I watched them come in from across the café

I watched them come in from across the café. Two pompous middle-aged men with more bluster than a windstorm noisily intruding on my serenity. I sighed. I didn't want any intrusions, but it was how it was. Nothing I could do now.

"Vous avez armagnac?" the second man asked, as he removed his coat.

"Non, monsieur," the waiter replied, "je suis désolé."

"Vous avez du cognac?" asked the first.

"Oui, monsieur."

"Un cognac et l'une eau, s'il vous plait."

"Oui, monsieur, tout de suite." The waiter shuffled away quickly to fill the glasses.

"Mon dieu, some day this has been," said the first, adjusting himself in his chair, "the way my daughter was rambling on, you'd have thought the world was coming to an end."

The second man chuckled knowingly. "That's your penance for raising that girl so sheltered. It will be that way until she finds a man she can truly settle down with."

"We raised her the best way we saw fit. Just because she had little experience with the garçons didn't mean she had to go out and latch on to the first one she found." The first shook his head disdainfully as the waiter return with the drinks.

"Merci beaucoup." The second said.

"De rien, monsieur." He shuffled away.

"Such a nice old man. Surprising that he still does it after all these years. It's a wonder he can still walk."

The first followed the waiter around with his eyes. "It's a wonder he survived at all. He was the only one of his brothers who wasn't killed by the polio."

I hated small talk. It was intensely irritating, and above all, unnecessary. Why did people always have to dance around in their conversations? Distracting, that's what it was. I needed to be focused. I needed to concentrate. Damn old men. Besides, that wasn't the reason.

The first continued blathering. "I swear, that newspaper would fall apart if it weren't for me. Not one of those idiots knows how to edit anything. I'm surprised they have the intelligence to write at all."

The second replied, trying to one-up his companion. "That's nothing compared to the insanity at city hall. The way the mayor runs things, you'd think this was a monarchy. Perhaps we should style him Empereur J. Loubert, God-sent protector of Mons, ruler of all he gazes down upon."

"At least his term is ending. Perhaps someone new will run."

"I doubt it. He has all the business owners in his pocket. I wouldn't be surprised if the owner of this place got some sort of gratuity from him. Dirty politics. Wouldn't be caught dead trying to get involved in it."

The first scoffed. He'd probably heard this rant from his colleague many times before.

"Then tell me, Emile, why do you still work at city hall if you are surrounded by graft and a pompous man like him?"

Emile just looked at his friend, and began to chuckle. It was unnerving. It was breaking my focus. I had to do it soon, or my concentration would be shot and I wouldn't be able to muster the nerve. Hurry up and come back, old man.

"I tell you, cognac is the purest liquor on the planet. I dare you to name me a more sublime, perfect drink."

The second was beside himself. "How can you drink that swill and call yourself a man? It doesn't deserve to be called brandy. Armagnac is far superior. True perfection, if ever there is such a thing. One sip of hors d'age armagnac would make God himself never settle for wine again."

"You are a true lunatic, you know that?" The first was chuckling again. "You sing praises of that colored water when faced with the best brandy on earth. God himself would call you insane."

I couldn't take the loud conversation. I couldn't. It was like gongs crashing violently in my mind. Breaking…breaking my focus. I couldn't afford it. I had come too far, too far to be sidetracked now. I came close to snapping when the old man sidled back into view.

He was moving towards the window, probably to get a look at the setting evening sun. His last. I got up quietly; any noise I made was covered by the windbags loudly arguing the virtues of their choice drink. I quietly moved behind him. I stood right behind him, and slowly leaned my mouth next to his ear.

"Do not scream; panic will do you no good. There is no God."

His content expression morphed into one of shock, and then to realization. He knew. I leaned back as he slowly turned to face me, his eye gleaming in the sunlight like it had from that lantern those years ago.

He searched my face; he didn't know which one I was. All those years gone by, I could still vividly see every detail of that gruesome face, and he couldn't even recognize which one I was?
"It took you long enough," he rasped, and his gaze hardened, daring me.

