The story so far:
Matilda maricella had got herself into a bit of a pickle.
She was cycling across france on her very vivid and colourful yellow bicycle.
A thing she did regularly.
That year though was different.
She was on a sort of pilgrimage of the self!
A kind of search for her vividness which she felt had slipped a bit due to the severity of a certain illness, the savagery of the necessary surgery and the tedious treatment that followed.
You see Matilda had been diagnosed many months before with a not very great form of cancer.
Whether her vividness had caused her cancer (Oh how she loved those sunny days and who could blame her, there wasn’t a lot of them around in Ireland)
Or her vividness had cured her, she was not sure! But she was now on the mend and almost back to her alkazeltery self.
It was her leg, groin and tummy that got the brunt of the surgeon’s knife and she sported a long zigzagged scar which she referred to, when asked by curious swimmers (Matilda also loved to swim) as her shark bite.
(She would snigger to herself when they would lose interest in the odd appearance of her leg and make hastily for the shore).
But it wasn’t the appearance of the scar that worried her!
It was the thought of not being able to cycle.
When she voiced this fear to her surgeon, a merry man, almost as vivid as herself and also a lover of the bicycle, he reassured her, telling her that cycling was the best way to recover but adding that maybe she should drop the scarf.
‘After all’ His blue eyes danced nearly as brilliantly as hers, ‘I have not carried out my knifely skills and you have not gone through a year of harrowing treatment only to be lost to an Isadora Duncan style death.
So there she was without her scarf, toiling up and over the hills of the Montagne Noir to the gates of the old Abbey, her scarred leg skillfully hidden under a bright flowing skirt.
Now, while she was ill, she hadn’t really given men or love much thought and it was not her intention to do so on this trip.
So when she gazed into the eye’s of Le Monsieur as he opened the gates of the old abbey she became confused.
And his closeness to her at breakfast the following morning as he fed her various flavored pumpkin jams only added to her confusion.
Now read on if you will…..
Back in her bedroom, Matilda paused from gathering her painting equipment, and looking at herself in the mirror, proceeded to give her reflection a good talking to.
‘Well you ARE in a pickle’ She addressed her flushed face ‘This trip is about you and your journey in search of your vividness. It’s a pilgrimage to the self! Not a holiday romance with some bossy french man telling you what to do and what to eat’.
The memory of him feeding her the cointreau and ginger pumpkin jam, his shining brown eyes so close to hers, his white toothed smile almost blinding her, came flooding back and she sank down on the bed.
Out of sight of the telltale mirror she smirked to herself and smoothed her dress feeling the shapely lines of her body.
She had lost a lot of weight on the treatment, two stone nearly and all that cycling had left her as fit as a fiddle.
Getting up and wandering into the bathroom she examined her own teeth. There was a piece of green pumpkin skin caught between her two front ones.
He was standing at the foot of the stairs when she came out of her room.
‘I have been waiting’ he said impatiently.
Her heart gave a small leap. She couldn’t remember the last time a man had been impatient for her company.
She smiled coyly at him in what she imagined to be an alluring way but he just turned on his heel and made his way across the dewy lawn.
She scuttled after him.
As she passed the fig tree she saw the yellow bicycle was missing
‘I locked it away’ He said airily when he saw her frantic look.
‘The bird poop from those silly birds would ruin it. Look at them! They are really just like a bunch of dowdy women all pale and uninteresting and noisy. But you! You are different!’ He smiled charmingly at her ‘You are so vibrant and strong and anyway’ He added taking her hand and smoothing it with his own large one ‘You won’t need that yellow bike today because you will be painting!’
She simpered at his compliment and ignoring the tiny knot of irritation prickling her, concentrated instead on his tall handsome figure leading the way.
From behind he reminded her of someone but she couldn’t put a finger on who.
He stopped at the grecian tower.
Underneath the tower, was a small room. Really just a covered patio opening out onto a courtyard.
Furnished simply with two rattan chairs and a small table, someone had swept it clean with only a few abandoned bamboo leaves under a wrought iron day bed on which lay many green pumpkins of various shapes and sizes
A hedge of bamboo sheltered the room and to one side lay an ornamental pond and beyond that a split chestnut fence.
Matilda knelt down by the edge of the pond and ignoring her reflection she gazed into it’s depths.
Small goldfish darted in and out from under the lily pads.
Sometimes only a head could be seen, sometimes just a tail.
Monets painting of the lily pond in Giverny came to mind and she straightened up and set out her paints on the table with determination.
‘No no! But you will paint my pumpkins’ Le Monsieur demanded somewhat waspishly as though reading her mind.
Matilda looked from the pumpkins to the pond and back again.
‘Ok’ she shrugged laughing ‘I will paint your pumpkins’.
‘Good!’ He exclaimed.
Turning on his heel he walked away turning once by the fig tree to wave at her.
The small brown birds twittered pleadingly as he passed under it but he paid them no heed.
The morning went by pleasantly.
She filled her notebook with sketches of pumpkins but couldn’t resist doing a quick watercolor of the pond.
Picking up a medium brush, she worked loosely, indeed almost carelessly, with those colors she loved so much.
