Final Transgression by Harriet Welty Rochefort
English | 2020 | General Fiction/Classics | ePUB | 2.9 MB
Spring 1944: Betrayed by her collaborationist husband, Séverine Sevanot travels from Paris to her beloved hometown in southwest France. Séverine’s friends and family have urged her not to go: the region is a tinderbox where the French are fighting not only the Nazis, but their own countrymen who support the pro-German Vichy regime. Séverine ignores the advice. She always does exactly what she wants.
Summer 1994: To mark the 50th anniversary of D-Day, an American reporter interviews 85-year-old Caroline Aubry, Séverine’s sister. Caroline tells of fleeing the Germans by taking to the road in May 1940, then returning to a Paris that has been overrun by Germans flirting with young French girls, playing oom-pah band music in the parks, and imposing strict rationing on the city while keeping the best food and wine for themselves.
What Caroline omits is a story she has never revealed, even to her son Félix. Now, though, unsettled by the interview and the memories it evokes, Caroline decides that it is time for Félix to learn the secrets of the past…
Kirk had been surprised when Félix insisted that his mother speak to him and no one else. Perhaps she was shy, or maybe too many other reporters had been pestering her. It was none of his business; he simply hoped that she’d be photogenic, and he’d get a few good anecdotes from an ordinary person who had lived through extraordinary times. He was pleased with this new angle: a novel subject, a good profile of a dignified French woman in her home, a bit of vicarious self-identification for the viewers as they wondered what they’d have done in her place. Wasn’t that the business of TV news? Maybe she would tear up—cry even. Emotion, that was the ticket.
The sound of footsteps interrupted Kirk’s thoughts. The lacquered green door opened, and a slightly built and slender woman stepped out into the porchway. She was perfect; her silver hair gave her a dignified air and her blue eyes sparkled with a lively intelligence. She hugged Félix and shook Kirk’s hand formally after the introductions had been made. As they all stepped into the small vestibule and began making small talk, Kirk transformed automatically into reporter mode, gauging how well her low and well-modulated voice, her quintessentially French appearance and demeanor (Félix had been right about that) would play. He knew immediately that she would play very well indeed.
Even at her advanced age, Félix’s mother stood straight. She smelled of an exotic perfume and was stylishly dressed in what looked to Kirk like a Chanel suit, although he employed a fashion correspondent to make observations like that. She was the kind of woman people describe as poised and elegant, Kirk mused. She’d have turned heads in her youth, and she still had that indefinable presence that would be perfect for the camera.
Kirk turned his attention away from Madame Aubry and looked around the small vestibule; every object in it seemed to have been carefully chosen. On the shelves were leather-bound copies of books by Racine, Balzac and Victor Hugo as well as a few objets and carefully framed photos. Madame Aubry ushered them into the main part of the house, and again Kirk was quietly impressed: it didn’t correspond to his preconceptions of old lady decor. He’d imagined dinginess, musty unpleasant odors and dusty, worn antique furniture crowded into small rooms. Instead, bouquets of fresh flowers from the garden perfumed the air. The walls of the ground-floor rooms were painted a refined and restful shade of pale rose; the sofas, which faced each other in front of the fireplace, were dove gray, and the only older pieces of furniture were a marble-topped console on which a group of silver-framed photos was aligned, and at one end of the sitting room a pair of chairs he couldn’t identify: Louis, probably, but which one? He’d have to ask Félix. He had the feeling Caroline was reading his mind as she indicated one of the Louis something-or-other chairs to him.