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Fiction by Mildred Pond

The Stowaway - page 17

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“Whatever for?” I asked. “We got dizzy under that terrible sun, “Janet said. “And because none of us, it turns out, is happy to be on this ship.” “Speak for yourself,” said Jacques, sharply – and, from the look in his eyes, far too possessively, I thought. “How can one be happy to go to war? “Would you be, Roger?” Janet tip-sily twirled her wine glass in both hands. She was right about Jacques. I’d already jotted down in my notebook: “The Foreign Legionnaire wears blinders, thinks there’s order in war, asks no questions, as long as he gets paid.” She didn’t want my answer, intending the question for Jacques. But Janet was right about our separate fears concerning our destinations. I was uneasy about my new assignment, having been warned that my new boss was a martinet and a snob, an English one, the worst kind. Glancing round our table I sensed that everyone in our little group, myself included – Solange, Gamal, Jacques, Ilona, Simone, Janet – was trying to hide how miserable he felt. They began to talk at once. Over the din, Ilona confided: “Under the sphinx, sipping cool tea, we all confessed a secret. It was Solange’s idea – she is a butterfly, but an astute one. I divulged how Russian soldiers killed my mother. In our garden, after the war, soon after the Germans had killed my father. It is terrible to talk about. But I did not reveal my main secret – I expect you to respect my confidence, Roger.” Did she mean her precious forty fairs of shoes? I nodded solemnly. “Shall I tell you what Janet revealed?” Across the table, Jacques whispered – possessively, I thought -- into Janet’s ear. “I will tell you. Janet revealed, but only after Jacques broke down her armor, that her French fiancé jilted her for a richer American.” Poor darling, I thought. What a heartless bastard. “And what did our hard-boiled soldier divulge?” “Jacques said he left home at sixteen,” Ilona said. “That was his entire biography. Later, when we pressed, he rolled up his sleeve and showed a hor-rible scar on his forearm. A souvenir from someone – maybe his father. We all tried to guess and he wouldn’t tell.”