Strong manganese blue for the water. Bright cadmium orange for the goldfish. Vivid hookers green for the bamboo. Indigo and payne’s grey for the mottled shadow and finally her favorite burnt sienna for the stone.
How familiar she was with their vibrancy.
And yet opposed to that vibrancy was the peacefulness of her surroundings disturbed only by birdsong and the sigh of the breeze through the bamboo leaves.
The scent of the jasmine was making her drowsy but she painted on in a languid fashion.
Every now and again a bamboo leaf would break free and seesaw slowly down before landing boat like on the water of the pond only to be nosed at by a curious goldfish.
At last she finished and looking up guiltily, pulled the page free and laid it on the chair to dry before returning to paint the pumpkins.
Mixing more subdued oxide of chromium with a little terre verte to subdue it further, she carefully painted the pumpkins, capturing their submissiveness as they lay inertly on the iron bed.
Now and again she rose to stretch her back and wander through the gardens.
Small butterflies landed on the various flowering bushes and once she thought she saw a hummingbird zooming in and out of a peony rose, but it may have just been an oversized bumble bee.
She would ask Le Monsieur later.
Far away a church bell rang. She counted the chimes.
It was twelve o’ clock.
Painting isn’t necessarily thirsty work but the fact that you can lose all sense of time sometimes means that you forget to drink and Matilda was just about to go in search of a glass of water when she spotted him making his way towards her.
He was dressed completely in white now except for the wide brimmed black hat and looked for all the world like Monet himself
Carrying a small basket in one hand and swinging a walking cane in the other he marched across the grass with vigor.
‘I have brought you some tea’ He announced, setting the basket down on the rattan table.
It was a delicate affair and when he undid the clasps a wisp of jasmine scented steam coiled up into the air.
It was as if she had rubbed aladdin’s lamp and let the genie escape.
‘Tres jolie n’est pas?’ he enquired all teeth and glittering eyes, shaded by the rim of his hat.
‘Is it japanese?’ she enquired
‘Qui! green jasmine sencha tea’ He replied.
Matilda had meant the basket which was lined in pink and blue flowered pattern silk with indentations for two cups and the teapot.
A beautiful piece of work
He lifted out a cup and with a flourish filled it from the pot.
He handed it to her, his fingers touching hers.
She blushed and lowered her head shyly.
She thought he would pour himself a cup but instead he picked up her sketch pad and turned the pages, examining her work carefully.
Some of the pages he frowned at.
Some he puckered his lips and nodded thoughtfully over.
Then he smiled ‘Now ziz is excellent!’
It was the submissive watercolor of the pumpkins on the daybed and although it was the one she was least happy with she found herself leaping at his approval, but she also felt a bit tired and drained.
‘Limp and colorless’ was how she described herself to her friends later when relaying her adventures. ‘As though all my color and energy was being drained out of me’.
Looking up at him as he perused her work she felt he was getting whiter and whiter.
Almost shining against the sun.
Suddenly she had one wish and that was to be not to be here being reeled in by this arrogant man, but to be flying along alone on her yellow bicycle, the wind in her hair the sun at her back, free as a bird
With sudden insight she wondered about all those little birds in the fig tree. Were they free or were they being held captive in this place.
Then it hit her!
Like a bolt out of the blue she knew why Le Monsieur felt so familiar.
He was exactly like her ex husband, at least personality wise.
Her ex who had sucked the vividness out of her over many years.
She put her hands to her cheeks in dismay.
How could she not have recognised it when he opened the gates.
How could she have been fooled again by this type of charm.
But there was no point berating herself
She gathered her slowed wits about her and tried desperately to draw on the energy and optimism that got her through her illness.
‘Em…actually I need to get my bicycle and cycle to the shops’ She said at last lamely.
Was she imagining it or was he looking crossly at her?
‘You have everything you need here! What are you going to the shops for?’ He smiled appealingly at her ‘I can go to the supermarket for you in my car! You can give me a list! or tell me what it is you need’
With difficulty she forced herself to look away from those hypnotic eyes.
‘I need…. em’ she looked around wildly as though for inspiration.
‘Lady things’ She almost shouted ‘Yes I need some ladies things.’
She clutched her stomach as though getting a sudden menstrual cramp and let out a low moan for effect.
His face fell.
He looked embarrassed or perhaps it was it a look of disappointment even annoyance.
But still he didn’t lose control
‘Go then’ He ordered after a pause, as though it was his idea
‘Yes go to the shops!’
She thought he would demand that she return at a certain hour but he didn’t.
And that is how Matilda Maricella escaped from being turned into a little brown bird twittering helplessly.
Oh how joyously she sped back down those hills!
A splash of vibrant vividness against the darkness of the Montagne Noir.
Her hastily packed panniers bouncing happily on the back of her bike.
Down down down she flew, back to Montalieu.
To tell her story to the two Irish Moira’s and warn them to never ever EVER send a vivid and vibrant woman in Le Monsieur’s direction again unless of course she was happy to live like a little brown bird in a fig tree.
For what it is worth there is a hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum) in france which is probably what matilda mistook for a hummingbird and interestingly it flies not only at night but during the day too, enjoying the heat of the sun.
She looked it up when she got home as she never DID get a chance to ask Le Monsieur.