Echoes (8 page)

“He won't let me see your letters,” she said, holding Beata for as long as she could. Watching her leave was like a living death. “Oh my darling … be happy with this man…I hope he'll be good to you,” she said, sobbing uncontrollably. “I hope he's worth it …oh my baby, I'll never see you again.” Beata squeezed her eyes shut, holding tightly to her mother, as her father watched them from the top of the stairs.

“You're going then?” he said sternly. He looked like an old man to Beata for the first time. Until then, she had always thought of him as young, but he no longer was. He was about to lose the child he had most favored, the one he had been most proud of, and the last child he had at home.

“Yes, I am,” Beata said in a small voice. “I love you, Papa,” she said, wanting to approach him, so she could hug him, but the look on his face told her not to try.

“Your mother and I will sit shiva for you tonight. God forgive you for what you're doing.” She wouldn't have dared, but she wanted to say the same thing to him.

She kissed her mother one last time, then picked up her bags, and walked slowly down the stairs as they both watched her. She could hear her mother's sobs all the way downstairs and as she opened the front door. There was no sound from her father.

“I love you!” she called upstairs to the hall where they were standing, and there was no answer. There was no sound except her mother's sobs, as she picked up her bags and closed the door behind her.

She walked until she saw a taxi, carrying the two heavy bags, and told the driver to take her to the railroad station. She just sat in the backseat and cried. The man said nothing to her as she paid him. Everyone had tragedies these days, and he didn't want to ask. Some griefs were not meant to be shared.

She waited three hours for the train to Lausanne. More than enough time to change her mind. But she knew she couldn't do that. She knew with her entire being that her future was with Antoine. He had given up just as much for her. There was no way to know what the future held for them, but she had known that he was her destiny since the day they met. She hadn't seen him since September, but he was part of her now. He was her life, just as her parents belonged to each other. Brigitte belonged to the man she had married. They all had their destinies to follow. And with luck, she would see them again one day. For now, this was her path. It was inconceivable to her that her father would stick to this unreasonable position forever. Sooner or later, he would have to give up.

Beata was quiet as she got on the train that afternoon. Tears rolled down her cheeks most of the way to Lausanne, until she finally slept, and the old woman in the compartment with her woke her up. She knew that Beata was getting off in Lausanne. Beata thanked her politely, got off the train, and looked around the station. She felt like an orphan. She had sent Antoine a telegram from the station in Cologne. And then in the distance, she saw him, hurrying across the platform toward her. His arm was in a bandage held by a sling, but as he reached her, he grabbed her with one arm and held her so powerfully she could hardly breathe.

“I didn't know if you would come. I was afraid you wouldn't… it's so much to ask of you …” There were tears rolling down their cheeks as he told her how much he loved her, and she looked up at him in awe. He was her family now, her husband, her present and her future, the father of the children they would have.

He was everything to her, as she was to him. She didn't care what hardships they would have to endure, as long as they were together. As painful as it had been leaving her family, she knew she had done the right thing.

They just stood there together for a long time on the platform, savoring the moment, clinging to each other. He picked up one of her bags in his good hand, and she picked up the other, and they went outside to where his cousin and his wife were waiting for them. Antoine was beaming when they emerged from the station, and Beata was smiling up at him. His cousin put her valises in the trunk of the car, and Antoine pulled her close to him. He hadn't dared to believe she would come. But she had. She had given up everything for him. They got into the backseat of the car, as he put his one good arm around her and kissed her again. There were no words to tell her what she meant to him. And as they drove slowly through Lausanne and into the countryside beyond, she sat quietly next to him. She couldn't allow herself to look back now, only forward. And as he had said he would, her father wrote her name in their family's book of the dead that morning. They had sat shiva for her the night before. She was dead to them.

4

T
HE FARM OWNED BY
A
NTOINE'S COUSINS WAS SMALL AND
simple. The land was beautiful, the house was warm and without pretension. They had two small bedrooms side by side, one of which their three children had grown up in. They were long gone to cities. None had stayed to work the farm. There was a big comfortable kitchen, and a sitting room for Sundays, which no one ever used. It was a far cry from the house where Beata had lived in Cologne. They were related to Antoine on his mother's side, and somewhat distant cousins, he explained, but they were more than happy to help the young people out and grateful to have help on the farm. Two young boys lived in a tiny cottage to help with the plowing, the harvest, and the cows. And here, in the mountains above Lausanne, it was hard to imagine that there was trouble anywhere in the world. The farm was as far removed from the war as one could get.

