Back in the present, Francis stalks the streets of Frenchtown, returning to Nicole’s apartment building to confirm for himself that she had left Frenchtown during the war.
Upon seeing that Nicole is, in fact, gone, Francis has another flashback to the war, this time to a night he spent reminiscing with Norman Rocheleau, a fellow Frenchtown soldier. Through Norman, Francis had learned that Nicole had begun acting like a “hermit” immediately prior to leaving town—she was spending her time in her house or at the nuns’ special mass. In the course of their conversation, Francis also reveals that he forged his birth certificate in order to enlist, though Norman declines to ask why, assuming that, like most young men, Francis had just been eager to serve his country.
Nicole’s odd behavior and sudden disappearance hint at the occurrence of a larger, more adult problem at some point in her childhood. The mystery of it all, and the new revelation that Francis lied to enlist in the war, deepens the tension between appearance and reality, suggesting that Francis is holding something back from the readers.
After being shooed away by the new occupants of Nicole’s old apartment, Francis returns to his boardinghouse where Mrs. Belander offers him soup and finally asks for his name. Still wanting to maintain his anonymity, Francis decides to begin living a lie, assuming his deceased brother Raymond’s first name and his deceased mother’s maiden name.
By literally piecing together a new identity from the deceased members of his family, Francis gives another signal that his childhood is over. With his first outright lie in the novel, Francis also highlights the tension between his outward persona of wounded veteran and his internal persona of wounded child.
As night falls, Francis begins his nightly ritual as he prepares to fall asleep. He begins by reciting the names of the men in his platoon “like beads on a rosary” before entering into a vivid and gruesome flashback to a small French village. In his mind, Francis focuses on the tics of the various men in his platoon—specifically, how one man would mutter “Jesus” repeatedly under his breath and how another stank for days due to diarrhea. Ultimately, Francis decides that his experience in combat was “nothing like the movies.”
The juxtaposition of religious language and gruesome war flashbacks is another signal that religion and violence can comfortably coexist in Francis’s mind. The muttering of “Jesus” by another soldier shows how religion can become as common as swear words, losing its mysticism and power. All in all, the gruesome reality of combat does not match the ideas of it Francis had been given by the media.
Heading deeper into his flashback, Francis sees himself in a small alley when two German soldiers round the corner; instinctively Francis raises his rifle and fires, exploding the head off one of the soldiers and slicing the other clean in half. With his dying breath, the German soldier, no older than Francis himself, cries out for his mother.
When the German soldier cries out for his mother as he is killed, he becomes a metaphor for the death of childhood at the hands of war, as well as an illustration of the reality of war and heroism: while people at home might think of “brave soldiers,” many of the soldiers are actually scared and childlike—even enemy soldiers.
Upon waking, Francis realizes that he was reliving his flashback in his dream. While he admits that the dream had amplified the gore, he did in fact kill two men, and one of them did call out for his mother. Fully conscious now, he forces himself to relive the memory to the end: he would go on to lose his face to a grenade and two men from his platoon died in the fighting. Having survived another night of gruesome dreams and memories all mixed together, Francis steels himself with the thought of his current mission to murder Larry LaSalle.
The intentionally confusing layering of dreams and flashbacks creates more tension around Francis and his cryptic mission to murder Larry. Additionally, the contrast between Francis’s war flashbacks and childhood flashbacks is notable: Francis’ memories of the war show how quickly he was faced with larger and more complicated problems.