Elliot Kane lived in a harmless fantasy world — or so he thought.
“Guten morgen!” he said to his wife, leaping out of bed the day before the anniversary of D-Day.
“Good morning,” Mrs Kane replied in English. She refused to entertain her husband’s obsession with re-enacting episodes from the Second World War, an obsession which frequently involved him speaking to her in German.
As Elliot rushed downstairs to his den, Mrs Kane turned over in bed and went back to sleep.
Elliot’s den was largely taken up by a diorama, a scale model depicting Sword Beach on the 6th of June, 1944, the day of the Normandy invasion. Tiny British soldiers were disembarking from landing craft. They were negotiating beach obstacles and barbed wire, inching their way towards the German bunkers and gun emplacements that overlooked the shoreline.
“Today’s the day the world gets to see you, my little darlings,” Elliot said in his posh British officer’s accent.
He was referring to the imminent arrival of a reporter and photographer from the Croyford Gazette. The newspaper wanted to run a topical article on the 69th anniversary of D-Day. They had jumped at the chance to report on an eccentric Englishman’s diorama of the Normandy landings.
“If the Allies hadn’t deceived the Germans into thinking the invasion force would land near Calais,” Elliot told the Gazette newspapermen an hour later, “who knows? We could all be speaking German today.”
The reporter noted down Elliot’s observation with a grin. Meanwhile the photographer took pictures.
“He’s very passionate about his hobby,” said Mrs Kane, arriving with tea and biscuits. “He’s even learned to speak German so he can act out what happened on D-Day. He does the voices and everything. ‘Achtung, mein Kapitän! Englander schweinehund!’ It’s all very imaginative.”
Elliot blushed to the hue of a beetroot as his wife continued: “He wanted me to take German evening classes too, so I could role play with him; but I’m hopeless at languages.”
Elliot caught his wife’s eye. His angry glare sent her scuttling back to the kitchen while the reporters stifled their laughter.
Once the journalists had left, Elliot indulged himself in his ‘What if?’ D-Day fantasies. He was a German intelligence officer interrogating a captured British MI5 agent. As the interrogation progressed and the spy’s resilience broke down, Elliot (or ‘Kapitän Kane’ as he now was) raced against the clock to discover where and when the Allied invasion of German-occupied France would occur, and what diversionary tactics were planned. So real did his role playing become that by the end of the evening, in Elliot’s vivid imagination at least, Germany had the information needed to defeat the Allied invasion.
The following morning, after giving Mrs Kane his habitually ignored ‘Guten morgen’, Elliot discovered the other side of the bed was empty. Noises were coming from downstairs however, from the kitchen, as if his wife was preparing him breakfast.
“She must be so proud of me after hosting those reporters yesterday,” thought Elliot, for Mrs Kane was in the habit of staying in bed until midmorning.
“It’s June the 6th,” Elliot reminded himself, jumping out of bed. “Time to dismantle my D-Day diorama and start on the Fall of Berlin. Who knows, perhaps the Croyford Gazette will do a feature on my new project, too.”
When Elliot got to his den though, he soon realised something was amiss. On close inspection of his diorama, he saw that the Allied invasion force was not advancing on the German positions. The situation, in fact, was quite the reverse. The Allies were being forced back into the sea by superior German numbers.
Before Elliot could speculate on what had happened overnight to his D-Day diorama, his wife came bustling into the den with breakfast.
“Guten morgen,” said a sturdier, more Teutonic-looking version of Mrs Kane.
Without preamble she put down a breakfast tray bearing coffee, pumpernickel and sliced German sausage on the small coffee table. Then, after placing a newspaper on the tray, she turned and left.
With trembling hands Elliot unfolded the Croyford Gazette. The lead article concerned his D-Day interview with the newspaper reporters.
69th anniversary of Historic German Victory, read the headline, printed in German.
“Sixty-nine years ago today,” the article began, illustrated with pictures of Elliot’s transformed diorama, “the capture of a British spy proved the turning point for German victory in the Second World War…”
Gawping like a landed fish, Elliot tried to fathom what was happening. The only conclusion he could reach was that the ‘What if?’ scenario he played out the previous day had somehow altered D-Day’s outcome.
Opening the door to the den, Elliot shouted to his wife, “I’m not to be disturbed.” Then he got to work re-enacting the previous day’s role play.
This time Elliot was Captain Kane, a British MI5 agent, valiantly resisting every torture the Germans subjected him to. With a stiff upper lip he ignored the pain of every jolt of electricity and every pull of the pliers. Whenever he thought his endurance was at an end, that he wanted to blab about the true date and objectives of D-Day, he recalled what was at stake.
Exhausted, but unbroken, he finally went to bed.
The following morning Elliot’s “Guten morgen” received a disinterested “Good morning,” from Mrs Kane.
Full of optimism, Elliot ran downstairs and pulled the Croyford Gazette from the letterbox. The headline read, in English: 69th anniversary of Historic Allied Victory.
“Sixty-nine years ago today,” the article began, illustrated with pictures of Elliot’s original diorama, “the D-Day landings at Normandy proved a crucial turning point in the Allies’ triumph in the Second World War…”
Elliot threw the newspaper aside and rushed to his den. To his relief, the diorama was as it was two days ago, with British soldiers making painstaking progress on Sword Beach.
As he began dismantling his diorama, Elliot recalled the next project he had planned.
“I think I’ll give the Fall of Berlin a miss,” he decided.
Paul A. Freeman is the author of ‘Rumours of Ophir’, a crime novel set in Zimbabwe. His narrative poem ‘Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers’, and his second crime novel, ‘Vice and Virtue’, have also been published. Over a hundred of his short stories have appeared in print. He currently lives in Abu Dhabi with his family, and despite reports to the contrary, he never swims in the nude (you’ll be relieved to know).
He can be found at www.paulfreeman.weebly.com and www.chaucers-uncle.weebly.com.