He is choking her, and somewhere in her head she knows that he will succeed. That she will die, that all her struggling to the contrary will ultimately be in vain.
Despite orchestrating what was clearly a suicide mission, she is not ready to die tonight. But her readiness doesn’t matter much, does it?
She is just beginning to black out when she hears the unmistakable noise of a small handgun cocking and then, she can breathe again.
Colonel Landa is still above her, his hands in the air. Once her vision clears, she is surprised to find the owner of the theater, resplendent in her red dress, holding a gun flush to the back of his head.
“I told you that you could use my office, I didn’t say you could murder beautiful women in my office.”
“Ah, well, you see…”
“Get off her.” She interrupts him. Landa does as he is told, standing, and she moves him toward the desk. “Kneel again.” Once more, he does what she asks. “I realize this may be a mistake, but it is a risk I think well worth taking. Turn around.”
“Turn around, face me.” Landa turns to face her. “Do you know my name?”
“Of course, your name is Emmanuelle Mimieux, is it not?” She squeezes the trigger to the halfway point.
“It is not. My name, Colonel Landa, is Shoshanna Dreyfus.” There is a sharp blast, and then there is a gaping hole in the back of Landa’s head. “And I have always wanted to see your face when you die.”
The handgun is quickly re-concealed within a small, glittering, purse and Shoshanna is sitting at her side.
“Are you alright?” Still gasping for breath, all she can manage is an emphatic nod. After a moment of careful studying, Shoshanna half-smiles in recognition. “You are Bridget Von Hammersmark.” Another nod. “But you are a national celebrity, why was he trying to kill you?”
“Spy…for the British…cover…blown.” Bridget rasps, between still-ragged breaths.
“Ah, I see.” Shoshanna gets up and walks to the bookcase, pours Bridget a glass of water. “And why, pray tell, are you here tonight?” The water is cool and soothing against her throat, but when she speaks again it is not her voice, exactly, she is still damaged.
“Going to blow up your theater using American soldiers. Sorry.” Shoshanna grins fully now.
“Oh, don’t be. I’m going to burn it tonight. The explosives will be an added bonus, I suppose.” Shoshanna moves to help her stand, and she is surprised at how dizzy she feels, how disoriented, but Shoshanna holds her up. “I must return to the projection room, would you care to join me?” Bridget nods, and when they are halfway up the stairs she finds the stability to speak again.
“You saved my life.”
“Colonel Landa killed my entire family. You gave me an excuse to butcher him personally, and I am eternally grateful.”
“Isn’t normally supposed to be the other way around?”
“Aren’t I to be the grateful one?” They’ve now reached the projection booth, and Shoshanna unlocks the door to let them in.
“There’s a war on, nothing is remotely normal.” She pauses for a second, considering the projection machinery. The movie has just begun, and Bridget meets Marcel. “But you can be grateful too, I suppose.”
Throughout the movie Bridget leans against a wall and watches as Shoshanna changes the reels, her motions clearly mechanical, deeply ingrained in her memory. There is an unmistakable air of joy to her as she completes them, with the barest hint of sadness.
“This is the last time I will ever do this, and I find the sacrifice more than worthwhile considering the cause.” It is spoken half to Bridget and Marcel, half to herself. Bridget understands why, now, understands her hate for the occupants of her theater. Shoshanna is a white Jew in love with a black man. The only way the Nazis could antagonize her more is if she were a disabled communist lesbian as well.
Once the fourth reel is ready to be put in place and the third reel is coming to an end, Shoshanna and Marcel kiss (for what seems to everyone present to be the last time) and Marcel leaves to lock the theater doors, to stand behind the screen and smoke a cigarette in front of a pyre of silver nitrate film. Shortly after he leaves, there is a knock at the door. Bridget sees the fear in Shoshanna’s eyes. Something is not going according to plan.
“Who is it?”
“Fredrick Zoller” Bridget reaches for her gun, as Shoshanna goes to the door to talk to him. What begins as banter quickly progresses to an argument, and Shoshanna finally seems to acquiesce, only to shoot Zoller in the back. Three times. Zoller isn’t quite dead yet, though, and when he begins to stir Shoshanna steps toward him.
“Shoshanna, no.” Bridget grabs her hand, shoots Zoller in the back of the head, and watches him slump, lifeless, before going to the body. She rolls it over, shows Shoshanna the gun.
“The unfortunate truth is that, nine times out of ten, humanity will get you killed. There’s a war on.” Shoshanna looks veritably vomitus, but nods her head, turns back to watch the film, now on the fourth reel, now almost done.
Instead of ending, Shoshanna’s face appears on the screen. She frightens the audience, cues the flames that quickly envelop the screen and spread to the structure of the building. On the film, she laughs as the flames lick up around her. “This is the face of Jewish vengeance!” shouts her building-high face.
In the projection booth, Shoshanna is not laughing. A single tear glides down her check and Bridget moves to her, wipes it away.
“This is still the face of Jewish vengeance.” She whispers in Shoshanna’s ear. Shoshanna simply nods. “It’s beautiful.” Bridget continues, as Shoshanna’s face appears laughing, projected now onto the smoke. “Come on, we need to go.” She grabs Shoshanna’s hand again, but Shoshanna does not move toward the door with her.
“This is my funeral pyre.”
“No, Shoshanna, this is the funeral pyre of the Nazi high command, and the few who made a necessary sacrifice to make it so. This is not your funeral pyre; your death is not necessary. And you are far too extraordinary to die here, with this Nazi scum.”
