with them over the ball, if he should triumph on the cinder tracks and tennis courts approved by the adults. Joseph, my paternal grandfather, rang our doorbell every Tuesday. In his rush basket he always had a glass of Malossol cucumber or a box of rachat lokum. Sometimes he brought me trail mix, small paper bags filled with dried fruit and almonds, in which I found a picture puzzle: It was a motif from a picture sheet and you had to see a fox in a thicket of branches or the face of a peasant woman in the cracks locate a wall. In a voice that had almost died out, he told me his sepia-brown memories. When it came to Paris during the Belle Epoque, there was no stopping him, but he said nothing about his youth. He never told why he had left his homeland, he had graduated from those years and left the memory of his family, from whom he allegedly never heard from again, in a suburb of Bucharest. On Sunday evenings the family gathered for dinner with my uncle Georges and his wife Esther. My uncle said that only contemplative reflection counts, everything is in vain, and he fled into silence. My aunt, a short redhead with a wide mouth and green eyes, had kept the habit of her
To emphasize the theatrical look with a strong black eyeliner. She talked like a book and entertained the whole dinner party. In her heyday she must have looked like Sarah Bernhardt, and from that time she had retained her sense of the theatrical. If people huddled too close around her on market days, she would faint. Since she had long ago given up all hope of a possible conversation with her husband, she looked for balance in his family on Sunday evenings and delighted them with her anecdotes. The rest of the time she smoked one cigarette after the other and waited for customers in her fashion boutique near the Charonne metro station. My aunt Elise and her husband Marcel sold work clothing, blue overalls, large-checked wool shirts and anthracite gray smocks in the middle of the working-class suburb of Malakoff. Elise read a lot, quoted the great writers and poets, and expressed her Marxist views with great determination during the weekly family gathering.
Sometimes I spent a few days' vacation with Martha, who now lived in the nearby suburb of Paris. Plump and sweet as she was, she spoiled me to my heart's content, and her eyes sparkled behind her thick glasses. For a long time I thought that the grandmothers of all the Parisian children lived on her street. To celebrate their grandchildren's visit, they made them the same sweets, put on the same aprons, and wore the same pretty, teased hairstyles. But Louise was my favorite, even if she wasn't part of our family. Perhaps I sensed that our understanding was deeper than the family ties. So
no matter how cordial my uncles, aunts, and grandparents may be, an invisible barrier ensured a certain distance between them and me, which did not allow any questions and precluded any confidentiality. Like a secret society held together by an impossible grief. When I was with Louise in the afternoons, in the semi-darkness of her office, she told me in detail about the events of the war that had ended a few years before I was born. It was inexhaustible: no one should ever forget the fears and humiliations of the persecuted. For a long time she kept from me the fact that she too had been one of the persecuted. Until I was fifteen, Louise respected the secret my parents had made about me and which included herself. Maybe she was waiting for a sign before telling me more about it. A word, an allusion from me that would have allowed the gate to be opened a little. One evening a film about that time was shown on television. My father retired to the gym because he couldn't stand the pictures. The impact of his dumbbells, the whistling of his breath drowned out the commands that were barked in a language he could no longer hear. I was left alone with my mother on the sofa in the living room. She was more silent than ever. Who was she thinking of? We watched the black and white film without a word: buildings that were reproduced in a film studio, actors in uniforms, extras gathered in fenced-off areas. I stared spellbound at these stripped bodies, huddled together, I could no longer avert my eyes from the women who covered their breasts, the men who formed their hands over their genitals into a clam as they walked single file through the cold, to get to the building with
to get to the showers. They were the first naked people on a screen that I was allowed to look at, pale spots that stood out against the gray background of the barracks. Since I knew only too well what I would do with these pictures as soon as I was alone in my room, my gaze lingered on these already degraded bodies for a long time. I finished elementary school and went to college in my neighborhood. I felt it was my duty to be a very good student and I always managed to get among the best. Exempted from gym class for medical reasons, I spent the gym lessons in the lounge and poked my nose into my books. Through the window I saw how the others grabbed each other while they were wrestling, how they chased after the ball in a crowd, I heard their screams, their cheers when a goal was scored. Just as strong, just as relentless as my brother, they put their opponents on their backs while I bent my chicken breast over the desk. The days all passed indiscriminately, and night after night I put on my shadow theater. Until the event that was to be the turning point in my life, I grew up in perfectly regulated circumstances. I had grown and hid my legs and thin upper body in baggy clothes. The night before I had blown out the candles for my fifteenth birthday. Another anniversary would soon be celebrated, namely the 1945 victory. The principal of our school had decided to show the students a documentary. We met in a darkened classroom with a white sheet draped over the blackboard. I sat next to the soccer team captain, a stocky, undisciplined man
Hedgehog boy who had never spoken to me. The demonstration began: I saw these mountains for the first time. Terrible mountains that I only knew from descriptions. The reels of film spun and until they were unwound all you could hear was the purring of the projector. Piles of shoes and clothing, pyramids of hair and limbs. In contrast to the television film that I had watched in silence with my mother, there were no extras or sets here. I would have loved to run away to avoid these pictures. One of them made me freeze in horror: a woman who is grabbed by the foot by a soldier in uniform, dragged to an already full pit and thrown into it. This dislocated body was once a woman. A woman strolling through shops, looking in the mirror at the elegant cut of her new dress, a woman pinning up a strand that had come loose from her topknot - now she was just that doll with dislocated limbs that hung like a sack dragged a bumpy gravel road and bounced.
