The Woman Who Made Tin Faces
Martin had been at another rally in front of the General Assemblee, handing out placards to the protesters when the police came to break up the rally. Five protesters were killed by the police and Martin was arrested. Sitting in the jail in his wheelchair, Martin took stock at his situation. His attorney told him if he pleaded guilty, he would most likely not do any jail time, so Martin agreed with that advice.
As he sat there, he saw the cells were jammed with his fellow protesters, many of whom were suffering from the beating they had taken at the hands of the authorities. Nothing worthwhile comes easy to those who need it the most. As told by Victor Hugo in his epic masterpiece Les Miserables, the peasantry had always fought to get equal footing with the gentry, but usually at a very high cost. He volunteered to go to war, enlisting as one of the first volunteers in his small town. Shells do not play politics. As he lay there with both of his legs blown off in No Man’s Land, Martin looked over his right shoulder and saw one of his compatriots laying next to him. It was night and hard to see, but when dawn came he saw that the man next to him was just a piece of what had been his sergeant.
When the medics finally reached him during a ceasefire, they helped him on the litter. One of them smiled down at him, “We will get you to a hospital.”
“I am in no rush.” Martin told him as his litter was lifted into the air. He could feel them move him across the battle torn landscape where many of his comrades lay in eternal peace. Verdun, the mention of the name would never be the same to him once he recovered.
“Oh my God!” Agnes cried out when Mindy returned to her shoppe alone.
“He took my son. He had a list of things I had done. It was blackmail.” She sobbed on Agnes’ shoulder
“It was awful.” She sobbed, but did not tell Agnes of the cash settlement that would help her save the business.
Later that same day, Mindy sent Monique home because things were pretty slow in the shoppe. After Monique had left for home, Mindy glanced down at her endless collection of magazines, but when she leafed through one a piece of paper fell out. Mindy gasped when she saw it.
The following day, Monique entered the shoppe and began to prepare for another eventless day when Mindy stepped out of the curtain that divided the front from the back.
“Monique Rossini, collect your things and go back home. You are fired.” Mindy said with a coldness she seldom used.
Monique was surprised by her presence and blurted out, “What are you doing here?”
“I own this shoppe.” Mindy crossed her arms.
“Yes, but you seldom come in early.” Monique began picking up her discarded magazines. “You will regret doing this.”
“Will I?” She dangled the handwritten list in front of her. “You went behind my back to tell Monsieur de Grasse what I was doing.”
“Yes, I did, but I was only thinking about the welfare of Emile.” She shot back.
“Were you? How come I cannot believe you?” Mindy was on the verge of tears once again, but she wanted Monique to depart before breaking down.
“You will be sorry.” Monique put her magazines into her handbag and left the store.
Later Martin stopped into the shoppe wheeling himself into the front door which was barely wide enough to fit in his wheelchair. He spoke in his usual loud voice, “What is this I hear about you firing your help?”
“She was going behind my back, reporting me to Monsieur De Grasse.” Mindy explained.
“A traitor in your circle. How awful.” He nodded.
“So I fired her this morning.” Mindy shrugged.
“And she has been calling you every name in the book down there at the SFOI. Her brother works for Frossard.” He replied.
“I have not been there for quite some time.” She shook her head.
“You should come and reconnect with your people. They miss you. I miss you.” He found a space next to her.
“You miss me?” She put her finger in her mouth. It was a nervous habit she could not overcome.
“Oui.” He laughed.
“You are such a scoundrel.” She smiled.
“As advertised.” If he could he would have stood and taken a bow. “Say, would you want to have dinner with me tonight? There is this very fine little place down on the main street.”
“Go to dinner with you?” She shook her head as if this was one of the worst ideas she had ever heard.
“Sure. We could catch up on all of the gossip.” He picked up a magazine Monique had left behind and from the pages another sheet fell out. “Hmm, I see she has kept busy.”
“I wanted to kill her.” Mindy admitted.
“And visa versa.” He quipped. “I came by to see if the rumors were true.”
“What rumors?” She looked at him as if he was preventing her from doing what she needed to do.
“That you left your son with that awful man.” His face did not hint of any humor in what he said.
“Yeah. He got him.” She felt a tug in her gut.
“Why on earth did you do that?” He could not believe his ears.
“Because I am an awful mother, that’s why.” She put her hand to her face as she felt tears begin to roll down her cheeks.
“You have got to be joking me.” He shook his head, “You are a great mother.”
“Not according to the list he had. There was quite a lot on it.” Mindy looked away. “I came home and found out it was Monique.”
“Monique, your Monique?” He seemed genuinely shocked to hear that.
“Oui.” She sniffed.
“What happened to her?”
