Thursday, July 5, 2007

Marcel

Years ago, I was never like this. I used to leave the door open, wide open, whenever I was at home. I never even used to lock the door when I went out or up to bed, either. There were years at a time when I never even had a lock for the door. But now it seems that I've changed. I close and lock the door, even when I'm in the house. It's quieter that that way, but sometimes I miss the ways of old. And sometimes not.

Those were sometimes quite exciting times. Sometimes they were scary times, sometimes sad ones. Waking up in the middle of the night to a friends' husband sitting on your bed, crying and complaining about his wife, your friend, is never really easy. It can be hard to know what to do with the poor sod, except to firmly remind him of his husbandly responsibilities while at the same time making it perfectly clear to him that you are to be considered nothing more than a platonic sort of 'Dear Abbey'...even if you are a single woman who has no visible means of supportive sex.

At these times one has to be hard, and be prepared to go for a gentle cup of tea in the morning with the wife and act as if it is perfectly normal and reasonable behavior for her husband to be making these nocturnal visits and then to ask her to remind him gently to consider that I am a single mother of babies who needs her sleep and doesn't appreciate being woken under those cicumstances. This approach tends to work, and you don't see the husband again. Of course, you don't generally see your friend again, either.

Or when a complete stranger walks in the door, thinking that this place is a curio or junkshop, and demands the price of an 'item', before looking a bit confused and then asking if he hasn't made a mistake and is he in a private home? That used to happen a few times a week; this is a tourist town and I guess it is difficult for people to realize that these quaint old houses and flowers and charming little alleyways also serve as homes and family places. It's not as if we dress up in period costumes, or anything. Sometimes I understand how fish in an aquarium must feel. Life in a fishbowl.

Of course, anyone who stopped by the door got invited in for a cup of coffee. It took me years to realize that an invitation to someone of the opposite sex for a cup of coffee is often, in France, a euphenism for an invitation to eye someone up sexually. I just thought that the myth of the French lover was real, and none of them could keep their hands off anything feminine. It took years, I tell you, to even begin to understand these people. Years.

When I first came to this town, I was recently divorced. I'd bought a monster of a house, and had begun renovating it by taking a sledgehammer and knocking down every single wall in the house. I can't tell you how good this was for my confidance and morale...having the courage to even think about doing such thing, not to mention the confidence (call it optimistic ignorance, if you will) to really go ahead and do it. Taking a sledgehammer and knocking down a wall is also an excellent way to take out frustrations after a divorce.

I'd put the kids to bed and then work like a maniac until well past midnight. Or give the kids to the ex for the weekend and then get myself all dirty and stinky and tired out with the job of it. Snday afternoon I'd take a swimsuit and go over to the thermal hot saltbaths to get a wash, a swim in the pool, and melt in the eucalyptus aroma of the steamroom for an hour or so. There are advantages to living in a curist town, I can understand why people come here from all over France for the benefits of a hot saltwater soak.

Little by little, the house began to open up. The neighbors would often walk past my open door and peer into the dark interior of the house, then walk away, clucking and shaking their heads. They though that I would end up with the house falling down onto the top of my head. Houses don't fall down for taking out interior walls, not if you leave the sturdy old oak beams that hold the ceiling in place. I did remove the old mud-and-straw packing material that was between the main beams and the crossbeams, though. There is a limit to rustic.

The man from the next lane over used to walk his little dog past my house late at night. This was before the little dog got run over and Marcel got himself a big doberman that he couldn't handle when he was too drunk to walk. Marcel would stagger down the lanes between the old houses, little cobbled paths that were just wide enough for him to hold out his arms and balance himself on each side while inching along the stone walls with the little dog's leash hooked onto his wrist.

The little dog never used to pull him over, but the big dog did. It got to the point where he simply let the doberman run loose for an hour or so at night, and we all learned to bring the cats in and to not let the kids play outside after a certain time in the evening. If you'd forgotten the time, you could always tell when to do that, because there would be Marcel, yelling at the dog to come back, 'Fifi, vien ici! Couche toi! If he was too drunk and had passed out, we still had a chance, and would be alerted by the sound of the bells that were attached to the doberman's collar. The cats figured that one out real fast.

Marcel would peep in and say 'Bonsoir' if he was passing by on his nightimes walks. As long as I wasn't busy up a ladder or wielding an electric appliance, I'd stop what I was working on and stop to return the salutation. One night I asked him if he would care for a cup of coffee, and he came in, shutting the door behind him, and sat himself down at my table. The shutting of the door should have alerted me, but I was pretty naive back in those days, and it only flashed through my mind that it was a funny thing for him to have done. Silly me.

I didn't speak the language, in those years. I pretty much got by on smiles and hand signals. Whenever someone said something to me that I didn't understand, I'd simply smile and nod my head, politedly saying, "Oui, oui.". So when Marcel began to speak in a somewhat earnest tone, over his unfinished cup of coffee, I did just that. Then, when he took my hand and began to stroke it gently, I felt the alarm bells begin to ring. And when I understood that he was making hand signals to say that, as he was an old man, he wasn't too certain if he could do the job...or at least, I THINK that's what the droopy finger gesture meant...I knew that I had to get him out of there, and fast.

Like a dummy, I'd been doing the nodding encouragingly, smiling and saying 'oui, oui' during the entire cup of coffee episode. And like a bigger dummy, I kept on doing it, as I diplomatically manoeuvred him to the door....all the while cursing my gentle ubringing, with its emphasis on polite good manners no matter what the situation. Nobody had ever told me that not everyone had been raised in the same manner.

Once at the door and outside in the lane, Marcel refused to give up. He kept on repeating the same phrase over and over, and I kept on smiling and repeating mine over and over, as well. I had another mindflash when I realized that he was flattened against the wall of the house, almost whispering, and making furtive glances at the windows of my neighbors. But, in the end, he went without a struggle.

I took myself upstairs to go to bed, chuckling at the incident, wondering what it was he thought so urgent to repeat again and again...'Vous me plait, vous me plait'...and it wasn't til I got to the top of the stairs that realization of what it was sunk in. Oh my gosh! He was saying 'I like you, you please me', and all the while, like a big idiot, I was nodding and smiling and saying 'yes, yes'.

2 comments:

Mokihana said...

You are a born storyteller and you write extremely well. Thank you for allowing me to be among the chosen few who get to read your blog!

PureCajunSunshine said...

Sorry about that deleted comment...'twas the only way to edit it.

Here it is again...

I love your writing style...'tis so good, it's addicting!

Some of the titles on that list at the end of the blogsite just sharpens the need for another "fix".

Keep on keeping on, Susie! Thanks for sharing with us.