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.

5 comments:

Who are we to sit around like a bunch of wet women and let these outsiders tell us how to run our village.

Interesting expression.

I'm torn between hoping things work out with Violette, and thinking that's a very bad idea...

7 December 2007 at 02:45  

i just cannot stand that i cannot just sit and continue reading this,,, by the time i get back to your next install,,, i have to rack my brain for proper footing... this is too good to keep on a blog.. you need to e-book it.....

7 December 2007 at 03:19  

An excellent tale, Paul. Lots of great lines. A couple of my favorites:

It came from a usually quiet little man with whom I'd passed the time of day but knew little about.

And:

At times, she seemed cold and distant, at other she warmed to me.

Reminds me of a couple of girls I've known.

8 December 2007 at 09:08  

I did find the speech stirring! We all have those things we want to overcome and you depicted this beautifully!

14 December 2007 at 17:19  

Did anyone come here looking for a new episode this week? I had all ready but I had health problems and collapsed at work so I've spent the last four days in hospital. Hopefully, I'll post next week.

14 December 2007 at 18:05  

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