"It…it started so slowly...Little things. We heard about la guerre of course…about Poland and Austria…but we never thought…" Blair’s eyes shuttered closed, briefly, then re-opened on another time, another world.
"Little by little, it started to grow. A little closer…just a little…then a little more…and a little more. Faces began to become dark in the streets…there was talk, endless talk of fighting and war…we didn’t want to fight. We lost so much…there was so much blood on us after the Great War, so many children without their fathers…we couldn’t do that again. So we waited…and waited…I wrapped myself in books and learning…it seemed so far away…And then it was here." His fist tightened convulsively. "They broke our defenses. Crushed us. We were so tired of fighting, we didn’t want to fight any more it was just...too much. We let them take what they wanted. And kept what we could. DeGaulle fled to England, plotting and planning...we didn’t know, he was branded a coward, we didn’t know until he came back with weapons and planes and started to fight"
Tears began to slip from his eyes, orphaned, beading his lashes as he continued on in that same, almost-silent, deadly voice. Outside, Jim could hear the children playing.
"For so long we had heard stories, rumours...no-one believed them, no-one wanted to believe them, they were lies, they were propaganda, they had to be, this wouldn’t happen, we would be all right, this couldn’t happen, not here, not now…." A wordless cry of agony tore from his throat as he slammed his fist down on the bed. "We were so stupid! So blind, if we’d only opened our eyes and seen we could have stopped it, could have fought back, never let them do this!" His hands flew to his face, fingers digging little trenches in his cheeks. "We were so blind…" The hands became fists, curling in to block his eyes.
"They came for us, les juifs. They didn’t pretend for us, we were nothing, we were scum. The Germans had the right to stop anyone in the street, to demand their papers, to take them away. Our shops were looted. Old men and women, beaten in the street. The university was closed. They pulled us from class, took us away. They moved us, always moved us, confined us, closer and closer together. Ghettos. Hovels
"We passed messages between us. Some people, good people would help. They would take them to others, we could keep track. Family and friends. And then they started to disappear. One by one, the ghettos just…vanished. Gone. And then it was our turn."
Silence fell. There were no sounds of children anymore, the sunlight weighing heavily and crazily on the sombre mood, a bizzare contrast, it should have been dull, it should have been dark, a true representation of the world they were trapped in. Jim could hear the tiny sound of each mote of dust falling on the windowsill in that heavy, oppressive silence.
"We were rounded up. Told to pack. Little things, small things. I took my journal, some food…maman took her photographs…they stole the silver frames at the camp. There were trains, and people…so many people. There were no windows, we were crammed together…strange. I remember so much, but the trains…it was dark. No windows, a tiny sliver of light. They-they left us in them. No food, what we had was gone soon enough. No toilets, the smell, always the smell, the old ones died first, the babies. No one came for them. I remember…I remember a woman…she pushed this little baby, her baby into my arms, begged me to take him to a crack in the boards, to let him near the light, the light would make him better, she was sure…" his eyes slid closed again, teeth gripping his lips hard enough to bleed. "The baby was dead. But I didn’t know what else to do. I-I took him to the crack…let the sun play on his face…" He stopped and swallowed, choking on his own words.
"Maman got sick...it was cold in the trains, always so cold, but she burned, she burned so hot I was afraid. She was never well in the cold, she was sick so easily. I remember curling up next to her and…being so glad…oh god I was so glad she was warm, it was so cold there, and she was so warm, I could hold her and she could warm me.." The tears poured uncontrollably down his face now, self hatred burning every one. "I wanted...I wanted her to make it go away, like when I was a child.
"At the camps, there were lines, endless lines. We were pushed, separated, they took our jewelry, our packs, anything we had was gone. But there was a man there. I saw him watching me, an important man, an officer, General.
"This General liked…boys," he said delicately. "Pretty boys, boys like me, with blue eyes and soft hair. He watched me, I could tell…He came on down to touch me, caress my face, pulled me from the line. He said he could take me away from this, protect me, I didn’t know much about these things then, I thought maybe a kiss or two wouldn’t be so bad, I could get maman her help, keep us safe, if I could make that I loved this big important man."