"Too long. You hide well, coward."

That word made his mouth curl into a sneer. He fashioned himself some sort of Aryan ideal. Coward was not something to be called, only something to call others.

"They deserved it," he growled. "So did you."

I knew it would come. I knew it….

"She liked it." His sneer changed to a cruel smile.


"Goede nacht, meneer Rijnen."

Blood splattered the window. Glass shattered. Screaming. Piercing…shrieking sounds. Horrible…

My mother said we shouldn't invite guests home after dark, but he said he had information. When he came in, my parents started talking to him. All I could catch was little bits of the conversation, things like Germans, bombings in Rotterdam, and invasion. He said it was best to lie low. Then, with a bang, everything changed. My mother screamed and started praying loudly as my father crumpled to the floor. He picked him up and tied him to the chair he'd been sitting at. Then he went over to my mother, who was clutching her rosary and sobbing. He grabbed her, and she began to plead and scream louder.

"Do not scream; panic will do you no good. There is no God."

He wrenched the rosary out of her hand and flung it. He ripped her dress off and threw her against the table. He raped her for over half an hour, while forcing my father to watch. His eyes were tear-stained and bloodshot, watching as my mother was beaten and violated, struggling against his bonds. When the man was done, he grabbed her by the hair, and clenched his hand over her mouth. She flailed and kicked, shrieking into his hand until she went limp. He let her fall. It seemed like she fell for eternity, slipping from his grasp until she cracked her head on the floor. She didn't move.

He went to my father. He had a wild gleam in his eye; the lantern light made it seem like his eyes shone with fire. My father watched as the man drew a pistol from his belt. He drew it up to my father's forehead. I couldn't watch. All I could hear was the cocking of the gun. Then, his voice.

"Goede nacht, meneer Rijnen."

So loud, so ungodly loud. I couldn't hear anything. Not him searching for me. Not him finding me behind the cabinets. Not him yelling at me. All I remembered was that look. The sunken face. That gleam. The ugly sneer.

He hit so hard. I thought every bone in my body was broken. He held me down against that floor, so close to my mother. I couldn't get away. He wouldn't let me get away. Then, he stopped. I could barely see. Then, I heard.

"Get away! Get away!"

Something was barking. I couldn't tell what it was. I heard more screams coming from somewhere. It sounded like a girl…


The barking was louder. Vicious sounding. The man was yelling, and I heard crunching sounds. Then another loud bang, and the barking stopped.

Katja screamed, and so did another voice. A boy. It was Dirk. Dirk and Katja. What was he doing to them? Why couldn't I see?

So many thudding sounds, I couldn't keep them straight. Katja was crying, hysterical. She was moving. Dirk, I couldn't hear him. All I could hear was thudding. Then, a scream. So loud. So close.

Something must have happened to the man. He was cursing. He was calling for Katja, but she kept running. He eventually stopped chasing. He stopped. He was gasping for breath; he sounded like he was in pain. I heard uneven steps coming closer to me. Whispering. So softly I could barely hear it.

"They'll never know it was me. The Germans are near. They will take the blame. You deserved it."

More uneven steps. The door flew open, and then there was nothing. No sound. I felt hands. They were trying to pick me up. Katja. I tried to speak, but could say nothing. She dragged me out of the house. Everything was black. There was no sound, except…except her.

"Don't go, please, don't go. Hold on, please. Don't let go…"

The two men were on their feet, wide-eyed, their clothes wet from knocking over their drinks. I turned and looked through the window. People were running across the street from the café, screaming. I looked down.

He was as ugly in death as he was then. Those eyes were still open, staring up at me. I kicked his head to the side. I couldn't look anymore.

I looked back at the men. So scared. They were terrified. Shaking, visibly. Why? I didn't threaten them. This was nothing to do with them.

There was a commotion down the street. The police were on their way. Such efficiency. Not like it used to be. Not then. Not where I lived.

They were drawing closer. The whistles and pounding boots were getting louder.

Nothing left.

I raised my hand.

"Goede nacht."