What To Say?

It wasn't that David hated Christmas, it was just that he found it such an immense challenge trying to find something new and relevant to say every time. He felt like this every year when Christmas came around. He knew hundreds of people would be setting foot into his church for the Christmas service, people for the most part knew and cared very little about Jesus. But he knew that the child born so long ago in Bethlehem loved each and every one of them with a love so sincere and so immense that it pained him every time he thought of all those so indifferent to his love.

That was why ever year in the week preceding Christmas he would take off to be on his own. It was becoming a tradition with and one which his wife wholeheartedly applauded. She too felt keenly the burden placed on her husband during this time, and welcomed the opportunity for him to spend some time in quiet contemplation in order to prepare his Christmas services.

This year, the weather had been mild and so David took off into the hills and spent three days in a small travellers' hut with just his Bible and his writing materials as companions, and a pile of firewood as his only luxury. Whether Jesus had this same luxury in the stable? And whether it really was in the bleak midwinter when he was born? David made a mental note to do some research on the climatic conditions in Israel at the time.

How much has changed since those days, he thought as he read several times through the different gospel versions of Jesus' birth. And yet??? There was poverty and misery all around that stable, just as there was today. Sickness and death were perhaps more common then, but they still regularly reared their ugly head today. How many funerals, how many conversations with suffering relatives or people touched by illness proved the truth of that fact. The very fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem was due to the ravages of political dictatorship and upheaval, things he had seen with his own eyes and experienced on his own body during several trips he had made that year. And then there was the misery that can't be seen. Then as now, people living in grand, luxurious houses yet bowed down by the sorrow of rejection, the pain of guilt or deprivation caused by depression.

How much has changed in our world since then, thought David; yet how little has our world changed. And now, he knew what he had to say at Christmas. Then as now Jesus comes into a needy world to bring help, hope and salvation to all who desire it.

On the Road

This Week’s Theme: Your adult character just got a guitar for Christmas–a gift very out of character. What changes, if any, does this cause in her life or personality?

Phil looked at the oversize package with more than a hint of surprise. He hadn't an idea what it could be. A nervous twitch climbed up his back leaving with a feeling he couldn't quite describe, but one which he didn't really like. His wife sat there silently encouraging him to get on and undo it. He looked in her eyes for a sign which might betray whatever it was. Why on earth should she buy something this big, when they had planned to leave their house by the end of the year and spend the rest of their, now short lives, on the road.

The events of the past eighteen flew through his mind in the space of just a few seconds. His first wife's tragic accident, the bankruptcy court, his daughter's defection and the bitterness of his letter, the empty bottles piled up in front of his window, his visit to the AA group and the first meeting with Daisy, his daughter's tearful phone call and their reconciliation, Daisy's proposal - it would have taken him at least another few months to muster up enough courage to ask. Such a short afterlife and crammed with so much incident.

Then his mind lingered on their decision taken just a few days previously. They were sitting on the sofa together looking at photos from younger days - the days of Harleys and Hippies. It was the photo with the guitar that did it.

"Why don't we go hit the road again?"

Phil looked at her dumbfounded. "What! You mean, leave everything, just take off without a care in the world and live from day to day."

"Well, as far as living from day to day is concerned, that's all taken care of. With my money we'll not have any financial worries. We've always talked about doing something exciting, well let's do it."

As usual, Daisy was forcing the issue, she had to. Phil always took far longer in making up his mind. But this time, he had actually beaten her to it. His Christmas present to her was contained in a small, brown envelope - two economy steamer tickets to the other side of the world. And on they'd have to earn whatever they needed on the ship. He wouldn't touch any of her money. Then, once they got to Europe it would be Paris with its Bohemian quarters and easy pickings for street artists like him. If that's what she wanted, then that's what she'd get. He'd buy himself a guitar and off they'd go.

As Phil's mind lingered over this, he saw she was getting impatient. He presented her with the little box which contained that precious envelope and set about opening the parcel which bore his inscription. Inside were two odd-shaped cases and Phil guessed at once what they were. She'd almost beaten him to it again, but the look of joy on her face upon seeing the steamer tickets meant, this time she conceded defeat with grace.

