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NORMANDY I Carl Schiffman FOR ALL THE EFFORT he made to be calm and detached, to be amused at his own foolish tension, the unlikely prospect that he would feel grief after all these years for a man he had never known, Sonny did not feel like himself at all when he climbed out of the rental car in front of the open gates of the cemetery. American flags, military flags, were everywhere, whipping in the salt breeze from the Channel. The huge tract of white crosses, perfectly aligned, tilted away from him and ended abruptly, a jagged line below the gray waters where the invasion fleet had stood offshore. Sonny pressed forward, walked through the gates and down the wide central aisle of the cemetery to where the crosses ended at the edge of the cliff. There was another gate, a path of small white stones to cross and then, directly below him and extending to the limits of his vision in either direction, bleak and barren-looking, with nothing of the tamed seashore about it, no hint of approaching summertime, lay Omaha Beach where his father had died "while helping to unload supplies under enemy fire." Although Sonny had spent eighteen months of his own military service in Germany back in the mid-1960s and had been on the Continent on professional assignments—he photographed industrial and scientific equipment for trade magazines and business-tobusiness sales promotions—countless times since, this was his first visit to Normandy. He had not known until a few months ago who his father was or where he had died; or rather, Sonny had gone through his entire life thinking he knew, and had only now, in the aftermath of his mother's death, discovered he was wrong, that his real father had died when Sonny was only seven months old. If his mother, perhaps wanting Sonny to learn the truth only after it was too late to blame her for not telling him sooner, had not left a host of official documents among her possessions— Sonny's birth certificate and adoption papers; her two marriage certificates; the notice of his father's death and re-burial when this cemetery had been opened; even the receipt for her widow's stipend—carefully preserved in a safe deposit box along with deeds, brokerage records and stock certificates for Sonny to find, he would never have known the truth. The Missouri Review · 7 "I never had an inkling," he had told the young translator last night in a sudden burst of confidence after the others had left, "never suspected I was anything but my stepfather's natural son. I've read that some kids have fantasies when they're growing up that their parents aren't their real parents, that they've been adopted, but I never had fantasies like that. My stepfather was a very impressive and successful man, a chemical engineer who became a high executive; I didn't always feel that close to him, but I always admired and respected him, and we always got along; I can't recall, even now, one instance in which he didn't treat me as though I were his son, not one instance in which he favored my half-brother or sister over me." There had been no guards at the open gate of the cemetery and there was not a soul in sight on the beach. There was a sense of solitude, of desolation even, that took away from the brightness of the day. Perhaps the past is here after all, Sonny thought, like a filter through which I can't keep from looking. How many thousands of men, not just my father, not just Americans either, but Canadians and British and Germans, too, died in just this space I have under my eyes? What a hell it must have been. He listened and heard nothing at all above the faintest whisper of the waves, not even the cry of a gull. Just to Sonny's left, joining the path of crushed white pebbles that ringed the cemetery, a macadam trail wound down the gently sloping face of the cliff to the beach. He...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 7-19
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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