Look for FOUND in print and digital editions November 1, 2012.
Book Trailer: (Direct Link) http://youtu.be/MjRiERVwJSs
(From Doug and Molly)
Normandy, France, July 1982
Pierre leaned over the bed, pulling the blanket higher around his mother’s neck. Mid-summer, and yet his mother was cold.
“F…F…F…Freeezing,” she whispered in her native French. Her teeth rattled together, and her arms and legs shook.
Pierre threw a second blanket on top of the first and reached for the kettle. If only he could get something warm in her. She grasped at his arm.
“Non,” she breathed. “S'il vous plaît restez.”
“Please stay,” she said. “I must tell you something.”
He resettled himself in the chair. The doctor said it was only a matter of days. To him it looked like hours. Her hand rested on his sleeve, her fingers stiff, icy, and cold. He took them in his own to warm them.
“I’m not leaving you,” he said. “But some tea might warm you up.”
“Not thirsty,” she rattled.
He sighed. She’d not eaten anything for days. His mother, Brigitte Roseau, was dying. Her once buoyant masses of curly blonde hair now straggled limp and lifeless across the pillow. Pale and drawn, her two sky-blue eyes that sparkled and danced sank down into an inanimate face.
“Tell me what?” he questioned. What was left to talk about?
“Your father …” Brigitte wheezed, and she stopped to gasp for air.
Hearing the word “father,” Pierre frowned. He didn’t have a father, so why bring that up?
“What are you talking about?” he said gently. “I only need you.”
She tossed her head on the pillow, obviously upset. “Non. I must tell you.” Her hand gripped his in a surprising burst of strength.
“It’s okay, Mama, really,” he pleaded. He didn’t want to know.
Pierre sighed. Yes, the war. She’d talked incessantly of the war lately. It was what alerted him initially that something was wrong. Then she’d lost weight and her speech slurred.
“American soldier.” She said these words in English. Shocked, Pierre twisted in his seat.
“American? What are you saying?” he asked.
“He was … an American soldier.” She reverted to French.
Pierre’s back smacked against the wood of the chair and the legs screeched across the stone floor. His eyes grew wide.
“Doug,” his mother gasped, “Sanders. You find him. He is your father.” The words emerged in broken pieces. It had taken her a lot of effort to speak them.
“Mama, please relax. You tire yourself.”
Please stop. I don’t want to know.
However, her face grew more insistent. “Promise … you find him. Promise!”
Pierre exhaled loudly and a curl falling over his forehead lifted in the stream of air. Why did she make him deal with this?
He’d asked her about his father once when he was younger, and she’d hedged around, passing the answer off as insignificant. But he’d seen how her face lit up. His father had meant something to her, and he’d wondered why. Yet by the time he turned thirty, he no longer cared. He needed to concentrate on his own life and stop living it in the shadow of hers.
“Promise!” Her voice interrupted his thoughts. Huge, salty drops of sweat beaded upon her emaciated face.
“I promise,” he responded. “Why does this matter?”
She gestured towards the bedside table.
Pierre’s gaze focused on the small drawer. She never let him open that drawer.
Her hand waved again and her eyes pleaded with him. “On the bottom … the paper.”
He slid open the drawer and shifted the contents to the side until he grasped a small slip of paper. Yellowed and stained, pressed tightly to the bottom, he read a name. Beneath that was the phrase “101st Airborne”.
He wrinkled his brow. He knew some of what had happened in Normandy at the close of the Second World War. She’d made sure of that. She’d spoken of the paratroopers falling from the sky, and she’d used this phrase. He tucked the paper into his shirt pocket and sat back in his seat.
“I have it,” he said.
Her eyes fluttered shut and her breathing eased. “You look for him,” she whispered. He patted her hand.
Why should he? What did any of this mean now? His heart lay heavy in his chest. He’d miss her. He loved her dearly. But he had to find a way to move on, to continue to live.
She’d raised him to have what he needed. He’d finished his schooling, gotten a good job. He’d married and they’d had a child. His insides twisted. He wouldn’t think of that. He couldn’t think of that, not now.
A shaft of sunlight shot into the room and he saw his mother wince. The light was too much for her. He stood and drew the curtains closer together, sinking the room further into darkness. Not much time now and she’ll be gone.
Taking her hand into his own, he waited.
Brigitte’s mind fled back to June 6, 1944. How she’d hated those Germans. The big, ugly one pawed at her, stroking her breasts. He’d only stopped at his officer’s crisp reprimand. We must create the perfect German race.
Her insides soured.
The small soldier had fetched her that night. His gun shoved into to her back, he’d snapped at her. Do what you can for the American, he’d said. He was the nicest of the bunch, yet she’d yelled at him just the same. She hated him, and words were her only weapon.
Doug. Mesmerized by his eyes, she’d fallen at his side. Those hazel-green eyes had lived with her all these years. Every time she looked at her son – their son – they were there.
Guilt washed over her. What she’d done that night was incredibly wrong. Raving in his delirium, he’d called another woman’s name with no idea afterward what they’d done together. Horrified, she’d never spoken of it to anyone. She’d taken advantage of a very sick man.
When the Americans took him away, her life became empty. Her husband was gone; the Germans killed him early in the war. Their son died within months from disease. Then the American was gone too, and she had nothing.
Her pregnancy was a surprise. Her neighbors assumed it was the Germans’ fault, and she’d let them think so, living with their sympathy and sometimes their hatred, never telling the truth. She’d vowed to never find him, deciding instead this would be something their son should do.