Something in her words clearly moves Shoshanna, for they run from the theater hand in hand, making it halfway around the block before the building explodes.
Two weeks later they are living on the Drayfus family farm. They hid for a while, until they realized that no one was coming after them in the chaos that resulted from the entire Nazi high command being blown to kingdom come in a single night.
Bridget is learning to be a farm girl (something she never thought she’d do) and is constantly amazed at how much grace there is to Shoshanna in this environment. She is easily as beautiful here, milking cows and making cheese and mucking around in fields, as she was in Paris. She is as elegant in loose pants, her hair twisted up into a pageboy cap, as she was in her makeup and dress back on that fateful night. Neither of them really knows why Bridget is still here, out on the farm with Shoshanna, but neither of them wants her to leave, so they don’t bring it up. Instead they tell war stories—literally—and stories of before-the-war. With their words, they illustrate how their lives have changed, how they have changed, and how the world has changed. They know that none of it will ever change back to the way it was, that there is no direction now but forward.
One night they are eating dinner together, blissfully unaware to the political turmoil in Paris and in Berlin (the last piece of news they heard was of the storming of Normandy, and honestly, they are glad to be so far removed from the world they just left, the world of war and politics) and Shoshanna asks the question Bridget had, until this point, left conspicuously unanswered.
“Why did you become a spy?”
Bridget pauses, swallows, takes a sip of wine (they never drink milk at the table, and Bridget’s heard that story. Bridget knows why.) “They killed my girlfriend.”
“Oh?” Shoshanna raises an eyebrow, not in a shocked expression, but in the expectation of further elaboration.
“She was a gypsy. So they killed her, and her family. I thought they would find out about us, but we had been careful and, miraculously, we were careful enough. I was, of course, extremely angry and I soon realized that the bane of my existence—that I had been let into the inner circle of Nazi officials because of my film star status—could become my weapon. So I became an informant for the British.” They both continue eating as though nothing extraordinary has occurred, and in a way, nothing has. They have told each other more about themselves than their own families (may they rest in peace) ever knew.
“Do I shock you? Disgust you?” Bridget has to know.
“No. Of course not. Perhaps before the war, but as the war has shown me, people are people. All that matters is whether you can trust them or not, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can trust you.”
“I trust you as well.”
Almost six months after the Theater, Shoshanna finds Bridget while she’s out fixing a fence along the property line.
“I’m told you can return to Germany safely.”
“Do you want me to leave?” Bridget concentrates on the boards and nails in front of her, trying to hide the emotion in her face, her voice. She is well trained to do this, first from acting and second from espionage. Despite this, she worries—worries she’s out of practice, worries the emotions she feels are just too big to be contained—so she keeps down.
“No. I don’t but…you can. If you’d like to.” At this Bridget looks up.
“I don’t want to ever go back there.” She feels Shoshanna’s hand brush her back as she steps away, moves back toward the creamery.
“I don’t ever want you to leave.” She says softly, almost as an afterthought. Once she is gone Bridget drops her tools and flops back on the soft ground, stares at the sky. Her breath is visible in the freezing December air, and she’s glad for the warm clothes she wears, clothes that used to belong to Shoshanna’s family. Bridget knows that she would never be able to see a stranger in her dead mother’s winter jacket, would never be able to live in the house, run the business, of her dead parents. Shoshanna says it helps her, that it’s better to see the life they left behind lived in rather than abandoned, as dead as they are. Regardless, Bridget marvels at Shoshanna’s strength. She is only twenty-three, after all. When Bridget was twenty-three the war began, now that Shoshanna’s twenty-three the war is over. Or over enough, she supposes. Their war is over. It is what brought them together, and it is all that separates them.
Bridget knows that a Shoshanna still has nightmares of Landa, still cries in her sleep for Marcel. Shoshanna knows that Bridget still walks with a limp—partially out of habit—from the bullet in her leg, still weeps for killing Sergeant Wilhelm, still thinks of little Max. What Bridget doesn’t know is if she’s in love with Shoshanna, if either she or Shoshanna is still to deeply mourning lost love to even think of new love.
But their war is over. It’s time for them to move on, as much as they can.
The next evening Shoshanna is preparing cheeses for the market—wrapping them in paper, arranging them in the cart—when Bridget comes to find her.
“Bridget!” As soon as she sees her, Shoshanna lights up and Bridget realizes she is so very much in love with this woman she might be lost. Shoshanna sets down the cheese and walks over to the doorframe Bridget leans on, looking as elegant as ever, even without her heels and her pearl necklaces. Shoshanna braces herself on the door with one arm, and leans down to brush her nose against Bridget’s in what has become a common greeting for the two of them—neither were ever particularly physically affectionate before, but now is after and there is just the two of them. They are all that’s left. “What’s up Bridget?”
“Shoshanna.” She whispers her name like an incantation, like it will make all their scars disappear. She threads her fingers through her hair, and then Shoshanna’s lips are pressed against hers and her other arm is winding around Shoshanna’s waist and Shoshanna’s weight rests entirely in her arms. The kiss is heady, sweet, and grounded in the earth, like new grass in spring. Finally, they pull apart—and just as Bridget wasn’t sure which of them began the kiss she isn’t sure which of them ends it. Their foreheads rest together, Shoshanna still leans on Bridget, their entire bodies are pressed warm together in the clear winter darkness.
“I love you,” Bridget murmurs.
“I know. I love you too.” is the only reply—and the only reply needed. They both know their war is over, they both know they have reached their inevitable conclusion.