The old woman watched the celebrations of VE Day unfold from her
window. She was in Paris, the capital of no other than the great nation of
France. A nostalgic smile graced her fine features. It has been 69 years since
the victory in Europe happened. And yet, the woman felt as if it was yesterday.
May 8th brought many memories back to her, both good ones and bad ones.
She laughed softly to herself as she saw little children run up and down the streets of Paris waving the flag around and yelling "Vive le France!" The woman recalled the memories when she was like them, innocent and free. Well, she was technically free but the same couldn't say for innocent.
The woman threaded the needle back and forth. She had so much to do in so little time. She put the finishing touches on the dress that she was working on. It was a wedding dress for a customer. The woman spent many months working on it. It was bedazzled with pearls and lace that would make the bride look like she was an angel sent from heaven.
Just the thought of a wedding brought times of bittersweet memories to her. No, he’s most likely dead by now. I shouldn’t think of these things.
It was eight o’clock in the evening by the time she was done
with the dress. Fireworks of red, white, and blue illuminated the sky with
their lights. The woman has been inside all day sewing. She didn't mind at all.
She had been to dozens of VE days before this and she would experience a few
more in the future before she dies.
The woman sighed and cracked her wrinkled fingers. She was too old for this. She was ninety-two years old. She woman put the dress away safely. She was almost done and the customer wouldn't pick it up until tomorrow. In her opinion, sewing by hand was done much faster than sewing machine. The woman shook her head at the very mention of it. Her grandmother sewed by hand as did her mother. There was no reason that she herself would break the tradition.
Rubbing her tired eyes, the woman put away her sewing supplies away. She went upstairs where her "house" was. The first floor was reserved for business purposes only. The floor above it was where she lived. The woman fired up the stove and prepared tea for herself. After that, she would retire to her bed at 8:30 and sleep until six, just like any regular day.
The kettle made a high-pitched whistle and the woman hobbled over there to pour the boiling water into the cup. Drinking it made her feel a little bit better, almost as if she was traveling back to a time when everything was normal.
Her grip tightened on the handle. Normal… After she met the boy, her life was never normal again. The met seventy years ago, and he was the only one that she truly loved and no one else. It has been sixty-nine years she last saw the boy. He should be in his nineties by now, the woman mused. If he's still alive that is.
The woman couldn't help thinking back on those times. They were usually too painful to look back on. This time though, she allowed the ghosts of past to catch up for her. And soon, she was swallowed up by her memories.
August 19, 1944.
Marie Delacroix was a young and healthy twenty-two year old. She lives in Paris, France in a small house on Rue Abel. She runs a little tailor store called “Delacroix’s Shop.”
Her life was still hectic as ever, especially when the Germans occupied the country in the Second World War. Her business has been repressed and instead of making clothing, she makes the French flag for the French Resistance. Like hell she’s going to let the Germans run her country. She’ll do whatever it takes to free it, even if it is a small effort.
World War II was sort of like the first one but bloodier and more violent. Marie knew that the world had it coming. The Versailles Treaty was too harsh, she thought. The delegates should’ve done what they did at the Congress of Vienna when Napoleon was finally put down. If they only listened to their predecessors, maybe this war would’ve been prevented or at the very least delayed.
Marie looked at her watch. It was almost noon, which meant that it was time to go to work. For the past five years, the woman has worked at the hospital tending to the soldiers who came back injured six days a week with a break on Sunday. At first, the cots were filled and the injured had to sit in the waiting room. Even on the floors if it came to that. But thankfully, as the war dragged on, the stream of patients began to lessen.
There was this one particular soldier though, that was always there. He arrived last month with his right leg blown out from its socket and shrapnel embedded in his right arm. The poor guy must’ve been hit by an artillery shell. He has been in a coma for several weeks now with little signs of waking up. Marie has been charge of his health since then.
From his records, the man was from Belgium, from the city of Antwerp. His name is Henri Blanchet and he is twenty-two years old. Henri is single with no children but he has two living siblings. His father is dead but his mother is still alive. He’s 6’5 and had pale, freckled skin complete with brown eyes and hair. He spoke two languages, French and Dutch.
