FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twit­ter: @fi­del­ma­cook

AND so I came home to Las Molieres af­ter yet an­other sojourn un­der French med­i­cal care. In the al­most four weeks of my ab­sence, au­tumn has be­gun its takeover of the green cur­tain of creeper on my house and out­build­ings. Ruby rich jew­els of colour now re­place the lush green leaves; they tum­ble over garage and walls, stretch­ing out along the drive.

No artist surely could truly cap­ture the pul­sat­ing sparks thrown off by the dieback; ch­est­nut and pil­lar-box red blend­ing in a last ex­plo­sion of life.

Af­ter its parched brown­ing in the now un­bear­able late sum­mer heat, the parc has re­turned to the fast­grow­ing elec­tric green, hun­grily soak­ing up the heavy dews of morn­ing and the un­pre­dictable short­lived cloud­bursts.

By the pool, four sun loungers line up – cush­ions re­turned to the barn – in de­fi­ance of what is to come. They look for­lorn and un­der­used, as in­deed they were this year ex­cept dur­ing a brief visit from my son.

In the first years, when those I’d left be­hind came in their num­bers to dream their own dreams, I of­ten picked up a for­got­ten wine bot­tle, an over­turned glass, a smeared plate, smil­ing at the late-night mad­ness.

And on the rare weeks without vis­i­tors I could be found float­ing in my pool singing: “I’m H-A-P-P-Y, I’m H-A-P-P-Y” be­fore climb­ing out to salute the dy­ing sun with a large, frosted glass of sharp white wine.

God, what nights we had gaz­ing at the ridicu­lous spread of stars and the Milky Way, all to a back­ground of noisy ci­cadas, the ever-present sound of the south of France.

Com­ing from a land of grey skies and icy winds, the plea­sure of ris­ing from my bed and open­ing my shut­ters to an en­velop­ing, early heat was a joy­ous as­sault on the senses.

My win­ter-based clothes dis­ap­peared to rarely opened cup­boards and my wardrobe be­came a skimpy collection of linens, T-shirts and long shirts over swim­ming cos­tumes.

My feet, for years perched on lu­di­crous heels, squeezed into boots with ever chang­ing toe-shapes, spread into flip-flops or eased into open leather san­dals.

My skin dark­ened rapidly with just the barest kiss of sun and the back of my neck took on that tone I al­ways en­vied in those who grew up in an­other coun­try.

The phone would ring of­ten with in­vi­ta­tions to ap­eros or lunches and din­ners, al­ways from the large Bri­tish com­mu­nity, and will­ingly I trot­ted off in lost me­an­der­ings down iden­ti­cal coun­try roads and up hid­den drives.

My so­cial life, to the on­looker, was rich and fre­quent but, as al­ways, I brought my pen to bear on all that was hap­pen­ing and my cold eye and splin­ter of ice heart saw them shy away for fear of be­ing in these pages.

And in­creas­ingly I showed my en­nui and yes, dis­dain for their of­ten shal­low grasp on France and its com­plex­i­ties; their pas­sive re­sis­tance to pas­sion­ate dis­cus­sion and con­ver­sa­tion that swooped from books to pol­i­tics in a heart­beat.

My dark hu­mour and one-lin­ers, ap­pre­ci­ated in my old world, fell on ears un­used to such thoughts com­ing from or­dered, con­tained lives.

There­fore, as my rest­less­ness grew in this land, I stopped ac­cept­ing the few in­vi­ta­tions that still came my way and in time even those last, dear die-hards gave me up.

As I loathed cook­ing, though not en­ter­tain­ing, I some­how never got round to set­ting up my own sa­lon and even if I thought of push­ing my­self, my in­ner re­sponse was: “But who for?”

I made a few French friends who, in their in­her­ent re­spect for in­di­vid­ual pri­vacy, of­ten – wrongly – stayed away to give me the space I so ob­vi­ously needed. But of­ten I didn’t need it and I stared out into the noth­ing­ness my sur­round­ings were now be­com­ing to me.

“Be care­ful,” I was warned by one who has known me well for years. “Don’t iso­late your­self. Play the game. Shade your eyes from your thoughts. There’s no taxi to call, no es­cape to oth­ers, no mix and match any more. This is it.

“You’ve never re­alised, have you, how your feel­ings show in your face, even when you’re try­ing hard?”

Per­haps I have, usu­ally when I no longer want to play the game. I’ve never been fond of team sports.

And there has al­ways been a dog at my side. Un­con­di­tional love, you say, nod­ding sagely. Ac­tu­ally no. My dogs have al­ways been Afghans – aloof and, frankly, seem­ingly un­car­ing and dis­dain­ful of all hu­mans, even their own. Seem­ingly.

They do not come to call, to slob­ber with joy on see­ing the one who feeds them. Their gaze is al­ways on some­thing in the dis­tance, in jaun­diced hopes of dis­trac­tion.

Though when ill or bro­ken, they fade quickly, turn­ing face to wall, go­ing in­ward in search of help or obliv­ion.

It takes time and gen­tle, non-in­tru­sive steps to bring them back. When they ac­cept you won’t be pushed away they give in and at last look you straight in the eye with love – their form of love.

Last night the shut­ters were pulled at barely 7.30pm. And when the clocks change, the nights will be long and dark.

It’s over, isn’t it?

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