The Woman Who Made Tin Faces
The falling out between Mindy and Agnes did not last long since they were childhood friends and their friendship had been put through a lot of trials. Mindy introduced Agnes to Solomon and he won Agnes over with his charm and sense of humor. It was a shame the rest of Paris did not follow the same model. Ever since the Captain Dreyfus Trial forty years before, Paris had an antisemetic climate where Jewish people were not made to feel welcome. As a result, many of the Jewish people became members of the socialist party that promised them at least a “say” in the government. Most of the officials in the party were Jewish and therefore the socialist party was considered an enemy to the citizens of Paris.
While a lot of saber rattling took place, Mindy continued to make tin masks for those who needed them. At the start most of her clientele were soldiers, three years after the war others started showing up at her door who were not disfigured by the ravages of the war. Her reputation began to circulate around the city as she became known as the woman who made tin faces.
In late summer, Solomon surprised her with an engagement ring of which she gladly accepted his proposal. There was much joy as plans were made for the wedding. Agnes was naturally chosen as the maid of honor and Father Tomas Reggligeur was chosen to conduct the ceremony.
“He is not Catholic.” Father Reggligeur stated.
“No, Father, he is not.” She answered.
“What creed does he believe?” He had given her a document to fill out for their wedding.
She paused and took a deep breath, “He is Jewish.”
“I see.” He looked down at his shoes. “As it is, I am not supposed to perform the ceremony.”
“I did not choose this.” She put her pen down.
“I’ve known you for almost ten years.” He bowed his head, “And in that time you have done what was asked of you. This one time, I will do what you have asked me to do.”
She hugged him whether he was willing to accept her token of gratitude or not, but he did.
“Under no circumstance are you to tell anyone what I am about to do.” He warned her with a wag of his finger.
“I promise, father.” She then kissed him on the cheek and he pretended that was no big deal as she left his office.
Francois de Nara lost his arm in Verdun and was lucky to get off the battlefield with his life as his comrade carried him over three miles through battle scarred land to get him to a field hospital where they would remove his gangrene parasite infested arm. It was the end of the war for him. The man who carried him would die two weeks later on the battlefield.
He spent some time waiting for some help from the war department, but it never came. Documents sent to him indicated that he had not been wounded or disabled in battle. Hiring a lawyer, he met with a board who denied him any benefits at all. His incense and his rage so livid, he began to hold rallies outside the Assemblee calling the war, “a crime to all humanity.” There were many who joined him from those opposed to the war to those like him who had been permanently disabled by the war.
During one rally the police showed up and twenty died in the riot that ensued. He went to the SFOI to gain support and immediately came in contact with Solomon De Grasse. Francois’ demeanor frightened Mindy who saw him as a radical and recusant, but the rest of the organization praised him for his rhetoric in the face of public resistance.
“I fought in a bloody battle for my country, now it is time for my country to stand by my side.” He would yell into a bullhorn just before the rabble went running into the police barricades.
His appearance was dark from his skin to his beard and his long overcoat with his right sleeve pinned up to show the world his loss.
“Perhaps Madam de Grasse, it would be good to bring some of your customers to one of our rallies.” He once replied when she was in her husband’s office.
“No, that would not be a good idea.” She answered immediately.
“Why not?” His expression was one of befuddlement.
“They do not want to be seen by the public.” She looked into his dark eyes that were always filled with emotion.
“If they remain in the shadows, people will forget what they have lost.” He nodded.
“If they are seen in public they will be reminded that the public sees them as freaks.” She explained.
“I get the distinct feeling you do not care for me.” He shrugged.
“I am sorry if you feel that way, but what you are asking is not in the best interest of those whom I have served.” She stood up to face him eye to eye.
“I have seen some of them. Horribly disfigured by the war. Why should they not have the opportunity to tell their part of the story?” He did not flinch.
“If they wish it, it would be so.” She answered.
“Have you asked them?” He smiled.
“Madam, you must give them a chance. You’d be surprised how they feel. You can’t protect them by keeping them silent.” He pointed his finger at her as he walked out of the office.
