Autumn leaves drifted in the wind, and the sound of ringing woke the woman up. She was rubbing her eyes all the way to the parlor room, met with the long stare of her mother across the room.
She could not even ask her how she slept.
It was a stray shot of artillery. Unordered. It broke a ceasefire and her mother’s heart.
The woman was informed only that her father’s body couldn’t be buried just yet. He was stuck in no man’s land, and to her knowledge, purgatory. No matter though. She had a shift at the factory today. There, she would tell her older sister the news.
Exactly one week later, her neighbors celebrated victory in the streets.
Her mother had stayed inside. Mourning in all black, she only told her daughter Adeline to be wary of the gentlemen. Adeline had some sympathy for her, but ached for something other than grief as she raced outside to join the celebration.
There was a man standing on a bench, flushed from drinking and wildly swinging about while ranting. It wasn’t a language Adeline was familiar with, staring in awe until another man yelled, “Speak French, you bastard!”
The blond man looked at him and narrowed his eyes. “I’ll speak whatever language I please,” he said, switching to Adeline’s language, “Excusez-moi.”
Adeline snickered and came closer to the crowd to hear the man more clearly. Now he was fully speaking French, seeming to repeat his rant, “All you French bastards think you won this war, when it takes an Englishman to beat a German.”
His words were clearly unpopular, but he ignored the jeers. He looked through the crowd before stumbling off of the bench, nearly falling backwards into the fountain. The man cut through the crowd before approaching the first lady he spotted.
“Here, I’m Oliver,” he introduced himself to Adeline, putting out his hand.
Adeline hesitated to shake the hand of the gentleman, thankful he was at a distance and she couldn’t smell too much of the alcohol. Oliver gripped her hand and faced the crowd, saying, “I wager that you would let a German walk all over you, wouldn’t you, miss?”
She shook her head slowly, watching Oliver’s grin spread. “There we go, France needs some damn pride in herself!” he said, laughing, “At least you’re not German, that’s what I say.”
Adeline blushed at the attention she got, the drunk crowd around her bursting out in cheers and laughter. Their attitude towards Oliver seemed to change, welcoming his strange mix of English nationalism and inebriated cheer.
And then she was tugged into what she supposed was a dance. Oliver spun her once before he himself got dizzy, moving on to his next partner. A person with long black robes, who was trying to get through the now rocking crowd.
Oliver’s sudden grab made this person drop their book, and glare up at the intoxicated man. A startled noise escaped Oliver, who muttered, “What’s wrong with your face?”
The man’s face turned even more ghastly white, and when he turned on his heel, Adeline could see a cross necklace swing outside his frame. It was clear now that Oliver was dealing with a priest, one who didn’t seem so delighted with comments about his appearance.
He sighed though, bending down to retrieve his book and slip away from everyone else.
“Some people,” Oliver said to Adeline. She was surprised that this man was so trusting of her already, but… Then she wasn’t, really. “Some people need to loosen up,” he finished.
“That’s Father Gilbert, I think,” Adeline responded, remembering his visit from a couple of days ago.
Oliver smiled, murmuring, “Unfortunate. I’m usually very fond of the holy.” He waved goodbye to the crowd, dashing off to chase the priest. Maybe to apologize. Maybe to antagonize him more.
Adeline brought a finger to her chin, sighing as she remembered that Gilbert was German. Now she knew why. She stepped off to the side of the crowd, trying to get away from the rowdiness. There was a quiet place for her to rest, a bench planted to the side of the celebration.
Where would her father be today? Here in the streets, or back home celebrating with his wife and daughters?
She found herself not especially caring what the answer was, a new worry clouding her mind. With her father dead, that meant only one thing could occupy her mother’s mind now in her advanced age. Marriage. But when she looked back into that drunk mass of men, she felt disgust.
Adeline jumped as a sober voice cut through her thoughts. She could feel a presence by her, a large figure that she did not put her eyes upon.
“Are you okay all alone out here?”
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