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Then They Came For...
By Michael Fortier © 2005
She sits in the kitchen sipping tea while mending one of Patrick's socks. The round hole in the tip is the size of a dime. No normal person wears out a sock this fast; he should try cutting his toenails more often. But when does he have time to groom? He's out the door at seven forty-five, opening the shop by eight. He comes home around noon to eat lunch then he goes to work again at one. Three hours after the shop closes he stands in the back room with a mouthful of pins piecing together the suits he has sold during the day. Coming back around at nine or ten smelling of gin.
"Just a little nip," he says.
To keep his hands going then a few more nips after dinner to unwind. He listens to the radio for an hour reads a little and rolls into bed around eleven. Falling asleep smelling the lavender in her hair.
Every morning Sarah gazes out the kitchen window, watching people enter and leave the shop. Part of her is wishing for a lot of business, but not too much. If it's a busy day Patrick will stay down in his shop until midnight. On a slow day he comes home around six and mopes around the apartment.
"What is wrong? What doesn't anyone want my suits?"
As she watches the sidewalk a moving truck pulls up on the other side of Saint Rue Boulevard. Sarah heard from Patty Solomon that the Wassermann's got a certified letter in the mail two days ago ordering them to relocate. With such short notice Claire Wassermann is having their valuables put into storage.
You should see the stuff going onto that truck: pieces of fine art, mirrors with gilded frames, a grand piano, silver pieces, mahogany furniture and boxes of rare books.
Moving will be a good change for them, they should learn the hardship everyone else has been enduring. The Wassermann's don't even do their own shopping, so they wouldn't notice how much prices have gone up. It's impossible to find a banana or pineapple at the market. Everything is so expensive people are only buying the essentials. Poor Patrick hasn't had a new pair of socks in two years.
Sarah hears a scream outside. She sees Claire standing over a shattered mirror one of the movers left leaning against the truck. The wind from a passing car knocked it over. Sarah shakes her head in mock pity, to think of all of this horror around us and she's down on the street crying over some family heirloom.
It seems all these people living on north St. Rue Boulevard only worry about money. The Wassermann's are the fifth family to leave St. Rue this month. The Galanter family left a week ago for America, selling everything they had before moving. Sarah picked up a silver tea set for five francs, probably a fraction of its real value.
Claire had better get used to crying because there won't be any tea sets in their new home. She can see Claire mending her husband's socks after he has worked an honest day. In Lodz she will trade in that mink stole around her neck for a loaf of bread or a sliver of cheese. The Wassermann's and all the other prominent families on Saint Rue deserve to feel a little pain and humiliation. These rich bankers and industrialist got us into this war, just like they got us into the last war. Thinking they might make themselves even more money. Now she's out on the sidewalk crying over a broken heirloom. What the hell do the Wassermann's know of tradition?
Sarah saw Claire at the Tu Bishvat earlier in the year. On the Jewish Arbor Day Sarah is pushing dirt around the base of an orange sapling as Patrick holds the top steady. After packing the soil down she stands up and brushes her knees.
She asks Patrick, "Do you think it will survive?"
Patrick shakes his head because he doesn't know anything about trees.
"I guess, unless we get a hard freeze."
Sarah steps back to admire the little plant. She sees Claire down the road standing by her car smoking a cigarette. Watching as her Chauffeur plants a cedar sapling.
Sarah tells her husband, "Isn't that symbolic, I guess she's afraid to get her hands dirty."
The Chauffeur walks back to the car and Claire hands him a towel.
He wipes his hands, "Are you sure you don't want to plant something?"
She takes off her sunglasses to wipe her eyes, "If I am still here next year I will"
Sarah admires her reflection in the silver urn as she pours more tea into her cup, stirring in a small spoonful of sugar. The wealthy aren't the first people to leave St. Rue Boulevard.
At first they came looking for members of the underground resistance. Kicking in doors at late hours. There would be screaming, shouting and gun shots. Neighbors stood at their windows watching the police drag the frightened men out onto the street putting them on trucks and driving them off into the night. You should have seen the weapons and explosives they found in those apartments. It was enough to blow up half of the city. No one stood up for them, because these people were rabble-rousers only making the situation more dangerous. Really, they brought it on themselves.
Then they came for the Gypsies. Burning their squatter villages to the ground and shooting most of them on the spot. No one said or did anything when the Gypsies began to disappear. Sarah was glad because everyone knows they are all thieves, murderers and con artists. The children will grow up to be just like their parents.
Then they shut down all of the sleazy nightclubs along the Left Bank and sent a lot of whoremongers and male-prostitutes packing. No one seemed to mind too much. A decent, hardworking society has no need for such places.
Sarah examines her stitch work and folds the sock with its mate, pours another cup of tea and waits. Believing that someday someone will come and end this madness.
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