If you have read this blog for a while, you will know that now and again I publish a short story. This is part one of a new story that I hope you will enjoy. It is all fiction, although inspired by people I have met or know personally. As always I have no pretension to be writing great literature, just a small diversion from our daily routine.
As she watched the car drive away, through the trees and down the lane, a shiver went up her back and she wrapped her cotton robe a little tighter around her waist. The children had booked a crack-of-dawn train up to Paris and she insisted on getting up early to wave them goodbye, make them coffee and fuss over their baggage, even though everyone knew it was unnecessary.
The taxi finally disappeared from sight, and she turned to the golden retriever sitting patiently beside her. He looked up, his eyes full of trust and expectation, as if to say, “so, what now?”. “Well Ben, it’s just you and me. I guess we have to decide on the next chapter together”. She ruffled the hair on the top of his head and he took that as a sign that the ‘waving-goodbye-to-the-kids-ceremony’ was over and that if he played his cards right, it may even be time for breakfast. Turning around, he bounded back towards the house and Kathy was surprised to feel her eyes well up with tears. She looked around her, the beautiful view from the forest back across the hills, the morning dew, the big old stone house, that special provencal light … it felt rather surreal and she suddenly felt dreadfully alone. She sighed aloud, and whispered to herself “and to think it all started because I missed a train”.
Kathy had spent the last two weeks with her three grown children in her house in the Provence. Since Pierre’s accident the previous winter, she knew that the kids were worried about her feeling lonely, and they tried to call or come down whenever they could, but they were each young adults now, at the start of their professional lives, and their own adventures. The two weeks with them in the house had been bliss, she cooked for them, after dinner each night they chatted till late, they went out for meals to favourite restaurants and generally relaxed together in that special way that only a close family can.
Emma, her eldest, had tried to talk to her a couple of times about selling the house and moving up to Paris to be closer, but Kathy smiled and changed the subject. Why would she leave this beautiful home that she loved so much, and that was so full of all the memories of her life in France? The house where her children grew up, the house where she and Pierre lived for nigh on forty years. She was not ready to say good bye. But she knew she would have to find a new reason to live and very soon.
One evening, after a delicious dinner and a bottle of wine that they shared as they chatted in the candlelight, Emma had said “tell us again the story of how you and Dad met”. Kathy smiled and laughed, “Well it was all the fault of the ticket machine at the train station. I was a young american, fresh out of college, working as an au pair in a tiny village in the loire valley, and once a week I had a day off. That week I planned to go to Paris for the day, and was excited to catch the morning train. But once there, I couldn’t get the machine to work and when it finally produced the ticket I ran out on to the platform only to see my train pull out of the station. I was so mad that I threw my bag to the ground, and cursed the railway system out loud, in english. Then I heard a laugh behind me and someone said “Don’t be mad, the best things ‘appen when our plans go wrong”. I turned around to see a dashing young French boy propping a bike up against the station wall and smiling at me. He had missed the train too, and there were no other trains for a couple of hours so together we walked out of the station to the nearby café and sat down on the terrace to drink a coffee.”
“Two hours later we heard the next train pull in to the station but neither of us even bothered to move, we were so engrossed in conversation. That day went past in a blur, his eyes were so blue and his smile so warm, and he made me laugh and made fun of my accent when I tried to speak in French. I never wanted to leave. When lunchtime came around we shared a simple omelette, and later in the afternoon he accompanied me back to the house where I was working, and promised to come by the next evening to take me to the cinema.”
“That week we went out together every evening, and the next week was the same. A month later I was due to fly home to the States and he asked me to marry him. A whirlwind romance, but I just knew from the start that I had met the love of my life.”
Emma smiled, “and what did your Mom say when you told her you fell in love with a French guy?”. Kathy chuckled, “That was not an easy conversation! Poor Mom, her hopes of having me live down the road and see her grandchildren every day were dashed to the ground. But she was very generous and never tried to influence me in my decision, so after a couple of months back in the States I returned to France and within six months of first meeting each other we were married. Best thing I ever did”. The children smiled, and Emma wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. Nobody wanted to mention the accident, it was still so painful, and each was aware that they all needed to move on and help each other mend, slowly but surely.
Still standing on the path, a brisk breeze woke Kathy from her thoughts, and she shivered a little in the morning freshness. She turned away from the driveway and shuddered as she remembered that conversation and the sweetness of having her children around “Oh Pierre, why aren’t you here with me?… ” she whispered to the wind but there was no reply.
The day passed slowly, as she tidied the house then sat down outisde with a coffee and a book the kids had left her. Mid-afternoon she heard a car draw up in front of the house. She walked out the door to find her girlfriend Marie France getting out of her little blue car. ” Bonjour ma cherie, comment vas tu?” Marie France had always been there for her, ever since the accident, and Kathy knew that she was aware that the children had returned to Paris today and that Kathy could probably do with a little company.
Marie France opened the trunk of her car. “Regardes ce que je t’amene! J’ai besoin de ton aide” “Look what I’ve got with me, I need your help”. She groaned as she lifted a heavy box from the car. Kathy laughed, “What ever are you doing? hauling rocks to my home?!” Marie France struggled to bring the box into Kathy’s big kitchen and dropped it heavily on the floor in the middle of the room.
“Voila, in zee village school I think it eez really dreadful becos ze children , zey have no bibliotheque, …..um, ‘ow you say?” Kathy smiled and prompted her friend “library…. bibliotheque in english is library” “Voila, of course, oui, alors zey ‘ave no library and I zink it will be a good idea for you to ‘elp zee school, to do zees for zee children” She paused, looking at Kathy with a triumphant smile, as if in one fell swoop she had found the answer to Kathy’s mourning and sudden loneliness.
Kathy smiled, and slowly shook her head. She didn’t want to hurt her friends feelings, and she loved the way Marie France always wanted to practice her english, even though Kathy’s French was fluent.
“Marie France, je te remercie, you are so kind to think of me this way …… but I have to say no. I need to be here for a while, in our home, working in the presence of Pierre, tu comprends? Do you understand?”
The truth was that during the holiday Kathy had taken some decisions that remained known only to her. Marie France looked disappointed and worried “mais Kathy, tu ne peux pas rester ici à ne rien faire, you cannot stay here and do nothing, it eez not good for your morale”
Kathy smiled, “sit down, I shall make you a coffee and explain”
An hour later, Marie France drove away from the house with her box of books, and a slightly bemused smile on her face. Kathy had been adamant, she had a plan.
The next chapter of this little story is now available, click on Part Two