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Historical Fiction

Paris, France

November 1944

           Smoke rolled through Paris as the sun began to set over the broken city. With one hand carrying a bag laden with as much food as could be found, her other hand wrapped firmly around her five-year-old daughters’ hand; they picked their way under the cover of night to her father’s house.

“Come along Annette, quietly now!” whispered Joan gently leading her young daughter through the rubble of the crumbled city

           Annette lifted her little feet higher off of the ground to avoid crunching the broken off bits of cement from the buildings that had once stood tall and proud. Even at five years old, Annette knew that her city was shattered, and would take a long time to repair and heal. Despite the sadness and fear that had taken over their lives, the little girl was excited to see her grandfather; she hoped that he would have a small piece of chocolate for her like he always did whenever they were able to visit.

           Joan scanned the darkness in front of them, listening for any signs of danger. In the distance she could hear raucous laughter, Joan knew that sound all too well. ‘Drunk soldiers are even more dangerous than sober ones…’ sighed Joan warily

           Suddenly a loud crash sounded next to them, Joan scooped up her daughter and backed them up into the safety of an alley way. She kept her hand lightly pressed over Annette’s mouth, and stilled her own breathing in fear of being discovered.

           The laughter in the distance continued, yet Joan knew that something wasn’t quite right and she was terrified of moving from their spot against the brick wall. Shuffling, followed by a low moan came from nearby; Annette saw a dark shape stumbling towards them. She placed he small hand on her mothers to get her attention; once she had her mother’s attention, she pointed in the direction of the dark shape. Joan’s eyes grew wide with fear and moved further into the alley.

           “Please…help!” groaned the voice softly, “Je suis Américain. Anglais?”

           With a shaky voice, Joan answered, “Oui, I speak English.”

           “Please…Mademoiselle my comrade and I need shelter until we can find our unit tomorrow.” begged the voice, fatigue heavily lacing his voice

           Although she still felt afraid, she knew that the Americans were France’s Allies and she should help them. Annette squirmed out of her mother’s arms, and before Joan could pull her back, the five-year-old darted over to the American soldiers. Solemnly, Annette stared up at the soldiers; the soldier that spoke smiled down at her; feeling brave she smiled back and took him by the hand. Quietly she led the tired soldiers to where her mother stood.

Joan stood in awe of her little girl; she knew her dear Annette had inherited her father’s bravery. Speechless, she stared at the soldiers and felt compassion tug at her heart. She knew what she had to do and after seeing her daughter take the lead in showing kindness to complete strangers; Joan followed suit found her voice.

           “We are going to my father’s house; you may come with us.” whispered Joan as the most wonderful feeling love spread through her when she saw their grateful smiles

           “Thank you, ma’am, we are very grateful for your kindness. I’m Harry. May I carry that bag for you?” smiled Harry reaching for the bag of food, “That way you can carry your daughter.”

           “I’m Jack.” introduced Jack quietly smiling at their good fortune

           “I’m Joan and this is my daughter Annette.” replied Joan softly

           Joan gratefully handed Harry the food and picked up her daughter; she led them to her father’s house. As they walked through the rubble, Harry noticed that Joan was still a little weary of them; however, noticing the way their city was blown to bits and was occupied by the Axis, he couldn’t blame her for being afraid.

           They continued their way through the darkness of night for an hour; they’d had a couple of close calls but it appeared they had a guardian angel watching over them, keeping them safe. Jack looked up and saw that he still couldn’t see the stars; the smoke was too thick. He felt a pang of homesickness, Jack had grown up in the country and had the pleasure of stargazing every night. He still had hope that he would survive the war and be lucky enough to get back home and watch the stars dance through the night sky once more.

           At long last, they came to a stop at a building that looked completely deserted. Harry watched Joan place her daughter back down and pull out a hair pin from her dark brown hair. The little girl slipped her hand into his, she reminded him of his own daughter; tears welled up in his eyes. Silently, he picked her up; he watched her face transform into a toothy smile, a soft chuckle escaped his lips. ‘She looks so much like my Beth.’ grinned Harry blinking back tears

           Joan picked the lock quickly and with impressive skill, and looked behind them once more searching for any imminent danger; she led them inside the dark room; shutting and locking the wooden door firmly behind them. All for stood in darkness for a few moments as Joan fumbled around. They heard the familiar sound of a match being struck, soon the room warmly glowed from the small lantern the young mother held in her hand. Jack blushed as he saw her smile gently at them; they followed her down a set of cracked cement stairs into what appeared to be the basement.

           Annette ran and threw her arms around the neck of an older man, affectionately calling him grand-papa. It took a few moments before the elderly couple noticed the two soldiers; they back up in fear, clutching little Annette tightly to them. When Maurice and Belle saw the soldiers and did not recognize the uniforms; they feared that they would be punished and killed for hiding in the abandoned bakery.

           “Américaine…they need shelter.” explained Joan quickly, placing her hand on her father’s shoulder, “Papa, Mama…we need to show compassion, especially in these hard times.”

           Her mother began to protest when Joan gently interrupted her, “They are far from their homes and loved ones; their families are worried sick about them. We would hope for the same treatment, if our situations were reversed.”

           “We have taught you well Joan.” smiled her father warmly, he turned towards the soldiers and gestured for them to sit down at the table, “Come, sit…dinner will be ready soon.”

