Zygmunt Frankel


Chapter 10

A Partizan From The Forest

15th September 1943
A few days after I came back from the country, still weighing sixty-seven kilos, the British and the Americans landed in Italy, True, it's only the southern tip, and they don't seem to be making much progress, but they are in Europe at long last, and it also seems certain by now that Russia has rallied and is not collapsing in a hurry.
For the first week in the country, my husband was with me - all the vacation he was able to get this year, with his factory working overtime turning out those conserve tins. It was like the old days. We swam in the little river and sunbathed and picnicked, and he went back looking and feeling much better, very sad at parting so soon, although I happen to know that there is a typist at his place of work whom he calls "Marysia" instead of "Miss Marysia", and God knows what this might develop into while I am away. I felt rather abandoned after he left. I have been sleeping with two men for the past year; almost like two husbands, quite eeasy to get used to, and now, sleeping alone, it didn't take me long to start feeling really starved of sex; and no one to do it with in the village. There's the young nephew of the priest staying with him for the summer, and he's quite nice, but he's suffering from TB and coughs into his handkerchief all the time, and has been sent here to recover.
One evening my brother and I came back from fishing in the little river with a dozen quite decent perch. Mother was outside end asked us not to go into the kitchen because father was there with a visitor and didn't want to be disturbed. Curious, I went into the courtyard, collected a couple of eggs from the hens' baskets, and strolled with them into the kitchen, sort of absent-minded. Father was standing at the table, wrapping a piece of bacon in waterproof paper. A dark good-looking man in his early thirties, obviously the partisan who came for food, sat at the table and politely got up as I entered. He wore a peasant's jacket, and his trousers were tucked into knee-length boots. There was his rucksack on the table, and father slipped the wrapped bacon into it, looking a bit embarrassed and cross.
"Oh, I am sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"It's all right," father said. "We're almost finished."
After a brief embarrassed silence, seeing that I was not leaving at once, father cleared his throat and introduced us, using the man's first name only and my married one: "May I introduce Zygmunt? Zygmunt, this is my daughter, Mrs. Zielenska." The man clicked his heels and bowed as he kissed my hand; he did it naturally, belying his peasant clothes. Then he closed his rucksack, slung it over his shoulders, thanked my father, and we saw him to the kitchen door. With his hand on the knob, he stopped and asked:
"Mrs. Zielenska, do you live permanently in town?"
"Yes, I do."
He thought for a while,
"May I ask you a couple of questions outside?"
"Is there no one out there?"
My father looked into the courtyard, "No; the coast is clear."
"Then thank you again, and goodbye."
They shook hands and I followed Zygmunt into the courtyard. A dark and moonless night was falling.
"Mrs. Zielenska," he said in a low voice; " are there lots of Germans in town?"
"Yes, quite a lot."
"Many more than, say, a year ago?"
"Yes, I think so."
"There's a lot of questions I would like to ask you about that, but perhaps this is not the right time and place. Being your father's daughter I believe I can trust you implicitly?"
"Certainly. Of course, I would hate to get into anything that would cause my father more problems than he already has."
"Of course. No, it's only a few questions about the town. Could we meet somewhere around here later tonight for afew minutes?
"Perhaps it would be best if you did not come to the house again. Someone might be awake, and there are also German patrols along the road."
"Yes, we know all about them." He looked around. "Look, there's that barn behind the fence; it's far enough for the dog not to bark, and also not too far from the wood, ncross the fields, just in case." There was something heavy in the right-hand pocket of his coat, probably a pistol. "Could you come there after everyone has fallen asleep? When would that be, would you say?"
"By eleven for sure. We go to bed early. Let's say between eleven and midnight."
"All right, I'l1 be there. And thank you."
He kissed my hand again, very lightly and formally, as if to assure me that there was nothing on his mind except military intelligence.
My sister stayed in my room till after ten for one of our long intimate chats, and finally, after several long yawns, went to bed.
I waited another half an hour, until the house was deeply and properly asleep. Then I put on my dressing gown and slipped a few condoms and a couple of pessaries into the pocket, just in case, put on my slippers, and threw the blanket over my shoulders. I had already checked, earlier that evening, that the window of my room, a meter or so above the ground, opened without any noise. I stood outside for a while, listening. The house was quiet and the night dark, with a lot of stars but no moon. I made my way noiselessly towards the back of the yard. There was a slight rattle of chain near the gate; I called out in a whisper "Burek, Burek", and our dog came up, wagging his tail, to be scratched behind the ear, and rubbed against me happily. I climbed over the gate and went along the path to the barn. The night was chilly and I shivered a little. The inside of the barn was pitch dark and I couldn't see anything at first.