Antoine's cousins, Maria and Walther Zuber, were warm, easygoing, pleasant people. They were well educated, had little money, and had chosen a life that suited them. The rest of their family lived in Geneva and Lausanne, although their children had emigrated to Italy and France. They were roughly the age of Beata's parents, although in talking to them she realized that they were older than that. Their rigorous, hardworking, healthy life had served them well. And the haven they had offered Antoine when he told them his plight was perfect for the young couple in their hour of need. Antoine was going to do what he could for them, in exchange for the lodging they provided, but with his injured arm, he was limited.

Beata was shocked to see how bad the damage was, when she helped him dress his wound and massaged the arm for him that afternoon. Shrapnel had all but destroyed both muscles and nerves of his left arm. And it still looked like a painful wound. They had told him he would be able to use it again eventually, but no one knew yet to what degree. And clearly, it would never be the same as it had once been. It changed none of Beata's feelings for him, and fortunately for him he was right-handed.

Antoine had offered to help Walther with the horses, as he was particularly skilled with them, and with only one good arm, he would do whatever else he could. Beata and the two young boys who worked there would do the rest.

As they ate lunch of soup and sausages in the cozy kitchen, Beata offered to do the cooking, and whatever else they felt she could do. Maria said she would teach her to milk the cows, as Beata looked at her with wide eyes. She had never been on a farm before, and knew she had much to learn. She had not only given up her family for Antoine, and the home where she'd been born, she had left the only city and life she had ever known and loved. She had given up everything for him, as he had for her. It was a fresh beginning for both of them, and without the Zubers they would have had nowhere to go, and no way to live. Beata thanked them profusely as they finished lunch, and afterward she helped Maria with the dishes. It was the first non-kosher meal she had ever eaten. And although it was unfamiliar to her, she knew she had no choice now on the farm. In the blink of an eye, her entire life had changed.

“When are you two getting married?” Maria asked, looking motherly and concerned. She had worried about Beata ever since Antoine had written to them and asked if the young couple could seek refuge with them. She and Walther had been hospitable and generous and quick to agree. Without their own children at hand, it was going to be helpful to them, too.

“I don't know,” Beata answered quietly. She and Antoine hadn't had time to speak of it. It was all so new. They had so much to think about. She was still in shock after the last traumatic days in Cologne.

She and Antoine spoke of their plans late that night. He had made up a bed for himself on the couch in the living room, and gave Beata the small bedroom, which Maria had approved. Antoine had assured his cousins that he and Beata would be getting married soon. Maria didn't want the young people living in sin under her roof, and Walther agreed. There was no question of that. Beata and Antoine wanted to be married, too. He had looked into it as soon as he arrived and had discovered that as foreign nationals, they needed permission to marry in Switzerland. And in order to get the documents they needed, he borrowed Walther's truck and drove Beata into the neighboring town the next day. They needed their passports, a document that would allow them to marry in the regis-trar's office, and two Swiss citizens to vouch for them and act as witnesses. The fact that his maternal grandfather had been Swiss was of no use to them. His mother's nationality had been French, through her mother, as was his. The official who took the information from them said that they would have the papers they needed within two weeks.

“Will you be married civilly or by a priest?” the civil servant asked as a matter of routine, as Antoine looked blankly at her. Neither of them had thought about who would marry them, and Antoine had assumed they would just do it in a brief civil ceremony at the
mairie.
With no family at hand except the Zubers, and in their circumstances, it was simply an official act to obtain proper documents and legitimize their union so they could live together decently and in peace. There would be no ceremony, no fanfare, no reception, no party afterward, no celebration. Just a moment in time when they became husband and wife. How and where they would do it, and who would do it for them, hadn't even crossed either of their minds. After the clerk in the registrar's office asked the question, Antoine looked hesitantly at his wife-to-be. And as they walked back out into the summer sunshine, he hugged her with his right arm, and kissed her cautiously. Beata looked surprisingly calm as she smiled up at him.

