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13.

I dont remember very much about the film. Circonstances Att'enuantes, with Arletty and Michel Simon, an old film that Cassis and Reine had already seen. Reine at least was untroubled by the fact; she stared at the screen the whole time, rapt. I found the story unlikely, too removed from my realities. Besides, my mind was on other things. Twice the film in the projector broke; the second time the houselights went on and the audience roared disapproval. A harassed-looking man in a dinner jacket shouted for silence. A group of Germans in a corner, feet resting on the seats in front of them, began slow-clapping. Suddenly Reine, who had come out of her trance to complain irritably about the interruption, gave a squeak of excitement.

Cassis! She leaned over me and I could smell a sweetish chemical scent in her hair. Cassis, hes here!

Shh! hissed Cassis furiously. Dont look back! Reine and Cassis sat facing the front of the auditorium for a moment, expressionless as dummies. Then he spoke, from the corner of his mouth, like someone whispering in church.

Who?

Reinette flicked a glance at the Germans from the corner of her eye.

Back there, she replied in the same fashion. Some others I dont know. Around us the crowd stamped and yelled. Cassis ventured a quick look.

Ill wait till the lights go down, he said.

Ten minutes later the lights dimmed and the film continued. Cassis wriggled from his seat toward the back of the auditorium. I followed him. On the screen Arletty pranced and eye-fluttered in a tight low-cut dress. The mercury reflection lit our low-bent, running figures, making Cassiss face a livid mask.

Go back, you little idiot, he hissed at me. I dont want you with me, getting in the way!

I shook my head. I wont get in the way, I told him. Not unless you try to stop me coming with you.

Cassis made an impatient gesture. He knew I meant what I said. In the dark I could feel him trembling, with excitement or nerves. Keep down, he told me at last. And let me do the talking.

We finally squatted down at the back of the auditorium, close to where the group of German soldiers made an island among the regular crowd. Several of the men were smoking; we could see dimps of red fire on their flickering faces.

See him there, at the end? whispered Cassis. Thats Hauer. I want to talk to him. You just stay with me and dont say a word, all right?

I did not reply. I wasnt going to promise anything.

Cassis slid into the aisle next to the soldier called Hauer. Looking around curiously I could see that no one was paying us the slightest attention except the German standing behind us, a slight, sharp-faced young man with his uniform cap tilted back at a rakish angle and a cigarette in one hand. Beside me I heard Cassis whispering urgently to Hauer, then the crackle of papers. The sharp-faced German grinned at me and gestured with the cigarette.

Suddenly, with a jolt, I recognized him. It was the soldier from the market, the one who had seen me take the orange.

For a minute I could do nothing but stare at him, transfixed.

The German gestured again. The glow from the cinema screen lit his face, throwing dramatic shadows from his eyes and cheekbones.

I cast a nervous glance at Cassis, but my brother was too deep in conversation with Hauer to notice me. The German was still watching expectantly, a little smile on his lips, standing some distance away from where the others were seated. He held his cigarette with the tip cupped into his palm, and I could see the dark smudge of his bones beneath the glowing flesh. He was in uniform, but his jacket was undone and his head was bare.

For some obscure reason, that reassured me.

Come here, said the German softly.

I could not speak. My mouth felt as if it were full of straw. I would have run, but was not sure my legs would carry me. Instead, I put up my chin and moved toward him.

The German grinned and dragged another breath from his cigarette.

Youre the little orange girl, arent you? he said as I came closer.

I did not reply.

The German seemed unconcerned by my silence. Youre quick. As quick as I was when I was a boy. He reached into his pocket and brought out something wrapped in silver paper. Here. Youll like it. Its chocolate.

I eyed him with suspicion. I dont want it, I said.

The German grinned again. You like oranges better, do you? he asked.

I said nothing.

I remember an orchard by a river, the German said softly. Near the village where I grew up. It had the biggest, blackest plums you ever saw. High wall all around. Farm dogs prowling. All through summer, I tried to get at those plums! I tried everything. I could hardly think of anything else.

His voice was pleasant and lightly accented, his eyes bright behind a scrawl of cigarette smoke. I observed him warily, not daring to move, unsure whether or not he was making fun of me.

Besides, whats stolen tastes so much better than what you get for free, dont you think?

Now I was sure he was mocking me, and my eyes widened indignantly.

The German seemed to see my expression, and laughed, still holding out the chocolate. Go on, Backfisch, take it. Imagine youre stealing it from the Boches.

The square was half melted, and I ate it straightaway. It was real chocolate too-not the whitish, gritty stuff we occasionally bought in Angers. The German watched me eat, amused, as I eyed him with undiminished suspicion, but with growing curiosity.

Did you get them in the end? I asked at last, in a voice thick with chocolate. The plums, I mean?

The German nodded. I did, Backfisch. I still remember the taste.

And you werent caught?

That too. The grin became rueful. I ate so many that I made myself sick, and so I was found out. I got such a hiding! But I got what I wanted in the end. Thats what matters, isnt it?

Thats good, I agreed. I like to win. I paused. Is that why you didnt tell anyone about the orange?

The German shrugged. Why should I tell anyone? It was none of my business. Besides, the grocer had plenty more. He could spare one.

I nodded. Hes got a van, I said, licking the square of silver paper so that none of the chocolate would be lost.

The German seemed to agree. Some people want to keep everything theyve got to themselves, he said. That isnt fair, is it?

I shook my head. Like Madame Petit at the sewing shop, I said. Charges the earth for a bit of parachute silk she got for free.

Precisely.

It struck me then that perhaps I shouldnt have mentioned Madame Petit, and I shot him a quick glance, but the German seemed hardly to be listening. Instead he was looking at Cassis, still whispering to Hauer at the end of the row of seats. I felt a stab of annoyance that Cassis should interest him more than I did.

Thats my brother, I said.

Is it? The German looked back at me again, smiling. Youre quite a family. Are there any more of you, I wonder?

I shook my head. Im the youngest. Framboise.

Im very pleased to meet you, Francoise.

I grinned. Framboise, I corrected.

Leibniz. Tomas. He held out his hand. After a moments hesitation, I shook it.


| Five Quarters of the Orange | c



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