He unpacked the first guitar. A beautiful hand-made model from Peru, and a blown up version of that old photo engraved into the wood. It was a true work of art and Phil couldn't hold back, giving his fingers free reign and brings a serene smile to Daisy's already ecstatic face. But why the second guitar? Phil slowly unpacked that too. What he saw was an exact model of his guitar but this time the photo engraved on the front was that of a much younger, but still recognisable Daisy. He'd had no idea. for the rest of the evening their fingers and voices merged in a blur of memories and enchantment as their new life on the road began in the home they were soon to be leaving behind.

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Sold out?

With the new year things began to get very busy and afforded little time for metaphysical reflection. Most of those who had offered courses at the espace loisirs, were waiting to see what would happen before committing themselves to continuing. That was disappointing, but I couldn't blame them. It was after all their free time they were sacrificing with no recompense other than the pleasure that comes from helping others. So with the future in such doubt most of them preferred to let events run their course before deciding whether or not to continue. In time, it became known that the closure of the centre was not one of Mayor Demille's political masterstrokes but had been forced upon him by economic necessity and pressure from above. This little titbit reached me via Violette who I was seeing quite regularly now. Though where she had got it from, she refused to reveal. Not only was that curious, but it should have put me on my guard.

The few events that continued were held either at the pub or in people's houses. This state of affairs could not continue. If we were to make a game of it, then we would have find some more permanent premises which would enable us not only to house our current activities but also to extend our offer. But where were we to find such premises and how were we to finance them? And then we had to get fresh blood into the centre. New premises, new activities, new people... and quickly, as the drift towards the big city was already making itself felt. During the weeks following the closure of the centre, three of the youth sports teams folded due to lack of interest. The leaders had done their best but could not compete with the facilities offered by the bigger clubs.

More than once I had been tempted to face up to reality and letting the dream die its inevitable death. But my friends refused to let me, and the most vociferous of all was Violette. I was seeing her regularly now, at least in an off an on way. We usually got together for a few weeks and then argued over something quite insignificant and then went our separate ways. Eventually we realised that we really did like each other and made up again. Our antics were becoming the talk of our village and we were often called Richard and Elizabeth after that infamous Hollywood couple who married and divorced only to find that they really needed each other after all and so reinvented the wheel by remarrying.

To be honest, that wasn't the kind of relationship I was looking for. I needed a true partner; someone to talk to, someone to share with, someone to dream with. More often than not I felt I was little more than a jewel in her crown to be paraded around town and shown off to all and sundry until someone else took over. Well, at least that was not the case, not yet anyway. The one thing that Violette did make clear was her total belief in me and my abilities. If I didn't give up during that time, it was because of her constant encouragement and her insistence that I would make it. But she never said that to me; it only ever came out in her public statements - sort of cold and detached, never warm and cheering, not even that one night she stayed over at my flat.

February brought the regional elections and the resulting change in our fortune took us all by surprise. For the first time in years the political status quo was threatened, teetered and finally toppled. The regional administration change hands. At fault, was not the opposition. They remained as ineffectual as they always had been. Fed up with the staleness of the current state of inertia, several leading players in the region had organised a citizen's initiative and succeeded in attracting a large amount of support, enough to become the second largest group in the council and with help of the previous opposition, take control of the council. One of the first dossiers on their hands was that of the espace loisirs and the decision was taken to put the building up for sale.

Guillaume was the first to inform me. As he worked at the Town Hall in Besançon he was always one of the first to find out what was going on. We arranged to meet that evening and as Thérèse was coming along, I phoned Violette and asked if she would come too. But all she did was make excuses, so I dropped the matter. That's why I was surprised to see her sitting with Thérèse and Guillaume when I arrived at the pub.

"When I got the wonderful news, I couldn't fail to come along," she started seeing me walking up to their table. "You should have told me at once."

"Well, I wasn't really sure what there was to tell," I exclaimed giving her a peck on the cheek. She held my face in both hands and turned my eyes towards her, giving me something far more worthy of a lovers' greeting than she had ever done before.