“I fired her this morning.” Mindy put both her hands on the counter.
“Be careful. She’s considered a dangerous person.” Martin nodded, “I heard she’s friends with Marco Degas and some of his anarchist friends.”
“Good to find out now.” Mindy threw up her hands.
“You need some attention.” He reached over and put his hand on her shoulder. She reacted by turning toward him.
“I really don’t...I need Emile back. I went to the apartment and I just couldn’t pack up his things. I shouldn’t worry, they will get him everything he could possibly want.” She put her head on the counter and sobbed deeply. His hand moved across her back to comfort her. “I don’t know what to do.”
“There is nothing you can do except communicate to Emile that you miss him and still very much love him. Monsieur Hector de Grasse is not a nice man. We had contact with him about three years ago and it did not turn out well.”
“He wanted to take me to court if I did not sign the paper.” She sobbed.
“But you signed them and that is all he needed.” Martin bowed his head.
Dinner consisted of fish and salad which was the first real meal she had since leaving the cottage. Martin went out of his way to take care of her by making sure she had only the best wine and warm bread.
“Why do you put up with me?” She asked.
“Because I find you very interesting.” He answered as he broke a piece of bread off the baguette and handed it to her.
“Interesting?” She smiled.
“Of course. Most women have hibernated after the war, but not you. You continue to serve our community and for that you should be commended.” He raised his wine glass.
“I just make masks.” She shook her head.
“And in the process make your customers feel like people.” He took a sip of wine, “Whereas most people treat them like they were monsters.”
“I can’t turn them away.” She chuckled.
“Plenty of people do.” He sighed, “I was at the market when one of your customers made a little boy cry because he was not wearing his mask. The management made him leave the market due to his outrageous appearance. I went to the manager and handed him the items I had taken off his shelves and informed him that I will not be shopping there any longer. Far too often, I find, people will trade their principles if circumstances are favorable, If we are to have any chance of turning this country back into the world power it once was, we will have to start living up to our principles.”
“I agree.” Mindy lifted her glass to toast him.
“I get tired of preaching to people who aren’t listening.” He leaned over to her. “Before this war, I was proud to be a Frenchman, but now I find myself apologizing.”
“I am sorry you feel that way.” She put her hand over his on the table.
“Excuse me.” The waiter stopped by their table, “My manager noticed you are the man on the wanted poster in the back. He has asked me to ask you to leave.”
“That poster is four years old.” He waved his hand at the plump man squeezed into a shirt and pants.
“Monsieur, you must leave.” He demanded.
“Who shall I pay?” He asked.
“If you leave, it is on the house.” The waiter nodded with a crooked smile.
“Sorry my ami, but it seems we have overstayed our welcome.” He shrugged as he looked at her.
“It’s okay, I do not want any trouble.” She smiled at the waiter.
“Nor do I tonight.” He bowed his head and began to move his chair from the table where they were sitting.
“Merci, monsieur.” He nodded as they left.
“Would you like to come over?” She pushed his chair down the street.
“I would love to.” He threw the bread at the birds on the sidewalk who had gathered. The birds were more than happy to snatch it from the cobblestone.
“I must admit my apartment has seemed quite lonely lately.” She took a deep breath.
She opened the door once they arrived and she pushed his chair up over the door frame. Slowly she closed the door as he began to unbutton her blouse. She bent her head to his and kissed him as he shoved his tongue into her mouth. Unbuckling his belt, she slid his pants off. His naked stubs did not dissuade her as she guided him into her bedroom. Carefully she took him from his chair and put him on the mattress as she removed her shirt and corset.
“You are beautiful.” He managed to say as they kissed.
“Shhh. No talking. Talking takes my mind off what we are doing.” She urged him.
Standing by her bed bare chested, his hands cupped her breasts and she began to moan and sigh as her dress fell to the floor. She removed her undergarments until she lay naked next to him on the bed. Using his arms, he managed to get on top of her. She felt him enter her. She put her hands on his naked back as he began to move rhythmically up and down as she groaned in ecstasy until after several thrusts, she felt her climax coming, leaving her feeling as if she was about to fall off the cliff she was standing on. It had been a long time since she was with Solomon. She was coming closer and closer to the edge as he moved faster and faster, deeper and deeper. She cried out as she went over the edge, free falling until she felt him releasing everything as he cried out.
It took several minutes before either of them gained their breath.
“That was marvelous.” She panted.
“Better than marvelous.” He put his hand on her cheek and kissed her.
“Perhaps you are right.” She put her hand in his curly black hair. He was so handsome. Even in his best moments, she had never considered Solomon handsome as he was at this very moment.
“What would you say if we were to try again?” His eyes peered into her soul.
“Let me catch my breath.” She giggled.
