Memoire by Oonah V Joslin

This corner is my favourite haunt, as the warmth of terracotta gives back heat from the day, and shadows lengthen and pool in corners, underneath arches, behind stones, beneath greenery, and sacred scents of basil, rosemary, thyme and geranium blend and mingle in the evening air.

I remember as a girl, sipping the sharp lemonade my grandma always made, listening to grandpa, uncle Jacques and their old comrades telling tales of how they won the Great War almost single-handed, nothing left but cigarettes, a letter from home and a shred of hope, as they fought through mud and doom to get back home, and how despite it all, they’d persevered.

They’d done their bit. And auntie Marie-Claire would smile wryly while the claque of her needles,
regular as the passing of time, never stopped, as they might have been the ticking of a sun dial.

Mémé and maman flitted always to and fro, bringing refreshments.

“Encore des histoires de dormir debout!" Mémé’d say and wink at me.

My mother’s laughter filled the air. I drank it all in. My little brothers, who could never be still, played soldier-boys, whacking each other with sticks for swords, in and out between the shrubs, thrashing and parrying until grenadine, red as blood, was poured into tall glasses and they would gulp it down, their mouths sticky with red would stride home from field or vineyard, carrying some seasonal fare: a brace of rabbits or clutch of wood pigeons, salmon or trout, cherries or cob nuts, or in August, dripping from a large wash bowl, a wedge of honeycomb, big as the doorstep, warm and golden, still studded with bees.

Soon a neighbour would arrive, or two, or three, or the postman on his bicycle, or an old friend of grandpa’s who happened to be passing this way just on time for the casse-croite and he could perhaps be persuaded to un petit verre. All were welcomed. All were fed. It was like that in our family--no friend or stranger ever turned away.

And it was like that until the day I left; left to join the resistance, eager to do my bit. I imagined nothing had changed and that nothing ever would change in that peaceful place so full of love. When I was captured, it was this that kept me going, that gave me the courage to fight on until the last. I would die rather than betray its memory.

I suppose, from their point of view, I never came back. But the truth for me, is that I never left this paradise I was fighting to protect. And I am here still, a shadow among shadows

in this corner of my past. The warmth of terracotta gives back memories of my life.


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