Zygmunt Frankel


Chapter 7

The Village

15th August 1942
In the country with my parents again, and enjoying it as much as ever, perhaps even more, because of the increasingly drab and boring life in town.
All the men agree that the Germans and their allies are now at the peak of their success and power, and are probably fighting on just to get better terms of the impending armistice, which will leave them in control of half the world. The Germans are at the gates of Moscow, Leningrad, and, of late, Stalingrad, and pushing ahead everywhere else in their famous motorized encircling movements. They have also cleared North Africa of the British and are heading for Cairo, while on the other side of the globe, the Japanese, having annihilated America's fleet in the first few hours of the war, are now overrunning the Far East.
We are half-way through the summer, and I have reached new heights - or should it be called lows? Sixty-eight kilograms! And this in spite of the better food! It only shows that it is mainly a question of self-discipline: easy on bread and potatoes, only the thinnest spread of butter on your sandwich, and only a little cream with your wild strawberries and saut- mushrooms. Yes, they still grow in the woods; and neither they nor the birds singing in the trees seem to know or care that there's a war on.
The woods, however, have taken on a somewhat... no, perhaps "sinister" is too strong a word, but let's say mysterious or dark aspect. It's not wolves or witches or wood spirits of our childhood, but people hiding there; some say Jews and some say partisans, perhaps both; and there are rumours of some goings to and fro between the woods and the villages in the area, like receiving or buying food, or perhaps gathering information. But they are just rumours, and, as the Germans are very strict and quick on the trigger about such things, people don't like repeating them.
Talk about coincidences. One evening I was lying in bed in my little room, smoking a cigarette, not yet particularly sleepy, and thinking whether I was not too insensitive or callous to everything that was happening around me, to Poland and the world. There were people dying in Russia and Africa, and I seemed to like the blond blue-eyed Captain Werner almost as much as I liked Lieutenant Sarna and Major Serbenski, not to mention Leo. There were Jews and partisans hiding in the forest, and I, after an afternoon swim in the river and dusk fishing for perch with my brother and wild strawberries with cream for supper was enjoying this soft bed as much as I used to when I was a little girl. Was there something wrong with me? I couldn't know because there is no way to compare your feelings with those of others, although Mimi and Marta do seem to take life more or less like I do. I decided to read for a while in bed, took my inscribed volume of Madame de Sevigne's letters from the shelf, and opened it at random. The first sentence that caught my eye was "...so the good will suffer for the wicked, but I find it all for the best, so long as the four thousand soldiers who are at Rennes, under MM. de Fobin and de Vins, don't prevent me from strolling in my woods, which are very fine and marvellously beautiful." I sat up and read the whole passage from the start. It was not foreign occupation; they were French soldiers, brought there to quell and punish a revolt of the downtrodden and illegally taxed local peasants and townspeople, hanging and drawing and quartering them by the hundred, mostly hostages and not the real culprits, who have escaped. And again: "They've taken sixty bourgeois; they'll begin to hang them tomorrow. This province is a good example to the others; above all it will lead them to respect their governors, not to abuse them and throw stones in their gardens." If that's what the exemplary Madame de Sevigne felt about such things, didn't I have the right to feel the same? Was there some affinity between us which drew me to her in the first place, while I was still at school learning French? Or were most women like this? And men as well, or even more so? Is this some sort of natural armour which enables one to survive just about everything so long as it doesn't happen to you, and helps women to go on having babies and raising the next generation?
Another summer without a love affair. My family is too numerous for it, everyone knows where everyone else is at any time, you seldom go anywhere alone, and there is no one here to have an affair with either, so I am a model straw widow, and enjoy it all the more the weekends when my husband is here. I often wonder what Adam is doing while I am not there. Is he really and truly faithful to me? Why should he be if he is not faithful to his wife to start with? Well, we shall wait and see what we shall see.
The only really charming and darling man in the village, or rather on the outskirts of it, with whom I spend a lot of time and for whom I could easily have fallen had he only been half a century younger is old Maciej the Bee-Keeper. He was a farmer in the village, but had long ago handed his farm over to his eldest son, and, after his wife died, moved to a hut on the outskirts of the village, near the woods, to keep bees and some poultry, and to raise rabbits in wire cages. (The honey and meat are making him quite prosperous of late, although when he first moved into the hut all he wanted was to live alone and have something to eat.) In some ways he is very simple - or perhaps wise? His wife bore him six children of which two died in childhood and one in the Great War. Of his dozen grandchildren, another three or four died of disease and one in the recent war. He does not see wars as the major threat to life; merely one of them, sent by God for reasons of His own.
Apart from looking after his bees, chicken, ducks, and rabbits, he also likes fishing in our little river, and setting snares for partridges and hares. (He had a shotgun before the war, but the Germans have confiscated all firearms.). He also keeps a few ferrets in another wire cage, well away from the rabbits. They are quite tame, don't bite him, and he can carry them in his pocket to put an end to a rat who may have chosen a residence near his hut, or to oblige someone in the village.
He told me a curious thing about ferrets: if the female is not mated, it dies. Not just goes restless or crazy or vicious like some other animals or people might; it just dies. It put me in a dark mood for the rest of the day, and I have looked at ferrets with new interest and sympathy ever since.

24th September 1942
Marta's had her baby, a beautiful plump little girl with a lot of blond curls, and she and her husband are crazy about it, with Mimi and me running a close second. The only one who doesn't seem to like the idea very much is their spoiled little brat who has suddenly lost his monopoly on his parents, but he will have to get used to it.
I found Adam as kind and loving as ever, with no sign of anyone having replaced me in his affections while I was away. But there was always the memory of that hairpin. There is a place in his bedroom where the corner of the double bed fits into the corner of the room itself, and the little space between the leg of the bed and the wall is difficult for the cleaning woman to reach unless she shifts the bed, which she does not do very often. Once, last winter, out of curiosity, while Adam was taking a shower, I lifted the corner of the mattress and reached down there, and found a woman's hairpin. It may have lain there a long time, since before the start of our affair, so I just dropped it into my handbag and did not say anything about it.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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