While they were giving it another try, a dark hooded figure stood outside the shoppe. In her hand was some explosives. She tossed the explosives into the flower shop that was next door. She began to run as the charge went off, caving in the front of the building. As the building caved in, the fire that had started moved to Mindy’s shoppe next door.
After collapsing from their second attempt, there was a knock at the door.
“Whoever could that be?” Mindy retrieved her robe off the hook on her bedroom door and tied it before answering it.
It was Agnes, “I think we’d better get to the shoppe. There are fire trucks and policemen there.”
She looked back at the bedroom. Her door was ajar so Agnes could not see that there was someone in there. Feeling relieved, she turned to Agnes and said, “Give me a minute to get my things on.”
“Alright, but we need to get over there as soon as possible.” She insisted.
Running into her bedroom where Martin was still wrapped in the sheets and said, “Something's going on at the shoppe.”
“Do you want me to come?” He implored.
“No, no, I had better go alone.” She began to put on her clothes that were scattered over the floor.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, Martin, I am sure.” She said with a touch too much force and she saw instantly she had wounded him a bit. “Just stay here. I will be back shortly.”
“Third time?” He shrugged.
“Sure, third time.” She smiled as now dressed she went out the door joining Agnes as they moved quickly to the shoppe. By the time they got there, it was obvious that the building was in total ruin.
“Oh my God...it’s gone...all gone.” Mindy exclaimed in shock.
“I am so sorry.” Agnes held her arm tightly.
“You are the lady who owns the tin mask shoppe.” A policeman pointed to her as he talked.
“Oui, I am her.” She admitted.
“So sorry madame, the shoppe is a total loss.” He pointed to the ruins.
“I can’t believe this.” Mindy walked toward what once was her front door.
“Madame, you can not go in there.” One of the firemen prevented her from going inside, but there was no inside any longer.
She returned nearly an hour later. Martin had dressed himself and got back into his chair. He appeared to be angry, but after seeing the condition of her shoppe, his anger would not make a dent into her current feelings.
“It’s gone...all of it.” She blocked the door so he could not leave unless she allowed it.
“Your shoppe?” He asked as he appeared at the bedroom door.
“Oui.” Was all she could say as she collapsed on the floor.
Martin moved in with Mindy a few months after that night. Their routine was steady as she would push his wheelchair after dinner as the sun set in between the apartment buildings. Martin liked feeding the birds stale bread as they moved along the sidewalk. He began to wear a beret over his garden of unkempt hair. She would comment that he was such a rogue to which he would laugh his pirate belly laugh.
The years passed by peacefully as Martin continued to work with the SFOI to create a favorable agenda for French socialists. According to Martin, things seemed favorable under the new administration. Her thoughts were somewhere else as she began sending a letter to Emile every week without fail hoping she would receive a letter back from her son. In almost a year, she had not received a single letter in return which distressed her greatly.
Watching her going through a wide range of emotions, Martin became aware of the pain she had endured for over two years. Time did not heal her wounds, so one night at dinner just before the first snowfall he suggested they go visit the de Grasse’s.
“I don’t want to go up there again.” She admitted.
“He is your son. Your only son.” He put his hand on a stand of her hair hanging down in her face.
“I know...but he is a cruel man.” She looked away.
“He needs to know that you still want to be a part of his life.” Martin insisted.
“What if he does not wish that to be so?”
He took a deep breath and told Mindy his story.
When I was six, my father died in a coal mine leaving my mother with seven children of which I was the oldest. When I turned ten, I got a job selling cheap junk on the street corner. People can sometimes be cruel even if you are just a child. I was robbed by street thugs who were older and stronger than I was. But no matter, I would place the few coins, no matter how little it was in my mother’s hands so she could buy the young ones food. One day I came home and there was this lady I had never seen before standing in my house. She said she was from the state and had come for me and my siblings, because my mother had taken some pills and passed away. I was taken to a foster home where the people treated me unkindly. They would lock me in the closet where I would ask my mother why she did it. Of course, she would not answer. In her note she explained that she could no longer handle the hard life she had been dealt. Before I went off to war, I checked on every one of my siblings and found none of them had been placed in a good placement. So I went to their office. The police were called and I spent one night in jail for throwing one of the case workers through the wall. When I went charging into No Man’s Land, I always felt as if I had absolutely nothing to lose, but to my commanding officer I was the bravest soldier in the unit.
She sat there for several minutes after Martin finished his story. His head was bowed and tears were in his eyes. He cleared his throat before he spoke again, “I got three medals for bravery under fire, but I threw them in the trash when I got to the hospital.”
“I will go with you to the station and pay for your passage.” He folded his hands on the table in front of him.
