Friday, December 14, 2012

The Siren of Paris by David Leroy

Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family.. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war.

When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France.

Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?

      Marc awoke in what looked like the foyer of a hotel, though he was not sure. He was groggy and sick to his stomach. His joints ached and his hands were swollen. He looked to his right and left and could see other beds with other men in them. Across from him was another line of beds holding even more men. The sheets were stained with oil. He looked into his memory as to how he got here.
      I was swimming. The life jacket, it was dark, the woman, the pregnant woman, he thought to himself.
     I must be dead, I feel dead, Marc continued in a quasi-dream state. He was there, but not there. He was alive but not alive. There was pain, but at the same time the pain was in the background of his consciousness. Marc moved his arm, but it felt as if his body were not his own.
     He could remember the nude dive into the sea to fetch the struggling swimmer. Was I the swimmer? The ship pulled to the side of an overturned lifeboat. The Pekingese dog was plucked from the small, overturned boat. Then all was still.
     They are dead, too, Marc looked around the room. He was sure of it. I wonder when they are going to tell me, he thought about the nurses. He was sure that he must be dead. This must be the waiting room. They are letting us get better first before they tell us, he thought to himself.
     A German officer came to the front desk and talked with a nurse. She told him something and they talked for a few minutes. He was asking about some woman who was in charge.
     He then walked down the row of beds and looked at each of the men. The German officer called over the nurse and asked about an empty bed. She cupped her hand and spoke into his ear. He nodded and looked up and around.
     He pointed to Marc and asked the nurse about him. She nodded and walked away. The German officer took a chair and then sat next to Marc’s bed.
     Marc thought, Here it comes. The one who tells you are dead must be the one who killed you. He felt an overwhelming sense of dread come over him. He scanned his memory and thought he must have been shot alongside the officer but did not know it yet. Maybe it was not the officer who was killed but me, and I was looking at myself instead of the officer. Marc’s mind raced as he tried to solve the mystery of when and how he must have died.
     “What is your name?” the officer asked in perfect English.
     “Marc, Marc Tolbert,” he said, surprised that he could even speak.
     “What unit are you with?” he asked next.
     “I am not in the army. I was just a passenger,” Marc responded, looking around. He felt an overbearing sense of dread and churning in his body. He began to shake.
     “Passenger? What do you mean?” the officer pressed next.
     “I am not British. I am American. I was trying to get home via Ireland,” Marc said directly to the officer. The officer got up from the chair and went back to the nurse and started to talk with her.
     Marc looked at them and wondered what they were planning on doing with him. A wave of nausea washed over him. He looked at his hands and arms and could see deep, dark oil stains in his skin. The officer then returned.
     “Can you tell me where in America you are from?” he asked next.
     “New York. Just north of New York City.”
     “Do you know how you got here?”
     “I was on the ship that was bombed.”
     “Yes, yes, I know, but do you remember getting here?” he pressed.
     Marc looked at him with fear. He is going to tell me how I got here and what will happen to me next. His stomach burned with nausea, mixed with fear and anger.
    “No. I was in the sea and now I am here,” he said back, hearing his voice as if he was speaking into a bucket.
     The officer just looked at him and then nodded. “In a few days, I will be back. We will talk more then.” He got up and started to walk away.
     He turned back and asked Marc, “Who is the chancellor of Germany?”
     Marc thought and then said, “Eleanor Roosevelt.”
     Then he asked, “Who is the prime minister of England?” and Marc knew it was Mick. Mickey? Is it Mickey?
     “Mickey … uhh … Mickey. I think Mouse.”
     Then he asked Marc, “Do you remember the woman?” he asked him next.
    “The mother? The pregnant one?” Marc answered.
    “Yes, her,” the officer responded.
     “I saw her, yes,” Marc said, feeling relieved and connected in a way to the officer.
     “Good, don’t forget her. I will be back in a few days.” He then walked out of the makeshift hospital.
     Marc felt ill. His body shook and he leaned over the bed, shoving his face into the bucket. He heaved, but nothing came up. His body trembled and shook until he could not heave anymore.
     Allen then walked up to his bed. “Marc, you are going to be fine, but you need to rest.”
     Marc looked up into his friend’s face and could not believe his eyes. Allen survived! He looked as though he’d just come back from the bar, without a scratch on him.
     “I need to go, Marc, but before I leave, I want to encourage you to hang in there.” Then he walked right through the nurse and out the door. Marc felt another wave coming down upon him, but at least he knew Allen had survived. How did he do that? Walk through the nurse? he thought.
     Then it came to Marc. He understood what the German wanted. He said to the nurse who was walking past his bed.
     “I am not the father. You understand me? I am not the father.”
     She looked at him, perplexed. “Father of whom?” she asked.
     “That German is going to take me away in a few days to see the chancellor of Germany. Eleanor … Eleanor Roosevelt. And she is pregnant, and they think I am the father.”
     She looked at him, stunned, and could not come up with a response.
     “I am not the father, I’m telling you. It is not my baby,” Marc pleaded with the woman.
     Finally, it came to her and it was simple, “I believe you.”

A native of California, David received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. The Siren of Paris is his first novel. You can visit him at

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