"I wanted maman as well. He indulged me - like a pampered pet! They took her from the line as well, the longer one, the one with children and the old…the ones that never came back. They had already tattooed a number on her arm. Branded her like un vache! The mark of the camps. Who we were. What we were. Names, people, faces reduced to number after number…" He tore at his sleeve, ripping the already ragged material as he turned a hate-filled gaze on his own, unblemished skin. "He didn’t want me marked. Wanted me whole. Wanted me perfect. His little whore.
"I let him…I let him take me. Use me. The first time, it hurt me, he hurt me so badly, I thought I would die. He patted my hair. Called me his pet. It hurt so bad I - I wanted to die! I wanted to slit my throat, hang myself, a thousand ways I plotted and planned as he used me. But when it was over, when it was done he finished and they cleaned me…I was so sick. I was dirty. Soiled. Wrong, but…but they let me see maman." Tears ploughed down his face, unfettered. "And she was so...comfortable. So warm, she had blankets and medicines and they let her see the sun and…and…I couldn’t leave!" His words began to jumble, faster and faster. "I couldn’t let them take her back there, where it was so cold and dark, I couldn’t let them lock her away or let her die. She was so sick, and they could help her and.." He threw his head back and screamed, a raw, primal howl of pent-up anguish, an animal caught in a trap, gnawing through its own bloodied and ragged limb for that one pure breath of freedom. "She was my mother!!!" The last came out broken in two, fractured syllables shattering the air as the sound faded, leaving only a broken man on the bed. Blair’s head hung low, a sheet of hair obscuring his face. Jim wanted to step forward, comfort the smaller man, banish this pain, but didn’t have the faintest idea how.
"She died, you know." There was the kiss of salt from heavy tears on the air, but none in his voice as Blair stared at his hands, limp and lifeless in his lap. "They tried...the General made them...he wanted me happy, I suppose...in a way. But she had the pneumonia, she just got sicker and sicker…and she…died in my arms." His hands formed vague cups in the empty air. "I couldn’t hold her," he finished simply.
"Blair -" Jim moved forward, but Blair kept on going, oblivious, trapped in the past, lips moving almost silently without any volition from his conscious mind.
"They wouldn’t let me go. I was his, the Generals, he was ..displeased with me." His fingers began to writhe absently in his lap, twisting and turning themselves like snakes. "I wasn’t happy for him. I was dead, gone, nothing, just a shell, something he could use…but he wanted more…wanted to hear me, wanted me to - I couldn’t. It was like a cancer, deep inside. It bred and bred, darkness over me, staining me more and more with every breath I took in his presence, every caress he gave." He shuddered. "I had a chance…then I took a knife...and it was so beautiful, it came so sweetly to my hand, it was a promise to me, a way to escape, it whispered my name to me and I used it to réduisez mon visage.." he absently traced the scar on his cheek. "Make myself…wrong to him.."
"Blair…" It was an almost silent moan.
"It was so easy...the blood spilled so freely down my face.." the Maquisard's voice had taken on an eerie, dreamlike quality that frightened Jim horribly. "I saw myself…in his mirror…the blood was so red...And I thought…I thought it would be so easy to keep going. To slash the rest of my face, my throat, my wrists, to stain his room with my blood, to make him bathe in it, to make him feel it, feel the heat, the salt, feel the Jewishness to know what it was he murdered and tortured. To spill his blood, to mix them, to make him see that we were the same, there is no reason for this, no reason at all…"
The words died into strangled gasps, huge sobs choking his throat. He reached out, tears blinding his vision, terribly afraid that there was nothing now, Jim had left him, disgusted by him, he was all alone, nothing to hold him here and stop him spiraling back into a past filled with horror and hatred and endless waiting for the mercy of death…
…and then a hand took his, and Jim pulled him into his arms and held on to him fiercely, stopping it all, holding him here, wrapping him in safety and reassurance.