Nothing beat the dawn. As he walked out onto the lane the ground crisped below his feet. He looked up at the church tower shrouded in white and the trees besides lifting crystal-gloved arms up to the sky. He set off at a steady pace up the hill, his mind limbering up for the work ahead. The weekend at La Roche had given him a new lease on life. For the first time in years Robin felt his head was above the clouds. Life stretched itself out before him, swarms of paths, highways and byways, opening themselves out, beckoning him to start the journey. Now was the time for decisions.

Wrapping his scarf tighter round his ears he quickened his pace. The day's freshness filling him with renewed zest. He got to the top of the hill in under 30 minutes. Even as a spritely 18 year-old he had never managed that. He looked out over the valley. The sun was just beginning to fulfil the promise of yet another day. Her still weak rays were enough to chase away any of dread still lurking around Robin. Just a few minutes later its light had even given energy to the snow-capped mountains in the distance. From here Robin slithered down the bank to rejoin the pathway which snakes its way around the mountain. He made several rounds of the pathway allowing successive views blend into each other, much like the images kaleidoscoping around his mind: images of joy he'd no longer thought possible, with just an occasional image from the albums of the weeks and months before. Only now did Robin realised such images no longer troubled him.

In the distance the bell-tower sent out its never-failing message. If he was going to get down for breakfast, he'd have to hurry. Of course, the descent was not so wearisome, and so it was not long before he heard the sweet hum of expectancy coming from the dining-room. As he passed through the door, he saw there were still two seats left, one, at the end of the long table afforded him at least some privacy. He walked into the room and took his place right in the centre of the table. He had made his first decision. He had re-entered the world of the living.


Radiant in her beauty, the fury of her red hair dazzling all and sundry.
Thankful for the tears that served so well in bringing us together,
despite my guilt at having been the cause of them.


Thankful for this man, so tall and handsome, a knight in shining armour.
The fury of his green eyes a fitting match to the shock of my red hair.
A gilt-edged jewel in a case so frail.


So thankful for so many friends despite the fury of the storm that blew the evening before. And if you didn't make it, there's no need to show any guilt whatsoever. We understand.


So many of them. Each one a reason to be thankful... for the present, of course, but also for you the wonderful giver. You really do make us feel guilty. If only fury could be used to describe a positive emotion, I would say we're furious at you all.


A celebrity at our wedding. I hadn't a clue who she was. Simon didn't even care. Although I did sense a sense of thankfulness that she'd not forgotten him. And was that look in your eye one of regret. Beware, celebrity or no celebrity, if you try anything with my husband, it'll be my scorn you'll have to reckon with. And I won't show the least sign of guilt.


Music galore; the fury of the chase.
Thankful for our varied traditions.
And why is Anna casting guilty glances behind the double base?

"Come on in both of you; you know the way. Just make yourselves comfortable while I get the drinks... Simon! Thérèse and Guillaume have arrived... He'll be right down. He's just finishing some reports. He's pretty busy right now with everything to finish before the wedding and then this business about the mayor accusing him of being corrupt. And you now how he is when he gets stressed... Ah, here he is. Oh, I forgot the corkscrew. Will you get it for me please dear? Guillaume, would you prefer a guiness?

"A glass of wine will be fine thanks."

"I'm so glad we had this chance to get together before next Saturday. Simon and I have been reading this book you gave us and we've so many questions."

"To be quite honest, I almost didn't want this. We've so much to do, and each item is a reason not to find time for this. But Morgana insisted and I suppose she's right. This is far more important than all the other little things we need to finish, even if it wasn't planned weeks in advance."

"You mean to say, you didn't think you had any time for us?"

"Now if I thought you were being serious, I'd answer that with an insult," Simon smiled back.

"Now you, stop going on at each other. You'd think they were the world's biggest enemies. I have a sneaking suspicion that you'd carry a bit of a flame for Thérèse, if I wasn't around."

"Guillaume, you know full well, that in France, as in any civilised state, no man can be forced to admit to anything that might incriminate him."

"Actually, that's part of what we wanted to ask, Guillaume. Do you ever get jealous of Thérèse? You know, she's quite charming and very popular and she sees a lot of different men in her job, so do you wonder... Well, you know?"

"Well, in fact, I do. That's why it's important to be open to each other. I trust Thérèse implicity, and she me. But we take time to build on that trust, to tell each other what's going on in our life. I can't say we don't have any secrets, because there are things in our job we can't talk about. Besdies, everyone has a right to their own private sphere. But our principle is to be open about what is going on."

