In the distance a dog barked once, twice, paused for ten seconds, barked again twice then repeated the whole pattern until Susan stopped counting. Crickets sang their crickety tunes, lavender, thyme and oranges dispensed their perfume generously and time-worn cobblestones massaged her tired feet. Everything about this evening felt heightened, momentous, as if she had stepped outside her usual life and seen it from another angle.
As he settled back in his narrow bed, the heavy book propped up against his knees, Père Lafitte heard a dog barking once, twice, pausing for ten seconds, barking again twice then repeating the whole pattern. The priest smiled contentedly. Every night the dog performed this ritual. Every night Marcel Lafitte read the same book. Every morning he would say mass. Things were as they should be.
"I like Lafitte. He's completely free from bullshit." Susan was talking to herself, caressed by a warm breeze. "Rare in anybody but in a priest, that's a bloody miracle. I should have got to know him sooner."
The way home was through the village and then twenty minutes down a pot-holed road with a boarded-up tile factory and a couple of abandoned farms as the only scenic attractions. When they decided to move to France, minimal traffic was the first item on George and Susan's list. All the picturesque places shown to them by over-excited estate agents could only be accessed in summer if you were willing to spend hours sitting nose to tail in traffic queues longer than those in London. So they went off on their own, driving randomly around the country, drinking a lot of wine and following hunches until, eventually, they found La Rive and an unremarkable house with potential to become their home.
Susan shivered, one of those sudden, mysterious shivers not caused by the weather but by some inner climate change. George. She did not believe in love at first sight and it was not love when she first laid eyes on him. Only a certainty that all the affairs and occupations which had crowded her life until then were merely rehearsals and that here, at last, was the role she was meant to play. No question, no hesitation. Whoosh! Her past was swept off the map and the future was clear: George. She had no illusions. He was so transparent you knew immediately that he was trouble. No matter. He was the only unambiguous decision she had ever made. And decisive she became. Susan seduced him slowly, trusting her instincts, ignoring all obstacles, especially those designed by George to make her fail. " I'm not your man, " he'd say repeatedly. But year by year, denial after denial, he grew to depend on her. Susan was making an adequate living as a free-lance proof-reader and typist and he had come to her recommended by a friend. George was well-enough established among the cognoscenti but he was no literary superstar and too disorganised to go after superstardom, though he craved it. Susan, he discovered, was an excellent organiser and it was foolish to keep on resisting when she was so eager to take on the task of ensuring his immortality, as if her own life depended on it.
* * *
By the time George got home from the party Susan was asleep. "You could have told me you were leaving," he said, getting into bed, "I looked all over for you."
"No you fucking didn't. You were busy entertaining Mrs. Morrison."
"Look,' George said, turning away and closing his eyes, " If you want to go back on the booze, that's your choice, Susan. But I'm not going down that road of paranoia with you."