International Writers Magazine:Memories
July, 1944, near Caen
Hello my little snowflake. Do you remember when I first called you
that? My little snowflake. That terrible winter when we were twelve,
the snowdrifts over our heads, our breath freezing as soon as it
left our mouths, and you laughing and singing because you loved
winter, you loved the cold. I called you little snowflake because
you spun around and danced like you were floating on air.
must stop this. A good memory like that does not belong in this place
where I am writing this letter to you. No, this is hell; the place of
that memory is somewhere close to heaven.
We are waiting. My C Company, my 1st battalion. We just took back the
town of Caen and are waiting for orders to cross the Orne River. On
the other side the Germans are holding two smaller towns Colombelles
and Vaucelles. You would be proud of us, my little snowflake (oh, can
I ever hope to stop bringing your nickname from my thoughts to the lead
in my pencil?). The S. D. and G. fought like devils. We showed the world
how ferocious and courageous us Canadians are. We lost a lot of good
men, some you know, friends, acquaintances, familiar names in Cornwall.
How is home, anyway? I miss it. I miss the smell of the St. Lawrence
River, its movement.
I am beginning to think the purpose of this letter is to revisit certain
memories, make certain Ive remembered them exactly. I can assign
them proper locations in my past, so that the truth will surface and
I can tell you what I have to tell you. At the least, I owe you the
truth. And for me, it is more than necessary to tell you; I cannot die
over here without doing so.
Remember . . .
The three of us were on a picnic along the river, near Lancaster. We
found a sunny patch of grass hidden by a stand of pines, facing a shallow
of reeds where barbots and carp churned up the water. You, Mademoiselle
Malroux, were like a splash of sunshine, you were so happy, at peace,
despite the frightening thoughts of war on everyones mind at the
time. Andre looked splendid, too. His summer tan looked like walnut
against his starched white shirt. His hair kept falling over his eyes,
and I remember him laughing at that while you scolded him to get it
cut. I laughed, too; but my laughter was in effect my heart exploding
with joy. I was spending an afternoon with the two people I loved most
in this world. You scolded me. You said, "Dont you laugh,
Daniel St. Croix. Im this close to taking the shears to your beautiful
locks!" You always said you liked my red hair. Said it defined
who I was.
You two, Andre and you, looked wonderful together. My heart went out,
went in, turned to water, ignited and burned; but I felt wonderful.
I watched you two hold hands, caress fingertips, nibble ear lobes, whisper
sweet nothings, and I was surprised I did not feel miserable, the third
wheel. Our friendships were strong. Our world was like a precious orchid
inside a shatterproof glass dome.
Damn! I am writing this letter in the bottom of a soggy, sloppily built
trench, and there was a waft of an all too familiar stink just come
my way. Someone shit himself, or someone vomited, or someone died
these smells, eventually, because you smell them all the time, end up
being the same, meaning the same thing. I propped myself on a hard,
fairly dry mound of mud so I wouldnt have to sit in a puddle.
In trenches, one does not trust puddles: too many rats, dead, alive,
its all the same.
It is night. There is a full moon, so I can see what I am writing. All
of us, to a man, are so very battle weary and exhausted; we slept straight
through the day. The sun was warm and dried the mud on our uniforms
into a thick and heavy second coat. Shall I ever want to come back to
France when this is all over? I keep asking myself. Yes, if only to
bask in the sun without a stitch of clothes on.
We advanced on Caen on the 9th of July, yesterday, at 09:45 hours, after
clearing, with relative ease, the village of Franqueville. Snipers fired
at us from both sides, and land mines along the road were more than
a nuisance. After we passed a prison, still under sniper fire, we approached
the Caen-Bayeaux roads at the entrance to the city. It was a little
past noon, I believe. Entering Caen we saw German machine guns all down
the main street. Then, it began. After all was said and done (such a
delicate phrase, dont you think, in light of what actually took
place?) over fifty men were killed and almost one hundred wounded.
We received word a Special Order of the Day was coming through. Ill
repeat it here, word for word; to show you how stoic the military can
be when offering laudations. "To all officers, warrant officers
and men . . . . Congratulations to you one and all. You have been in
a very hard fight and have come through with flying colours."
Brings a tear to your eye, eh?
Despite the congratulation, I could not help but think about Wilfred
Owens words: What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
And often I hear whispered in my mind like a Magis mantra, those
of T.S. Eliots: We are the hollow men. We are the stuffed
men. This is what war is doing to me. This is what the killing,
the exhaustion, and then more killing is reducing me to: cattle, a hollowed
carcass. With each bullet I fire, I lose a scrap of my humanity. Or
is it, my dear, sweet Yvette, each bullet draws me closer to the essence
It was Andre do you remember? who loved the poets. Eliot
being his favourite. I can always hear his voice in my head, him reading
out loud passages to us from Barret-Browning, Keats and Byron. I dont
know about you, but I was enraptured; more by his voice, I think, than
the words he was reading. He had such a lovely voice. You remember.
