Left alone in the streets with a fallen Dutch woman, Tina hears the sounds of Allied tanks.
On the lady's naked legs she could see German hands, clean hands with ringed fingers smoothing the skin. The others, the celebrants, were somewhere else down the street now, far away.
"For God's sake, untie these ropes from my feet," she said. "Let me walk at least."
From somewhere east came the low and constant grind of sound she recognized immediately. It was the tanks approaching. The streets were emptied now, because the Allies were coming. She could run to her mother and tell her now that the day of liberation finally had come, the streets would be full, and finally, she could throw open the curtains.
"I know what you did," Tina said. "You slept with Germans."
"Just help me up," she said. "Just let me get to my feet." She twisted her head around as if to point. "It's over for all of us. Can't you see that? The Canadians are coming." She sat flat on the ground, her tied legs hooked beneath her. "It's all over, honey. Now get me up, will you?"
She watched the lady's helplessness. Soon the streets would be full of cheering people. Already within her she could feel the urge to scream for the liberators. The world would be straight, delivered from chaos. Her mother could live again.
"Please?" the lady said.
Tina looked down the emptied streets. She walked over carefully, afraid, and waited for a moment, listening to the lady's breathing, then fell to her knees beside her. It was the old man on the bicycle she remembered, the old man lying there bleeding and helpless in the ditch and the Nazi jacket in a heap at the side of the road. She couldn't simply let the woman lie in the street.
Dirt stuck in the sharp knots of twine pulled tight around the lady's ankles.
"Just let me loose," the lady said.
"I know what you did," Tina said. "I know." She looked at her own trembling fingers, then leaned over and worked at the stubborn knots. But they wouldn't come. She jerked at them again, her fingers turning raw against the sharp strands in the twine. "If I had a knife--" she said.
"Please," the lady said again. "Keep trying--"
Her fingers seemed useless, so she bent her face down to the woman's feet and took the dusty knots in her mouth to soften them slightly with her own spit so she could take them, gritty and tasting like wood, in her front teeth.
She put both her hands on the lady's leg and bit deeply into the twine, then jerked hard with her neck, biting and ripping, until finally the stubbornness gave and she could feel their grip breaking. Then she came up quickly and wiped the moisture from her lips with the back of her wrist and finally slid the knots open easily in her fingers. Beneath the unraveled twine lay red scars across her ankles where the twists had already burned her skin.
When she stood, she looked around and saw that the two of them were still alone in the street. She stretched out her hand to help the lady to her feet. The bright spring sun made the red patches shine across her forehead. When the woman finally got to her feet, Tina was surprised to see that this painted lady stood no taller than she did herself.
"Thank you, honey," the woman said. "I don't know how to thank you enough."
They stood there together in silence.
"Hear the tanks?" the woman said. "You can almost feel them beneath your feet." She pointed away, her hands still bound. "We all—all of us—can have a new life," she said.