The sight was too violent, too obscene, for me to take this picture back to my room. On some evenings, however, I did not shy away from recalling other images, like after the television film, when I chose from the queue of naked bodies those to submit to my desires. My neighbor, the team captain, slid back and forth on the bench from the start during the performance and took advantage of the darkness to quietly utter some indecentities, the general
Triggered laughter in the class. He snorted every time the obscene body opened its thighs over a dark triangle when pushed. He poked me with his elbow and I laughed with him to please him. I would have liked to have said something funny, but I couldn't think of anything. He imitated the German accent and said, “Oh! Jewish pigs! ”And I laughed again, louder than before. I laughed because he had knocked me with his elbow, because it was the first time that one of those sporting cannons invited me to take part. I laughed until I felt sick. Suddenly my stomach turned, I thought I was going to throw up, and without thinking for a second, I hit him in the face with all my might. He was stunned for a moment, and I could just see the woman from the black-and-white film reflected in his wide-eyed eyes before he threw himself at me and punched me. We rolled under the table, I was no longer myself, for the first time I wasn't afraid, I wasn't afraid to feel his fist in the pit of my stomach. My nausea had suddenly passed, I grabbed his hair to thunder his head on the floor, I pressed my fingers into his eyes, I spit in his face. I was no longer in school, fighting with the same excitement that I used to wrestle my brother with every night, but unlike him, my opponent did not have the upper hand. I knew I was going to kill him, that I was really going to push him face down in the sand. Alarmed by our screaming, the teacher on sight stopped the performance and turned on the light. With the help of some students, he separated us: I could only see out of one eye, a warm liquid ran down my cheek, and I was taken to the hospital room. I
left the classroom under the abuse of my neighbor, whose face was smeared with blood. At least I managed to give him a serious punch on the face, a victory that earned me the respect of the whole class for a few weeks.
I retained a bandage over my eyebrow from the fight, which I proudly wore through the hallways of the school. But this injury earned me far more than fleeting fame, it was the sign Louise had been waiting for. The very next day I told my old friend everything at home. I had served my parents with a version that saved me from reporting on the documentary: a fight in the schoolyard because someone stole the pen that I had been given for my birthday the day before. I caught my father with an astonished look in which a hint of satisfaction flashed: Should his son at least be able to defend himself? I told Louise the truth; I could tell everything to her alone. I told her about the screening, I told her about the mountains, about the jointed doll, and I told her how I washed her clean of the desecration that had been done to her. But I didn't say anything about my laughter. I had come a long way in my report when my feelings suddenly overwhelmed me and I began to cry in front of Louise like I had never cried in front of anyone. Her features loosened, she hugged me, I pressed my cheek to her nylon blouse and let my tears run free. Soon I felt drops on my forehead. I lifted my head in amazement: Louise was crying as unreservedly as I was. She pushed
a little from herself and looked at me as if trying to decide how to make up her mind, then smiled and started talking. The day after my fifteenth birthday I finally found out what I had always known. Just like my old friend, I should have had the yellow star sewn onto my chest or like my parents, my beloved statues, had to flee from the persecutors. Like all of my family, like all of us, whether neighbors or strangers who give themselves away by the last syllable of their names, by a -sky, thal or -stein. I discovered who had kept everything from me, that he too was marked by that annoying, so culpable epithet. Louise no longer talked about the number of anonymous victims, but about herself, about her tortured body, which had been branded again during the war: with the mark so heavy that it made her limp worse. She told me about sentences that were like slaps in the face, about humiliating signs, locked doors, benches that weren't allowed to sit on. When they were forced to wear the star, Louise, to her surprise, discovered the true identities of some of the neighbors. This included the grocer on the street corner with the French-sounding name, the pensioner couple from the small neighboring villa, the family doctor in the neighborhood and also the unsympathetic pharmacist whom she had mistaken for an anti-Semite. The yellow spot made them recognizable to the others, but through it they also recognized their own kind, and suddenly those formed a community who knew nothing about each other because they had always denied each other. I was fifteen when the cards were redistributed and changed my narrative thread. What would I do with this epithet given to my lean frame?