Marie thought he was handsome-looking young man, but immediately regretted thinking it. It would never work out. He probably has a girl in Belgium with looks like those. Her intervention would make things worse.
It is better to love from afar then up close, Marie decided. And she continued on with her work.
August 21, 1944.
The next day was the same as yesterday. Marie finished her flag and sent it to one of the leaders of the French Resistance. The Germans, much to Marie’s dismay, still haven’t left Paris. And to her even greater dismay, they were looting every artifact that they could get their hands on. She saw carts of priceless paintings being carried away. Bottles of wine are stolen from cellars are carted away in droves. Earlier, Marie had to chase a Nazi soldier off her property when she caught him stealing fabric.
If one good thing came out of this, it was that it united the Parisians. Sensing freedom in the first time in four years, they took every chance to harass the Germans. Marie took great delight in forming strikes and simply being a constant thorn in Hitler’s side.
It was soon noon and Marie made her way to the hospital. There was a recent surge of soldiers coming in for treatment and Marie figured that she was going to be there until late in the evening.
The woman treated a man with the flu that he caught in Russia. She bandaged another’s arm after taking a hit from a bullet. She checked up on a soldier that she helped save and found that he was recovering from his injuries. Indeed, she was very busy.
At around five o’clock in the afternoon, Marie was allowed to take a one-hour break. She ate her simple lunch composed of water and a sandwich and checked up on Mr. Blanchet. As always, he was sound asleep. The heart monitor was beside him beeping steadily. Marie felt sorry for him. He was 340 km away from home. His family must miss him sorely.
She lightly touched his hand. They were still warm and she could feel his pulse. One might think that he was sleeping instead of in a coma. Marie sighed. Perhaps she could keep him company while he was sleeping? Marie decided to tell him a story. Sometimes her shifts at the hospital were long and boring and she needed something to besides sewing.
From her bag, she produced a book, Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne. Marie wasn’t much of a reader herself but she was quite fond of this book. Opening it, the woman began to read from the beginning.
“Mr. Phileas Fogg lived in, 1872, at No. 7, Saville Row, Burlington Gardens…”
Time passed by quickly as soon as she read and Marie’s break was over. Marie got as far as reading about Fogg’s journey to Bombay. She said goodbye to Henri and hurried off to work.
August 22, 1944.
The Resistance movements were getting more and more destructive as the days passed on. Young men threw cocktails at the Sorbonne and there was no shortage of them in sight. The most amusing thing about this was that some Parisians managed to still sunbathe on the banks of the Seine.
It was Monday which was the day where Marie worked the least hours. She checked out at five but did not leave the hospital. Instead, she sat next to Henri and continued from where she left off yesterday. One of her coworkers noticed and decided to ask her about it.
“Ms. Delacroix, today’s Monday. Shouldn’t you be going home right now?”
Marie stopped where she was. “I’m sorry Mrs. Duval, but I would like to stay here and read to this man.”
Mrs. Duval raised an eyebrow. “And why is that?”
“Because, I think he needs company and he’s a little lonely. In my opinion, if someone is there with him, then Mr. Blanchet will wake up faster.”
“My dear, there is no need to do that! You’ve been taking care of him ever since he came to the hospital. There are plenty of other nurses to do the job for you. Are you sure you don’t fancy the gentleman?”
Marie felt heat rise to her cheeks. “M-Mrs. Duval, I assure you I do not fancy Mr. Blanchet. I simply wish for him to be comfortable as long as he’s here.”
Mrs. Duval chuckled. “Alright, alright. I believe you Ms. Delacroix,” she said. Though, her tone said otherwise.
Marie was sure that she did not love Henri Blanchet. They haven’t even spoken a word to each other for obvious reasons. It doesn’t even make sense! How could she fall in love with a man she hasn’t even met?
August 25, 1944.
France has been liberated. Celebrations ring throughout France. The whole country is in joy, from Bray-Dunes, Nord to the Pyrenees. They were liberated yesterday evening, when Leclerc reached the outskirts of Paris. They met up with resistance members and became the first liberators to come.
Today is known as fête de la libération. Liberation Day.
