The War had made strangers of all inhabitants of the quarter. No longer seen, the friendly nods of the shopkeepers along the rue de Simone. Desolately, even the florists were gone. Flowers had become extraneous and unaffordable, even for those who had to bury their sons. The bakers were gone too. They could not get the good butter, yeast, and white flour, so important for their craft. All that could be found was a type of flat bread made from dark brown wheat. As Madame Marten opened her shutters, the light streamed in, but it was as though she was in a mute world. No traces of bird song trilling above the street noises, nor the laughter of children as they skipped their way to morning classes. Just like the shopkeepers, the progenies had also disappeared.
Madame Marten stared out past the soot-covered trees of war, out towards the empty sidewalks, and for a moment, she thought she could hear a faint melody of Chopin’s Sonata No. 2, as though Marie-Louise, one of her favorite pupils, had still been playing in the next room.
She secured the open shutter and padded back through the hall of the apartment to the kitchen. Her husband had just wakened, perhaps from a reverie from happier times when they spent a week on the little island of Ischia off the coast of Italy.
From his corner in the bathroom he could faintly hear the thumping sounds of his wife’s movements, the drawers and doors of the bread cupboard opening and closing, the tin on tin sound of stirring thin liquid in the metal pot. With the flame to the oven lit, she placed the slices from yesterday’s dark bread on the rack, and left the door open to allow the heat to warm the room. When she heard the radio announcing Hitler’s current advances, she knew Monsieur Marten was shaving. And when she heard him slapping on his aftershave, she prepared the little round table with the small plates and round bowls into which she poured the steaming black coffee. Usually she would have added one sugar cube to his and three to hers, but with the rations they had learned to be grateful to have it black.
As the two sat in the warmth of the little kitchen, wordless in each other’s gaze, they understood that this ritual might be the best and last part of the remaining day.