Lydia’s Story

Henriette Picard rubbed her eyes and pulled the thin blanket around her small shoulders.

“Henriette, wake up!”

“Maman?” The little girl mumbled through the fog of sleep. She smelled the fire burning in the hearth and relaxed a moment listening to its crackling. For a moment Henriette thought it was morning, until she remembered that they slept by day and traveled by night. Her entire world had been turned upside down.

“Non, ma cherie. It’s Lydia. Wake up and eat. We must go soon. Tomorrow you will be safe and we can all rest.”

She sat up and a shiver passed through her slight body. With her fingertips she touched her ribs beneath her blue wool sweater, knitted by her mother in the last weeks before her departure, and which was still not enough to keep her warm. There had not been much to eat these last few months since the Germans arrived in France. Maman and Papa had grown thin as well, but from worry as well as lack of food. At ten years old, Henriette noted the new lines on their faces and their rare, sad smiles, and knew that that they feared the future. Many Jews had already been sent east, to German work camps. They thought they might be safe in St. Etienne, a small town near the coast of the Bay of Biscay. But the Vichy government seemed out to prove that they were as ruthless as the Germans, and the net was closing in.

Now Henriette and two other children from the village were on their way to Spain – to safety. She sat up on the narrow bed, pushing back the memory of her farewell to her parents two days ago. She did not understand why they could not leave with her. They had business to take care of, they said, and would follow soon. Her brother was in England, and they would all be together there soon. Henriette had seen the hopelessness in their tired eyes, and wondered if they believed their own words.

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The Gate House

            Nara Blake punched her pillow for the fifth time, kicked off her twisted blankets, and sat up in bed. She had to stop this — this feeling of helplessness. She was not the type of person to continue pining for what she couldn’t have.

The windows in her upstairs bedroom were still dark, but she was wide awake, with the familiar sense of dread and loneliness that had kept her awake so many nights since she and her father, Jack Blake, had moved to England. She shivered in the chilly bedroom. It was only September; she had not expected to feel so cold so soon.

Nara pulled the blankets around her body and allowed herself the luxury of missing the warm tropical nights in St. Clare — and Davis. She hugged herself and thought of the way his strong arms felt wrapped around her body the night before she left St. Clare, his warm breath as he whispered in her ear, the tingling in every fiber of her body as his lips brushed her face, her throat. They were warm and safe, with the sounds of the tropical night and the waves of the Caribbean lulling them to sleep; they planned to marry. They talked endlessly about what they would do when he finished his pediatric residency and established his clinic on the island. Nara would be working with her father, managing his import business, preparing to take over the company sometime in the future when he retired. Eventually they would build a house on the island and have children.

Then everything changed.

The nagging cough that had plagued her father for months turned out to be lung cancer. The doctors in St. Clare recommended treatment in London; it was superior to what they could provide in their small Caribbean hospital. Jack’s sister, Sue, had just purchased a bed and breakfast in Springfield, Lincolnshire, about an hour from the hospital in north London. Sue had been a nurse and would be able to provide proper care for her brother — if Nara would help run the bed and breakfast.