was? Didn't I look like the ones who'd passed by on the screen in shivering pajamas? And how would I write the epithet in my notebooks, big or small? Not only was I weak, incapable, or unfit, a new adjective was now added. The news had barely passed Louise's lips when that identity changed me. I was the same, but I'd changed, gotten strangely stronger. So it was neither the privations nor the confiscations that drove my parents to give up everything and seek refuge in the other part of France. Did Louise actually stay on Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé and take care of the shop, as they claimed, or had she made the trip? Was her stay at the Indre really as heavenly as she described it? So many questions that had never crossed my mind before. Louise swayed. She had already said too much, but couldn't go back. She owed me the truth. She would no longer keep her promise and betray my parents' trust for the first time. She, who had never had a child in her life, not even a real love as far as anyone can believe her, loved me enough to do that. The single old lady considered it her duty to break the silence of the boy who was like her, who was like her different from the others. And I never imagined again that I was the first, the only one. The further Louise got on with her confession, the more my certainties dwindled. A too violent outburst of emotions from me would have slowed her swing. So I listened carefully, suppressed my tears, overcame my emotions. The story of mine
Parents, whom I had portrayed so pure in my first story, were now full of convolutions. I went their way blindly, an exodus that removed me from those I loved and brought me to unfamiliar faces. On a path where voices whispered everywhere, I now saw the dead lying on the roadside.
Three dead appeared out of the darkness, whose names I heard for the first time: Robert, Hannah and Simon. Robert, Tania's husband, Simon, the son of Maxime and Hannah. I heard Louise say "Tania's husband" and "Maxime's son" and felt nothing about it. I learned that my parents were related by marriage before they became husband and wife, and I showed no emotion. Like a tightrope walker, I clung to the balancing bar on the rope that Louise was tying me and looked far ahead, my eyes fixed on the end of her story. Finally, Louise had mentioned Simon's name as well. He made his first official appearance after sneaking into all the pictures of anonymous wrestlers, tough guys, and schoolyard tyrants. So the brother I invented to break my loneliness, that phantom brother had lived. Louise had known him, loved him. Joseph was Simon's grandfather before he became mine, Georges, Esther, Marcel, Elise were his closest relatives. Before Tania became my mother, she was his aunt. What did he call her, what was she like to him?
After telling me about the forbidden places, the degrading signs and the yellow stars embroidered with the four letters that denoted me
Today, Louise wanted to tell me the worst, but her voice failed her. Soon I would have to go back down the hall and immerse myself in the hustle and bustle of the store. I was no longer the same, and those I would meet a few meters from Louise's office had also transformed. Undreamt-of ailments emerged from behind the masks that had just fallen. I looked so pale my parents were worried, but I could calm them down with a smile. I watched them, they hadn't changed. The silence would continue, and I couldn't imagine there was any reason to break it. For my part, I tried to protect them.
In the weeks that followed, I visited Louise more frequently and continued my questioning. My friend opened one chapter after the other: the events that I knew in detail from my history book, the occupation, the Vichy regime, the fate of the Jews, the demarcation line, were no longer limited to chapter headings in a school book for me but suddenly came to life like black-and-white photos becoming color. My parents had experienced all of this and were much more directly affected by it than I had thought. Maxime's first wife, Hannah, emerged from the night with her pale eyes and porcelain complexion. A concerned and affectionate mother who took good care of her only son. More mother than woman, said Louise, to excuse Maxime and not incriminate Tania. I got to know Simon: the pride of his father, who would one day become a champion with supple muscles, his mother's darling, a winner already in the
tenderest age. And when Louise's voice failed, I was unmoved: I couldn't feel any pity for him. What she told me about Simon aroused a dull anger in me, for which I immediately felt guilty. I tried to imagine his despair, his body that had become like mine, shaking under the coarse fabric, his protruding ribs, his childhood turned into a handful of ashes and blown away by the Polish wind. But when Louise mentioned his traits, the shapely body that was in no way inferior to Maxime's and which his father gave admiring glances, I felt the stings of cruel jealousy.