However, Marie Delacroix is not part of the celebrations. Instead she’s in the hospital, finishing the last of Around the World in Eighty Days.Marie read the last sentence of the book and softly closed the book. Henri Blanchet is still sleeping soundly as ever.
Marie was ever so slightly irritated at this. She bandaged his wounds; she fluffed his pillow every day and changed his sheets. When will he ever wake up?
The woman took a deep breath. He’ll wake up when he’s ready. She packed up her things to go home and get a good night’s rest. Perhaps Marie will partake in the celebrations.
She walked towards the door and was interrupted by a groan. “Pouah, où suis-je ? Et qui êtes-vous ?”
Marie stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around. The man who was sleeping when she lost saw him was now awake and sitting upright. “Where am I?”
She chose her words carefully. Marie heard from her coworkers that waking up from coma can be very confusing for the afflicted. “Mr. Blanchet,” she said in French. “You’re in Paris in the hospital. You were wounded in a battle and lost your leg and your arm is damaged. It doesn’t hurt does it?”
Henri blinked. “I’m in the hospital?” He looked around at the white room. He looked under his sheets and saw that his right leg was gone. “Huh, I really am. And it looks like I can never walk again… Oh well. I have another leg like I use. My arm is fine by the way, thanks Ms…”
“Delacroix, Marie Delacroix. I took care of you while you were in a coma. It’s a pleasure to finally see you up and awake. You were asleep for about a month.”
His eyes widened. “A month? It seemed only yesterday that I was in Belgium. Speaking of which, does my family know that I am here?”
Marie nodded. “Yes. The hospital notified them. They haven’t had the time to visit you though. Your mother wished you a healthy recovery and so does your siblings. They told me that they are doing fine and wants you home as soon as possible.”
“So, it is,” Henri said. “When do you think I can leave for Belgium?”
“I suppose you can leave when you’re checkups are done and I get you into a wheel chair. But with the war raging on, I think you won’t be able to leave until it’s over.”
Henri frowned. “But that will take forever! France is a foreign country to me. I know no one in here. Where am I going to live if I’m discharged?”
Marie considered this for a while. Since France was liberated, she figured that the war would not last much longer, perhaps it will even end this week. The Allies are slowly plowing their way to Berlin and Hitler is losing every battle so far. “You could live with me. I have plenty of room to spare.”
“A-are you sure Ms. Delacroix? I don’t want to be a burden. I’m pretty sure that you’re very busy right now.”
“Nonsense Mr. Blanchet,” Marie said. “You’re welcome to live at my house anytime that you would like. Unless, of course, there are always the streets…”
”I’ll live at your house,” Henri immediately answered. A grin was on his face. “Thank you Ms. Delacroix.”
“It’s not a problem. Now, I’ll best be off now. If you haven’t heard already, my country is free and I’m off to celebrate. Good day Mr. Blanchet.”
“Wait!” Henri cried.
Marie raised an eyebrow. “Yes? What do you need?”
“Can you perhaps… stay with me for a while? As I mentioned before, I know no one in France and I’m afraid that you’re the closest thing that I have as a friend.” His cheeks were blushing furiously. “I get lonely easily.”
The woman laughed, amused at his attempts to get attention. “If you insist Mr. Blanchet, if you insist. Hey, would you like to see fireworks with me? I’m sure you want to go outside after being stuck in here, yes?”
Henri smiled. “I would love to. Here, help me into a wheelchair.”
Marie went into the hallway and brought out it. She managed to lift the man into the chair and used her momentum to help her. “There you go. Do you need anything else? Does anything hurt?
Henri shook his head. “No. Everything is fine.”
“Great. Shall we get going?” Marie wheeled him towards the front door and out to the hospital. It was night time and still, the sounds of festivities were everywhere. Flags of France hung everywhere. The lights of fireworks illuminated the sky with colors of red, white, blue, and many more still. She could hear La Marseillaise playing faintly in the distance. Today was one of France’s finest hours.
“Wow.” Henri looked at the scene in awe. “You French celebrate days like this with a real bang.”
“You should see it when it’s Bastille Day,” Marie said. “It’s more chaotic and fun. There’s a military parade and everything. I believe in Belgium you celebrate it to, no?”
