Section 1: The visit
Argens, Languedoc, Summer 1995
Bernard watched the British car cross the hump-back bridge over the Canal du Midi, take the left fork and slowly move up the road towards his home at the top of the hill. He imagined the driver and passenger peering through their windows looking for street names, his notes in their hands.
‘Well, they didn’t get lost anyway’ he said aloud, although there was no-one to hear him. He pulled on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, walked downstairs and stuck his feet into the flip-flops kept by the door before going to greet his guests.
He’d been friendly enough with Nick, but not really close. Something about his overt physicality put Bernard off, but Julie was different. She was cheerful and positive about life, and he felt a warmth whenever he happened to think about her, although that wasn’t too often. She’d written to him asking if she and Nick could stop off for a night before driving further south for their Spanish holiday, and he had immediately agreed. Since moving to France, several of his old acquaintances and former workmates had spent time with him in his new home. The fine views far south, over the vineyards to the foothills of the Pyrenees, or southeast to the dark Corbieres hills, enchanted everyone who visited. It was close to the Barcelona road. And Bernard enjoyed hearing the news from Scotland
‘Oh, I wish I could live here,’ they’d all say, ‘You’re so lucky.’
Well, luck was the reason he was here, but he wouldn’t talk about it in public. Frugal bachelor with reasonable savings, not too old, an inheritance, a building society windfall, making a reasonable total to invest in a new life while he was still young enough to enjoy it. That was the story he put out, but it wasn’t the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He had simply decided to live the dream he’d increasingly looked forward to — a new life abroad, and more time for his pottery, which had always been more interesting to him than his teaching job. So now he was here.
And so were his friends.