We ordered drinks and Guillaume soon began with the news.

"The fact is the council have decided to put the building up for sale. They need the money and they need it fast. But as they're not exactly fans of Demille, well they've decided to give us first offer on the building. 80 000 € is their asking price, which you must agree is a pretty fair price. If they went to some of the developers around here, then they could get up to 100 000 €."

"But that would rather tarnish their people's council image, wouldn't it," chimed in Thérèse. "I say we offer 75 000 €. Then we'll see if they really mean what they say."

"Yes, but how on earth are we going to going to raise even 75 000 €? The centre's got some money in the bank, I know but nothing like that amount."

"Well, if we can raise half the sum, the bank should give us a loan on part of the rest. And then there's the various grants which institutions like ours..."

"Well, if you ask me we don't need the bank. We'll make an appeal to all who know us and get them to support..."

Just as I was thinking the fire had suddenly come back into her eyes, Violette stopped in mid-sentence. She raised her eyes and flashed what seemed to me to be a warning sign before flushing violently and going quiet. I turned around to see what had caused this but saw nothing. Thérèse gave a kind of tell-tale look towards Guillaume but said nothing. But the wind had gone out of our meeting. We continued for a few minutes and agreed we would have to consult a number of other people before taking any action.

"Yes, but we'll have to be quick about it. The council won't wait for long." With that Violette left the room saying she needed to take a shower before turning in, whilst Guillaume brought in another round of drinks.

Now, I know I can be overly sensitive to such things, but I couldn't help feeling there was something unsaid on the table between us. And in this case, I was right. After five minutes awkward silence and small talk, it was Thérèse who spoke up.

"Simon, did you see who it was who came in there, at the end?"

"No! What does it matter anyway."

"It was Gérard, Simon and the moment he saw you..."

"But that's nonsense! Gérard and myself have made things up long ago. True, we're not exactly the best of friends, but he's no need to hide from me."

"And what if he wasn't hiding from you? What if he was just hiding something from you?"

I looked at them both, unable to gather where this conversation was going. "What would Gérard have to hide from me? What on earth are you two getting at."

It was Guillaume who took over the conversation. "Simon, when we arrived her tonight Violette was already here. It was obvious that she was meeting someone here, and it obviously wasn't you."

I stared at them both wide-eyed, still trying to grasp the implications of what they were saying.


They all said it would be the worst time of the year and she knew they were right. So why had she refused the children's help when one by one they offered to come and spend the holiday with her. Right now, she wished she hadn't but a few weeks ago, she felt strong and resolute, capable of affronting whatever demons may lay siege to her mind. She had given herself a task. She would work on those photo albums she had been wanting to get done all year. But with Sam's illness, then the long hospital stay she had just never gotten around to it. It would be a labour of love and would provide her with many wonderful memories. But memories are double-edged they lift up but they can also suck down and right now they were taking her on a downward spiral.

The phone rang. It was her eldest daughter. How are things Mam? Ellie hadn't felt like telling her the truth, she wanted to be brave. But there was no hiding anything from Gloria and she'd soon broken down. Hardly had she put the phone down, it rang again. Phil, her son, calling from the other end of the country. How many people had he helped face the future after traumatic happenings in his practice? Could he help Ellie, now? She did feel better when she put the phone down and hardly had she done so, it rang yet again. Ellie had no trouble guessing who it would be this time. Sonia was the energy bundle of the family, always on the go, yet never to busy to think of her lonely mother. What she was not prepared for, however, was Sonia's message. She was obviously in deep trouble.

"Mam, I'm at the Angel hotel in Newtown. I need you to come, right now, Mam. I need you straight away, please Mam!"

Ellie was horrified. Without hesitating she got into her car and began the ten mile journey into town. 1001 different scenarios sprung into her mind, each one worse than the other. Then she remembered Sam. He would have done exactly the same thing. He doted on Sonia, and still called her his baby even though she was now over 20. She remembered all the little scrapes, he had got her out of. Treasured memories and ones that would help her face up to whatever trouble Sonia was in now. Sam would be there to help.

