The Mesturet Novel: The Life of Passions

Article publié par Le Mesturet le 11/08/2011 à 15:34
Catégories : The Mesturet Novel
Tags : The Mesturet Novel

Chapter One, the Awakening of the Senses, part 5

Jean had already known for several months. One evening in the winter of 1975, Charles rang the doorbell at Jean and Marie’s home. Marie opened the door and saw Charles, still as solidly built, still with his gentle smile. She remembered the evening of the summer of 1944 when she had run as fast as she could to bang on the door of Charles’ parents. It had been Charles that had answered as solidly built as today and with the same smile. 
“They’ve taken Jean!”
Charles and Jean both belonged to the same resistance network that was heavily involved in the fighting taking place in Corrèze, Creuse and Haute Vienne and, most importantly, between Limoges and Tulle. Charles and Jean had grown up together, same school, same passion for cooking and same passion for Marie. At the beginning of the 40s, Marie had chosen and put an end to two years of hesitation between her two suitors. She had been afraid that her choice would break up their friendship. It had no effect on it. Charles stayed loyal to Jean and held on to his love for Marie in secret.
“They’ve taken Jean!”
The words echoed in the entryway and Charles’ parents came running. Charles said nothing, he was thinking of the hanged men from Tulle last June and of the massacre of Ouradour sur Glane that happened two days later. The unbearable mass grave was a horror. He knew that there was little hope for Jean; the Germans were furious with military setbacks all over France and especially in this region.
“Marie, come with me. Where did it happen?”
“In front of the church. A convoy headed for Limoges, a truck – there were already other men in it, young men.”
Charles took his bike, gave his mother’s to Marie and sped towards the road that went to Limoges. On the road, Charles turned right and made for a farm that looked abandoned.
“Wait for me here. I’ll come back to get you.”
Marie waited. She heard cries or whistles, she wasn’t sure. Charles came back ten minutes later.
“Jean was taken with the others. Someone denounced him. You have to be brave – he’s going to be shot tomorrow with several of ours.”
The ground gave way beneath her. Her Jean, her love, her life.
“We’re going to try something tonight. Our network has known for a few hours; we’re getting ready for an operation but it’s risky, we’re not certain of anything. Go back to my parents’.”
“No, I want to—“ She didn’t have time to finish.
“I said go back to my parents’. Reassure them. We’ll be there tomorrow. Go on, Marie, go! Oh, Marie…if…in the end…if… protect them, they’re fragile right now.”
Marie didn’t answer. When Charles started giving orders, nothing was negotiable; it was probably one of the major differences between him and Jean.
Marie got on the bike again and went back to wait at Charles’ parents, at this beautiful restaurant where nothing much had happened for the last four years, but where she loved to come to visit the “old folks” as Charles lovingly called them.
The night was long, very long. She didn’t sleep. Around six in the morning, she heard the crunch of bicycle wheels on gravel. Petrified, she didn’t move. The door between the shed and the kitchen opened. Charles appeared, dazed, his face and hands covered in blood. She didn’t dare ask, her lips moved by themselves:
“And Jean?”
“He’s behind me, in the shed. He’s banged up, but he’ll live.”
Marie ran, bumping into Charles as she rushed into the shed where Jean was stretched out, his face swollen, his hands covered with blood, but Jean was there. He’d been tortured, but he was still alive or nearly.Things moved very quickly. Charles, wounded, left again with Jean two hours later. Marie didn’t see them again for many long weeks. She got news from time to time from messengers but nothing more than “They’re OK”, “They’ll be back soon”. Short, but enough to have hope.
All of that came back to her, seeing Charles there that evening, thirty-one years later.
“Is Jean in?”
“Of course he’s here, he doesn’t work tonight. Don’t you remember?” she said with that knowing smile he liked so much.
“Jean, it’s Charles!”
“Come in Charles, you’re not going to stay there.”
“No, I want to see Jean alone. I’m worried about something to do with the restaurant. Nothing serious, but it has to be dealt with right away.”
In nearly thirty years, you’ve never come over and now this evening… Do you think I’m stupid? Marie thought.
Jean appeared.
“Come with me. I’ve got something to discuss with you. It’s about the restaurant.”
Jean knew it was serious. He’d only seen that look two or three times: when Charles’ parents died and the day in June 1940 when he’d learned that his older brother had died in the first days of the German offensive leaving his  parents devastated by grief and him alone with the restaurant that he hadn’t imagined taking over so soon.
This expression was a bad sign. Charles took him to the village hill where they’d played when they were boys. They sat on the bench facing the majestic volcanoes. The full moon gave a solemnity to the evening that overwhelmed speech. Jean had to lean forwards to catch the words.
“You know, Jean, that doctor Lambert sent me to a specialist in Limoges. I went back to see him today.” A long deep sigh. “It’s cancer. Prostate cancer. Do you want to know how long I’ve got? They don’t know – two or three years, maybe only one, maybe ten. They can’t control this disease. It could get worse, it could get better. It has to be kept from metastasizing…”
Charles stopped and for the first time in his life, Jean cried. He hesitated, then put his hand on Charles’ leg, patting it gently, saying nothing.
“You know, I’m alone. No wife, no children, no family, nothing. It’s going to have to be sold. After three generations and it’s going to be sold just like that because of a disease… It’s so stupid. I never thought of an end like that. I hoped for something else, I don’t know what, but something different. It’s really too stupid.”
They kept talking for a long time into the night. Jean decided to work more so Charles could rest. They decided to hire more people in order to reinforce the teams, and then they would try to find solutions day-by-day following the progression of the disease. Jean persuaded Charles from selling in haste. They’d gone through other things together, they would fight together until the end. Jean was supposed to retire in 1980. He’s leave later if he had to. While Charles was there, he’d be there. He owed him that much and more.
When Pierre’s mother called at the beginning of the summer in 1975 to say that her son was interested in cooking, Jean and Charles felt hope returning. Charles remembered this cousin so close and so far away; with the war and the passage of time, they’d drifted apart and he was pleased that her son was interested in cooking. But he had to stay calm and not get ahead of himself, not hope too much. But if it was true, if this Pierre could become the son he never had and join in this passion and joy…
Hope, yes, but the road was long and there was a lot of work to be done. At last, on this day in August 1975, things were in place and Charles could fight his last, his ultimate battle, perhaps the most beautiful… Passing something down.       
The End of Chapter One
The next week: Chapter Two/Construction

Translated from the French by Bodega Designs,
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