(THE STORY SO FAR;)
Matilda Maricella, a woman of complete and utter vividness, is cycling her new yellow bicycle across france by way of the garonne river and the canal du midi.
She has already 650 kms of her journey under her saddle and has reached the tiny village of Montolieu at the foot of the Montagne Noir, a village that is filled to the brim with book shops.
She thinks she would like to stay there a few days to rest and catch up on some reading, writing and painting.
Whilst rummaging in one of the quaint bookshops, she meets two Irish women who live in the village.
They give her the address of a place to stay a half dozen kilometers further into the hills. (no distance for a woman who has travelled so far). It is an old converted Abbey which they promise her will be restful and serene.
As they write the directions to the abbey for her, a look passes between the two women which goes unnoticed by Matilda.
One of the Irish women speaks fluent french and rings the Abbey to make a reservation for her.
Matilda gets on her yellow bicycle and promising to visit the women (they have introduced themselves as the ‘Two Irish Moira’s of Montolieu’) on her way back, looks at the steep hill ahead with determination. (so far she has been only cycling the flat canal paths )
‘May God increase your legs ‘ Calls out one of the Moira’s (She is from kerry) as they wave Matilda off.
The second Moira shouts out something too.
It sounded like ‘May God forgive us’ but Matilda couldn’t be sure, as the wind whips the Moira’s voice away before she can hear what she is saying.
After meeting and surviving an encounter with the ‘red caps’ enroute to the old Abbey (Its hunting season in france and the lads are out shooting excitedly at everything in sight. They wear red hats presumably so that they won’t shoot each other by mistake. Luckily Matilda, used to dodging empty beer cans lopped at her by drunken young Dublin gurriers, has no problem with random bullets zipping through the spokes of her bicycle) Matilda arrives safely at the huge wrought Iron gates. She pulls the chain of the gigantic bell as instructed by the two Irish Moira’s.
The sound echoes and after a short while a tall man dressed in a blue shirt and white linen trousers approaches. He is wearing a black felt hat with a wide brim which shadows his face. They gaze at each other momentarily through the gate before he swings it open and welcomes her.
Matilda thinks she might be ‘in love’ but having been there before and been mistaken, doesn’t get too excited about it ….yet!
Readers if you are still interested please read on….
Matilda was embarrassingly aware of the slapping sound her sandals made.
A sound that echoed loudly as she followed Le Monsieur through the ancient cloisters.
She tried to walk more quietly but without success.
She was finding it hard enough to keep up with his long legged strides and walking more quietly would have meant walking more slowly.
The slapping sounded almost irreverent in this once holy place and it wouldn’t have surprised her if at any moment a ghostly monk appeared to reprimand her.
La Monsieur, on the other hand, did not seem to notice as he pointed out the various architectural points of the building and the strategically placed pumpkins.
His penchant for these objects appealed to Matilda more than the ancient brick work and when she told him he looked pleased and stopped to gaze at her from under the wide brim of his Black hat.
She found this a bit disconcerting as she couldn’t see his eyes. (A bit like someone talking to you with sunglasses on when you didn’t have any on yourself).
‘I love pumpkins’ he said simply ‘I love to carve them or paint them or leave them au natural’ He indicated to a pile of large green ones of different shapes lying on a bench.
‘But you are an Arteeest yourself I hear? The two Irish moira’s have told me so!’
He smiled disarmingly at her, showing very white teeth.
‘You understand my obsession n’est-ce pas?’
‘You know the Irish Moira’s?’ Matilda was surprised, wondering why they had not mentioned this to her.
‘Ah bien sur! I know them well. They are like a mother (He pronounced it ‘Muzzer’ which she found very endearing for some reason) to me and are always worried about, how you say? Ze affaires of my ‘eart’.
He placed his two hands over his heart and wiggled his eyebrows at her making his hat move.
She noticed how shapely his large hands are and how long his fingers with well trimmed nails were.
Blushing, she looked down at her offending sandals.
‘They are always trying to find me a wife!’ He continued ‘but I tell zem I wait! and some day someone who understands me will appear and kaboom! We will fall in love and their job will be done!’
For once Matilda was at a loss for words.
‘Oh’ was all she could say, remembering to shut her mouth after this single utterance.
La Monsieur threw back his head and laughed at her discomfort before turning on his heel and continuing to lead the way. Finally they arrived at a small door at the bottom of a tall grecian looking tower.
He disappeared inside and before Matilda had time to wonder if she should follow him he reappeared and handed her a large key.
‘You are in the rose room’ He instructed.
‘And your bicycle will be safe here’ He pointed to the wall in front of which stood the biggest fig tree she had ever seen
Growing with apparent wild abandonment, the great arms of the tree were thrown skywards as though in proclamation of the godly place it had been planted in.
Its gnarled roots protruded above the soil, as though in tangled supplication.
And all the while among its smaller tortured and twisted branches, tiny birds argued and bickered incessantly.
He walked across to it and picking a ripe fig from the nearest branch turned and bowing low, held it out to her.
Did their fingers meet fleetingly? (Telling her story when she returned home to a good friend, she tried to remember if they had) but before she had time to consider his gesture he turned on his heel and loped away.
It was only later it occurred to her what was wrong with the scenario!
Shouldn’t she have been the one offering the ripened fig to him?