Meanwhile, at the private dining room Gloria and Phil Wilkens were putting the finishing touches to the table decorations, when Sonia came in.

"It worked! She swallowed it hook and line. She's on her way over now; the party can begin."

You see the one thing Ellie forgot about her daughter was her acting capabilities, and so this was going to be another Christmas to remember.

After the excitement of the last few weeks of the year things began soon began to get quieten down in Gensdouce. Christmas was the usual family celebration and I was glad to spend it with Thérèse and Guillaume, as most of my other friends were away visiting relations. We had some wonderful moments around the blazing fire talking, reminiscing and dreaming about the future. I had hoped to ask Violette around or at least go out for a drink with her, but she was away with her mother most of the holiday. Unusually, the New Year celebration was also remarkably quiet; events obviously had taken their toll on village. The New Year’s fireworks offered by the Mayor were cancelled, by all accounts a clumsy excuse enabling an unpopular Mayor to avoid having to give a speech to a crowd of absent… well, let’s say well-wishers wouldn’t quite be the most appropriate word. The party at the pub went ahead as usual, but even there the atmosphere was subdued, despite Violette’s presence.

This subdued mood reflected well what was going on inside. I’d been trying to put a finger on it. Friends thought it was just fear of what was coming up: the new responsibilities for the now homeless leisure centre, and the possibility of a full-blown battle with Mayor Demille. I wasn’t so sure. I’m no Braveheart, that’s for sure, but I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in, and my reputation with the Demilles could scarcely suffer from what might happen. Was it homesickness? It was a rather lonely holiday period and I always miss home on such occasions; not so much the family, we never were that close, but all the little happenings and traditions, the beautiful, familiar Christmas carols, and the evenings round the fire.

But deep down, I just felt something was wrong. No, not wrong – missing, more like. Maybe it started that Christmas morning when I went to the Christmas service with Guillaume and Thérèse. Unlike, the majority of the village population they didn’t go to the local Catholic church, but to one of the new-fangled ‘independent’ churches which had began springing up in some of the bigger cities in France. Now I’ve no real religious convictions, at least, hadn’t had until now, so I didn’t really mind where I went. As I was spending Christmas with Thérèse and Guillaume, then why shouldn’t I go with them to their church. Besides, most of the village had been there once, when Thérèse and Guillaume had got married that summer. But that rather obvious fact was overlooked by those whose tongues were quick to wag.

The service itself was quite lively, especially compared to the drabness of the traditional mass. Perhaps, it was too lively. There was little of the solemnity I was so used to from mass in the local church. At least, the sermon, given by a visiting African pastor, addressed some of the real issues in life. Maybe, that’s what's bothering me. I remember saying to myself I’d have to talk to Guillaume about it, but I kept putting off. Was I afraid of what he might say?

To be perfectly honest, I’d never really thought much about God. I guess I’m like most people for that. I attended mass fairly regularly, mainly for the liturgy and the music – and to keep up traditions… but God! And I’d never even asked myself, what if… I wasn’t asking it now. But… but what if? That was what was worrying me. I’d sometimes walk out of a night and look up at the stars and want to be a part of all that, of some overarching reason, of some story from the beginning of time which would make sense of everything. And then there was the Christmas present. I’d often wondered whether Thérèse deliberately gave me that book, knowing what it was. It was a superb find, either way, because there weren’t many English books flying around Gensdouce. Dorothy Sayers was well known, even in France. Maybe, Thérèse thought, it was another of her detective novels, or maybe she was gently trying to bring me into the fold… one of that pastor’s favourite expressions. Either way, I couldn’t get the book either out of my hand or my thoughts.

I remember talking to Violette about it as I walked her home after the New Year’s Eve party at the pub. But she just laughed it off. Thought I must be going all soft or something. And strangely enough, that’s exactly how I would have reacted just a few months ago. But now, I was not so sure.

