I told the gardener yesterday that I was leaving. ‘This is my last week,’ I said as we spoke by the dead oak tree that’d been struck by lightning over the winter.
He looked at me blankly. ‘Oh,’ he replied. ‘How long have you been here?’
‘Six months,’ I said. I’m le gardien – the caretaker.
He shrugged. ‘I didn’t realise,’ he replied. ‘I thought you were on holiday.’
I laughed, but he didn’t seem to see the funny side. Probably because he’s been strimming and mowing the grounds every Monday morning for the past six months, while I’ve been watching him from my warm room drinking coffee and eating hot toast – Monday mornings having been particularly wet this year.
I explained why I was here and what I’d been doing these past six months, but he didn’t seem bothered and said he needed to get back to work.
‘Of course,’ I said. ‘What with all the rain and heat this week, the grass needs a really big cut!’
It came out wrong, of course. I knew as soon as I’d said it. ‘I mean I’d do it myself if I could,’ I quickly countered. ‘I love strimming, in fact I used to cut the grass for a local business when I was a kid, you know, for a bit of pocket money.’
He looked at me intensely. ‘Why do you like France?’ he finally said.
I hadn’t expected the question. I thought he was going to growl at me and slice my leg to pieces with his strimmer. ‘I don’t know,’ I replied. ‘Perhaps, it’s the weather,’ I said looking up at the gathering rain clouds.
‘Or the wine,’ he gestured over to the stack of empty bottles outside my door.
‘That too, but the wine’s a bonus – like free soap when you stay in a hotel.’ I saw the hint of a smile on his face. ‘I like France because of the peace and quiet. It’s a very quiet country you know. Spain’s too noisy – I once lived there. England as well. Too overcrowded, too many people. Here, I can sit for days, weeks even, and hear nothing. Absolutely nothing.’
He was nodding in agreement. And then his face broke out into a full Gallic smile.
‘Except on Mondays,’ he said gripping the starter cord on the strimmer and revving it up to full power.’
‘Except on Mondays,’ I repeated as he walked off to cut the long grass.
I’ll miss the place, I admit. Being able to write and think in the peace and quiet. Cycling with the crazy Caussade Cycle Club on Sunday mornings. Shopping for garlic and pork in the hectic throng of the Caussade Monday morning market. Reading books from the old library shelves that I’d never even heard of. Walking round the sweeping grounds of the estate on a moonlit night. Freedom to roam.
Au revoir Chateau Dumas.