"Is that why you...?"

"Yes, Simon it is. But that's in the past. So you needn't let that bother you, any more."

"I was at a friend's wedding once, before I came to live in Gensdouce. The registrar gave his usual speech and he said, the secret of a good relationship is never having to say your sorry. I don't know why but it struck me as being odd. Anyway, it didn't work for my friend. She left her husband within months."

"Well, I can tell you that's certainly not our experience. I can't count the number of times, Guillaume has hurt me. And that's probably only about half the number of times, I've hurt him. In fact, it's quite ridiculous. None of us is perfect, and we all do things that hurt others. The hard part is admitting you're in the wrong. That's why saying sorry, or asking forgiveness is so important."

"Yes, the first time I was annoyed with Guillaume, we were married just seven days. We were in a hotel and I was scared because I saw a spider. I thought Guillaume would play the gallant knight and kill it. Instead, he just laughed at me."

"Well, I'll have you know, she's improved since then. She can kill some pretty big spiders now. But if I'm around, then it's still my job. But you know, that first time was the hardest of all. I thought it was so stupid. A rational woman like Thérèse and with her intellect, afraid of spiders! I just couldn't see what I'd done wrong. It took me hours to accept that I was at fault."

"So, do you always end up forgiving each other?"


"I take it that the silence means you don't."

"No Simon, the silence means there are some outstanding issues right now."

"You mean, you..."

"Yes, I don't want to go into it right now because it's got nothing to do with you, but I want Guillaume to know, that I'm really sorry."

"Now look at that, love. I guess our perfect couple really aren't that perfect after all."

"Perfect! Are you kidding? The only perfect thing about us is our ability to get on each other's nerves. That's why we need to forgive each other."

"So why don't you just break up? Thousands of people do."

"And what do they do afterwards, Morgana? Find a new partner? One that's a little more perfect? A relationship without tensions? That, I'm afraid is a myth that really won't stand up to scrutiny. It's not just Thérèse and I who hurt each other at times. We all do. Without exception."

"That's why the main thrust of the book is marriage being a permanent and inviolable alliance between two people who commit themselves to each other. Without that, there could be no trust, no forgiveness and no love."

"So you don't believe in divorce?"

"That's a more difficult question. We certainly don't see divorce as ever being a real solution. Usually, and my experience in social work bears this out, the personal problems that lead to a divorce keep coming back even afterwards. However, in some cases, divorce may be the best way forward, however unfortunate it is."

"You mean something like a necessary evil."

"If you like; particularly in cases where there is any kind of violence or where the breakdown is irremediable."

"Right, Guillaume my dear. But we've talked enough about the problems that can come. How about we talk about some of the things we've learnt which have helped us build up our relationship."

"Yes, you're right. But time is getting on and Simon looks like he could do with a good night's sleep. How about we put that off until another time."


Lupa raced around his flat like a man with a mission. Everything had to be just right. For the third time that morning he checked everything off on his list; he mustn't forget anything. He looked at his watch. Only 1.30 p.m. Still three hours before the plane would land. He checked the baby chair attached to the table. That empty chair that had so wrenched his insides when he returned home that evening after their evacuation. That same chair almost seemed to come alive as Lupa realised that soon, very soon his son would be sitting, eating, laughing, playing in it. He glanced up at the clock, but that didn't make the time pass any quicker.

It had been long, far too long. When they had separated, it was only to be for a week or two, now some six months had passed. He missed his wife; her comforting presence, her sound adive, those evenings they had spent together batting various ideas back and forth before finally finding a solution to the problem they were discussing. He missed the hand stretching out to take his sometime in the night; the warmth of her body as they lay in each other's arms, the touch of her lips as they kissed. And his son... How he must have grown. He was nearly 18 months old, walking, no doubt a right little bag of mischief. He would have to give him a few lessons about what to touch and what not to touch. Scorpions were the biggest danger.

He had missed his son's first birthday. True, his wife had sent him photos, dozens of them. He lay them out before him. Did he want to be sure he'd recognise his son? A tear started to trickle down his cheek as Paul once again relived the nightmare of that day war had separated them. At the sound of clapping hands, he awoke from his reverie with a start. There was Charles come to get him to take him to the airport. Already, 3.50 p.m. They'd have to get a move on.

As they drove passed the check-point at the entrance to the airport, they saw the immense jumbo jet cross the river as it came in to land. In the entrance hall Charles showed the guard his security badge and Lupa tried to follow behind him, but the guard stopped him. Not even a small 'present' could get him through today.