Lucky escape

16th December 2005

Dana was married today! How unfair life is! He was mine, her beau. We danced all night; he couldn't take his eyes off me. But come twelve o'clock and my precipitate departure, he showed how fickle a man's heart could truly be. He stood there stunned as I raced away; then forced into action he chased behind me to the palace entrance only to see me vanish into thin air... at least it might have been like that for him because in no time he'd forgotten me and chasing around after new conquests. True, I did leave a golden slipper, but the prince didn't even notice it, he was too busy staring into the deep blue eyes Dana flashed at him.

How stupid can you get! And the most stupid is that I still pine for him and envy Dana's luck. Of course, she played her cards right, did Dana. Knew she didn't have a chance while I was around, but also knew full well when I would have to go. So she kept herself very discreet and then offered a shoulder to cry on when he needed it. By all accounts it was more than a shoulder he took that night, but then Dana had always been an astute player and she won her man in her own inimitable way.

Oh, how terrible I still feel, even now one year later. I can see us still arm in arm, the prince tall and stately sweeping me around the room as if I was the only other person in the world. And all the world commenting on what a wonderful couple we made. I couldn't go to the wedding; it was too painful. But I do wish Dana the best of luck, even while wishing I could be lying there next to her husband this very night.

16th December 2006

What an amazing year. Who would have thought that today I would be marrying my true love and moving into the palace? Yet, that's exactly what's happening. No, no big public wedding like Dana's; no crowds of admiring onlookers, just me and my love with his Mam and Dad there to wish us every happiness. I did, in fact, invite Dana, not daring to ask her husband as well. But we move in different circles now, and he would never deign to honour us with his presence. I often wonder, whether he realises that the sweet, young girl (my darling's words, not the prince's) his chief steward was marrying was the with whom he had danced away the best part of the night just one year ago?

So how did this all come about? Well, my love has a true eye for beauty and once beholden, it can never be forgotten, as he always says. That evening his heart bled for me as he saw me dancing round in the arms of the prince. True, we did make a wonderful sight but my love knew more of the prince's character than anyone else and he feared for my reputation. Not to forget, of course, the fact that he was totally smitten but refusing to acknowledge the fact even to himself. He's so sweet, he's just like that. But now that we're married, I'll have to pump a little daily courage into him.

Anyway, my disapperance down the palace steps may have stunned the prince but it made my love rejoice. And the golden slipper on the stairs galvanised him into action. I've since discovered that he scoured the length and breadth of the land in search of its owner. Many a young laid claim to him and some of them even passed the slipper test, but not once was my love deceived, not, that is until the day he entered into our little town. And then he wasn't deveived but he recognised true beauty for what it is, and without even asking me to try the slipper went down before me on his knees and asked me to marry him. So now, I'm going to be married to the most gentle, kind-hearted and loving man in the whole world and we'll be living in the palace. I don't even think of the prince any more, despite his looks which apparantly outdo by far those of my love... so they say!

16th December 2007

Dana came to me in tears today. There's to be a big ball tonight in celebration of their marriage two years ago. I hadn't seen her since the day before her wedding, as her husband had not allowed her to come to mine. I was truly shocked by her appearance. Where was the sweet, young carefree little girl I used to run around the hills with? What had the prince done to her that she should be reduced to such a state of despndency and dejection.

I shall pass over all she told me, because who am I to blacken the name of the man hundreds and thousands of our citizens look up to as their next leader. Suffice to say that when I told my husband about my visit, he was not at all surprised. But as I gazed into his eyes, I realised for the very first time what a very lucky escape I had had, and promised myself that I would do whatever I could to lighten Dana's load.

By the next morning the news had spread like wildfire throughout the village. And in most people's eyes Mayor Demielle had made a major blunder by closing the centre so soon after the elections; elections in which he himself had praised the work of the centre and claimed much of the credit for its success. Even those in the new town beyond the railway couldn't forget these underhand tactics, and it was not surprising that the Mayor chose to absent himself for the next few days. For my part, I wasn't so sure. Mayor Demielle was a sly political player, and I couldn't see him blundering in such an obvious fashion. If he had decided to close the centre now, then it was more than likely to be a shrewd tactic than the blundering of an amateur. Backfire, it may; but with nearly four years before the next election, I felt sure any feeling of double-crossing would be well out of people's minds by then. No, Mayor Demielle was not going to be removed on this issue. In the event both sides were proved wrong. The Mayor weathered the resulting storm with mastery, but there were one or two major conversions which would later destabilise his camp.