I suppose, about now, in this letter of mine, you are wondering about
its maudlin tone, especially when I talk about Andre. There is a reason
for this. I will explain in two, simple stories. Simple they may be,
but their very contents will change our lives yours and mine
Okay. Now. The first story. This one brings us back to that picnic by
the river I talked about earlier. A lovely time, wasnt it? You
were so pretty, and happy; you were positively glowing. My dear, sweet,
Yvette. Andre had stolen a bottle of choke cherry wine from his uncle
Moise, and all three of us were feeling the effects of it. I never did
like the feeling of being drunk, so I was trying to stave off the effects
of the wine by eating a lot of that bread you brought. I brought some
cold tortierre, some fruit, and my grandmothers butter tarts.
A feast fit for kings, and queens. I felt, that day, special, royal.
So, back on track to my story.
You left us for a few minutes, to do your business behind the trees.
And that is when it happened. Andre, after looking over his shoulder
to see if you were out of sight, I suppose, walked right up to me and
kissed me on the mouth. Breaking the kiss, he ran his tongue over my
lips. Dear Yvette, I will tell you now, I loved that kiss, was, in fact,
dreaming about it. I was in love with Andre. There you have it my little
snowflake: I am attracted to men, and I wanted more than anything to
ravish Andre, every inch of him. But what complicates matters, and what
sends the plot of this little story into chaos, was what Andre said
to me, just before you returned from the trees. He said, "I, too,
have been waiting for that kiss. I want to possess you, body and soul."
Well, you can imagine how I felt. You can understand the chaos raging
through me, and the pain I feared this sudden turn of events would cause
you. You loved Andre. You gave yourself to him completely. This underlying
truth about him would have, I was certain, broken your heart into a
million pieces, pushed your mind to the edge of sanity. I could not
bear to see you hurt. Andre and I became lovers, and we vowed never
to say a word of it to you, and never show even the remotest signs of
our deception. I cannot apologize for what happened between Andre and
I Gods plans for us are never very clear, in my opinion.
I apologize if this is hurting you now, as you read this letter.
And now, the second story. I do not know how to tell it, so I will just
rush right in. I caught Andre kissing and touching a beautiful young
soldier two days ago, and in a wild, excruciating rage, I killed the
two of them by putting bullets in their heads. It was during the heat
of battle. I simply turned in their direction, and fired off two rounds
from my Bren. After the mortar smoke cleared, and the death-infused
dust settled, all of us men who made it through battle gathered our
wits and gave passing thoughts to our fallen comrades. I wept. But all
I could think about was you, how crushed you will be to hear of Andres
death. I wanted for you to believe Andre died a hero. But then truth
burned in my skull like red hot needles; I had to tell you everything.
I will not ask you for forgiveness, my little snowflake. I am going
to hell, if Im not already there. I will not return from this
war. One way or another, a bullet will put an end to my life. Please
remember the day of our picnic. Let those moments the three of us shared
as friends be the strongest, purest, brightest light of goodness in
Yours, forever and always,
Margot Daniels was gathering up her dead mothers things she found
in an old trunk, when she came across a bunch of old letters. They were
addressed to Yvette Malroux, her mother before she married. The paper
was tanned and brittle; ink faded. Sitting in front of a sunny window
with a cup of tea, she read through them all, and trembled at one that
was headed: Greetings, from Caen. It was written by a Daniel St. Croix.
Margots mother had never mentioned him before, or the other man
in the letter, Andre. After reading the letters contents, she
Margot sat back with the letter on her lap, and looked around her mothers
bedroom. The walls were stripped bare of its pictures and straw hats
and small baskets of potpourri. The cross that was on the wall behind
the head of the bed left a pale outline of its shape after it was removed.
All these items, now packed away, were supposed to have defined her
mother, Yvette Daniels, nee Malroux. But they fell short, Margot thought;
the letters, from people dead and gone from her past, were surely part
of what made her mother who she was. This Daniel St. Croix, for instance,
and what he allegedly said he did in his letter, must have changed Yvette,
in some or many ways made her look at life and death and the world in
a new, if not tarnished, light.
The funeral was this morning. Old friends and acquaintances of Yvettes
were in attendance. Margot knew who they were. She was going to have
to settle with just them, her own memories of them, to define her mother
for her. Margot knew Gods plans were never very clear.
© Gordon Bourgon
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