“I hate him.” She nearly stamped her foot.
“Why so? He’s just another voice among many.” Solomon shrugged, not all concerned with the situation.
“You have not been in my shoppe when I had someone in there who did not want to be seen by the light of day. Some of them wore sacks over their heads and had to be led in by brothers or other relatives.” She sat back in her chair and let her raw emotion take over. “Some had been so mangled by the field doctors and surgeons, they felt as if they weren’t even human anymore. Once I had them fitted with a mask, they thanked me for giving them a chance to be able to go into the public without being stared at or ridiculed or pointed at by children. My masks did not replace what they had lost, but it covered it up well enough so they could return to what they considered a normal life.”
Later that afternoon, Mindy caught the trolley to Hospital de St. Luc where she would see Armon D’Bredreau. It was a large gray windowless stone building with an iron wrought fence around the grounds. Some of the patients were wandering about accompanied by some nurses and staff. Walking on the grounds, Mindy was greeted by one of the nurses supervising some of the patients walking around the outside grounds.
“Bonjour Mindy.” She walked up to her.
“Bonjour Guinevere.” She nodded. “I am here to see Monsieur Armon D’Bredreau.”
“He is in his room.” She pointed toward the building.
“Merci.” She smiled and walked inside the cement monstrosity with the reek of disinfectant hung heavy in the gloomy hallways. The sound of her high heels clicked along the floor as she walked. She walked up a flight of stairs since Armon’s room was on the second floor. When she got to his room, Armon was lying on his back staring up at the featureless ceiling.
“Bonjour Armon.” Mindy noticed he was wearing the mask she had given him. Since acquiring it, Armon wore it faithfully every day according to the staff, but not so at this time. He did not even acknowledge her. “May I come in.”
“Sure.” He sighed without looking at her.
“What’s wrong?” She asked, sitting in the empty chair next to his bed.
“My mama won’t come to see me anymore.” He was holding a photograph of her, Natalie, ten years a widow.
“Perhaps she is having some difficulties.” She put her hand on his cheek, it was hot.
“What kind of difficulties?” He asked mournfully.
“She’s getting older.” Mindy reasoned.
“I love her.” He turned his head, there were tears in his eyes.
“I will check on her.” Mindy promised.
“I miss her.” He groaned.
“Don’t worry, I’ll go by and check on her. Why aren’t you wearing your mask?” She asked.
“Doesn’t seem worthwhile.” He sighed.
“But you are so handsome when you wear it.” Mindy smiled.
“I am not handsome.” He protested.
“Who said that?”
“One of the nurses.” He answered.
“I don’t know.” He closed his eyes.
“I’ll check on that, too.” She got up since it seemed he wanted to be left alone.
“Where are you going?” He asked, reaching out and touching her arm.
“It doesn’t seem like you want me here.” She answered.
“Would you just sit with me? You don’t have to do nothing.” He pleaded.
When Mindy got to Armon’s mother’s house, she found out Natalie had a stroke three weeks before and suffered from memory lapses such as remembering she had a son. She was attended by a full time nurse who went over all of the symptoms and maladies she was suffering from. It would be hard to break the news to Armon that his mother might never be able to visit him in the hospital again.
“Your mother is very sick, Armon.” She told Armon the next day.
“How sick?” He asked.
“She won’t be able to come anymore.” Mindy reported.
“Could I go see her?” He asked. It was a question that he had never asked before, but to her it seemed like a reasonable request. She went to the floor nurse and asked.
“Madam de Grasse, why don’t we go into my office.” Nurse Palancit requested. Mindy followed the nurse into her office. She was told to sit in the chair next to her desk. “Armon D’Bredreau has the intellectual capability of a six year old. He is not capable of independent interaction without direct supervision. He is considered dangerous otherwise.”
“I will be with him at all times.” Mindy assured the nurse.
“I’m sorry, but you are not a trained provider and I do not have any to spare at this time.” Her stony face communicated that there would be no compromise on this issue.