“Yes we do. Though, not to the extent of you guys. But, wow. This is amazing!”
“Indeed it is Mr. Blanchet. But I do believe it is time for you to go inside. I’m not supposed to do in the first place and I don’t want to get fired. Now come on, let’s get going.”
Henri pouted, but didn’t protest. “Shame, I really wanted to see more of France.” He paused for a second. “You know, you look really beautiful under this light. Do you realize that?” He continued while Marie took him back to his room.
Marie pretended not to hear him, but a small smile was on her face that she tried to hide. “How about when you’re better, I’ll take you to the finest places that France has to offer?” Marie lifted him on to the cot.
“It sounds lovely Ms. Delacroix. Will you visit me tomorrow?”
“Of course Mr. Blanchet. I’m supposed to be your caretaker. Get some rest now. I’ll notify my colleagues that you have woken up. Good night.” She grabbed her things and turned off the lights, closing the door behind her.
July 2, 1944.
Within one week Henri Blanchet was out of the hospital. He couldn’t use his right arm for several months and the bandages have to be changed daily. As promised, Marie allowed him to stay. His possessions were lost so he had no clothing. Luckily, Marie still kept some of her father’s old clothing - albeit, they’re a little outdated. She promised to buy him new ones later.
“You’re house is very fine. Ms. Delacroix. But might I ask, why do you have an obscene amount of fabrics laid about? Are you a seamstress?”
“Thank you Mr. Blanchet, but please, call me Marie since we are living in the same house. Do this and I’ll do the same for you. And to answer your question, yes, this I am a seamstress. I inherited this shop from my mother.
An awkward silence came between the two young adults.
Henri cleared his throat. “Do you have any family members?”
“Yes. I’m an only child, but I have several uncles, aunts, and cousins scattered throughout France. My mother and father do no live here anymore. They live in Fontainebleau in a small house. All were doing well the last time I contacted them, which was a couple of weeks ago. Yours?” Marie didn’t have to actually ask that question. She already knew the answer.
“I have two siblings, a boy named Hubert and girl named Hélène. Both are older than me so I’m the youngest. And yes, I do realize that our names start with an ‘H’ – don’t ask me since I don’t know why either,” Henri said. “Anyway, my mother is alive and lives with me in Antwerp but my father is dead. He died in the First World War.”
Marie was genuinely curious about why he and is siblings names’ start with an ‘H.’ It seems like she will never know the answer. “I am sorry for the loss of your father.”
Henri shrugged. “It’s fine. He died before I was even born. According to my mother, he died a hero so I guess it isn’t all that bad.”
“I see. Well he’s in a better place now,” Marie sympathetically said. “Would you like some food? I know the hospital food is not all that great.”
Henri groaned in agreement. “Yes, thank God. Do you perhaps have some Belgian waffles that I might eat?”
“No, I’m afraid not. But I do have some chocolate éclairs. Would you like that? If not, I’m sure that I could buy them somewhere.”
“I’ll have the chocolate éclairs then.”
Marie nodded. And went upstairs to the kitchen where she had some. She went back downstairs and brought it down. Henri took it from the plate and his face lit up in delight.
“Oof, this is good!” he said while taking another one with his left hand. “Did you make this yourself?”
Marie snorted. “Of course not. I’m a seamstress, not a baker. I tried baking once and I nearly set my house on fire. I ended up with cookies that tasted like rocks. I brought these from a local bakery. I’m glad that you like them.”
Henri wiped the crumbs off his face and grinned. “I just realized something.”
“What is it Henri?”
“Where am I going to sleep? Your living quarters are upstairs are they not?”
“I already have it settled. Here, I’ll push you towards it.” Marie led Henri to the back of the room where a small bed and night table was waiting for him. “I hope it’s to your liking. The bathroom is right across from it in case you have to go. I assume by now you know how to get out of your wheelchair by yourself?”
“Yes, thank you Marie. Do you mind if I ask you another question?”
“Not at all Henri.”
“When I was dreaming I heard a voice say something to me. I can’t exactly recall what she said. Something about ‘Fogg’ and ‘Hong Kong’ I believe? Do you have the faintest idea what it was about?”
