Monsieur Caron’s Aeroplane

DSC00143Monsieur Caron mows the strip of land between his wood and M. Abelli’s vines; curiously, old bales edge the ditch.  I wondered why, until M. Caron’s daughter told me.     

Caron is a tiny gnarled man in his seventies, wizened face dark from working on his woodland and smallholding; a few cows and goats, and chickens who spend as much time scratching on the road as in the yard.  He came to take a beehive from our roof; his suit swamped him, held up around knees and elbows by straps.  He swarmed up the ladder, lifted some tiles and came down almost as fast, saying he couldn’t take the hive without dismantling the roof. The bees are still here.

Mme Caron was collecting census forms; recognising the surname on her identity badge, I asked if they were related.

“Mais oui,” she replied, then switched to English, I think to stop the torture of her ears with my French. “My father”.  She rolled her eyes and asked if I knew about the aeroplane.

“Really, the whole commune knows.  He and my brother have been building this plane for seven years, and it drives my mother crazy.  She says she will not allow them to fly it as she does not have a good black dress for the funeral.”  

“But, building an aeroplane?” I said, in French to show willing.  Stoically, she continued in English and for some minutes we carried on this bilingual conversation.  One day, she told me, he cleared the barn, and, waving some papers at his wife, announced that he had bought the plans and would now build the plane.  He would build it from materials lying around the farm. Every day he wanders around with a spanner; Maman throws up her hands, muttering imprecations only audible to the chickens.

The aeroplane is still in the barn. The wings lies on the earth floor alongside the fuselage, and the engine has been in pieces on the workbench for many years.  Mme Caron takes the forms and shrugs.

I don’t think I will ever see M. Caron’s plane on that landing strip, but four times a year he will mow it anyway.  It looks like he’s just cutting hay.  

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Colin’s BMW climbed the icy hill, headlights raking the kitchen windows at every bend. Rosemary sat perfectly still on the bench facing the door.

Mascara smeared across her cheeks.  The house, her house, was quiet, now.  This child’s drawing of a cottage, carefully restored to a family home, with a ten-mile view over the valley from east to west. They said it would be their last house.  Then Colin, the early-adopter, had filled it with devices.

“You have a message from your FR3 food tracker.”  It told her the lamb chops and cheese needed using up and she was out of milk; the washing machine announced its job was done, and the coffee machine smugly heralded with a discordant chime that her macchiato was ready. It was lukewarm. The Vacbot 1 had suicidally thrown itself downstairs and its dust over the hall, and the oven colluded with Home Message Centre to remind her of her failings: “You have not set menus for today”; “You have not set menus for tomorrow”; “Rosemary’s Mother called.”

She hated the machines, she hated the synthetic voices, and she hated Colin.  She hated his shiny red face and thin colourless hair, boiled gooseberry eyes goggling as he programmed the microwave voice, converted her CDs to computer files and installed the voice-activated  whole-house telephone system.

An app told him when to take his Propranolol and he’d installed a portable defibrillator in their bedroom, now a domestic version was available.  His favourite was the heat pump and underfloor heating system.  The designer of that had his own special place in hell waiting for him; all day it justified its existence with a running commentary; “Dining room, twenty degrees” ; “Water, sixty-five degrees.”

“Dinner at six pm; awaiting instructions. Oven on standby; awaiting instructions.”  Her fingers curled inwards till the nails dug into her palms.

The phone rang as lights flared and an alert brayed, sounding like all the trumpets of Revelation at once and scaring her senseless.  Two voices competed for her slow wits; “Rosemary’s Mother is calling,” and “Lighting up time.”  Ignoring the phone, Rosemary scrambled around the kitchen switching off cabinet lights, pendants over the island and ceiling spotlights, till the room was lit only by appliance LEDs.  Her heart rate and blood pressure subsided to somewhere near normal.

I should start dinner, she thought, but she didn’t move.  “I should, I should, I should…”, she shouted, trailing off when she realised she wasn’t making a sound, and she wept.

The Message Centre, recognising the car’s approach, called out, “Colin is home.”

Rosemary went to the electric meter cupboard, pulled her sleeve down over her fingers and flipped the trip switch.  In the hall she unclipped the Home Protection Device from its frame and sat, resting her arm along the cushion.

