THERE IS AN UGLY PILE of cinder blocks piled on the terrace. Even the French word—aglo—is ugly. The shop is closed for the winter. Andrew and I peer down on it and wonder what’s going on. Andrew’s struck with the answer.
“He’s going to wall up the cave!”
“That’s it,” I said.
Jean-Claude had suggested to Andrew that we would secure the rest of the building for ourselves by buying the caves under the boutique. He planted the idea that it might prevent Pastis from buying the boutique, and then we’d have a better shot at taking over the rest of the remaining space.
The bank turned Andrew down for a loan because the cave was uninhabitable, and he had to back out of the deal. You could feel J-C’s fury over the mountains and rivers and plains between us.
If you won’t buy it, I will separate it from yours forever.
He was probably going to send a mason to do the job in his absence; it was time for his annual séjour in the Caribbean. In case we missed the mason, I put up a notice at both entrances. It said that any work done on the premises had to be made in the presence of at least two co-owners.
This must have gotten back to J-C, because I got an enraged all-cap e-mail. He said he was sending the mason back and we’d better get out of the way.
We knew the mason, and when he came back Andrew was there. Surprisingly, Pastis was there too. He wanted to assure Andrew he had had nothing to do with it. He even apologized for assaulting him. They shook hands. Everyone agreed that cinder blocks had no business being in the midst of ancient stones. Andrew came back grinning triumphantly.
I didn’t mind that Pastis had no apology for me, because he’d handed us a whopping clincher: He told Andrew he had never had any intention of buying the ground floor. J-C had made it up to scare us into coughing up more money.
When word reached him, J-C vowed to finish the job when he came back in the spring. Meanwhile, he had seen his lawyer. “You are outlaw, man,” he wrote Andrew.
I had checked with an attorney too, and we were within our rights as property owners.
In the period of suspended animation that followed, nothing seemed to go forward. I was corresponding with Sherry and Patty about Lynne, who had been hospitalized for bipolar disorder that winter. She’d left me out of her loop ever since I’d brought up the idea of AA to her, and the other two were monitoring her and keeping me posted.
The spring wedding of Sherry’s son would give us a happy occasion to re-connect, and I tried to find a way to make the trip. If only I could coordinate it with a visit to Ben, but no luck. He was scheduled to shoot a film in Texas. I’d be spending money I didn’t have for a three-day stay in a town I didn’t know—then more to tack on visits in New York or Washington to make that transatlantic flight worthwhile.
I had to let it go.
The photos showed me a joyful and gracious event, and the Belles reported that Lynne had managed to make appearances at the main events but that she seemed to be very fragile.
Just when I heard Lynne was beginning to show signs of improvement, Patty delivered the news she’d kept quiet: She had been diagnosed with endometrial cancer, stage IV.
On the phone she sounded positive and confident in her medical team. I was encouraged. I took off for Paris, where I had a three-week dog-sitting job that gave me free use of an apartment. Andrew called me and said he had bad news.
“Do you want it now or should I wait until you’re finished writing for the day?”
He said Patty had called. Lynne was dead. She’d shot herself.
For days, weeks, the only emotion I could feel was anger.
Jean-Claude set up a meeting with us and the mason to decide where and how the wall would be built. A few months in the land of “soon come” must have done him a world of good.
I was full of grief and anger and the fragility of life. I would not be messed with.
We met in the Place and walked down to the cave, Andrew, J-C, the mason and me. I stood there listening to as much bullshit as I could stand, but when I heard the crappy cinder block wall being positioned as “security for the boutique,” I exploded.
“We bought property over a boutique, but it is not a boutique now. It is an illegal restaurant-bar, and YOU KNOW IT!”
He started to say something placating, but that wouldn’t work. I didn’t care whether he was sick again, or lonely, or broken-hearted. I didn’t care that he was French and knew better than I. This man had taken three years of our lives. I shifted into my native tongue and let ‘er rip.
“We were friends. I trusted you. We were with you when you were sick, when Brigitte left you. You betrayed us. You went away and left us with this horrible man who has menaced and attacked us, has turned the boutique into a bar and our terrace into a hangout for drunks and bums, and you just said it was not your problem. Now, it is your problem and you are going to make it right–OR YOU’LL HAVE A WHOLE BUNCH OF AMERICAN WOMEN ON YOUR ASS!”
I stalked out. I had a hair appointment.
My phone rang as I sat in the salon waiting for the color to take. It was Andrew.
“I invited him up for a café after you left.”
“He was white and shaking.”
“He said if we had someone to buy, he would sell it all tomorrow.”
“We sent him Juli and he just jerked her around.”
“I think now he’s ready to deal.”
It had been nearly ten years since the first time I sat across from the notaire signing page after page of French legalese. At the time, Maître Pages had teased me about buying the whole village room by room. Now I was signing as proxy for Juli, but it felt just as satisfying as if I were buying the whole village.
All she wanted was a promise that Andrew and I would stay with the property for at least five years—long enough for her to launch the last of the children so she could join us for workshop seasons. She had transferred the money and was set to settle at the end of the summer.
But Maître Pages appeared to have had an afterthought while looking over what I’d just signed and initialed.
“Is Madame McCue your friend?”
“Then there is something we must do to protect her.”
He said he didn’t trust the locataire, the tenant. Pastis. There was a paper in the file that said Pastis would vacate the property at the end of November. Pastis had signed it. But who was to stop him from continuing to occupy the property once a new owner took over—an owner far away in Canada?
“No, I don’t trust him.” He changed the settlement deadline from November 30 to December 30, so the sale could not be finalized until Pastis was definitively gone. The papers were cut up and I signed the new ones.
Juli was worried that the delay would make Jean-Claude angry, but she was relieved not to be a landlady even for a few months. What if he refused to pay the rent? What if he dug in and refused to leave? French laws favor tenants. Where would that leave a Canadian with a French tenant?
Now she could concentrate on her culinary training—she had a strict chef this quarter, exams were coming up, and she needed to work on sauces.
The noise level on the terrace under our window rose from annoying to nerve-wracking as Pastis played his swan song. He and his cronies had assembled a somewhat aged and grumpy crowd of faithfuls in the spirit of “fuck the Americans.”
If they were happy, we were happy to ignore them. Even when the hoots and whistles and the revving of motorcycles went on through the dinner hour on otherwise placid late-summer nights. Their days were over. Ours were beginning.
It’s twilight, late in August, and in this rare moment, the terrace is empty and still. I sit at one end of our dining table writing while Andrew sands the ceiling in the office he’s making for me on the chemin-de-ronde. It has a magnificent view of the cliffs. The space is tiny, but it has a door I can close, at last. The cats, Sylvie and Raoul, are draped sleepily over the shreds of cardboard box they have demolished. Beau is on his sofa-sized bed on the floor, which glows with afternoon light.
Andrew bends over me and whispers .
“Do you hear what he’s whistling?”
I lean toward the open window. I hear somebody whistling a tune.
“Is Pastis down there?”
“Yeah. You recognize the song?”
“You know that I need lyrics to identify songs.”
“Okay.” He sings softly in my ear:
Tho we gotta say goodbye for the summer
Darling, I promise you this
I’ll send you all my love every day in a letter
Sealed with a kiss.
–Marcia Muir Mitchell
Happy Memorial Day. We’re taking off for the long weekend, but we’ll see you back here on Tuesday!