You have to understand that for us the Occupation was a very different matter than for those in the towns and the cities. Les Laveuses has barely changed since the war. Look at it now: a handful of streets, some still no more than broad dirt roads, reaching out from a main crossroads. There’s the church at the back, there, the monument in the Place des Martyrs with its bit of garden and the old fountain behind it, then on the Rue Martin et Jean-Marie Dupr'e, the post office, Petit’s butcher’s, the Caf'e de la Mauvaise R'eputation, the bar-tabac with its rack of postcards of the war memorial and old Brassaud sitting in his rocker by the step, the florist-funeral director opposite (food and death, always good trade in Les Laveuses), the general store-still run by the Truriand family, though fortunately a young grandson who only moved back recently-the old yellow-painted postbox.
Beyond the main street runs the Loire, smooth and brown as a sunning snake and broad as a wheat field, its surface broken in irregular patches by islands and sandbanks, which to the tourists driving by on the way to Angers might look as solid as the road beneath them. Of course, we know otherwise. The islands are moving all the time, rootless. Insidiously propelled by the movements of the brown water beneath, they sink and surface like slow yellow whales, leaving small eddies in their wake, harmless enough when seen from a boat, but deadly for a swimmer, the undertow pulling mercilessly beneath the smooth surface, dragging the unwary down to choke undramatically, invisibly… There are still fish in the old Loire, tench and pike and eels grown to monstrous proportions on sewage and the rotting stuff of upriver. Most days you’ll see boats out there, though half the time the fishermen throw back what they catch.
By the old jetty, Paul Hourias has a shack from which he sells bait and fishing tackle, not spitting distance away from where we used to fish, he and Cassis and I, and where Jeannette Gaudin was bitten by the water snake. Paul’s old dog lies at his feet, eerily like the brown mongrel that was his constant companion in the old days, and he watches the river, dangling a piece of string into the water as if he hopes to catch something.
I wonder if he remembers. Sometimes I see him looking at me-he’s one of my regulars-and I could almost think that he does. He’s aged, of course-so have we all. His moony, round face has darkened, grown pouchy and mournful. A limp mustache the color of chewed tobacco. A cigarette end between his teeth. He seldom speaks-he never was talkative-but he watches with that sad-dog expression, a navy beret crammed over his skull. He likes my pancakes, my cider. Perhaps that’s why he never said anything. He was never one to cause a scene.