F is for France
It was a fast train and I saw little of France initially. At some time during the early hours of the morning, I woke and saw cold, blue apartment houses shuttling by the window, fractured through the condensation. I heard someone on the train say it was the suburbs of Paris. I shivered inside my blanket, a strange lonely and broken image of the Eiffel Tower like a jagged needle in the freezing, bleached out morning sky came into my mind and I drifted off again.
The next time I woke I was shaking and sweating. I felt the strong grip of Monty’s hands on me. Someone was talking about “cold turkey.” I thought it was my father but when I woke up again he was not on the train. I was alone with Monty and one of his rugby bully boy friends from public school. I had an image then of being a child and playing in a sun drenched yard with my sister Gracie. Her gap toothed smile seemed real enough to reach out and touch. Sweet, straw haired Gracie years before she became the indifferent adult she was today.
I turned to the window and was amazed at the sudden transformation. The chilly, high houses of Paris and the scaffold-like tower had been replaced with golden cornfields basking in the sun. A small Citroen farm van rolled down a dirt track flanked with poppies. The hillside was cut up by the serrated rows of a vineyard that wound high up the escarpment, ripe with fruit. The countryside literally rolled away from here like the strokes of an artist’s brush.
The scene blurred into an impressionist tableau again as the powerful medication they had given me kicked in. The next time I awoke the world outside my window had been transformed again. There was a blueness that was so bright it hurt the corners of my eyes and a line of crystalline whiteness that I could barely look at. I made out the snow on mountain peaks high and serrated, a town of spires and cupolas and a deep blue river that cut clinically through the heart of the town. Then darkness again. Monty and his minder took me out of the train and into a taxi outside the station. The car lurched up a long winding road and I thought my stomach was going to empty on the seats.
I caught occasional glimpses of the sharp little river again, now a long way below me. Finally we arrived at a chateau with turrets and imposing, ivy-clad walls. The first thing I noticed was the freshness of the air, the tang of pine and high snow that pierced my lungs. The bright light and the birdsong was cut out as if a switch has been flicked as I was led and prodded through a dark gatehouse.
I was taken to a hall with a high wooden vaulted ceiling. At the far end on a dias a small man with beetle black hair was scribbling away on a piece of paper. He barely looked up when I arrived flanked by my minders. He was not fazed in the slightest by my wild appearance. Finally he turned a moist eye to me “Monsieur?”
Monty took some documentation from the man. He scrawled his signature and handed it to me.
“I don’t know what I’m signing, It’s in French.”
“It’s just the formalities for your stay here. See it says you will be here for six week to compete your rehabilitation. Then we will come and get you,” Monty informed me. The preaching tone he had adopted in the hospital had gone as had my parents. Monty was crisply formal like a delivery man handing over a parcel.
“I’m not seeing..”
The small beetled- haired man was making an impatient Gallic gesture with his hands and Monty’s rugby friend was impatiently stamping his oversized feet.
“Just sign. We have a lot to do,” said Monty.
I signed my name on the dotted line.
Chapters from my novella Transitions are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to real people or events.