Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Umbria

I located Jacques’ old 2 CV in a rusty lockup on the outskirts of Budapest. It was covered in a fine layer of dust and looked like an ancient farm car. But once I wiped it off with a cloth it saw the fine sunflower yellow and blacks of the bumper shining through the dirt.


It was a curiously minimalist car with flap windows and a roof that rolled up like a tin of sardines. I was surprised when I turned the key in the ignition and the car started up the first time. The old man who ran the garage said he had regularly started her up. He said he would have buffed the car up had he known I was going to show up and shooed me out into the sunshine for 20 minutes while he got out his rag.
Soon I was driving across the bridges of the Danube in the minimalist car with the top rolled down and the late afternoon sunshine in my hair. I only had a vague idea where I was going but I headed west for cornfields and then to Vienna and Munich and views of the distant and majestic Alps. For three days my mood was carefree. I stopped in Alpine meadows and painted sweeping vistas that were so at odds with my gritty work on the banks of the Thames.


Then, as I entered Alsace, my mood changed and I was filled with apprehension at my meeting with a girl I had not seen for more than two years. When I drove into her village, the air was thick and heavy with bees and pollen. I saw ivy clad round towers peeking out over the thickets of weeds and the black woods behind. I felt myself dismount from the 2CV as if in slow motion and each foot forward was as if I was walking in thick water. 

I pulled a piece of paper from my pocket and squinted at the address. The humming of the bees clogged the air. Geraldine’s home was the grand and shuttered square building at the end of the avenue. The iron gates topped with dragon heads were more like a warning than a barrier. I opened the small gate with a squeak. Each step forward felt like one I would regret. There was a young, wall eyed girl in the front garden clipping a bush.


Alsace

Her blank expression met mine and her eyes narrowed as if she detected something. “Geraldine,” I mouthed. She looked at me but did not move. I repeated the name. She got up, brushed dirt off her dress and walked into the house.
I looked back and saw how this grand house behind shutters marshalled the whole village that cowered before it. Rooks hung in the dense air and here and there I saw the back of a villager in a scene that seemed little changed in 500 years.

I heard a small voice and turned to see a girl wearing a dowdy brown dress in the doorway. There was something about Geraldine in her eyes but her face seemed careworn and there were dark lines swirling under her eyes.

“Geraldine?”

“Yes.” Her voice was toneless and flat..

“It’s me Campbell.”

“Campbell.” For a second she was distracted by the call of the rooks. Then she turned back to me. “If you are Campbell, you should come inside.”

Mute, I followed her across an uneven stone floor to a parlor infused with the yellow light of dandelions.

In the delicate light, some notion of the old Geraldine came back to me.  I saw she was smiling at me quietly.

“So what have you been doing Geraldine?”

“Oh not much. I have been here. Waiting for you, right.”
“Right.”

The girl clasped her hands in her lap as I tried to reconcile the figure in a shapeless dress with the bikini at the rehab center. “So what have you been doing  Campbell?”

“Too much to talk about here Geraldine,” I stumbled over my words. I didn’t want to sit here in the suffocating old house anymore, fearing one of her devout family members would show up. “Look, I want you to come away with me.”

The girl looked blankly at me as if I had mentioned a mission to Jupiter and turned her glistening eyes to the lattice window.

“OK.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I said OK Campbell.”

I stood up feeling flustered. “Alright. When?”

“Now, of course, silly.” Her arm slipped around my waist and propelled me to the door. I almost dragged her to the Citroen. Days later we saw the city of Assisi, a vast fresco of pink marble on the hill. I turned to see Geraldine’s ghost of a smile. The girl had hardly spoken for two days and here we were about to play happy families in new villa overlooking the Apennines.


Umbria

Geraldine was more drawn than I remembered her but she was still a vision of loveliness against the Medieval skyline. I ran my hands through her hair and she turned to me.
“Will Marcel be visiting?” she finally asked.
“I’m sorry.”
“My husband.”

Chapters from my novella Transitions are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to real people or events.

5 comments:

  1. Husband?! Oh poor Campbell. Return trip to Alsace coming up?

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  2. Interesting car. Can't say that I've seen one of those before.

    She's married? Oh my. This can't be good.

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    Replies
    1. ha ha - I know right Jean - not a run of the mill car...

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  3. Nice car. Love the foreshadowing: "Each step forward felt like one I would regret." But if he hadn't taken each step forward, he wouldn't know what might have happened.

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