The door opened. “Rosemary”, he called, stamping snow from his shoes.  “Why are you sitting in the dar…”

Rosemary breathed for the first time that day, and opened her mobile. She tapped the emergency icon, and said, “Police, please.”

Later, the report said ”Wife shot husband with taser. Lights off, assumed intruder.  DOA. NFA.”

Severine II

40 ansSeverine is 40 today – there is bunting behind the counter, and balloons and ribbons stir gently under the awning.  She’s working, as usual, behind the counter of the patisserie, but it’s taking her twice as long to serve her customers today; they all want to wish her a happy birthday.  The old men shout jokes to her husband in the bakery, nudging each other, and bursting into short, raucous laughs.  It’s already hot this morning, and she wipes her forearm over her brow; it must be warm so near the ovens.

I’m at a corner table in Cafe Aure, watching her moving between customers in the bakery and the cafe. I moved to this small commune two years ago, and I come here a few times a week, because, well, frankly, they have the best pastries in town.  I don’t know Severine well, but she is good with my faltering French, my mixed up tenses and verb endings.  Now and again she giggles at my mistakes, then puts her hand to her mouth, looks up under her eyebrows and apologises so charmingly that it’s not possible to bear her any malice.  I think she must be clever; I see her working on the accounts often, when the shop is empty, and it’s always Severine, not Patrick who looks on as the children sit at the end of the counter, swinging their legs on high stools as they do their homework in the afternoon.

She doesn’t look happy today.  The tendons in her neck are raised, and when she thinks no one can see, she opened her mouth wide and waggled her jaw from side to side, as if she is trying to shake out some tension.

She leans forward into the display cabinet and has to stretch to pick up the empty pastry tray.  She’s small, smaller than I am, maybe only five feet tall, and the tendons on her arms ridge up with effort.  As she drops the tray on the counter, she lets out a puff of air which makes her shaggy fringe flip up and flop back.

I can catch odd phrases from here.  Yes, Flori is coming from Bordeaux for the party tonight.  Yes, he is doing well at University.  And yes, Romain and Lucie will be there; there is no school tomorrow.  Naturally, Romi is at the lycée now; Lucie will follow him in two years.

I found an article on line about Severine a few days ago.  She is a councillor in the town, and has just been announced as a Socialist candidate for the European Elections next year. This is something I didn’t know, and something we have in common; in another life, I used to be a councillor too.  I can read some articles, learn some new vocabulary and maybe talk to her about this next week. It’s good to have something to talk about, or our conversations stumble into silence, and I’m embarrassed by my poor language skills.

Patrick has prepared a special cake for her birthday.  It is on the counter, on croquembouchedisplay; after all, he is a patissier, and one must always remember to show one’s skills!  It is a magnificent tower of golden choux balls, glossy with caramel and usually for weddings, but what an advertisement!  There are other cakes in the glass fridge – I can see a bavarois, and a charlotte from here, and my mouth waters a little.

I wait for a break in the queue, and go to buy bread and pay for my coffee.  Ça va? she asks, raising her eyebrows and giving me a brief smile.  I reply that I am well, and how is she? Her right hand, flattened, wobbles side to side and her mouth stretches, turns down a little.  Comme ci, comme ça, I suppose.

“Trop chaud”, she says, finally, as if she had discarded the thought of saying something else.

As I take my change, I wish her bon anniversaire, and tell her that I hope she enjoys her party tonight.  She looks at me for a long moment, then beckons me closer with her uplifted chin. She taps at her belly.

“Enceinte,” she says. “Pregnant”.  And she smiles at me, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

Severine I

bunting

Severine is 40 today – there is bunting behind the counter, and balloons and ribbons stir gently under the awning.  She’s working, as usual, behind the counter of the patisserie, but it’s taking her twice as long to serve her customers today; they all want to wish her a happy birthday.  The old men shout jokes to her husband in the bakery, nudging each other, and bursting into short, raucous laughs.  It’s already hot this morning, and she wipes her forearm over her brow; it must be warm so near the ovens.

I watch her over my grand crème.  The tendons in her neck are raised, tense. I can pick up odd phrases from here.  Yes, Flori is coming from Bordeaux for the party tonight.  Yes, he is doing well at University.  And yes, Romain and Lucie will be there; there is no school tomorrow.  Naturally, Romi is at the lycée now.

