By Roger Noons
Roger says: I am a Blackcountryman and began creative writing in 2006, penning a screenplay for a film-making friend. Since then I have had a go at everything except a novel. My main interest is in short fiction and poetry.
My mother had said two things in the Royal Turf Tavern: that in the past she had killed people and that somewhere in the world, I might have a brother. It was the second of her admissions that had the greater effect.
I thought about it during the drive home, a desire to locate a possible sibling.
She had been very matter of fact, “Of course, you had different fathers.”
Her announcement had come towards the end of our meal, so I was unable to drag out further information.
I couldn’t wait for the following Wednesday when we would again lunch together.
Being busy, I gave her admission little thought until Tuesday evening. I shivered when I thought of her as a murderer. Although as she had talked about being in France during the war, I guessed she had been on active service. I’d always wondered if what she had said had been the whole truth. She had been casual about her roles of message carrier and radio operator.
My parentage, indeed my conception, she had always glossed over with phrases such as ‘unusual times’, ‘living for the moment’, and ‘taking your mind off things’. The more I thought of it, the more intrigued I became.
Once settled in the dining room of the Tavern, we talked of inconsequentialities until the main course dishes had been taken away. After she’d lit a cigarette I asked, “What you said last week, will you please tell me more?”
She looked through me and then out of the window. “It may not be pleasant, do you really want to know?”
She stubbed out her Rothman’s and after a deep breath, announced, “I was parachuted into northern France late in 1943. Funnily enough, I don’t even remember which month, but it was in the autumn. At the farm where I first stayed, the family members were busy collecting wild mushrooms. I had a radio set and my task was to pass on information to and from London.”
The waiter brought coffee and she lit up again.
“The winter was gentle until late in February when there was heavy snowfall. It coincided with the German army entering the area. A Panzar Kapitan was billeted at the farm. He and I became friendly and I became pregnant. Don’t look at me like that. . . you did what you did to get information and stay alive. Many died for their principles, what value was that?”
She went on, “When I began to show I was taken south, to a farm near the border with Switzerland. In fact your brother was born in a hospital in Geneva.”
“Where is he now?”
She shrugged and shook her head. “They took him away and a week later I returned to north west France.”
“What happened to the German soldier?”
“I think he was killed. . . by the Resistance.”
I became silent, shocked by the casual way she had admitted the details, as if it was gossip by neighbours. Eventually I said, “Is there any point me trying to find him?”
She shrugged and took another cigarette from the packet – but holding it between her fingers, made no effort to light it.
“I wouldn’t have any idea of how or where you might start. I don’t remember signing any papers or even being asked my name. In any event, I had four, so. . . I don’t know which one I used.”
“You had four names?”
She lit up again and nodded. “None of them my own.”
“How did it work, if you had four code names?”
“They were only for messaging. I had a nickname.”
“What was that?”
“What does that mean?”
I felt my face burning.
“I did warn you,” she stressed.
Eventually I asked, “Where was I born?”
I nodded. I’d always thought that. But after what she’d said, I’d begun to wonder. I took one of her cigarettes and she held the lighter. Clicked it off as soon as I began to cough. Once I’d recovered she said, “I think that’s enough questions for one day.”
“No!” It came out louder than I’d intended and people at other tables stared. “Let’s finish it.”
“Okay.” She’d shrugged more times than I could ever remember.
“What was my father like?” I asked while I still had the courage.
It was her turn to blush. “I don’t know.”
“Don’t know or don’t remember?”
“How can you not. . . Oh, my God! Are you saying that it could have been one of. . .”
She reached for her handbag, opened it and dropped in her lighter and cigarettes.
“You may judge, but you have no idea what life was like, or if it would last long. Towards the end the Germans became vicious. Wehrmacht soldiers were replaced with SS, and Gestapo were everywhere. We were overrun by animals, the worst kind. They killed everyone who was out after dark, without question if you failed to step off the pavement or salute and shout Heil Hitler. I was joined by other Brits, their life expectancy was under two weeks.”
My expression must still have been one of distaste. She stood up and threw a handful of notes on the table.
“At least during your conception the gun beneath the pillow was not a Luger,” she spat, and walked out of the dining room.