What happened next is common knowledge. They found Tomas early the next morning, and nowhere close to Angers. Instead of rolling with the current far away, he’d been washed up on a sandbank half a mile from the village, to be found by the same group of Germans who found his motorbike, hidden in a stand of bushes under the road from the Standing Stones. We heard from Paul what was rumored in the village: that a Resistance group had shot a German guard who had caught them out after the curfew; that a Communist sniper had shot him for his papers; that it was an execution by his own people following the discovery that he was trading German army-issue goods on the black market. The Germans were suddenly all over the village-black uniforms and gray-conducting house-to-house searches.
Their attention to our house was perfunctory. There was no man there, after all, simply a pack of brats with their sick mother. I answered the door when they came knocking and led them around the house, but they seemed more interested in what we knew about Rapha"el Crespin than anything else. Paul told us later that Rapha"el had disappeared earlier that day-or maybe some time during the night-disappeared without a trace and taking his money and papers with him, while in the basement of La Mauvaise R'eputation the Germans had found a cache of weapons and explosives big enough to blow up all of Les Laveuses twice over.
The Germans came to our house a second time and searched it from root cellar to attic, then seemed to lose interest altogether. I noticed in passing-with little surprise-that the S.S. officer who accompanied the search party was the same jovial red-faced man who had commented on our strawberries early that summer, on the same day I first saw Tomas. He was still red-faced and jovial in spite of the nature of his investigation, scruffing my head carelessly as he went by and making sure the soldiers left everything neat after their passage.
A message in French and German went up on the church door, inviting anyone with knowledge of the affair to volunteer information. Mother remained in her room with one of her migraines, sleeping during the day and talking to herself at night.
We slept badly, visited by nightmares.
When it finally happened, it was with a sense of anticlimax. It was over before we even knew about it, six o’clock Tuesday morning against the west wall of Saint-Benedict’s church, close to the fountain where only two days before Reinette had sat with the barley crown on her head, throwing flowers.
Paul came to tell us. His face was pale and blotchy, one prominent vein standing out on his forehead as he told us in a voice that was one long stammer. We listened in appalled silence, benumbed, wondering perhaps how it could have come to this, how such a small seed as ours could have blossomed into this bloody flower. Their names fell against my ears like stones falling into deep water. Ten names, never to be forgotten, never in my life. Martin Dupr'e. Jean-Marie Dupr'e. Colette Gaudin. Philippe Hourias. Henri Lema^itre. Julien Lanicen. Arthur Lecoz. Agn`es Petit. Francois Ramondin. Auguste Truriand. Playing through my memory like the refrain of a song that you know will never leave you alone, surprising me out of sleep, pounding through my dreams, counterpointing the movements and rhythms of my life with relentless precision. Ten names. The ten who had been at La Mauvaise R'eputation the night of the dance.
We gathered later that it was Rapha"el’s disappearance that decided it. The cache of weapons in the basement suggested that the caf'e owner had connections with Resistance groups. No one really knew. Perhaps the entire outfit was a blind for carefully organized Resistance activity, or maybe Tomas’s death had been a simple case of retaliation for what had happened to old Gustave a few weeks earlier, but whatever it was Les Laveuses paid a heavy price for its little rebellion. Like late-summer wasps, the Germans sensed the end coming and retaliated with instinctive savagery.
Martin Dupr'e. Jean-Marie Dupr'e. Colette Gaudin. Philippe Hourias. Henri Lema^itre. Julien Lanicen. Arthur Lecoz. Agn`es Petit. Francois Ramondin. Auguste Truriand. I wondered if they fell silently, like figures in a dream, or whether they wept, pleaded, clawed at one another in their efforts to escape. I wondered whether the Germans checked over the bodies afterward, one still twitching and staring but silenced at last with the butt of a pistol, one soldier lifting a bloody skirt to expose a sleek stretch of thigh… Paul told me it was over in a second. No one allowed to watch, and other soldiers training their guns at the shuttered windows. I imagine the villagers still, behind their shutters, eyes pressed avidly to cracks and knotholes, mouths half open in stupid shock. Then, the whispering, their voices lowered, stifled, spilling words as if words might help them understand.
They’re coming! There’s the Dupr'e boys. And Colette, Colette Gaudin. Philippe Hourias. Henri Lema^itre-why, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, he’s hardly sober ten minutes in the day-old Julien Lanicen. Arthur Lecoz. And Agn`es, Agn`es Petit. And Francois Ramondin. And Auguste Truriand.
From the church, where the early service was already beginning, a sound of voices raised. A harvest hymn. Outside the closed doors, two soldiers standing guard with bored, sour faces. P`ere Froment bleats out the words while the congregation mutter along. Only a few dozen people today, their faces harsh and accusing, for rumor has it the priest has made a deal with the Germans to ensure cooperation. The organ blats out the tune at top volume, but even so the shots are audible outside against the west wall, the muted percussion of the bullets as they strike the old stone, something that will stick in the flesh of every member of that congregation like an old fishhook, half healed over and never to be pulled out. At the back of the church someone begins to sing “ La Marseillaise,” but the words sound beery and overloud in the sudden lull and the singer falls silent, embarrassed.
I see it all in my dreams, clearer than memory. I see their faces. I hear their voices. I see the sudden, shocking transition from living to dead. But my grief has gone down too far for me to reach it, and when I awake with tears on my face it is with a strange feeling of surprise-almost of indifference. Tomas has gone. Nothing else has any meaning.
I suppose we were in shock. We didn’t speak to one another about it, but went our separate ways, Reinette to her room where she would lie on her bed for hours, looking at her movie pictures, Cassis to his books, looking increasingly middle-aged to me now, as if something in him had collapsed, me to the woods and the river. We paid little attention to Mother during that time, though her bad spell continued as before, lasting longer than the worst of them that summer. But by then we had forgotten to fear her. Even Reinette forgot to flinch before her rages. We had killed, after all. Beyond that, what was there to fear?
My hate had no focus as yet, like my rage-Old Mother was nailed to the stone, after all, and could not therefore be blamed for Tomas’s death-but I could feel it moving, watching, like the eye of a pinhole camera, clicking away in the darkness, noting everything, noting. Emerging from her room after another sleepless night, Mother looked white and worn and desperate. I felt my hate tighten at the sight of her, shrinking to an exquisite black diamond-point of understanding.
You it was you it was you
She looked at me as if she’d heard.
“Boise?” Her voice was shaking, vulnerable.
I turned away, feeling the hate in my heart like a nugget of ice.
Behind me, I heard her stricken intake of breath.