She relaxed now beneath the touch of Pierre’s hand. At last she’d told him the truth. He would find Doug, and Doug would love him.
Her eyes closed and blackness swirled in her vision. She was ready to die. Her breath escaped her lips in a rush and her soul fled her body.
(From Stephen and Adele)
August 3, 2010, Hanoi, Vietnam
The Vietnamese marketplace teemed with life. Pressed in on every side, the young American girl sailed down the aisles wide-eyed, soaking in the incredible sights and sounds. She was a long way from home, yet found kindness in the friendly Vietnamese faces smiling at every turn. The sea of humanity sucked her in, and she surged forward.
The market held an impressive array of items: plastic baskets filled with fresh fruit and vegetables, tables of seafood – fish, crabs, and eels – racks of colorful clothing, even crates of live animals. A basket of ducklings peeped vigorously as she passed. Twisting and turning amongst the crowd, her gaze scanned the spectacle, and the crowd propelled her farther.
Her only break from movement came when the snake-like horde of people deposited her in a nook underneath a blue canopy. Here, she sucked in her breath and exhaled in a slow stream. She brushed her hair away from the sides of her face and adjusted the blue cloth ribbon of a conical hat she’d purchased.
An elderly Vietnamese woman extended her hand, a spiked fruit in her palm.
“For me?” the girl asked.
And the old woman smiled widely and nodded.
Lifting the fruit in her hand, the girl admired it, wondering as she had so many times this day what it was and how it tasted.
She reached into her pocket for a few coins, and a flash of light from around the old woman’s neck blinded her. Curious, she leaned forward. What was it? The flash repeated, casting two disc shapes on the ceiling and walls of the tattered canopy.
The girl’s eyes, already large from the day’s encounters, took on a completely new size. “Where did you get that?” she asked, and unthinking, she reached out for it.
But the old woman bowed her head, burying the necklace beneath her blouse.
That won’t do. I must see it.
“No, no. Please,” the girl begged. Her hand grasped the old woman’s shoulder, and at her touch, the woman hesitated.
“Please, I’ll … I’ll buy it.” She scrambled her fingers into her fanny pack, plucking out several crumpled bills.
“Here, take all of it,” she said.
At the sight of so much, the old woman’s face broke into a grin, yet she didn’t act.
The old woman stared at the money, her heart in her throat. The necklace meant so much to her for it reminded her of her children, though they were dead many years ago. However, the amount of money in the girl’s fist was a lot, and it would help she and her sister much. They only had each other.
Her hand went to her throat, and she clenched the discs tightly. She would, after all, always have her memories of them. She shut her eyes and heard their laughter again, bubbling in the air. She counted their sweet faces, smiling back at her.
The young American girl’s voice broke into her thoughts. Peeling open her aged fingers, the girl pressed the money into her palm, and instinctively the old woman’s fist curled around it.
She sighed. Perhaps it was time. If the necklace meant this much to her, then so be it. Looping the metal chain over her head, for a second she stared at it and her memories rushed past. Then, crumpling them into a heap, she placed them into the girl’s outstretched fingers.
(From Tad and Beth)
I loved that dog. He was just a stray, but he was mine. He turned up one afternoon waggin’ his tail. Well, wagging his entire rump really. And I tried to shake him. I screamed and hollered, clapped my hands until my palms stung. I even acted real mean, makin’ faces and all. And he ran off – for a time. Yet that evenin’ he was back. He’d decided he was my dog, come what may. He then hopped right in my lap and looked me in the eye as if to say, “Where we goin’?” I loved that dog, and I miss him.
He’s long gone now. Gone with his black and white spots, his crooked ear, and his whiny growl. Gone with a lot of things in my life, and I lay here past my prime, my joints sore, my ankles swollen, my legs withered, wishin’ I could get it all back. I hate being old. I really hate it. So I live in my memories, in my thoughts of other times, times like when I had that dog.
Dog died not too long after my Dad returned from the war. Dad returned a changed man. For one thing, he had terrible nightmares. He’d cry out at night, howlin’ somethin’ awful. I’d hear him from my bed and pray to God for him to find peace. I never asked ‘bout his dreams ‘cept once, and he was upset afterward. Made me feel poorly for bringin’ it up.
I loved my Dad, but I didn’t understand the war. Mama didn’t either. She did a lot of prayin’ while Dad was gone and even more prayin’ when he was missin’. She prayed for his health, for his comfort, and for his spirit’s sake. That’s what she used to say. “I pray, good Lord, for his spirit’s sake. Keep his mind sound and his belief strong.”
Thinkin’ back on it now, I marvel that she never prayed over his death. Not once did she believe he was gone. That took great faith it seems to me. ‘Cause I remember others dyin’. Well, I remember overhearin’ others died, and I remember how strange it was to think about people bein’ gone forever. Boys I looked up to, boys I wanted to be like, and them not here anymore.
I reckon God heard Mama’s prayers ‘cause one day he came home. I wonder though, why God answered Mama’s prayers and not all the other people. He must’ve heard a powerful lot of prayers from a great many mamas. Maybe He lost track, there bein’ so many. Then again, He’s God. He must have a system for that kind of thing. What do I know?
I only know it was years later before my Dad found out about that Boy in his dreams, and that there is a strange story. There Dad was tryin’ to get on with his life after the war when all the while the Sanders family was missin’ their Boy, Andrew. Us livin’ right beside them the whole time, and them livin’ right beside us. Yet neither one known’ the connection. Dad had their answers, and they had his. Funny, how it all worked out.
And that’s how I met Beth.
Suzanne D. Williams
Suzanne Williams Photography
Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.