I like variety—so I love travelling, exploring and writing fiction and non-fiction on a daily basis.
Marie was awoken, or so it seemed, from a dream, by the sound of tyres on gravel. There followed more noises, some indistinct, some more familiar; doors slamming, the scuffling of feet, a strain of some unfamiliar music. Then for a few seconds silence, followed by an explosive babble of excited voices. Foreign voices.
It seemed a small eternity before the double doors of the little kitchen were tentatively pushed open. A broad shaft of blinding sunlight sliced into the room to lend life to motes of dust stirred into sparkling animation by the broken air. The sweet perfumes of lavender and wild garlic came next as the odours of decay and damp pushed by them to lose themselves to the outer world.
The two men lingered for a moment at the threshold, their eyes adjusting to the sharp contrasts of shade in the little kitchen. The younger man stared about the room detailing every crack in the plaster, every long-abandoned corner-strung spider's web. Marie quietly watched the older man unfold a large, stiff sheet of paper onto the dusty table. Then moving closer she peered between their shoulders as the two men studied what appeared to be the plans of the house.
The younger of the men spoke in quick, excited bursts in a language she now recognised as English. The older of the two mimicked the speech, but in a stilted, hesitant way, unable to keep up, lapsing frequently into his native French or lifting his hands in a gesture of defeat and smiling broadly, as his vocabulary failed him.
Eventually the men rolled up the blueprint, and began to wander, slowly, from room to room. The older man leading and pointing. Marie followed them. They had not changed, these rooms, although she had not visited them in a long time. The dust on every surface did not seem any deeper, nor the curtains any more moth-eaten.
From behind her came the voice of a woman, the young man responded excitedly, and his wife soon found him. They wrapped their arms tightly around each other, and for a few seconds were completely unaware of the older man quietly smiling to himself.
Up the Stairs
Marie followed the young woman up the stairs now, leaving the men pointing at support beams and again consulting their plans. She could hear the dust falling from every crack and fissure of the creaking wood; taste the woman's perfume on the warm skin; hear her heart quickening.
On the landing, in the gloom, the young woman hesitated, uncertain as she faced a row of identical doors.
Again, Marie followed as the young woman explored each room; watched as she opened the wardrobes, inspect scraps of old newspaper, catch her reflection in the cracked mirrors. Then almost without warning Marie found herself in a room more familiar than the rest.
This had been their room.
Thoughts like confetti sprang into being here, every object prompted a memory. Her attention fell on the wrought iron bed, the torn mattress, and suddenly she was back in Gustave's arms again; could feel the muscles tensing around her, smell his hair; the hint of diesel he could never quite discard, the warm breath on her neck and breasts, his hands at her waist. She could see his face, smiling, whispering on the pillowcase inches from her own; almost hear the words, as the warm breeze brought them the scent of the Atlantic like a gift through the open windows. Here they had made Adele, and on that bed, she'd nursed her. Marie had thought her life perfect until then, but on those days, she’d discovered perfection in her arms.
A shadow dimmed as a cloud passed the sun and the spell was broken. She turned toward the window and again noticed the young woman, staring out through the dirty glass. Pausing beside her, she followed her gaze over the small courtyard and into the water meadows beyond, where a boy and girl, very small, chased each other through the waving grass, their heads occasionally disappearing amid a blaze of crimson poppies.
The young woman's mouth twitched into the faintest smile, but her eyes seemed sad as she watched the children play, as though she were trying to etch the image onto her retina and hold it forever inside her.
Marie watched curiously as the young woman leaned closer to the glass, and, very seriously, whisper to her reflection as though making an oath or a promise. But Marie had never learned another tongue aside from her own, and now she was glad of that.
She again took in the room, maybe for the very last time, vaguely aware the young woman had turned from the window and was leaving. The wallpaper had faded in irregular patches and was peeling down at the corners; the discoloured paint along the skirting was chipped where it met the floorboards. This was not how it had been, of all the rooms this had been her favourite; that wonderful primrose wallpaper she had bought in Paris, the dresser her Grandmother had given her for their wedding, its drawers filling with the Adele's letters throughout the years after the war.
Never a speck of dust. All for Gustave and for Adele.
She turned again to the window. In the courtyard, the English couple, arm in arm, waved goodbye to the estate agent's receding car as it became a dot on the horizon. The children were running back from the meadow, and several suitcases waited idly on the gravel.
Because she had known love, Marie had understood when Adele left for England on the arm the soldier. The war was over, but it would never be the same again. Her daughter never returned to France, not even to claim her inheritance; she had made her home elsewhere. Of course, she knew Adele had died a long time ago, she could feel it. The same way that Marie knew the woman that was standing, so relaxed in the courtyard, was her own Granddaughter.
She was glad they were here now, this house not seen life for a long time.
© 2019 Jerry Cornelius