“I don’t know.” She shook her head.
“Not for a long time. Just to let Emile know that you love him.” He raised his eyebrows, “And tell him his grandfather is a snake.”
She laughed and put her hand to her mouth. “Alright, then it is settled. I shall go at the end of the week.”
“You could go tomorrow, Mindy, this is important.” He pointed his finger at her.
“I need to see what is being done about my poor shoppe.” She tilted her head.
“Do you trust me?” He asked.
“Of course...of course.” She nodded.
“Leave those details to me.” He put his thumb on his chest, “I will not let those bastards screw you over.”
She chuckled, “You have a way with words.”
“Words are only as good as the price you have paid for them.” He took in a deep breath, he pointed to his absent legs, “I have paid the price many times over.”
The next morning, she pushed him to the station. They walked in silence, but as they neared, she bent over and asked, “Can you get home from here?”
“Not a problem.” He nodded. She took her back from the back of his chair, kissed him before walking up the ramp. He waved and she waved back as she opened the door.
“One ticket to Amiens.” She put the francs on the counter which the clerk picked up to count. Once he had confirmed the fare was paid for, he handed her a ticket for the train. Looking around the depot window she saw Martin rolling along the sidewalk.
As she took in the interior of the depot, the memories flooded back to her when Emile and her stood here waiting for their train. Emotions came rushing back as she heard his voice echo inside her head. She knew she would not be here if it wasn’t for Martin. She bit her lip as the clerk announced the arrival of her train. Taking a deep breath, she walked to the platform to watch the engine chug into the station.
“You were not invited.” Hector told her at the door.
“I came here to talk to Emile.” She persisted.
“He does not want to talk to you.” He sneered.
“I demand to talk to him.” She put her finger in Hector’s face. At that moment, she saw Emile standing on the stairs with an expression of bewilderment on his face. “Emile.” She called out to him, but he just turned and walked up the stairs and out of sight.
“See.” He put his hands on his wide hips. “If you do not leave, I will be forced to call the authorities.”
“Go ahead, call them.” She said, trying to call his bluff.
“Jules.” He called out. Immediately Jules la Bon appeared wearing attire that matched his occupation. “Would you care to drive Madame de Grasse back to the station?”
“Certainly.” He folded his arms across his chest. “Madame.”
“I will not move until you let me see my son.” She felt Jules’ hands clamp around both her elbows. “Let me go, you brute.”
“Come with me.” He pulled her away from the open door that was beginning to close.
“Let me go.” She could not break free from his grip.
“Madame listen to me.” He eased his grip.
“You are a brute.” She snapped at him.
“I am doing what I am told.” He hissed back.
“Even if it is the wrong thing?” She felt tears begin to roll down her cheeks.
“Emile. Come here boy.” Jules waved to the darkness. Appearing in the light, Emile, now ten years old, stepped out of the dark shadows. He did not look pleased to see his mother.
“You...you betrayed me.” He said as he approached her.
“No, I did not.” She shook her head.
“I woke up that morning and you were gone. Grandpa told me that you made a deal, because you couldn’t take care of me.” Tears were already flowing down his cheeks. She desperately wanted to embrace him like she did when he was littler. She held out her arms to him, but he just stepped away.
“Please Emile, don’t listen to him...it’s all wrong. He told you a lie.” She pleaded, her tears had matched his own and he realized that maybe she was trying to tell him her side of the story. “I would take you with me, but he would be sure to come after me.”
Emile stared at her as he recalled many incidents where his grandfather had ordered some punishment for those who did not heed his demands. He had seen Dante Raulf, Hector’s lawyer, draw up legal documents that would ruin the target of his grandfather’s wrath. If he did it to them, it was not out of the question for him to do it to his own mother.
“I love you, Emile/ You’ve got to believe me.” She held out her arms and this time Emile ran into them. Her embrace was warm and welcoming, her delicate scent brought back pleasant memories of days gone by. He sniffed as she repeated herself, “I love you, Emile. I love you so much.”
“I love you, too.” His tears fell on her shoulders.
“I will always love you.” She held him closer before letting him go.
“I will always love you, too.” He wiped the tears from his eyes.
“We must go, Madame.” Jules whispered as he stepped from the shadows with a lit cigarette in his hand.
“Very well.” She nodded as she wiped the tears from her eyes. As she followed Jules, she took one final glance over her shoulder as Emile stood there waving to her as she left with Jules.
“How was your trip?” Martin asked when she came to the station.
“As expected.” She took the handles of his wheelchair and began to push him along the sidewalk.
“I see.” He shrugged.
“But I was able to see him.” She sniffed, “I am glad I went.”
“Good.” He smiled as he saw their apartment coming into view.