"Don't worry, I'll get the baby and bring him out to you. Then, I'll go back and help your wife." Charles disappeared into the crowds. Some fifteen minutes later he appeared in the gateway carrying his son. Lupa raced towards him, a little too expectantly. As Charles handed the boy over, he started crying and held his little arms out towards Charles. He didn't want to go to this new stranger.

His wife greeted him as warmly as she could in a public place and together Charles drove them back to their house. Lupa did his best to avoid his disappointment. This was the moment he'd been looking forward to for months. They had warned him but he hadn't listened. Now he had to taste the bitter medicine for himself. But what else was it they had said: "Just be patient. You've been separated a long time. It's not easy coming back together. It'll take time. But it will be worth it." And this time Lupa hung on to those words with all his might.

"Simon, why are you marrying me?"

I'll admit the question took me by surprise.

"Because I love you," I stammered. "I love you and I want to be with you and I want everyone to know it."

She cuddled up to me on the couch and showed me a book she'd been reading.

"I got this book from Thérèse. It's all about what marriage really is. It's quite interesting."

"Well, I know what marriage is. It's about two people coming together and committing themselves to each other. It's a sort of contract if you like."

"Well, that's precisely what it isn't. At least, that's what this guy says. He says too many people consider marriage as a sort of contract. Contracts are usually drawn up for a limited period of time and lay down various conditions which are either implicit or stated explicitly. But he says a marriage is something far more than that.I'll be honest, love. It's something I've never really thought about very much. Like you, I more or less took it for granted, but maybe it's worth thinking about a bit more."

"Are you trying to tell me, you don't know if you want to marry me?" I said with a shiver. "It's a bit late for that now, isn't it. It's all supposed to be happening next week."

"No, that's not at all what I want to say. I just want to enter into our marriage with my eyes wide open. I love you and I want that love to be something strong, something beautiful; something to lean on even in difficult times."

I still wasn't quite sure what she was getting at, but I realised I couln't afford another mistake like my last answer. I just looked at her absent-mindedly, a look she interpreted perfectly.

"You poor dear, you haven't a clue what I'm talking about, have you. Thérèse said you wouldn't. She was right. And look at you, now you're blushing." But it was said with a great deal of tenderness and we ended rolling around a bit on the sofa.

But our conversation had given me food for thought. I wanted to know more, so the next day I proposed we start reading the book together. And what we learnt most definitely changed my view of what marriage was all about.

Breaking loose

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this train will soon be entering Reading station. This train will be terminating here. Reading. All change please!"

Phil woke up with a start as the announcement which had been floating around his mind for several minutes, slowly penetrated his mind. Looking around he realised several minutes must have past as there was one but himself left in the carriage. Through the window he could see the last of the passengers disappearing down the exit steps. He quickly gathered up his belongings and raced towards the train door. Too late! The train already began pulling away as he reached the door. He would have tried jumping down onto the platform but the door was locked firmly and despite all his attempts he could not open it. The train was shunted onto a small side track, to await its next duties, and once it had stopped Phil climbed down and started to make his way back along the track to the nearest platform. As he did so, he could see the train to Oxford left the station. Now he'd have to wait for the next one, and he wouldn't make it back in time for Mother's birthday party. She'd be furious with him; especially coming as it did after their argument over Julia.

It only took him a few minutes to reach the platform and he soon discovered that the next train would not arrive for another two hours. Sunday morning was obviously not a good time to travel. His mother had told him so. But he had scorned her words. He wanted to spend Julia's last evening in Bristol with her.

He soon found the waiting room and settled back into his seat; but not before setting the alarm on his wrist watch. Once again closed his eyes. The guard's words came back into his mind. "All change please! All change please!" Suddenly the guard appeared before him. "All change please! Sir, all change please!" Sir! Sir! Mr. Simmons. Mr. Simmons! The guard's face transformed itself into that of Dr. Bellson, his tutor at Bristol. "Mr Simmons, could you please repeat what I was just saying." Silence. "I thought as much. What I was saying Mr. Simmons was that we humans have a natural disinclination to change, which is why most major changes only come about as a result of some kind of crisis..." The pictures faded out but the words continued their work in his mind.

