“He’s about as sincere as a jellyfish; as an ironing board,” I said about my doctor to Pierre.

Being a Jew, Pierre had been made to wear a yellow star.

Blackouts became common. Often in the dark I saw blue-and-white-check carpet slippers shuffle toward me. A ring-encrusted hand would reach out of the darkness patting the air or wall; the hand would corkscrew into the dark and would straighten its spectacles, sending a gleam of recognition out into the room. For an instant I would glimpse a bulging forehead; Brayhead still watching me. Sometimes the ring-encrusted hand dipped inside a dark velvet jacket, exposing hunting scenes embroidered into the tapestry wool vest. The half-lit head, a jaunty hat perched atop, seemed to be looking at me and then turning away into the gloom.

I heard Mother snap at me, “Butterfingers!”

I saw chairs flying.

I wished I could find my copy of Vita Nuova by Dante that my father had given to me, but it had been mislaid somewhere in other places I had been but I couldn’t remember the names of these places. Now they told me there was a war.

“If he is really dead,” I whispered to Pierre, “he will never again eat chocolates out of his own cricket cap. None of us will again eat Bar-le-Due jellies, or Montargies pralines, or get together to play Forfeits or sing ‘It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.’ “

I knew he was not dead. He had lit a candle for me on 13 December. I had seen it, Mother had not.

Both Pierre and I had promised each other to die before falling into German hands. We had heard that Christians were being offered rewards of a half kilogram of salt for each Jew, either dead or alive. “What for?” I asked.

“If only I’d buried eggs in a potato field,” I announced with regret.

The maison still had ample food to eat. One very mean doctor ordered me kept tied to my own bed, which was nailed to the floor.


Rain came drumming and tapping on the thick glass windowpane bringing information. A great ledger sheet was laid out across Europe. If the writing hadn’t been so thick I would have been able to calculate the debits and to predict what was to come. Approaching winter brought more rain, and wind made the trees groan and cry all night.

“Why are my eyes so small and close together?” I asked my doctor. “If my nose was larger, none of this would have happened,” I told him.

As a refugee, Pierre was deprived of his nationality, becoming a stateless Jew under the new Statut des Juifs. He was subject to internment in a “shelter camp.”

At four in the morning he was arrested and taken to Vélodrôme d’Hiver with thousands of others, where ten latrines and one street hydrant for water were …


The Imagined Life of Lucia Joyce

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