"Mrs. Zielenska?" This in a hardly audible whisper, but I wondered what sort of conspirator would give the name of his associate like that, even in a whisper, before being sure who was coming.
"Yes, it's me."
There was a slight metallic click, of a safety catch being closed I supposed. Zygmunt was standing right behind the door, and now slipped the pistol back into his pocket.
We sat down on a bale of straw.
Sitting on a bale of straw in a barn on a dark night with an attractive man and talking in whispers, you already have more than half the setting for anything that can happen, but Zygmunt had to go through the formalities first.
"Mrs. Zielenska," he said. "Because of strict secrecy rules, I can't tell you how many of us there are in the forest or what we do - the movement is growing from month to month - the less anyone knows, the better, you understand..."
"Of course. So I hope you won't put my or my father's name on any unnecessary lists or anything of the sort, which could get the whole family shot."
"No, of course not. My position in the group is such that I can make such decisions myself. Your father's name is not on any list, and what's more, nobody else in the group knows about him, and of course I won't mention you either. Now, about your town. Is the railway station heavily guarded?"
"Yes, it is. They also seem to have a platoon of soldiers permanently on duty in a barrack across the road with a couple of lorries outside, probably in case they have to be rushed somewhere on a moment's notice."
"Aha," he said importantly, although this was something that an apprentice secret agent in town could discover during a casual stroll.
"And searches in the street?"
"Quite often, at varying times and places. I think they are mainly looking for Jews on false papers, or perhaps members of the underground; the black market seems a secondary concern."
"What about the Germans in this village? Do they bother you?"
"Not much. Of course we know all about them; their strength, patrols timetable, and so on."
"I hope you're not planning to shoot one of them here; they would decimate the village, or burn it down, or something of the sort."
"A la guerre comme a la guerre," he said. His French pronunciation was awful. "The nation is fighting against the occupant and there are bound to be casualties. The executions may have one good effect, turning the perhaps too placid part of the population against the enemy."
I was scared. One man like this, with a pistol, could send half the village, including my family, to a mass grave in the forest, while they themselves escaped and lived to collect medals for their bravery after the war.
Zygmunt shivered a little,
"Here, have half of my blanket."
He refused politely at first, but finally accepted. To make full use of the blanket we had to draw closer together. He put his arm around me to save space and I let him. Just then an owl hooted right on the roof of the barn and I pressed myself against him and hid my face on his chest, pretending scare. (I was familiar with the hooting of owls since I was a child and rather enjoyed it.)
"It's only an owl," he said reassuringly, holding me tight.
"It's supposed to be an evil omen, and just as we were talking about you attacking the Germans in the village. Perhaps you'd better not. They'll follow you into the forest with dogs."
"Perhaps we won't. Please don't be scared."
His face was in my hair and he kissed me on the ear. Still pressing myself against him, I did not resist. He began to stroke my hair and face, and after I returned a kiss his hand strayed under my dressing gown and cupped my breast. When he discovered that I was wearing neither brassiere nor pants under my nightshirt he grew very excited and lowered me onto the hay. I asked him timidly whether he had any prophylactics with him, and when he said no I was surprised to discover "some of my husband's" in the pocket of my dressing gown, and also unobtrusively slipped in a pessary. The first time he finished very quickly and I had to fake, but it didn't take him long to get aroused again, and the second time it was long and lovely. (With men so impatient and quick, Mimi and I had a joke that one should always start with the second time, and leave the first till later.) Then we lay there on the fragrant hay in each other's arms whispering softly for a while, and then did it again. Zygmunt told me that he went on food or information gathering trips two or three nights a week, and we arranged to meet again in the hayloft the night after the next. The house was still dark and quiet when I returned, and I climbed back into my room unobserved, lit a candle to remove any straw that might have got into my hair, blanket, or nightgown, blew out the candle, got into bed, and happily fell asleep.

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1997 Zygmunt Frankel - All Rights Reserved.
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