One Saturday afternoon, about 20 years ago, my husband and I took a carload of junk to the tip. While we were disposing of everything, an object caught my eye, just sitting there, undamaged, amidst all the rubbish. It was this painting, depicting the courtyard of an old French stone house.
I quickly grabbed the tableau, signed “L. Tor, 1943”. Who was the artist? Was he/she still alive? What a shame this nice painting ended up on the scrap heap. Of course I was immediately inspired to base a story around it. So I dusted off “L. Tor, 1943”, reframed it and wrote a very short story (which I’ve posted below for you to read) based on my imagined origin of this intriguing painting, and the artist.
It’s titled: “A Life Not Lost”, and is less than 800 words, so won’t take much of your time to read. I hope you enjoy it.
But this rubbish tip rescue tale didn't end there, reframed and hanging in my hallway. No, A Life Not Lost, eventually inspired me to write Wolfsangel, second standalone novel in my French historical Bone Angel series that explores the French Resistance groups in this area during the Nazi Occupation of WW2.
Speaking about Wolfsangel brings me to the latest Booksweeps competition, of which Wolfsangel is included. If you enjoy literary, historical or women’s fiction, and would like the chance to win a new E-reader and over 50 books valued at $550, check it out; there are some fabulous books to win!
Entry is free, so why not give it a go? Enter HERE.
A Life Not Lost
The trucks careen into the village, tyres shrieking as the vehicles come to a halt in front of the refuge. Through a crack in the shutters, we watch as men stride inside and drag the children––still too sleepy to realise what’s happening––from their baguette and hot chocolate breakfasts. I feel my heartbeat quicken as they bundle the little ones, like sacks of corn, into the open-ended trucks.
‘Where do you think they take those poor children?’ my wife says, her fingernails cutting deeper into my forearm. ‘Where are they taking all our people?’
‘To camps in the east,’ I say, averting my eyes from the jumble of cries, thin limbs and yellow stars disappearing down the road. ‘Or somewhere ...’
We keep watching as the trucks zoom off, the faces of the little ones fading until all that remains are whiffs of ersatz petrol and puffs of exhaust fumes hanging over the road.
‘It’ll be our family next time,’ I say. ‘No one can escape them. You should go now, Sabine. Go and take our children to safety.’
‘Come with us,’ she says, but I hear the defeat in her voice, as if she has given up trying to convince me. ‘Please.’
‘No!’ I shake my head, angry with myself for shouting at her.
‘I won’t let them chase me from my home,’ I say, more quietly, more determined. ‘The home that has belonged to our family for how many generations?’
Sabine keeps her eyes low, on the floor. ‘I don’t know … I don’t know anything, anymore.’
Sabine and the children have been gone a week and still I sit at my window, painting with the urgency forced upon me.
Le Garon––our river––glistens silver-grey through early mist, my brush sweeping a nimbus of gold across the water, for the sun afloat. In the foreground, oak trunks shelter within cloaks of ivy, and branches are brown tangles bearing the green buds of leaves I’ll never see or feel.
For our stone well, I curve an arch of beige above an oval, a dab of rust-red for the flour mill, then dark strokes to delineate square fields of sunflowers with mud-brown eyes. And the hills beyond––where hidden men whisper in codes and blow up trains laden with enemy arms––are moss green, with yellow dots of dandelions.
My brush trembles over the courtyard cobblestones, wavers on the concrete steps rickety with the footsteps of an untroubled past. I choose strong colours to echo my heart that still pulses strong for all they have condemned: rich brown for the oak door, deep green for the shutters to frame the windows. My sky is a patch of vivid blue, with dark specks of sparrows gliding on a freedom not governed by race, politics, or religion.
My arm aches but I don’t stop; can’t stop. I’m hungry, but there is no time to eat. I smile at the irony, for what need is there now to nourish this body? None. Of that, I am certain; as certain as the scarlet red of summer’s cherries, the bleached white of winter snow, the muted pinks and golds of autumn leaves. As certain as one man’s folly.
I scrawl Leo Weiner in the bottom right-hand corner of each tableau, then I rinse my brushes and fold my easel. I gather my paintings and clamber up the stairs to the attic, storing everything behind the panel. Now I am ready.
I don’t have to wait long.
It’s not an open-ended truck that comes for me, but a black Citroën, gliding into the courtyard as if it belongs there. Knee-high boots gleam, click on cobblestones, stomp up concrete steps. Impatient fists thump on the oak door until it splinters, cracks and collapses towards me. They spill through the doorway.
Black breeches boast terror, grey-green helmets speak indifference, skull insignias and red swastika armbands stink of power. The dark muzzle of a pistol spells the end.
They hustle me outside, down the rickety steps and across the old cobblestones. I smile to myself, thinking how many times I cursed those uneven cobbles, tripping me up. Wishing my step could falter, just once more.
As they bundle me into the Citroën, I think about when this madness will be over, and someone finds a secret panel in an attic. I picture that person pushing back the panel and discovering my paintings. I imagine them wiping off the dust, the mouse droppings and the dampness, and seeing my strokes of love; the harmony of colours that blends a river, a well, a house.
A life not lost.
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