Leopard in a Cage

Paris, 1941

Etienne limped across the street, grateful for the bite of Paris’ winter wind gnawing on his bones. He could pass off his shivering to the weather, instead of the contents of his coat pocket if questioned by the approaching figures.  They always had questions. Luckily for Etienne, they never asked the right ones. Still, he gripped his pipe tighter.

“Eh, Etienne,” Klaus said, waving a swastika-banded arm at him. “Did you bring us what I asked for?”

“Oui, monsieur,” Etienne said. He handed him the food laden backpack that Klaus’ requested, along with the documents it was his job to deliver.

One of Klaus’s comrades scoffed as he took it. “A lame courier?”

“What do you expect? All the healthy men in Paris are working at the factories for us,” Klaus said, drawing laughter from his comrades. “Besides, Etienne has proven himself loyal, haven’t you?”

Etienne thought of Gustav in his Armée de l'Air uniform before answering, “Oui monsieur.”

“Here,” Klaus said, handing Etienne a small package. “Some tobacco for that pipe of yours, for loyal service.”

Etienne took it, thanking him before heading to his apartment a block away.


He had just reached the door, when Jeanette approached him. “Etienne, do you have chicory to spare?”

Etienne nodded, and spoke the code words. “Of course, as long as you don’t mind a bit of barley in it.”

She followed him in. As soon as the door was closed, Etienne pulled out his pipe, unscrewing it to reveal a hidden compartment and pulled out a small map, which Jeanette tucked into her thick socks. She took a small portion of chicory as well before she left.

Etienne hobbled to his bathroom mirror and stared. He’d have given anything to be the hero his brother was instead of this. He pulled out the tobacco Klaus gifted him and flushed it down the toilet. 






This flash fiction was inspired by the prompt given at Imaginary Gardens for Real Toads: Inside the Ink. Magaly asked us to create a short story or poem based around a quote from the last book we had read. My book was Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit. This story really could be said to be inspired by all of chapter eleven, On the Indirectness of Direct Action. But if I had to choose a line that encapsulated that chapter for me, it would be, "I don't know if the Evergreen kids have become great activists or died in a car crash on their way home, but I know that for them I was a leopard prompting a word or two of the poem of their own lives, as Bob was for me." 

A couple of notes about France during World War II: As you might imagine, food rationing was pretty severe, with the German soldiers commandeering a lot of food for themselves.  It was not uncommon for French citizens to be forced into labor to suit German purposes. Instead of coffee, people made do with chicory blended with toasted barely. Oh and in case you were wondering if pipes with secret compartments were a real thing, they absolutely were.

41 comments:

  1. Great and emotional little story!

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    1. Thank you. I like flexing my prose muscles every now and again.

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  2. Love it! Especially since I'm a WW2 buff!

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    1. Woot! I find the era fascinating but don't know anywhere near enough to call myself a buff.

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  3. My husband is a WW 2 buff, as well. This story fits right in with what I know of the French Resistance. The sadness he feels for thinking he is not a hero like someone in a uniform touches your soul. Great battles could not have been won without the gatherings of dedicated intelligence gatherers. Have you thought of making this into a bigger piece? It would be a really great read!

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    1. I'm not sure really. This was a lot of fun to write, but I do feel that there is more to Etienne's story.

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  4. This story revives feelings stirred by your poem, "A Claw By Any Other Name". The way Etienne feels about himself makes me wonder how many have told him that his isn't doing enough--people can be such horrors to each other, and not just the people who hate us or oppress us, but also those who say the love us.

    Etienne is taking such risks, day after day, and seeing that he doesn't see this breaks my heart.

    War is such a thief.

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    1. The chapter that inspired Etienne's story was about activists and how they sometimes get discouraged at seeing no immediate fruits to their actions or even feeling like their actions are pointless.

      However, the chapter (like the book) has hope as it's theme, and if I had more room to explore Etienne's world, I would have liked to bring it to the hopeful conclusion the chapter has. You never know how your efforts, though small they seem to you, will help someone else in their fight. Etienne clearly drew on the memory of his brother, but he doesn't know (or cannot see at this point in time) what his strivings mean in the larger scheme of things.

