They called him Ole, but Betty knew it was an alias. None of the agents who fell from the sky in parachutes used their real name. It didn’t matter. He was the boy from the stall, and he was here, seated on her kitchen bench opposite her brother, accepting the heavy crystal bowl she handed him.
‘Strawberry,’ The Boy said, looking right at her. ‘I have been dreaming of strawberry compote for two years.’
‘Mother’s special recipe,’ said Betty, waiting, once again, for a sign of recognition in his glare. But there was none. This had been understandable at first, when they’d picked him up in the field exhausted and anxious, but here in the golden, candlelit safety of their farmhouse kitchen she had assumed he would recognize her.
Instead he was tucking in, soon engrossed in conversation with Carl who was, once again, going on about how the war would be over soon.
Although not much older than her, The Boy was a natural member of the grown-up club. This was a pattern. At home in the kitchen, Betty was a little girl again, no matter how many grenades and heavy machine guns she had carried through the muddy fields. Girls had to earn their place every time. Normally, it annoyed Betty a great deal, but today she appreciated it. She needed the distance. To be left alone to study him.
She had been afraid recently that she was going to forget his features: the details and nuances that made him special. At times, she had been unable to recall his face no matter how hard she concentrated, so now she was recording every detail, disappointed by the generic nature of her list. Dark hair with a hint of auburn. Just like her own. Slim, with defined shoulders. Green eyes. Straight brows. Black lashes.
That could be millions of people. And yet, there was only one like him.
She tried to sit still whilst struggling with her body. Independently of her mind, her hands wanted to reach out and brush The Boy’s cheek. Her eyes longed to stare into his. Her voice needed to tell him ‘I’m here. I’ve been waiting. Don’t you know I’ve been waiting for you all this time?’
But as she rose to clear the table and he handed her his empty bowl, it became obvious that not only did The Boy not recognize her. He didn’t even see her.
And yet, she loved him. She realised that when he leaned forward to light his cigarette, revealing the thin necklace with the capsule. The cyanide tablet that agents were to swallow if caught. Betty had seen many capsules around many necks. But this one changed her feelings about them. The thought of poison doing away with this perfect human put her own body off breathing. She wanted him to go home, back to his parents. ‘You be safe and let the rest of us finish this war,’ she prayed, stunned by this unfamiliar emotion.
She had known love, of course. She loved her mother, her brothers and the cats and chickens on the farm. She had loved her father, her grandparents and her rabbit.
But this was a different love. It was the love that she had encountered in novels and seen in films at the cinema in town, understanding only the theory of it. The kind of love that produced poetry and music, murder and suicide. Betty had doubted she would ever feel it and now that it had arrived, she was exhilarated. Unreciprocated as it was, it added a new sense of danger to her life. One not dissimilar to the thrill she felt when she was lying next to her brother on the heath listening out for the roars that meant a plane was about to drop its cargo.
Betty smiled. She couldn’t wait to show him who she was. How she could untangle a parachute. How she was a better shot than Carl. How she was playing as big a role as any man in winning this war.
And one day, The Boy would know she was the girl from the stall.
Dr Mette Jolly is a Danish academic, translator and blogger. She holds degrees from Copenhagen University, Denmark and The University of Nottingham, UK. In 2007, she published her first political science monograph with Oxford University Press. She is currently researching for a book about women in Denmark during World War II. Mette has written a large number of stories, which are stored on her hard disk. Only after having taken courses with CBC Creative has she tentatively started sharing them.
Mette is a widow and lives in London
Read Mette’s blog here owl-in-pearls.com
Connect with her on twitter @mettejft