The English woman across the street, a short story,Part 2
My heart jumped in my chest, and Reglisse emitted a loud "woof" in protest. Then he got up and headed straight to the front door, sniffed around the perimeter and started to bark. A loud, angry bark ! Something was wrong. We couldn't make the origin of the noise, but it was loud. Or sounded loud in this remote world of nearly complete silence. My first thought was that the roof of the kitchen may have collapsed under the weight of the snow, as the noise came from that general direction. So I got up too, somewhat upset and worried. By that time, Reglisse, still growling, was moving up and down the living-room, like a lion in a cage at the zoo. Definitely an unusual behavior for him normally so quiet. After putting on my heavy woolen robe that made me look like an overweight monk, I opened the door between the living-room and the kitchen. The dog rushed through and started barking again. No sign of collapsed roof anywhere though, which brought some relief, but what the heck was going on ? Reglisse was barking angrily at the door which opens up on the street, but because of the closed shutters, we couldn't see outside. And outside was now obviously the theater of whatever was taking place ! I went back to the living-room and headed to the front door. I had set my rubber boots right by the door, just in case (preparedness !) Good thing I did so I put them on. And here I was, standing in my robe, wearing heavy rubber boots. For good measure, I put on a woolen ski hat. Where are the Vogue photographers when you need them ? Even Reglisse seemed to be laughing at me, as he gave me a look I didn't care to know the meaning of !
- "Okay, let's face the music and dance !" I opened the door carefully.The strong wind pushed me back inside and a cold chilling air invaded the room, making me shiver. Snow had accumulated some three feet high on the outside front steps, so I grabbed the shovel I had left by the door (preparedness!) and shovelled the white stuff away, enough to make a passage. By now, at least four inches of snow covered the ground, somewhat unevenly, as the wind was moving it around. It had packed it against anything that stood in the way. Eerie vision lit only by the dim outside lantern above the door ! I was cold and snow was getting in my eyes and my nose. Reglisse, way ahead of me, was now barking near the gate, probably yelling at me for not opening it fast enough. We still didn't have the first clue about what happened, but we were now on a mission to find out. Upon me opening the gate wide enough to let him through, the dog ran away, swallowed by the darkness and barking angrily. I followed him, holding my flashlight in my left hand and as I turned around the corner of the house, I now stood in complete darkness, except for the pale halo of my torchlight, which honestly wasn't much help ! Suddenly, Reglisse stopped barking and instead started to wail. My heart froze ! Was he hurt ? And that damn snow which slowed me down ! I held the light as high as I could, trying to pierce through the fierce curtain of falling snow, but to no avail. I finally caught up with my animal, who made a dark contrast against everything white around him. We were only fifty yards away from the house or so, but it felt like being lost in the middle of Siberia. It had taken forever to get there too. When I got reunited with my dog, he was still emitting a plaintive cry and with his paws, was frantically scratching something which, when I got close enough, appeared to be an automobile. There was a car in the ditch ! In the only pale light availble to me, I could see the front of the vehicle wedged deeply into the ditch, which is about three foot deep in that particular location. The left rear wheel was up in the air and still turning slowly as I reached the scene. The engine was not running, and needless to say, no lighst were on, inside or out. Suddenly, I recognised the vehicle : it was Belinda's Mini Countryman. Belinda, the English woman who lives just across the street from me. My heart started racing in my chest, not a good thing for my poor old ticker already filled with more titanium stents than I care to carry around. Because of its position, I had to climb to the side of the car in order to figure out if someone was still inside or not. This must have been a sight ! Come on, paparazzi, you're missing a scoop here ! As previously feared, there was a human shape inside the Mini, and there was not a shadow of a doubt in my mind who it was...
I had met Belinda for the first time some seven years before, shortly after I closed on the purchase of the cottage. Her and her husband closed on their own property only ten days later than me. I remember seeing the black Porsche 997 they had at the time driving up the steep hill where both our houses stand, from the top of my roof where I was doing some repairs. I had waved and they had waved back. Later the same day, as the Porsche was coming out of their farm's courtyard, I flagged them down and introduced myself. They seemed to be delighted and definitively relieved to meet me as neither one of them spoke a single word of French.
- "Where did you learn to speak English ?" the woman had asked, with a smile warm enough to melt both poles.
- "Well, I took five years in school, and living almost thirty years in the U.S. did the rest!" I was invited to her 40th birthday party, some three years ago, now. By then, I had learned that she collected antique clocks, so I broke the piggy bank and got her a late 18th Century blue and white French porcelain mantel clock, which I had found beautiful. Ouch ! Not cheap ! But hey, it was only money, right ? But the reward of her smile as she opened her present, and the way she clipped a small square of the wrapping paper to keep as a souvenir was worth all the gold in the world to me...
To be continued,
Copyright 2012 by Austinhealy, his heirs and assigns.
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