After living in the shadow of an older brother over the years, I now came across the one my parents had kept from me. And I didn't like him. Louise had drawn me a portrait of a charming, confident, strong boy who was in all respects like the one who crushed me every night. I knew how terrible my wish was, but I would have loved to give this picture to the flames. I had delayed the moment when I was to find out as long as possible: I tore myself wounds on the barbed wire that surrounded the silence. That's why I made up a brother for myself, because I couldn't recognize the one who had forever impressed himself on my father's silent gaze. From Louise I learned that he had a face, the face of a little boy whom they kept from me and who followed me always and everywhere. Since they have always lived with the wound of having left him to his fate and with the guilt of owing their happiness to his disappearance, my parents kept him hidden in the darkness. I groaned and
groaned under the shame I had inherited, as under that body that tyrannized me at night.
I didn't know that my father saw him behind my thin upper body and my stork legs. He looked at that son who should have been his likeness, his broken dream. When I was born, it was Simon again who was placed in his arms, his dream of a child that he wanted to shape in his own image. And not me, this stuttering life, a design full of flaws in which none of its features could be recognized. Had he been able to hide his disappointment from my mother, was he touched by the sight of me and had he managed to bring himself to smile? All my relatives knew about Simon, knew him and loved him. Everyone remembered his vitality, his strong personality. And everyone had kept it from me. Without meaning to, they too had struck him off the list of both the dead and the living, repeating the deed of his murderers out of love. You couldn't read his name on any stone, no one uttered it, any more than his mother Hannah's. Simon and Hannah, who were wiped out twice: by the hatred of their persecutors and by the love of their neighbors. That were swallowed up in a void that I could never approach without risking my own downfall. A brilliant silence, a black sun that was not content with devouring his life, but that had erased every trace of our ancestry.
Simon. I was sure that I couldn't run as early as he did, that I didn't begin to speak until months later than he. How could I have measured myself against him? I was disturbed by the pleasure I felt at the thought of this defeat, and I drew a morbid satisfaction from it: With my stomach pressed against the mattress, my foot behind my neck, I surrendered to my brother. Louise, of all people, had brought me in touch with him. It was inevitable that one day his phantom figure would appear in this breach, in what she confided to me. By discovering the little plush dog, I had already dragged it into the light, and it had dominated my childhood. Without my old friend, I might never have known. No doubt I would have continued to share my bed with the one who showed me his strength without realizing that I was really wrestling with Simon, wrapping my legs around his, mixing my breath in his and always ending up as a loser. How could I have known that you can never win against a dead man?
Louise's revelations allowed me to add new pages to my narrative. A second story emerged, the empty spaces of which I filled in with my imagination, a story which, however, could not suppress the first. Both novels stand side by side, hidden in the depths of my consciousness, and each illuminates in its own way Maxime and Tania, my parents, whom I have just discovered.
Maxime and Hannah are getting married on a beautiful summer day, nothing threatening appears in the sky. After you have registered yourself at the registry office, you go to the synagogue. Joseph is happy that the last of his three children is getting married. The bride's parents are also there, and Hannah's brother Robert and his wife Tania have come from Lyon with them. Finally they get to know their brother-in-law Maxime, about whom Hannah said so many good things in her letters. The next day they would go home again. For lunch, the bride's parents have reserved the back room of a brasserie on Place de la République. One course after the other is served until the guests feel the need to move their sluggish limbs. A trio has been ordered, two violins and an accordion, which are now shaking society up. On the dance floor, men in dark suits keep women in flowered dresses entwined, the heat is forgotten, man
floats over the polished parquet to the rhythm of the chapel. Pig tov! Everyone congratulates the young couple, a glass is crushed, napkins are waved, the strongest of the men carry the bridegroom on a chair in a triumphal procession through the hall.
