Les Pays Loin
"I will not relent. You cannot escape. That is your situation."
Northern France, December 1943; a small village in the countryside, near Soissons; the musty basement of an optometry practice, shuttered since a year ago, when the ophthalmologist and his son were taken away.
The Gestapo agent has a threadbare towel looped around the neck of the farmer Aubergrise in a U shape and he’s slamming his head against the wall, pushing his forehead back with the palm of his hand again and again. On either side of them are rows of shelves and drawers stretching nearly to the ceiling, loaded with crates and boxes full of wire frames and polished lenses and delicate machines sitting unused and unattended, shot through with dim beams of flickering lamplight catching gyres of dust swirling lazily in the air. On the other side of these shelves, the side further away from the rickety wooden stairs leading to the heavy basement doors jutting from the back of the building, doors whose padlock was broken off a week after the ophthalmologist was taken away and never replaced, three Resistance members are hiding in a shadowy alcove, watching the interrogation through the slim gaps in a row of barrels filled with cleaning solution. Aubergrise is naked and shaking violently and smeared with dirt and urine. Snot and blood are flowing in a steady stream from his nose. He’s crying, babbling, half-delirious, he can’t form a sentence. He’s worried, terrified that his skull has fractured, but it hasn’t. The technique the Gestapo agent is using was developed specifically to minimize the risk of acute, incapacitating head injury.
“Eventually, you will tell me what I want to know,” says the Gestapo agent. His voice is flat but strained. “This will not stop until you tell me. If you don’t, it could last forever. You could grow old, die, pass through the underworld, be reborn, and finally open your eyes, expecting to see the beginning of a new life before you, only to discover yourself here, in this same place, in this same situation, at the bottom of the world, with nothing changed, still being asked the same questions. Do you understand? I will not relent. You cannot escape. That is your situation. You can only escape it by giving me the information I need.” Aubergrise let out a particularly awful moan. “I will ask you again: How many members are in your cell? Who carried out the attack? Who gave the order? Give me their names. It is your only option. It is your only means of escape.”