Later, Pascale invited us to come and eat dinner with her as we hadn’t managed to buy any food for ourselves and everything was closed due to one of the many French bank holidays in May. We sat around the table and Pascale announced that soon her ‘friend’ who lived with her would be back and would be eating with us. A short while after, we heard a car pull up which set the dogs off barking again. A short, very stocky man with a shaven head and one very bloodshot eye came through the kitchen door and pushed the dogs away. Jean. He was holding three baguettes and a bag full of cheeses. He shook both of our hands very heartily.
After some introductions and a bit more stilted conversation, he got up and turned on the tiny T.V. in the corner of the room. He flicked through the channels until he settled on one related to the upcoming French election. He watched for a bit and then came back over to the table to talk politics. I had a gut feeling this might not go very well. He asked us about Brexit and UK politics and we said our opinions gently and understand what he was saying. He tore off a big chunk of bread with his hands and gesticulated with it as a prop. He tore off a chunk with his teeth and chewed as Pascale tried to translate. There seemed to be a good section of the conversation lost in translation and at one point Jean stood up quite abruptly and left the room. We didn’t see him again that evening.
Pascale tried to lighten the mood by showing us pictures of her children, cats and other animals on her i-pad. Two beautiful blonde haired daughters who had fledged the nest. Pascale explained sadly that this region of France was too quiet and boring for them and their young families so now they lived far away. She showed us a picture of a giant rabbit with huge floppy ears and a mane of light grey fur. She said that she had adored it but one morning found it dead in its hutch. We both agreed that there is always a strain on the hearts of animals that have been bred so large. Then we looked down into our laps.
She seemed to find great love and companionship in her animals, this warmed me to her greatly. She took some of the bread left from dinner and went over to the kitchen window. She called outside in a kind of coo – kind of whistle. Molly, the skittish dog, shot off to cower at the back of the kitchen. Soon we could hear the loud honking of the geese approaching. They came right up underneath the window, just their beaks visible, reaching up against the evening rain. They honked louder and louder in between swallowing pieces of bread as she hand fed them tenderly. She turned around and for the first time I saw her break into a smile – You can’t feed that one by hand – she pointed at one of the tallest beaks – He bites!
When the bread was gone she spoke softly to the geese and then shut the window. She asked us if we would like to eat our breakfast in the kitchen or in the museum. Me and Haydn looked at each other in amusement and bewilderment. The Museum? Well – I said – I think that would be too good to miss, wouldn’t it Hayds, breakfast in a museum! We’ve never done that before.
We both climbed the wide staircase to bed feeling quite ill at ease. Worried that we had somehow offended Jean in our political miscommunication. The house felt huge and mysterious, having only seen the kitchen and our bedroom upstairs. What was in the rest of the house? Such an enormous building for just two people. So many closed, locked doors and narrow corridors. We locked our bedroom door that night and lowered the electronic, metal blinds.