Notes My French in this bit is probably way off. My apologies.
As I’m not sleeping in my room I’ve turned it into an office. The walls are filling up with pictures. I’ve found a source of vegetable based inks and ressurected my old printer. Some of the colours are a little off, but it’s good to have physical versions of images I’ve only ever seen on screen.
They’re all happy pictures, none of the nightmare inducing material. People I met in Europe- Marianne, the band of counter-insurgents who took me down country, Vanderbrook. I’m seeing how many of them I can track down.
In the limbo period between the end of hostilities and being allowed out of France I was at a loose end. Somehow peace meant that my movements should be restricted, so I was confined to the city limits of Apt. I had access to the internet, but it was spotty. I did what I could to get back in touch with my family, and catch up with the rest of the world.
Amongst the sites I discovered was the French government’s war registry, their attempt to catalogue the dead and bring families back together. I registered everyone whose name I knew and forgot about it. Until messages started arriving a few days ago. The list of the dead is longer than I’d like, but I’m finding out all about the families of the survivors.
There were a more emails this morning. Three crosses and two ticks. I’m only two off tracking all my counter-insurgents. Meanwhile, none of the official government representatives I interacted with have shown up in my results. You’d think they’d be the easiest to find, until you consider that they were mostly interacting with me on covert matters. They could check to see if I’m a troll, but they probably don’t want to waste the time and have opted to keep me in the dark.
Sally’s not so sure about what I’m doing to her spare room. “It’s beginning to look like where the murderer lives in a serial killer film.” she says, looking perky and paint spattered in the doorway.
“Except someone else did the killing. I’m thinking of putting something about this in the book. If I can get the permissions sorted out.”
On cue, the laptop beeps. “Is that thing permanently connected?” Sally worries.
“It connects every half hour to check my mail servers for a few seconds. I’ve learnt a lot of tricks for using spotty connections over the years. Let’s see.”
I’m quiet for long enough that Sally comes and stares over my shoulder. “‘Sup?”
“Basically, the French government appreciates my concern for the welfare of its citizens and would like me to meet a representative who is visiting the expatriate community in Manchester.” Why does that send a cold shiver all the way down from my neck to my balls.
“I’d heard there was a Frenchtown. I never knew where. Can I come along?”
The trams still run, though not as often as they used to. You have to make a day of some journeys.
Eccles is still a grim place, grey and dark in the shadow of a chemical plant. I’ll have to see what’s going on with that old industry some time. We’re meeting the French representative in the market hall. Stereotypically, the French have taken over many of the stalls, offering galic takes on local products.
The invasion has been welcomed, judging by the local accents around us as we check out the wares. The core of Manchester’s French population was a group of students over on an exchange programme when everything kicked off. Catering students, by the look of things. Their trapped countrymen gravitated to this little town, moved into the same neighbourhoods and crated a community. When the war ended quite a few of them didn’t want to go home.
“So which one’s the government contact?” Sally asks.
“Don’t know. I guess he’ll show up. Let’s browse.”
Standing by a stall of wooden toys I feel a tug at my trousers. I look down at a cherubic round face topped by black curls. “Bonjour m’sieur.” the little boy says.
I drop down to nearer his level. “Bonjour monsieur. Comment t’appelle tu?”
“Je m’appelle Robert.”
“Oui? Je m’appelle Robert aussi.”
“j’sais. Ma mere est la bas.” He points down the row at a woman who smiles and waves. I guess the child’s age, do the maths and get that chill from neck to balls again.
“I called him my atomic baby, and that I was naming him Robert after Oppenheimer. Some people must think I am such a bitch to make my child’s name a sick joke.” Marianne shrugs and smiles. “But you know he is really named for his father.” I nod. I’ve not been able to say much since I saw her. Sally has put the pieces together and decided she doesn’t want to be part of this conversation. She’s a table over, being charmed by Robert junior. “At first I thought the morning sickness was actually some sort of delayed radiation poisoning. Maybe the mushroom cloud had blown our way. When I found out the truth, well, there was no way I could do anything but keep him.”
“I tried to find you.” I manage at last.
“I know. I could have sent the news to you many times over, but I kept putting it off. I think I was being selfish, keeping the bebe to myself.”
“So why tell me now?”
“I realised how selfish I was being. The war is over. It is a time for rebuilding and looking for good things to celebrate. We made a beautiful child and you deserve to know that.”
Marianne lays a hand on mine. “I would like it if you were a part of his life. I am not asking for maintenance or any kind of support, merely that he can know where he came from. And I hope that we can be friends. Nothing more, I would not want to jeopardise your relationship with Sally.”
“Did I introduce you two? No, I don’t think I did did I?” Her expression is readably unreadable. “You’re still keeping up the family tradition then.”
“I have been assigned to the French consulate office covering the north of England, which obviously includes Manchester.”