Maxime would have preferred to do without the traditional celebrations, but he willingly goes along with them. He complied with the insistently expressed wish of his parents-in-law and agreed to a religious marriage. Since his youth he has tried to make people forget his parentage and he does not like to be reminded of them. But out of respect for his young wife and her family, he bows to tradition, smiles at everyone, and takes part in the ceremony. Since reaching his religious age, the bar mitzvah, which he could not refuse Joseph, he has always avoided religious festivals. The only cult he devotes himself to is that of his body, and he spends all of his free time on it. To pray by candlelight on Friday evening and to take the traditional Sabbath meal with the family is completely unimaginable for him. He is almost thirty, and he hopes his wedding will end his desperate hunt for love affairs. Short acquaintances, nocturnal pleasures with women whose charms have passed at dawn. Hannah's grace and tenderness beguiled him, but the wealth of his in-laws also played a role in his decision. He has savored the joys of bachelor life to the limit and for the first time feels the desire to become a father.
Hannah's parents get out of their car, open the door for the young bride, she appears, her hair covered by a transparent veil, with a bouquet of fresh flowers in her arms in front of the town hall. Maxime walks up to them, cylinder in hand, to greet them. She looks at him. Her pale cheeks and the slight tremor in her hands show how excited she is. Other cars park nearby, men in suits and women in light-colored dresses or costumes get out, the wedding guests. Maxime is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Robert and his wife Tania. Hannah often told him about her brother, a cheeky young man. She has also confessed to him how much she admires her sister-in-law, an accomplished athlete, excellent swimmer and high diver. They arrive: Robert is just as Hannah described him, short wavy hair, a mischievous smile in his eyes, but Tania is the most beautiful woman Maxime has ever seen. She is tall and slim, wears a flowered dress, her black hair, tamed by a narrow hairband, falls in cascades, with a radiant smile. So much beauty troubles him, it takes his breath away, instead of putting a highlight on the festival, it throws a dark shadow on it: the woman has a charisma that breaks his heart. It is his wedding, the day on which the life paths of him and Hannah unite, when lightning strikes him out of the blue. He looks for his future wife's gaze and leads her to the town hall.Troubled by the encounter with Tania, he tries to calm himself down: it is surely only the seducer slumbering in him who answers one last time. A few months earlier, his desire would have been exhausted
Obstacles swept aside, he would have done anything, if necessary, destroyed everything to conquer this beauty.
Family and guests gather in the wedding hall behind the young couple, an unmistakable crowd from which laughter and choked sobs emerge. Maxime and Hannah exchange rings and kiss to great applause. Then they go to the table and put their signatures in the registry. Maxime experiences these moments like in a fog. He turns to the guests and smiles at everyone. He mustn't look for that face, he knows he'll be entranced all over again. Tania is sitting next to her husband, her head tilted. For a few seconds Maxime fixates on the woman, the sight of whom has swept everything away. A simple look, an almost imperceptible intention with unpredictable consequences. What if he were caught looking at it? But the guests are preoccupied with their own feelings, smiling and chatting with one another. He only sees Tania, no longer thinks about the party, forgets his family, his guests. He fixates the young woman until she finally hears his silent call and lifts her head. Her black locks fall over her dress, open like a curtain and reveal her eyes. He holds her gaze a second too long. Then he turns around and puts his signature in the registry. He doesn't want to think about the shame he inflicted on Hannah and everyone who came to her honor. A little later in the synagogue, when the dignified voice of the cantor can be heard from under the vault, he looks up at the balcony where the women are sitting. Tania, in the first row, has closed her eyelids. The young woman is sure to have forgotten his first look. But he fixes her again. When she the
Eyes open, the same surprising flash of glare penetrates her. Everything else is no longer so important, his foolish behavior makes his admiration even more unfounded. A moment matters: Tania is the most beautiful woman he has ever met, he cannot let her go without telling her through this haunted look. Maxime sits far enough away from her in the restaurant to catch himself again. He grabs every course and chats exuberantly with his table neighbors. He dances with Hannah, with his mother-in-law, encourages most of the women present, but he avoids Tania, the touch of her body through the light dress, the scent on her neck, the tickling of her hair. When the guests finally say goodbye, he is really relieved: Tania and her husband are driving back to Lyon, he doesn't know when he will see them again. The sight of his sister-in-law almost ruined his wedding, and he and Hannah are about to spend their first night together, now he mustn't think of anyone else.