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  5. This is such an inspirational write, Rommy!!❤️

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  6. I really like the cloak and dagger, speaking in code words and most likely double crossing... I feel that there are more to come for Etienne...

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    1. It would be a fascinating era to explore from a writing perspective. Bit I feel I'd need to do a lot more research to do his story justice.

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  7. Well, you flex your prose muscles like a leopard, leaping into the middle of the story like it was a neck. Exhuming the smoke and chill of the Second World War today might be a good primer for us ...

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  8. Great ending. I can feel the emotions as Etienne stared into the mirror

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    1. I'm glad. It's tough to convey a lot in such few words, but I'm glad I managed to get some strong impressions across.

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  9. So many difficult choices to make under duress.

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    1. Yes, it could not have been easy for people living under such conditions.

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  10. I love your story, Rommy, and your choice of song.

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  11. I think the 1940s fascinate me the most. I love this! ♥

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    1. It is a really interesting era to explore. My daughter and I will sometimes listen to the music from the 40's if it's on one of the little indie stations as we're scanning for music.

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  12. That is an excellent piece ~ and thereby hangs the moral: how we long to be someone else and miss the value of who we are. Great opening sentence too.

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    1. Yes, exactly. And there's definitely part of me as an author who wants to keep writing to explore Etienne's feelings on this more deeply.

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  13. Very interesting flash
    “A lame courier?”

    “What do you expect? All the healthy men in Paris are working at the factories for us,” Klaus said, drawing laughter from his comrades. “Besides, Etienne has proven himself loyal, haven’t you?”

    Etienne thought of Gustav in his Armée de l'Air uniform before answering, “Oui monsieur.”

    the above was for me striking, It took me out of the war zone though, to wander towards The Hunchback of Notre Dame

    much love...

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    1. I'm glad it conjured vivid imagery

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  14. A wonderfully drawn vignette. I could see them all so clearly.

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    1. Yay! It was a challenge getting what I wanted under the word limit.

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  15. Very interesting! I loved this Rommy!

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  16. The last line was a nice surprise: He pulled out the tobacco Klaus gifted him and flushed it down the toilet.

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    1. I thought it was a good way to close out the story.

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  17. This is a very good story. His bit of rebellion in the last line. I could see Etienne and his situation so clearly through your words, well done :-)

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    1. Yay! I'm glad I could get a sense of who he was conveyed in the brief space.

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  18. This was a nice story to read, Rommy. Just the right amount of suspense and intrigue. I am glad that your part ended alright, I generally don't read war stories or watch war movies. But if you finished writing a book involving this episode I would enjoy reading yours.
    I also enjoyed the visit to the Boston war museum's site. I spent quite a few minutes with the radios and cameras. I am a radio ham, K1TLT, been for a long time I took and passed my General Class license exam at the FCC office Boston.
    We had an interesting Holocaust Museum Houston here, I spent on afternoon there. If I lived closer I would go back (it's free on Tuesday afternoons.)
    ..

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    1. Up the road from here, in College Station (TX) we have the George H.W. Bush Library. It has an interesting section concerning his part in WWII. He was a bomber pilot, his plane was station on an aircraft carrier. He had to ditch once on take off. Another time his plane was shot down over a Pacific Island. The story of all that is well told and illustrated. You would like to visit it.
      Also I've been to the Churchil Museum in London. That is a good one. As is the smaller Bletchley Park Museum at Milton Keynes. It was the central site for British codebreakers during World War II. Telling the story of how it was broken was very interesting to me also. They used early computers, with vacuum tubes and punched paper tape with a repetition algorithm.
      ..

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    2. War movies are my dad's and father-in-law's sort of thing typically. But there is a certain fascination with the era I can't deny. Those museums you've been to sound awesome.

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  19. A gripping tale. And such wrenching irony that he did not know himself for the hero he, too, was.

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    1. I'm glad you liked it. I'm happy I manged to create as much of his character as I was able to in those brief lines.

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  20. riveting. and, one hopes, not an omen of things to come. ~

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