“We'll be married in two weeks,” she said softly. This wasn't the wedding she had anticipated in her girlhood, but in every other way, it was the fulfillment of a dream. They had met ten months before and fallen in love the moment they met, and all she wanted now was to spend the rest of her life with him. They didn't know yet where they would live after the war, or even how they would live, or if their families would welcome them back in their midst once again. Beata hoped they would, but all she knew and all she wanted now was to be with him.

“Who would you like to marry us?” Antoine asked gently. The registrar had asked a reasonable question. Antoine didn't know if she would want a rabbi to do it, although he had to admit, that idea made him somewhat uneasy. They could be married in the registrar's office, if they chose to, but Antoine realized as he thought about it that he would prefer to be married by a priest.

“I hadn't really thought about it. We can't be married by a rabbi. You'd have to convert, and do a lot of studying to do that. It could take years,” Beata said sensibly. A mere two weeks seemed like an eternity to them. Neither of them was willing to wait years, particularly now that she was here, and they were living at the Zubers. Antoine had lain awake during most of the previous night, unable to sleep, knowing that she was in the bed they would soon share in the next room. After all they'd been through to be together, he was aching to claim her as his own.

“How do you feel about being married by a priest?” Antoine asked her honestly. He wasn't going to force her, although it was clearly what he would prefer.

“I don't know. I never thought about it. Just being married by the registrar seems a little bleak. I'm not sure it matters whether we are married by a rabbi or a priest. I've always thought it was one God watching us and caring about us. I'm not sure it makes a difference what church or synagogue He belongs to.” To Antoine, it seemed a novel idea. She was very liberal in her thinking, unlike her family.

On the way back to the farm they talked about it, and the possibility of her converting to Catholicism. She was surprisingly open-minded about it and said she would do it, if it meant a lot to him. She believed in her faith, but she loved Antoine, too. And if converting to Catholicism for him meant they could be married sooner, that was important to her. As they discussed it seriously, Antoine stopped the car at a little church. There was a small rectory behind it, and Antoine got out of the car, walked up the ancient stone steps, and rang the bell. A sign said that it was a tenth-century chapel, and the stone looked worn and weathered.

An elderly priest came out wearing his cassock, and smiled at the young man. They exchanged a few words as Beata waited in the car, and then Antoine gestured to her. She got out of the car, and approached cautiously. She had never spoken to a priest. She'd never seen one at close range, only walking past her on the street, but his face and eyes looked kind.

“Your fiancé tells me that you want to get married,” he said as they stood in the morning sunshine and fresh mountain air. There was a field of yellow wildflowers just beyond, and a small crumbling cemetery behind the church, where people were still buried. There was a small chapel at the back of the church, and a well, which dated back to the fourth century.

“Yes, we do want to get married,” Beata agreed, trying not to think of what her parents would say if they could see her talking to a priest. She half-expected to be struck by lightning, and another part of her felt surprisingly safe and at peace.

“You're not Catholic, I understand. You would need some private instruction, and I assume you want to convert.” Beata gulped. It was strange hearing him say the word. She had never thought she would be any faith but Jewish. But she had also never thought she would be married to Antoine or someone like him. And her earlier religious studies had opened her mind to other faiths. She assumed that in time, for Antoine's sake, her heart would follow. She was willing to convert out of love for him. “We could put you in catechism classes with the local children, but the last group just made their first communion, and the classes won't start again until after the summer. I gather that you want to be married in two weeks.” The priest glanced at Antoine's injured arm as he said it, and the innocence evident in Beata's face. Antoine had explained that he was French and Beata German, that he had been injured in the war, and they had no family to speak of, except two cousins with whom they lived. He made it clear that Beata had just arrived from Germany the day before, and they wanted their situation regularized, and did not want to live in sin. It was up to the priest to help them to meet their needs, and he agreed. He wanted to do all that he could. They looked like good people to him, and clearly their intentions were pure, or else they would not be stopping to see him. “Why don't you come inside for a moment, and we'll talk about it.”

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