But for now, there were other things to think about. What were we going to do about the centre? The general consensus was that we must fight to keep it open, or rather to reopen it, since it had very definitely been closed. At an impromptu meeting the next day, it was Jean came up with a stirring speech.

"Who are we to sit around like a bunch of wet women and let these outsiders tell us how to run our village. And who says that our cultural centre has been closed. All I can see is a sign outside a building announcing that the building has been closed. But what's a building it's nothing. And what can we do, if we lack a building – find another. No, the centre has not been closed, the centre will is still running. We were stupid enough to fall into the trap and cancel last night's activities. Let's not make the same mistakes again. On Monday we will be open for business. All our activities will go ahead as usual, they will go ahead here, in the pub. For the time being, we'll have to use the main pump room; I don't mind. I'll probably get more customers through it anyway. And as soon as we can get it done, we'll do up the old barracks behind our house and turn them into some nice cosy little meeting rooms. All we need are some able hands and the courage to stand up to our enemies.

Well, in the end it wasn't quite as easy as that but we were all persuaded by Jean's speech and the undertaking was adopted with a rousing aye and drinks all round. The next idea surprised me. It came from a usually quiet little man with whom I'd passed the time of day but knew little about.

"If we are really going to make a go of this thing, then we need an administrator; someone to really make a go of it, and bring in performers, musicians and even arrange for some films to be brought in. We'll never have a centre to rival Besançon, and why should we? But we can have one which will enable us to get some of the best in cultural happenings without having to go far. If we can manage that, there are government grants galore, and it should be no problem to make a go of it. But we must appoint an administrator, someone who'll do all the dog work and who'll enable this centre to thrive. I suggest we appoint Simon here as administrator. He may not have a great head for business but he can learn that, and I for one, would be glad to help him out in this venture. What he has got is raw enthusiasm and that's the stuff of miracles."

The speech was greeted by a prolonged silence. I was both dumbfounded and panic-stricken. It was all right teaching and doing whatever I could to help the centre thrive but this was something different. And how on earth was I, a foreigner and a stranger to the village, to head up a mass-movement of rebellion to an unpopular mayor. Besides, if we were talking about doing this full-time I'd have to give up my job at the pub, and how was I to live then. It was painfully obvious that all this talk of going it alone could only work so long as no extra costs were involved. But if we were to have an administrator, then we were moving onto a completely different level.

A few other people gave some half-hearted opinions on what we were to do, but it seemed as if the steam had gone out of the meeting... until the Bouclier family got involved. Interestingly enough, it was Madame Bouclier who set the ball rolling.

"Well, if you ask me, Mr. Simon is the best thing to happen to this village in a long time. He's a wonderful teacher and he can get us all to do things. It's time we stood up to our unwanted mayor. They only voted him in because of the people on the other side. We're the true people of Gensdouce, and Simon's one of us. If Jean is promising us his pub, then let's go for it and let Simon lead us there. And the sewing group can start meeting in my living room every week."

It wasn't a very coherent speech but the admiring look she gave me when she sat down, meant I couldn't help wondering if she was in any way thinking of me as a future son-in-law – a role I would have been more than happy to take assume.

It was Violette who spoke next. She stood up, placed the little notebook I had often seen in her handon the table in front of her, fixed her audience and gave a performance full of passion and vehemence although, unlike her mother, little of it seemed to be directed towards me. But she put the fire back into the assembly. The outcome of the meeting was that the work of the centre would continue. We would use the pub for the majority of meetings and people's houses for some of the smaller groups. Meanwhile, three people, Guillaume, myself and the man who had spoken so fervently in favour of an administrator were given the task of examining how the centre might move forward.