           Sighing with relief, Harry and Jack slid their heavy packs off and sat down on the worn wooden chairs. Brief introductions were made by Joan before she began to help her mother finish the meal preparations.

           “Tell me Harry, Jack…is this the end of the war?” questioned Maurice quietly

           “We certainly hope so, sir.” replied Harry seeing the hope burning brightly in the older man’s eyes

           Jack chuckled when he saw that Annette was watching them intently, her eyes wide with curiosity. He fished through his coat for a moment before finding the chocolate bar he had been saving for an emergency; Annette’s eyes grew even wider when she saw the special treat. Jack slid the chocolate bar towards her. ‘If I can bring this child even a moment of happiness then I rest easy.’ thought Jack happily

           “Merci!” exclaimed Annette excitedly reaching for the chocolate

           “We cannot accept such generosity…” protested Maurice stopping his granddaughter

           “No please, take it; I insist.” smiled Jack, “In America we have a tradition called Thanksgiving, I’d be insulted if you didn’t take this small token of gratitude. It isn’t much but at least it can bring a moment of happiness.”

           “What is Thanksgiving?” asked Annette wonder filling her voice as she held the bar of chocolate close to her chest

           Joan, Maurice and Belle stopped what they were doing to listen, they had never heard of Thanksgiving before; they found their curiosity peaked. The soldiers smiled, eager to share their American tradition with this wonderful family.

           “Thanksgiving is celebrated once a year at the close of Harvest time. We gather together as families, and prepare a large meal with a turkey as the main course. We share what we are most grateful for like: good health, a good harvest…the safe arrival of a new baby.” explained Jack excitedly, “Having this holiday helps us to remember to be grateful all year long, especially on the official holiday.”

           “That sounds like a dream.” sighed Joan as she set the plates on the table

           “Can we do that?” asked Annette thoughtfully

           “Do what, ma chère?”  questioned Bell quizzically while she placed food on the table

           “Have Thanksgiving.” answered Annette with pleading eyes

           Joan thought for a few moments, it seemed almost impossible to think of anything to be grateful for at the moment. Yet as she looked at her daughter, Joan knew that Annette had the right idea.

           “Of course.” agreed Joan as she turned to the soldiers, “How do we start?”

           Harry and Jack smiled; they couldn’t wait to tell their families that they were able to celebrate Thanksgiving in Paris. Jack nodded to Harry to give the explanation. With the hot food in front of them, Harry took a deep breath in, savoring the smell of a hot meal.

           “In my family, we go around the table and say one thing that we are grateful for…Sir, as this is your home, you should start.” explained Harry folding his hands

           Maurice thought for a few moments before answering.

           “I am grateful to have my wonderful family with me; that we are safe!”

           “I am grateful to be able to put food on the table to feed my loved ones.” murmured Belle, “I am grateful to keep my family healthy.”

           “I am grateful for the letters I received a few days ago from my husband saying that he is well and will see us soon.” sighed Joan smiling, “I am grateful that France’s Allies have come to help free Europe from this horror.”

           Annette prodded Jack encouraging him to go next.

           “I’m grateful to be alive, to share this meal with you and to not worry for at least 10 hours.” said Jack his voice cracking slightly as tears flooded his eyes

           “I’m grateful to be able to send letters home to my wife and children, to give them hope that I will see them soon.” whispered Harry his chin trembling softly

           Joan turned to Annette, wrapping her arm around her daughter.

           “Annette, what are you grateful for darling?” asked Joan curious to know what she would say

           Annette stayed silent for a moment. Smiling she stood on her chair and reached for Harry and Jack’s hands. Once she held both of the soldiers’ hands, her smile grew wider and with a twinkle in her innocent eyes stated clearly and with conviction what she was grateful for:

           “I am grateful that we met you and that you taught us about Thanksgiving.” said Annette, “I am grateful that you help my Papa and keep us safe. I pray you can go back to your families safely. Soyez bénis…bless you!”

           Annette sat back down her chair, she looked around the table and saw that the adults were holding back tears. She wasn’t sure why but she suspected it was for a good reason, Annette swung her little legs back and forth as she waited for the food to be passed around.

           Joan was so proud of her daughter, ‘For being only five years old, she is very wise! What a wonderful example of kindness she is to us!’ sniffed Joan quickly wiping the tears from her eyes. She didn’t have to look at the others to know that they were doing the same. The pure, sweet innocence of a child reminded each of them of why they were fighting for freedom.

           “God Bless you.” said Jack quietly

           “Dieu te bénisse!” whispered Joan

           The rest of the night passed peacefully; for the first time in a long time the night was quiet. They were relieved that no bombs would descend; one by one they fell into a deep peaceful slumber. Joan wrapped her arms around her daughter as she quietly reviewed that night’s events; ‘Indeed, I have a lot to be thankful for! What a happy, wonderful Thanksgiving!’ smiled Joan closing her eyes; a smile rested on her lips as she fell asleep knowing that all was well.

November 30, 2019 04:46

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1 comment

14:34 Dec 04, 2019

What a wonderful idea to introduce the notions of Thanksgiving and of gratitude in a story about one of French most tragic periods - Paris in 1944 - and in a way that sounds really convincing, too...


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