Interesting concept of an optimistic twist of time travel meets Australian characters (mainly) who are faced with the realities of their lives. They come to Paris to escape from their problems. A unique story as it follows a number of female characters and how they try to deal with what life throws at them. The author lovingly takes the reader to many parts of Paris enfolding them into an unforgettable sensory journey to experience it as a virtual tourist.Miriam 5.0 out of 5 stars ~ Amazon ~ Reviewed in Australia on April 26, 2020 Verified Purchase
5th Arrondissement, Paris. April 1944
The hunched figure shuffled along the pitch-black laneway; ruined arm pressed against her side. She had lost one shoe and the bare foot throbbed. For a moment, she imagined the bloody trail she was leaving for the police dogs to follow but part of her no longer cared who might come for her. Would tonight be the night they finally put a bullet in her back? At least death would end the pain and her father would no longer need to worry about her. Still, she shuddered at the thought.
The heat was spreading through her body as she stood disoriented in the dark. One of her father’s favourite sayings echoed in her mind; ne paniquez pas, organisez vous. She calmed her breathing…un, deux, trois, quartre…don’t panic, organise…
She stood rigid, listening for any sound, eyes closed – they were useless in the inky blackness. Again, she thought of her father and the last time she had seen him. They had argued of course, they always did, but this time the words were not barked at each other, a smirk playing at their lips, their familiar jousting. War was no time for games. Instead, they whispered urgently behind the closed door of his clinic. He had begged her to stay home.
‘You are most certainly being watched, Ana…’ He was tired but there had been an edge of anger in his voice that she had never heard before.
‘You are putting this whole house at risk…’
She had raged inside, but then calmed herself knowing that dramatics and hysteria would not convince him of anything but her immaturity. Still, she spoke with force, the anger pulling her lips taut across her teeth.
‘Papa, I know what you do. I know you tend people in the old servant’s entry. This is a big house with many rooms, and I know you hide people. Do not lecture me on keeping this house safe. Men and women are dying this very minute on battlefields and in work camps. We all must play our part. Even your daughter…’
They stood inches apart. Neither was prepared to lose this time; the stakes were too high.
‘You must be mindful of the children, they know nothing of the war, I have made sure of this. I am careful, but you, you are so reckless. Do you not recall the fates of those arrested last month? They were shot and tortured, and some were sent east. The collaborationists have even sent women to the guillotine. Women!’
Her father’s face twisted in anger. She had never seen him so angry. Certainly, the raids and arrests over the previous weeks had made Antoinette more careful but had left her as one of the few chemists in Paris to carry on the work.
‘Of course, I knew those people… Some of them were my colleagues at the university.’ Her heart lurched at the thought of her friends, the American.
She felt the fight go from her as the sadness crept in. What she had not told her father was that one of those men, the American shot in the street, had been her… what had he been? She wasn’t sure but perhaps he was the man, she’d hoped, might be her husband…after the war…although they had never spoken of it.
His face had softened. ‘You want to help but making explosives is no work for a woman. There are so many ways you could be helping the war effort.’
‘Until the war is won, this is my work, Papa. Who else can do it? I am your daughter, yes, but I am a scientist first, then a woman.’
He had said much more, by turns, warning and begging her, but she stopped listening. Finally, he had issued an ultimatum: if she returned to the laboratory, she would not be welcome at his home. She knew it was breaking his heart to say such a thing, but she knew it was for the best. Then he had turned his back on his last living child, bracing his hands on the old carved desk that had been his fathers before him. With tears in her eyes, she had kissed her sister’s children and left that day knowing she would not return, until the war was won.
Pain dragged Antoinette back into the present, standing adrift in the dark alley somewhere behind her father’s house, her body shattered. She had broken her vow by returning but she knew he would not refuse to help her. Without warning, she was paralysed by a deep, convulsing surge of pain. It threatened to overwhelm her, but she stood rigid, knowing if she sat on the wet cobblestones she would not stand again. She could not see her damaged arm in the darkness but could smell the smoke on her clothes, in her nose, taste the acid on her tongue and smell her burning flesh. The pain in her arm seemed to burn hotter at the thought of it. She squeezed her eyes shut against the appalling images of the moment the chemicals had caught alight.
Desperate to get her bearings, her eyes found the rooflines of the surrounding stone buildings. She and her twin, Marcel, had climbed those roofs as children, it had been their playground, while their little sister Marie-Louise had preferred playing house. There it was the distinctive mansard roof of the old convent house, illuminated by light shining through the remaining stained-glass. The house now converted to apartments, was no longer home to the tiny private school run by the order of nuns who had taught the de la Roche children for three generations. That had been a source of pride for the Sisters, until Antoinette darkened their doorstep. The Sisters had smacked Antoinette’s soft pink hands for every act of will.
Flexing her hands at the memory she could feel the skin tightening on her burnt arm. She grimaced in pain, the tight skin on her face objecting to the sudden movement. But she knew where she was. She was nearly home, although she could not remember travelling the mile or so from the makeshift laboratory.
Taking small gulps of air, she looked back through the darkness towards the quai and the river Seine beyond. The sky was now glowing faintly and the stars that had only appeared a few hours earlier as she and the others had sat on the terrace with wine and cigarettes, feigning frivolity under the watchful eye of the enemy, had gone. The dawn was hours away and yet the sky over Paris glowed a sickly pink.