Propping the yellow bicycle behind the fig tree, she removed the flowery panniers from the back carrier and carrying them awkwardly across her arm, hurried up a flight of stairs and along a corridor in search of her room.
The sight of the flushed face of a middle aged woman with wild brown hair smiling fetchingly at her stopped her in her tracks! It took her a moment to realise she was looking at a mirror.
The rose room (The picture on the door displayed a victorian scene of a long haired woman in a garden of lushness, clutching a rose to her breast) was on the first floor above the cloisters and overlooking the lawn.
Looking out the window she could see the yellow bike under the fig tree. Already some small finches were landing on the handle bars. One was pecking at its reflection in the the bell making it jangle faintly and causing them to fly back up into the tree in fright.
Before she had time to turn away they were bravely returning to their new roosting place.
‘Damn!’ She muttered to herself. ‘My bicycle will be covered with bird shit!’
Suddenly she was overcome with tiredness!
‘I’ll move it in a while’ She thought sleepily, climbing fully dressed onto the huge bed and lying on top of the cool vintage embroidered quilt.
The sound of monks singing woke her in the middle of the night and for a moment she couldn’t remember where she was.
She slid down off the high bed and made her way over in the half dark to use the bathroom.
The ancient pipes rattled furiously as she flushed the toilet, a noise that didn’t quite hide the sudden patter of small feet scuttling along the corridor.
She wanted to open the door of her room and look out but she was suddenly afraid.
Stubbing her toe on her bag, she made her way across the room and gently tried the handle relieved to discover that she HAD locked the door.
Moving silently over to the window she reached up to close the curtains. The moon was casting long shadows on the darkened lawn
She thought she saw a figure bending over her bicycle but when she looked again it seemed to be the shadow of a branch.
The singing had stopped.
All was quiet and she fell quickly back into a deep slumber.
Breakfast was served down in the basement of the abbey in what was once the monks refectory.
She found it by following the smell of the coffee.
The room was large, dark and low ceilinged.
The only light coming in was from four small stained glass windows, one in each of the walls.
Large granite arches made an attempt to divide the room in four.
In one corner an immense fireplace had last night’s ashes still glowing.
A long scrubbed natural wood table was placed in the centre of the room and was laid out for one person by means of a white bowl, a plate with napkin and a knife.
Except for the faint strains of gregorian chant coming from a hidden music system and the odd crackle from the last of the logs in the fireplace, it was eerily quiet and Matilda took her place at the table nervously.
A basket with freshly cut baguette, covered by a clean blue and white checkered linen cloth lay near the plate.
A pat of bright yellow butter sat innocently under a glass covered butter dish,
But it was the pots of jam that really caught her attention.
There must have been at least ten of them and the cut glass crystal they were made of were of different shapes and sizes which glittered as they caught the coloured light coming in through the windows.
‘Pumpkin jam’ a deep voice from behind her made her jump.
The delicate silver spoons which were balanced carefully, one across each jar, rattled against the lids and one fell off and hit the floor with a loud clang.
‘I make zem myself. Like good wine zey must mature over ze winter! You must try zem ALL!’
It was La Monsieur holding a pot of fresh coffee.
He ignored the fallen spoon.
‘Bonjour’ she said shyly, her voice coming faintly from under the table where she was fishing along the floor trying to retrieve the errant spoon.
‘Bonjour’ he replied heartily
‘Look at zis one! Pumpkin with rose petal’.
He put the pot of coffee down and lifted up a jar for her to admire.
She cursed her impetuous dive under the table but he didn’t appear to notice the redness of her face.
She made an attempt at smoothing her hair as he lifted the jar and twirled it proudly in front of her.
‘And zis! it is elderflower and pumpkin! see the paleness of the colours? yet the elderflower gives a hint of muscadet. Extraordinaire et quelle delicieux!’ He bunched his fingers against his mouth making a kissing noise.
‘But zis!’ he reached across her brushing the hovering fruit flies away. ‘Zis is my favourite! made with ginger and cointreau!’
He opened the lid and dipped a spoon in it and bending down, moved his face close to hers!
His brown eyes were as shiny as the spoon he was now holding against her lips.
‘Mmmmmm’ she said uncomfortably ‘very nice’.
He straightened up and smiling at her (those teeth) poured her a cup of coffee.
Without his hat, his wild head of curly dark hair well streaked with white came as a surprise to her.
‘Did you sleep well? Sometimes people complain! They say they hear monks singing? and your bicycle ? It is happy. I checked it last night. Oh that moon! wonderfully bright! But of course you were sleeping then n’est pas?’ He gazed at her his eyes twinkling.
‘Now today!’ he continued, not giving her a chance to reply. ‘You must stay and paint! no gallivanting on your yellow bicycle!’
‘You will paint…… let me see?’ He started to smile mischievously and Matilda, afraid he was going to suggest that he pose naked for her, looked around wildly and her eyes lighting on the nearest heap of rounded objects shouted ‘pumpkins! I will paint pumpkins!’
His eyes lit up delighted
‘ahhhhh’ He said ‘You are such a clever woman! You know the way to my ‘eart’.
TO BE CONTINUED!
Well readers! if you have followed Matilda’s story so far without falling asleep I hope you have enjoyed it as there is more to come of this story.
However! If you have had enough of this romantic piffle I better warn you I am really getting into the swing of it and enjoying writing about it and it is based on fact (I will have you know).
BUT…if you HAVE had enough I will not be insulted if you take your leave at this point.