That I felt the burning hurt of the sharp slap about my face confirmed my heart still pumped. Reluctant conjoined eyelids fought good reason in their quest for an equitable divorce. Then the soothing touch of a soft, lukewarm palm upon my brow set in motion a myriad of wideawake apparitions.
It was the girl from the Resistance, fabled for her ostensibly permanent black beret, who had somehow found me. I instantly knew it was she by the smell of her ‘Soir de Paris’ eau de cologne…pre the outbreak of war, the budget choice of the proletariat, now the perfume of the few.
Once vision had deigned to make its hesitant appearance I made mental note of her quizzical, perhaps even loving, concern for my well-being, notwithstanding that her face was uncomfortably close to my own. Seeing her thus, the thought struck that the sea of cosmopolitan wild flowers all around reminded me of women without makeup. Untamed beauty bests designed hybrids, always. ‘Frenchie’ as I called her, was the consummate ‘wild flower’.
We never did share our real names on the simple, logical basis that less information was more should one of us ever be the subject of interrogation. Regardless, this bloodthirsty morn it was she who embraced the concept of keeping me alive, over and above any other astute considerations vis a vis her own safety.
I’d met her just the once previous. A bizarre encounter at the end of Brighton’s West Pier on an autumn’s night that favoured grey mist and ghostly lamplight over a bewitched moon and amiable stars. She of perfect English, me similarly in her native tongue, namely that of La Belle France. For reasons of common-sense, given we were both soon to join in the hostilities across La Manche, we decided it best we conversed in la langue française for the main part.
That night we had spoken of covert tactics, landmarks, grenades and landmines, although later, back in the pealing wallpaper, naked light, second rate mattress, second rate breakfast, second rate B&B our Lord’s and master’s had booked us in, in the otherwise quintessentially English village of Portslade our discussions turned to condoms, errors of judgement and sticky accidents. Impressively, she had no qualms in telling it like it was.
“La pure passion du sexe brut emporte l’amour doux faisant en temps de guerre?”
Assuming correctly she had posed a question rather than made a statement, I concurred that “Yes indeed, the sheer passion of raw sex trumps sweet love making in times of war.”
Her enticing, emotionless riposte, “Bon. Ce soir, pas de pensées de romance. Ce soir, nous sommes des animaux,” suited me right down to the lino; wanton manic souls she and I would be…and rest assured we were.
Scroll forward three months. As of the moment she was stood over me, legs astride my crippled body, hands on hips shaking her head in despair, and in that séductrice accent she never did realize was a trademark that turned any red-blooded male’s legs to jelly, she, as a clinical matter of fact, advised, “The Gestapo are on their way. It is inconceivable that I carry you off to a safe house, the closest one is at least ten kilometres away. All I can do, given your condition, is to put you out of your misery. Better that than torture. Sorry it has to be this way.”
Ever the professional, Frenchie did not favour me with the opportunity of agreeing or otherwise. A single bullet to the temple. I had always believed that a curtain call was not necessarily the final bow. C’est la vie.