Marie furrowed her eyebrows. Could it be that while Henri was in a coma, that he could’ve heard her reading Around the World in Eighty Days? Apparently, yes. The woman decided to go against telling Henri the truth. She thought that he would think of her as weird if he found out.
“No, I don’t,” Marie lied. “It was most likely a dream.”
“Well, that makes sense.” Henri was not very good at detecting lies was he? “Shame, it sounded very interesting. I would’ve loved to hear more.”
“I would too if I were you.” And for the rest of the day, the two people, now friends, continued to talk with Marie occasionally getting up to provide refreshments.
May 8th, 1945.
On this day, the war that claimed millions of lives finally ended. This day, was proclaimed as “VE Day,” a holiday honoring the end of the war in Europe for the war in Japan has not yet ended. Nevertheless, people all over Europe are reveling in festivities and celebrating the beginning of a new age.
But for one woman and one man, it was the beginning of the end to their long-lasting friendship. One could say that it was a little bit more than a friendship for one of them – even if they had never kissed.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come with me to Belgium?” Henri asked. A brown bag was slung over his shoulder. His left hand held a walking stick for the train did not allow wheelchairs. A black fedora was on his brown hair and with a matching suit despite the stifling heat. His right arm has recovered and was currently holding Marie’s hand.
“You know I can’t Henri. It’s too far away,” Marie sadly answered. She wore a checkered blue dress with a white collar. Her hair was tied back with a ribbon and her eyes were red.
Much to Marie’s surprise, Henri smiled. “Remember last December when your parents came over for Christmas?”
“Of course,” Marie laughed. “How couldn’t I? I completely forgot to tell them. My dad almost had a heart attack when he found out that I was living with a man.”
“Heart attack? Your father nearly killed me when he found out. I still remember the exact words when he first saw me. ‘Get away from my daughter you filthy pervert!’”
“He still has it even at fifty years old. Look at the bright side, after he found out that you weren’t going to have sex with me, he calmed down and liked you. Your family knows of me right?”
“I suppose if you put it that way, then meeting your parents wasn’t a total bust,” Henri laughed. “And yes, in every letter I write back home I always mention you. I think they have a pretty good idea that you exist Marie.”
The train whistled signaling that it was time to go on board. The people around them are shuffling to their seats. This train will take Henri directly from Paris to Antwerp. There, he will be reunited with his family after a long year in France.
She held Henri’s hand tightly in hers. “I guess this is goodbye,” Marie whispered.
“Don’t be that way. I’m pretty sure we’ll meet up someday,” Henri chided. “Hey, how about we take a picture together? So we can remember this moment together.” He dug in his bag for a camera and brought it out. He raised camera up hide so it he can take a picture of both of them. With a press of a button and a flash of light, the picture was taken and Henri put it back into his bag.
“Now, I have to go okay?”
“Okay.” Marie was expecting a hug from Henri, but instead she got a kiss – a kiss to the cheek. It wasn’t even on the lips, but it still made Marie’s heart flutter and her cheeks flare red.
Henri boarded the train. His cheeks too, were red. “Until we meet again Marie Delacroix, until we meet again!” Henri waved to her from the windows.
Marie watched as the train started to move with him in it. She touched the spot where Henri kissed her. It was then realized that she had fallen for him. The one thing she promised herself not to do, and she did it anyway. But at this point, Marie did not care.
“Wait!” Marie cried. “Je t'aime Henri! I love you.”
Henri did not hear what she had just said. “What was that?” His voice was growing fainter by the second.
Marie yelled it back again. “I love you!”
However, Henri still did not hear what she said. Soon, he faded out into the distance while Marie looked on with tears were running down her face. Marie hoped that one day, that she and Henri will meet again so that she can tell him.
They never did.
May 8th, 2014.
Marie Delacroix felt a tear run down her cheek. Alas, she had forgotten how sad that memory was. Sixty-nine years later and she still remembered every moment of it. After Henri left, Marie never loved a person again. She has no children, but has plenty of distant cousins. Her parents died peacefully in their sleep two decades ago and Marie didn’t even bother try holding back her tears at the funeral.