“What if I got the training?” Mindy asked.
“Oh that would take hours.” She was surprised that Mindy would consider such a thing.
“I will do it.” Mindy nodded.
“Why on earth would you do this?” Solomon asked her at dinner.
“It’s the least I can do for these people who have given so much.” She answered.
“It’s a lot of time, you know.” He commented.
“I was made aware of that.” She was irritated that he would question her on this.
“First thing you must learn is how to change a diaper.” Nurse Charbonneau told her as they entered Armon’s room.
“I didn’t do anything.” He saw them enter the room.
“Doesn’t matter. I have to train her on how to do this.” Nurse Charbonneau turned him on his back and pulled his pants down. Armon struggled a bit, but the nurse warned him not to. Mindy did not like the way he was treated during the diaper changing. When they left, Mindy glanced over her shoulder and saw Armon was almost in tears.
Mindy was able to finish the training course in three weeks. She came in to pick Armon up for a visit to his mother, but he told Mindy he did not wish to go.
“It’s a beautiful day, Armon.” She told him.
“I do not wish to go.” He sat on his bed, too stubborn to get on his feet.
“Your mother is looking forward to your visit.” Mindy lied ever since her stroke, Armon’s mother had no idea who he even was.
“Perhaps this is not a good time.” Sister D’Anton intervened.
“He should go.” Mindy insisted.
“You can’t make him.” She put her hand on his shoulder.
“I don’t want to go.” Armon continued his protest.
“Very well.” She nodded, “If you change your mind, let me know.”
Mindy turned and left.
She spent the afternoon sitting on a bench along the river across from the cathedral watching the doves play chase among the eaves and towers. A few pigeons gathered at her feet as she tossed pieces of a loaf of bread on the sidewalk. Artists with easels painted the soft scenery of one of the most famous places on earth. A few of the veterans gathered begging from passersby sitting in wheelchairs or small wooden pull carts.
“You look so glum.” Solomon said as he sat on the bench with her.
“I am.” She put her head on his shoulder.
“Pity. Such a beautiful woman who is so glum on such a remarkable day.” He smiled down at her.
“How come you know what to say to make me feel better?” She smiled up at him.
“It is why we got married, mon ami.” He kissed her on her forehead.
“Armon did not want to go to see his mother.” She sighed.
“I understand your distress, but he is a grown man, is he not?”
“No, he has the temperament of a six year old.” She sat up.
“Still, you must let him exercise his free will.” Solomon nodded.
“You sound like Sister D’Anton.” She whined.
“Do not treat people like puppets.” He put her face in his hands.
“What was that supposed to mean?” Her face became stern.
“Simply, we cannot impose our will on others.” He raised one of his bushy eyebrows. “If we do that we become nothing more than a puppet master.”
“I just wanted to have him see his mother.” She exhaled.
“He will, he will.” He folded his newspaper, “Shall we take the trolley home?”
“No, I just want to sit here for a few more minutes.” She put her head back on his shoulder.
“Very well. It is quite beautiful here.” He smiled at her.
Rock throwing mobs met the police the following day on the rain soaked streets outside the Assemblee. The police were not in a peaceful mood as they began to shoot their pistols into the air and when the crowd did not disperse, they met the mob with their nightsticks, sending many of them to the hospital. One of the victims was François de Nara who, dressed in his uniform coat with the right sleeve pinned up, took a severe blow to his head. One of his friends managed to get him into a cab to take him to the hospital. Solomon was among the crowd taking photographs when a policeman seized his camera and smashed it on the street.
“Hey, you can’t do that.” He protests as another officer hit him in the back of the head. He managed to take a trolley home, but when Mindy saw blood oozing from the blow on his head, she became hysterical.
“It’s alright.” He assured her as she applied a cold rag to the wound.
“What happened?” She asked, dabbing the wound.
“Police are on edge.” He replied wincing as she dabbed the cloth.
“Hold still.” She demanded.
“A bit tender.” He winced again.
“Seems like everyone is on edge.” She noted.