When he later embraces the young woman, Maxime has to force himself not to grasp Tania's locks and kiss her sore lips. Maxime and Hannah have been husband and wife for a few months now. Sometimes Maxime still thinks of Tania, whom he has not seen since his wedding, but Hannah completely fills his life. He works in his father's shop. On Mondays, when there is the greatest rush because the retailers do their shopping on that day, his wife also helps out there. The rest of the time, she watches over her belly, which is rounded. In the spring your desired child should be
World come. You live on avenue Gambetta in a small apartment with a balcony above the PèreLachaise cemetery. Every Sunday Hannah accompanies Maxime to the stadium, in tennis she proves to be a respectable partner, otherwise she sits on the lawn knitting or reading in the shade of the large trees.
Simon is born at the beginning of spring, he is healthy and strong and roars with all his might. His middle name is Joseph. When the doctor holds the baby up by his thumb to test the grip reflex, Maxime can already see his son by the rings. He thinks he recognizes himself in the arch of the eyebrows and in the energetic chin. A new life for three begins, Simon is developing splendidly, he sleeps well, has a huge appetite, laughs at everyone. He has eight years to live. A few months later they get a visit from Robert and Tania. Maxime is worried about her arrival, but then he is quickly calmed down: Tania, still just as charming, is very informal and raptures about the baby. An afternoon with her at Simon's cradle is enough to tear him away from this ideal. His son claims his full attention, everything else fades into the background. Hannah laughs with her brother, who is teasing her, Robert seems happy, he often puts his arm around Tania's waist, which, however, has not become rounder, as Maxime discovers.
On Sundays, Hannah puts Simon in a carrying basket and puts him in the shade under a chestnut tree between the tennis court and the gym. Sometimes maxim occurs
Glistening with sweat and a towel around his neck, he pats his son's cheek and kisses his wife, then he leaves. He waits impatiently for the moment when he can introduce Simon to all the sports, take him to the wrestling mat, grab him around the waist and hang him on the horizontal bar. Simon also knew the shop on Rue du Bourgl’Abbé. He climbed the stairs, ran down the hallways of the building, explored the storage rooms. Presumably, like me, he was building caves out of the empty cardboard boxes that piled up in each room. He played cashier and helped serve customers, games that I made after him without even knowing it. He too was sitting with a cup of chocolate in Louise's practice and telling her about his worries and dreams. But was he worried? Unlike me, he didn't suffer from a body that left him in the lurch, and he didn't have to convince himself of the admiration in his father's eyes. Until the disaster knocked on the apartment door on Avenue Gambetta, Simon's first years of life were completely carefree. I know that from Louise, who breathed life into the little phantom.
The war is casting its shadow. The events that shake Europe also shape the lives of Maxime and Hannah. Joseph sticks his ear to the radio, reads all the newspapers. The harassment he endured in Romania led him into exile, and now he is more attentive than the others to the brown danger that is spreading beyond the border. Maxime keeps talking to him: We live in France, the land of freedom, nothing like this can happen here. He doesn't want to see the fearful glimmer in Joseph's eyes, he endures it
Not looking at his father's hunched shoulders, and sometimes he'll bark at him or make fun of his fears. Of course, these discussions are kept from Simon, the shadows are kept away from him. He is loved and cared for. His world grants him protection, passers-by on the street smile at him, how could such a world ever turn around and turn against him? How could these kind adults one day become his chasers, push him around, put him in a wagon full of straw, and separate him from Hannah? The newspapers report on mass rallies on the other side of the border, the magazines bring the relevant photos. And when he looks over his parents' shoulders, he lets himself be blinded by these impeccably arranged rows, by the torches and the banners flapping in the wind over the crowd in parade uniforms, and he opens his eyes wide. Day after day, during my visits, Louise opened a new page in the book that I had never turned before. We immersed ourselves in the stormy times that my parents had experienced with her. She poured her liqueur glass to the brim, drew on each cigarette until she burned her fingers. When the doorbell of her practice announced a customer, she sighed, got up regretfully and asked me to wait for her. Then she hurried to the treatment and came back to me to pick up the thread of her story and deliver the material to mine. Austria is annexed, Poland invaded, France enters the war. The pages are turned quickly: victory of Nazi Germany, signing of the armistice, establishment of the Vichy regime. In the streets newsboys shout the names of the people in their hands
France lays its fate, their faces appear in public. You can see tanks driving past in a convoy, the occupation troops marching at goose-step down the Champs-Elysées. Standing on the viewing terrace of the Trocadéro, hands clasped behind his back, is a man in a dress uniform, looking at the Eiffel Tower as if it belonged to him. The evil spreads, in a few months the values will be turned upside down; Faces that were previously trusted now embody evil. Officials who ensured security, regulated traffic, stamped ID cards, become eager accomplices of a relentless plan, officials whose mere signature can seal a fate. The enemy can not only be recognized by their gray-green uniforms and long raincoats, they can also be tucked into the sleeves of a town hall employee, under the cloak of a policeman, behind the orders of a prefect, and even behind the friendly look of a neighbor. The big bus that brought the city's residents to work and unloaded its passengers in front of park and cinema entrances is now groaning under the burden of men and women with bundles of clothes in their hands. From now on, the Citroën front-wheel drive vehicles, who used to drive happy families to their holiday resorts, stop in front of the front doors early in the morning to spread terror.