She leans forward into the display cabinet and has to stretch to pick up the empty pastry tray.  She’s small, smaller than I am, maybe only five feet tall, and the tendons on her arms ridge up with effort.  As she drops the tray on the counter, she lets out a puff of air which makes her shaggy fringe flip up and flop back.

Patrick has prepared a special cake for the party.  It is on the counter, on display; after all, he is a patissier, and one must always remember to show one’s skills!  It is a magnificent tower of golden choux balls, glossy with caramel and usually for weddings, but what an advertisement!  There are other cakes in the glass fridge – I can see a bavarois, and a charlotte from here, and my mouth waters a little.

I wait for a break in the queue, and go to buy bread and pay for my coffee.  Ça va? she asks, raising her eyebrows and giving me a brief smile.  I reply that I am well, and how is she? Her right hand, flattened, wobbles side to side and her mouth stretches, turns down a little.  Comme ci, comme ca, I suppose. “Trop chaud”, she says, finally, as if she had discarded the thought of saying something else.

As I take my change, I wish her bonne anniversaire, and that I hope she enjoys her party tonight.  She raises her eyebrows at me, and beckons me closer with her uplifted chin. She taps at her belly.

“Enceinte,” she says. “Pregnant”.  And she smiles at me, but it doesn’t reach her eyes.

 

Imagining writing spaces

whitehorsetavern

I closed my journal. There was no point in trying to continue writing.  I thought it would be cool to write something in the White Horse Tavern while I was in New York.  That old wood, scuffed brass and monochrome photographs. The bar was already busy when a bunch of young men came in, laughing and calling to each other as they dropped heavy neon jackets and hard hats on the floor, spreading out from the corner seats to where I sat at a small table.  They looked like the crew working around the corner on West 11th Street. They ordered beers and sandwiches, and someone yelled for fries, making the waitress pick up her pad again, as one order became five.  I drained my glass, and caught the attention of the waitress. When it came, my glass was frosty, and the Brooklyn lager was cold and sharp, very different to the bière blonde I normally drink.  I started to catch snippets of conversation, and got out my tablet again.  If I can’t write here, I can make notes, and that guy in the corner has an interesting face.

 

vines from tce lscape cropped

The deep gold light pours over the tiles through the long french window, warming my back through my dark clothes. It’s like this every evening for an hour before sunset, like the light comes through a mid-aged Sauternes; honeyed, sweet with a touch of acid around the edges.

The smell of rosemary drifts through the window, overpowering the lavender and the magnolia.  
The birds are quiet, now, as I bend to my task. A pair of tree frogs call to each other, a massive quacking sound from creatures no more than five centimetres long, but I tune them out.  My words are flowing now, coming more easily each day I sit here.

Comparing your characters

balloons

Severine is 40 today – there is bunting behind the counter, and balloons and ribbons stir gently under the awning.  She’s working, as usual, behind the counter of the patisserie, but it’s taking her twice as long to serve her customers; they all want to wish her a happy birthday.  The old men shout jokes to her husband in the bakery, nudging each other, and bursting into short, raucous laughs.  It’s already hot this morning, and she wipes her forearm over her brow; it must be warm so near the ovens.

I watch her over my grand crème.  The tendons in her neck are raised, tense. I can pick up odd phrases from here.  Yes, Flori is coming from Bordeaux for the party tonight.  Yes, he is doing well at University.  And yes, Romain and Lucie will be there; there is no school tomorrow.  Naturally, Romi is at the lycée now.

Patrick has prepared a special cake for the party.  It is on the counter, on display; after all, he is a patissier, and one must always remember to show one’s skills!  It is a magnificent tower of golden choux balls, glossy with caramel and usually for weddings, but what an advertisement!  There are other cakes in the glass fridge – I can see a bavarois, and a charlotte from here, and my mouth waters a little.

I wait for a break in the queue, and go to buy bread and pay for my coffee.  Ça va? she asks.  I reply that I am well, and how is she? As I take my change, I wish her bon anniversaire, and that I hope she enjoys her party tonight.  She raises her eyebrows at me, and beckons me closer with her uplifted chin.  She taps at her belly.
“Enceinte,” she says. “Pregnant”.  And she smiles at me, but it doesn’t reach her eyes