After the meeting I invited Violette for a drink, but she preferred to get out, so we went for a walk together. It was a pretty silent walk, punctuated only by a few brief enquiries about nothing of any importance, and some unsolicited but nonetheless welcome words of advice about how to deal with the village people. I just couldn't understand what was going on. I usually had a pretty carefree easy manner, and had no problems charming myself into other people's good books, especially with the fairer sex. But now, in Violette's presence it was as if I was struck dumb. And I couldn't figure out how she felt about me. I'd heard, she'd left several broken hearts along the roadside wherever she had passed and I was beginning to believe it. At times, she seemed cold and distant, at other she warmed to me. We walked on in silence, while I tried to think of something clever to say, something that would wake her out of her reverie. In the end it was Violette who broke the silence.

"There's a fantastic film running at the university cinema club tomorrow evening. It's running under the art and experimental series and deals a therapist's attempt to cure his wife from clinical depression. It's raised a lot of questions both in the film world and in the medical press. I'd really love to see it. Would you like to take me."

I couldn't believe my ears. We'd just walked for almost an hour together and hardly a word to say to each other. And now in a burst of eloquence that doubled the number of words we had exchanged with each other since leaving the pub, Violette was asking me out.

"I'd love to," I stammered, wondering how true that was. A film about a therapist and healing techniques wasn't exactly the kind of night out with Violette I'd had in mind, and somehow I didn't feel that the university cinema was the kind which had a back row for couples. Still, it was better than nothing and would have to do for a start.

"Besides, if we really are going to introduce some films to the New Gensdouce Arts and Culture Centre, then you're going to have to get to grips with the art and experimental scene. Those are the sort of films which bring in the subsidies."

So what was this girl playing at. Was she inviting me out or was she just taking on the role of teacher and mentor. Did she really care for me, or was I little more than a plaything, she could toy around with for a time and then discard at will. Not to forget, the one question I didn't ask myself. I couldn't face up to it, not yet; not just after we had settled on our first date. But could it be, that we were just not suited for each other. Good intentions are not always good enough. But there would be time enough to ask that question. For now, I just wanted to be with her. We made our way back to the village, and this time Violette herself suggested we go to the pub. Thérèse and Guillaume were also there and we sat talking together. Violette even thawed up quite a bit and was quite animated the whole evening. But I couldn't help catching Thérèse's quizzical eyes resting on the two of us more than once. As I walked her back home, Violette was quite talkative but all I got as a goodbye was a slight squeeze of the hand, and nothing more.

But the next day there was a beautiful little card from her in exquisite handwriting bearing a single message:

The key to happiness is freedom, and the key to freedom is courage.

Had I got off at the station. The question refused to go away. But I didn't, I couldn't, not after thirteen years. I knew this was going to happen but with the mainline being blocked I had little choice but to pass through Venmouth. Still, it was behind me now, and wouldn't come back. I settled back into my seat and tried to find the sleep that had eluded me before our arrival in Venmouth. Before long I was drifting away, walking along along the street that led down into the town. Nothing much had changed. The station was still as drab and deserted as ever. There was the pub where we used to enjoy many an underage pub, and there's the driving test centre. The few passers-by all seem to be adorned with Ted's large, bushy beard. Ted, he must be dead by now. The man with immeasurable patience, patience my parents never had. Was that why they had asked him to give me extra driving lessons?

But why am I going down this way? Why didn't I take the shortcut; I always took the shortcut. Even in my dream I couldn't face the house. Bethan had been on at me for months to do something about the house, but I just couldn't face it. Delapidated, crumbling, and dozens of similar adjectives she had used. A new one in each letter, and each one designed to stir me out of my inertia. Little did she know, what my real motives were.

But shortcut or no shortcut, I was slowly getting closer to the house. There was no mistaking it now, the large gable roof jutting out over the houses in front. Just another 50 yards and I would be at the corner; then the small climb to the top of the hill and the house.

It was now that I woke up; woke up to find I hadn't fallen asleep after all. I really had gotten out of that train. I really was hear walking towards my past, a past I was at long last going to have to face up to.

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