One day Maxime finds Joseph slumped over the counter in a miserable condition. Gaston, their warehouse clerk, accompanied Timo, the Yugoslav employee from the neighboring wholesale business, to the Japy sports hall, where the young man had to report according to a summons. Gaston has come back alone and is supposed to give his friend the
Bring the most essential things. Rumors of the first arrests arise, the unfortunate are allegedly being held in places that have been turned into assembly camps. Joseph sees this as the first signs of a large-scale persecution. He knows exactly what he was talking about and he told everyone who listened to him: Here it will soon repeat what he fled from Romania from. Since the "Kristallnacht" and the introduction of the Jewish laws in Germany, he has feared the worst, but nobody wants to listen to him. There is talk of raids in the neighborhood that are spreading. Maxime tries again to reassure his father: Timo is being held not because of his Jewish origins, but because he is a foreigner. You know from the radio that the purge policy aims to expel all foreigners from France who are not naturalized. Joseph and his family had been French for decades, what did they have to fear?
Maxime turns deaf. The fearfulness of the neighbors annoys him, he abhores their miserable expressions, he doesn't like it when they wring their hands, he treats the fearful with rejection, sometimes he compliments them rudely. He still wants to believe in the impossible, like many others he has heard reports of evacuations at dawn, he is aware of the operations in progress to clear the country of undesirable elements. Nonetheless, he insists that only Poles, Hungarians, Czechs and Slovaks are affected by these measures, and recently also stateless refugees who hardly speak French, Orthodox who have stuck to their way of life and formed a veritable enclave in the middle of Paris.
But he does notice that the situation is becoming more threatening. The danger has taken on the face of the man who is now in power in Germany. The image of the ominous jumping jack constantly haunts him, his roaring makes him hate a language that until then has lulled him with its songs and operas, with its literature and philosophy.
The pages are turned faster and faster, the pictures more concrete. You see long queues, housewives who wait all mornings to get hold of a piece of inferior meat for a lot of money, vegetables that you haven't eaten before, or bread that has to be cut into thin slices. Above all, however, these pages confirm Joseph's darkest predictions, because they show people who, under the supervision of the French police, are hastily tying up their bundles and huddling on the platforms of the omnibuses. Later, such black and white photos showed the unbelievers the doors of sealed wagons and people at train stations in the fog, from whom no one returned. Maxime refused to go to the police station to have his ID badged with the humiliating red stamp. His decision is controversial in the family. Esther and Georges responded to the call, Elise and Marcel are still resisting, Joseph is waiting for his son's decision, and everyone is having lively debates about it. For Maxime, muscle training becomes resistance to cowardice and disorder: he trains with renewed vigor. He has never won so many victories, so easily over his opponents
triumphs. He would like to have medals slung around his neck and climb to the top step of the pedestal. Every Sunday he takes Hannah and Simon with him to the stadium, the little boy is his father's pride, with his delicate figure he impresses in the floor exercise with wonderful laps with handstands and somersaults. Soon he will start gymnastics and learn to wrestle.
Robert, who is younger than Maxime, is called up and sent to the front in the east. In Lyon, Tania has kept her in-laws' bedding branch for as long as possible, but difficulties caused by delayed deliveries and factory closures are forcing her to close. She returns to Paris and moves back to live with her mother on Rue Berthe. The loneliness has led to a rapprochement with her husband's family, she visits Maxime and Hannah regularly. The worries that tormented her in Lyon, the fear that filled her every day when she emptied the mailbox, have left their mark on her face. She looks exhausted, pays less attention to her appearance, but a smile, a gesture is enough to put Maxime back into the same amazed ecstasy as before.
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