It wasn't a sudden awakening this time, more like a slow realisation that it was now or never. He'd known Julia for well over a year now. They'd been planning to get engaged once Phil started his two years articles in September. Then once a fully-fledged lawyer they could marry. Then came the bombshell. Julia had been offered a research position in Vienna. She'd be leaving. Encouraged by his mother Phil had tried to persuade himself that they could still carry on their relationship at a distance for two years. Vienna wasn't that far away, and flights were regular. But deep down he knew... Their last meeting just twelve hours early had been miserable. Julia had made no attempt to change his mind. She was too wise for that. She knew that had to come from him alone. He had walked her to the station where she was taking the train back up to Glasgow to visit her parents before going to Vienna. And Phil had given her a kiss before seeing her onto the train, and turning to the ticket office, where, like a dutiful son, he'd bought his ticket for Oxford and Mother's birthday party for the next day.

"... Most major changes only come about as a result of some kind of crisis..." Phil's crisis had come. It was now or never. Gathering up his belongings he stood up and went inside the station. There was a train north in just five minutes. No time to buy a ticket, now. But he could do that on the train, even if it did cost him more. And, of course, he didn't have any overnight things. But if he let himself worry about such details, he'd never get away. It really was now or never.


I'm currently working on a bigger piece involving some rivalry between this character and a good friend, but also rival (the shadow of this piece. So this prompt just fitted in nicely with what I was doing. Hope you all like it.


Approaching the final corner on his journey home Phil could see nothing. But that did nothing to stop his foreboding. He sensed the shadow was there, there shadow that had met him at this self-same corner ever since he had got the news that his attempt to get into England's most prestigious university had foundered. Ever since that first day, he had known it would be there, waiting for him and then pursuing him, a perpetual reminder of his insufficiency. All he had done to shake it off had failed. The shadow stuck doggedly to him, not once letting off the hook however hard he might try to shake it off. Yet today was different. Today, he could not see the shadow in wait. Phil's mind went back to his meeting with his tutor that morning. He had warmly congratulated him on an excellent piece of work, and went on to praise him in front of the whole class for his achievement. If any day, then today! With a start Phil realised he was only two steps away from the corner and the shadow was nowhere to be seen. He had at last broken its power, no longer would he... as turning the corner the familiar form appeared gradually out of the darkness.

His eyes wide open Phil stared into the darkness. It was time to get up. He'd not looked at the time. He didn't need to. Once again the dream had done its job, more faithful than and as regular as an alarm clock. He swung his legs down onto the floor and straightened himself up, preparing to face a new day.

I can't help wondering whether that so-called mistake really was a mistake. That 50 000 FF had been awarded to us to get a studio cinema going was more than possible. Indeed, we had been knocking on the door of the regional council for some months now, in hope of obtaining the grant. Add to that the skill French bureaucracy has in covering their tracks, it was also conceivable that I had never been informed about this and that the sum had been booked down without ever actually being transferred. But that all these things should happen at once, was almost too much, even for me. I suspected once again the unseen hand of Mayor Demille behind the scenes. As he must most certainly know, any accusation against a member of the centre's staff, let alone its director, would adversely affect the negotiations to assure the centre's future. And he was still as determined as ever to see us close.

But I had no time to waste on the luxuries of contemplation. There was work to be done. Our wedding was just a few weeks away. And work at the centre had fallen badly behind. I set off for the office at once, determined to make up for lost time. So you can imagine my surprise and my fears on arriving, to see the place in darkness and a sign on the door informing the public that, due to unforeseen circumstances, the centre would be closed that morning. I let myself in fearing what I would find. Had the police raided us yet again? Was Javert Demille pulling out all the stops now?

A glimmer of light shone from under the door of the back office and I made my way step by step towards it. I could here nothing so it was obvious someone had forgotten to turn off the lights the previous evening. But the moment I opened the door, there was the sound of corks popping and the strains of "For he's a jolly good fellow..." struck up. The emergency meeting of the administrative council - the one Morgana had conveniently forgotten to tell me about - had begun. But there wasn't much time for festivities and we soon got down to business. At the meeting, I did try to raise the matter of my false imprisonment and my suspicions about the Mayor. After all, I explained with, for me, unusual gravity, the mistake had been a costly one. It had resulted in four days being stolen from my life. But my attempt to pursue the matter was put down with a firm but sympathetic hand. Any attempt on our part to incriminate people in high positions could only lead to further trouble for the centre and would probably incur further recriminations against me and the other council members. Sympathetic to my plight, they were. But willing to fight a losing battle over nothing, they were not. Up to me to interpret the nuance between these two declarations.

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