Transgression: A Novel of Love and War - By James W. Nichol
A burst of pigeons flew up off the narrow cobblestone street, cleared the roof of the nearest building and scattered across the grey sky. Hands fleeing in front of the Germans, Adele Georges thought to herself. It was a futile gesture; they’d already been chopped off.
Adele was given to such thoughts and visions. They visited her mind, filled her eyes, sometimes invited, sometimes not, but always more vividly than she’d expected.
“Adele is blessed with an imagination that would rival Dante’s,” her father had remarked many times. “She’ll be a great artist.”
“She’s empty-headed” this from her mother. “Any absurd idea can fly in there and find a home. She should live in the real world.” And on the tip of Madame Georges’ tongue, “And so should you.”
During the first weeks of the Occupation this hand story had swept the country but it had turned out not to be true. The Germans were not cutting off the hands of hundreds of young men to make a future resistance impossible. Nevertheless darkness had come to France the year before, and death, and mind-numbing fear.
Adele walked on toward the Domestic Population Bureau of Information and took her place at the end of a long queue. The line shuffled slowly and silently ahead. Finally she reached the open door. Rising up on her toes, she could see a Wehrmacht officer in his field-green uniform talking to an old lady. She wondered if he was wearing one of her trousers. She thought it was quite possible, because that’s what she did every night now, sit in a long dimly lit room in the middle of a row of rough women and sew seams on an endless procession of Wehrmacht pants.
The queue divided into two beyond the doorway, the right tributary heading off toward another officer. Unlike the Wehrmacht man, this one was sitting rigidly at his desk, his eyes fixed on a tall, frail-looking individual who was standing in front of him kneading his cap in his hands. His uniform was black.
Adele’s body went rigid.
Just that morning, René had screamed at her not to go to the Domestic Population Bureau of Information.
“It’s a Wehrmacht office,” she’d stubbornly yelled back. “They don’t know anything! Besides, I have to!”
Adele aimed herself at the tributary to the left. After another half-hour of shuffling, she sat down and asked her question.
“Perhaps your father is dead,” the middle-aged officer replied in a reasonable tone. “So many soldiers couldn’t be identified.”
“Yes.” Adele was trying to keep her voice low without whispering, so that the young SS officer sitting only twenty feet away wouldn’t overhear, but wouldn’t become suspicious either. “But my father wasn’t a soldier. He was a doctor. He was serving in the medical corps.”
The man smiled sadly at the naiveté of this remark, particularly coming from such a diminutive and sweet-looking girl. It was all Adele could do not to spit in his face. She hated him, she hated every German on the face of the earth. She kept her expression set and blank.
“How old are you, dear?” he asked in his raspy French.
“In time of war, front lines collapse back on themselves, even safe positions can be over-run. Bombs fall, shells explode. You say your father was stationed near Arras?”
He was still speaking kindly enough. Tears, unplanned for and unwanted, burned in Adele’s eyes. “That’s the last we heard from him.”
The officer reached for a cigarette and lit it. “Very high casualties there. And it wasn’t until after the Armistice was signed that we allowed French authorities on to the battlefields. Many weeks under a very hot sun, a hundred thousand French soldiers strewn everywhere. Very difficult to identify.”
“We have heard that a million of our soldiers were taken prisoner and transported. We think our father is in your country.”
They felt the SS officer’s eyes fall on them at the same moment. The older man shifted in his chair. “Why haven’t you made inquiries to your own authorities?” he said more sharply.
Adele leaned forward–there was no stopping now. “We have. Every week for months but they have no information about prisoners in Germany. They said we should come here.”
Adele could see the young man rising like a black cloud in the corner of her eye.
“May I ask this young lady a question?” He had excellent French.
Adele looked up.
The young man’s pale eyes were fixed on hers. “Tell me, why did you wait so long to make this inquiry?”
“We were waiting for our father to return home. We