Sure enough, my head’s hurting again. It scares me to death when it starts and I don’t have any powders.

Once, after Mother and Father died of their rotten livers, I dreamt I was flying. In my dream, I was back in my room at the university, and the window was open, calling to me as if I should kill myself. I went, spread my arms, and jumped, but the air buoyed me and I thought, of course, this was always possible. All I had to do was spread my arms. I didn’t go very high—there were buildings I had to circle around—but still, I was airborne and when I awoke, I knew: I couldn’t fly in this life, but I’d be able to in the life to come.

I doubt it now. Whatever greatness might have been mine isn’t going to come to me, in this or any other life. The Americans have reached the coast; we’ve been sent to catch the last Jews because we’re losing, and the Commissar will have no job to offer me when it’s over. So why not keep sitting here a while longer, pressing my thumb into my eye? Or get up and paint a marigold! Why not?

Hah! What if I did? What if I set his canvas on the easel, squeezed the tubes of paint onto his palette, and began? And if, after fixing his terrible marigold, I let him go? Oh, why not take my clothes off and dance a jig in the street? You can’t stop what you’re doing and change course. I mean you. You Jew. I did, in fact, like painting. When it was going well, I hardly noticed the brush, just the image taking form. I might have applied to Düsseldorf, if I hadn’t been so disgusted by Herr Ohle.

You won’t say what you were thinking even with a gun to your head, will you? How could anyone make sense of such a thing? You blow up train tracks, get word to people about what we’re doing, pretend to be a gentile, and then, when you’ve been found out, you act as if this weren’t a war at all. As if you thought yourself a Rembrandt. You go outside to paint. Where, Jew? Where did you go for your marigold? I ought to paint it over, a black square, just to show him.

···

Your mouth is dry and your legs are trembling, your hands. You’ve been standing so long—days, weeks, it’s impossible to tell—and the Milice are still playing cards. You won’t be able to stand much longer, your legs will give out, and you’ll collapse on the floor, curled up like a dog, you think, your heart racing.

···

Carmine, bone-black, cadmium yellow. The marigold with its fire-tipped, fan-shaped petals, its golden throat. I hardly know how to hold the brush anymore; and yet, stroke by stroke, the colors deepen, then lighten, then deepen again. The Commissar’s promises meant nothing, they were as hollow as Herr Ohle’s praise, but how delicate the petals are, like the edges of a breeze. My left eye’s leaking again.

···

The German appears and the Frenchmen leap to attention, but the German tells them to leave you—Go! he barks, a ragged yelp, and he follows them without a glance in your direction.

Your breath is so rapid it’s like not breathing at all, until you see your finished marigold—luminous and perfect with its golden edges—and you understand that the attic in Orsay, the chocolates and cigarettes, are yours. You haven’t died. You wait until you hear the German drive away, and then you clean yourself; you run downstairs and out into the morning. But you mustn’t run in public, so you walk the twenty kilometers to Orsay as calmly as you can.

In the attic, marigolds will haunt your dreams: your mother’s hands, smoothing the dirt around their stalks before she pulls them up and offers them to a pair of SS officers. There are always two of them, identical in their tall boots.

When, after many months, you hear church bells, you’ll go down into the street and the light will burn your eyes. You still won’t know who’s dead. They all are. The entire family, except your nieces and nephews in America. There’s only you, in the burning light of a freed city.

And here’s the deepest mystery: not that you painted when you could have run, not that the German let you go, but that you’ll come to love the world again. You’ll see pictures of the camps, learn how each member of your family was killed, a knowledge that shuts off your windpipe every time it comes to you, and it comes to you again and again without end—and yet, the shifting light, the bones of a woman’s wrist, the Buddha posture that is every toddler’s elegance, will once more seem beautiful to you. You’ll set up a new practice, marry a bird-like pediatrician who seems always on the verge of laughter, and who can quiet a crying baby in seconds.

But you’ll have no children. You won’t even discuss it, though others—people who don’t realize Naquet is Jewish—will mention the importance of re-building the nation, the maternal fulfillment every woman requires, the optimism restored to us by our children. You’ll shrug a little, or your wife will. You might exchange a glance, though you won’t need a glance to know what the other is thinking. Such excellent children you could have had! Smart, funny, beautiful. And so many names to choose from: your parents, hers, her siblings, Raphael, Suzanne. But the problem is not exactly—or not only—the long history of Jewish persecution. The problem is how easily the world rips open, how closely darkness hews to light.

At last you’ll be too old, and no one will bother you about re-building the nation anymore. Most of the world will be too young to imagine that you ever really had a life. Still, they’ll adore you, with your bright blue eyes, your grin, such a kind doctor.

At seventy, you’ll retire to the coast of Brittany, and in the ocean you’ll find that you’re as flexible as a boy again. You’ll give thanks for all of it: the smell of the Atlantic and the shimmering taste of oysters and your wife’s hair, fading from grey to white until it’s no more than dandelion fluff. She’ll make you laugh until your eyes well up with tears, and then she’ll bring you plates of food so lovely they make you gasp. Every morning, you’ll sit in the sand with her, wearing a cloth cap, shucking oysters, cleaning mussels.

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