Marie has lived to see the dawn of a new millennium as the world entered a new age of peace for the 20th century was the bloodiest one of all time. She still kept her tailor shop, though she has no idea who to give it to once she dies. Shame, Marie hated the thought of her home being turned into an empty and lifeless place.
It is, alas, still VE Day even though it’s almost 10:00 at night. Even at this hour, fireworks are still being cast into the sky. Marie gave up sleeping during this day a long time ago. The city of Paris never sleeps much to Marie’s annoyance.
Sighing, Marie decided to go out for a walk. Even at her age of 92, Marie still liked to get out. She grabbed her coat and cane. It was warm outside and Marie could see the bright lights of the Eiffel Tower from her home. Marie would usually wander the streets while admiring the view. It was a peaceful time.
This time, however, she didn’t even get past the door without hearing a knock on it.
Marie went over there and opened it. To her surprise, she saw a man in his forties looking very awkward and uncomfortable. He had brown hair and brown eyes. He was wearing a simple t-shirt and shorts with running shoes. In his hands there was an envelope.
“Hello. Are you Madame Marie Delacroix?”
“Yes,” she answered. What did he want with her at this hour?
The man wiped his forehead. “I am Hamilton Blanchet, the grandson of Henri Blanchet. My grandfather wanted me to deliver this to you if you’re still alive.” He handed her the envelope.
Marie stared at him in shock. “What? Is Henri, your grandfather, still alive?” She couldn’t help noticing that his name too, started with an “H.”
Hamilton shook his head. “I’m afraid not Madame Delacroix. He died last week of natural causes. He left his descendants his will and he put me in charge of delivering this to you. I understand that my grandfather and you were good friends?”
Marie’s face fell at the mention of Henri’s death. He’s dead… after all these years, he never bothered to call her and all the sudden he just went and died. Marie was beyond angry, she felt betrayed. She took in a deep breath. Now was not the time to get angry over lost promises. Marie forced a smile. “Why don’t you come in Hamilton? It would be improper of me to let you stay out there.”
“No. It’s fine. I just wanted you to get this letter. Good night and happy VE Day Madame Delacroix.”
“Good night and happy VE Day to you too Monsieur Blanchet.”
Marie went upstairs to her room where she shakily opened the envelope. What was inside it? Why’d Henri wait until his death to give this to me? Why Henri never come back for her? She wanted the answers to these questions as soon as possible.
Marie took out the letter and smoothed it out onto her lap. She began reading the letter.
May 1st, 2014.
I would like to begin this letter by saying I’m sorry (I’m going to say this word a lot in this thing). I should’ve contacted you earlier than this, way earlier in fact. If only I did this, then maybe I would still be here by your side and you wouldn’t be reading this in the first place.
If you did get this, then it means that I’m dead. I’m afraid that I finally reached my limit at the age of 92 (you’re 92 too aren’t you?). I’ve married a girl named Alice Lavoie. I married her in my early 30’s. I think you might like her if you ever met her. She has blonde hair and grey eyes and has a rather optimistic personality. Together, we had three children. All of them are girls and of course, their names all started with an ‘H.’
Anyway, I’m sorry that I left you all alone. Perhaps you have found another gentleman to love? You didn’t seem to be that interested in me when we were living together. If not, then I still hope that you are happy with your life and enjoying it.
The year that we spent with each other was the best year of my life (Sorry Alice) even if it was short. France was more beautiful and amazing than I ever could imagine. In that year, you took me to see the Eiffel Tower, the Versailles Palace; we went climbing on Mt. Blanc and I almost fell to my death (do you remember that time Marie?). I had the time of my life, which leads me to my next and final point.
Marie Delacroix, even though you weren’t the woman that I married, I have always loved you. If you don’t feel the same way about me, then I understand. I just wanted to say that when I first laid eyes on you, I thought you were an angel. But now, I see you as someone more beautiful than that. And I hope you live the rest of your years surrounded by the people who care and love you.
Until we meet again,
P.S. I attached a picture of my family in here in case you wanted to know how I look like.
P.P.S. I also put in the picture that we took in the train station for memory purposes. I think we look amazing don’t you think?