Henri wasn't sure why he'd stopped to read the notice pasted on the back wall of the bus stop. But having read it once, he seemed to be drawn to it so that even the most casual observer couldn't help but notice this strange compulsion. Moreover, the notice seemed to be haunting him. Whenever anyone said something to him, he stared right through them with his grey eyes, taking up to a minute before acknowledging whatever was said.

Being new to the village I was naturally intrigued by his behaviour. Moreover, Henri was one of the few villagers who hadn't taken me up on my offer of a free 10 minutes consultation - a bid to get my new practice off to a good start.

I myself had taken some interest in some interest in the notice. As yet, I knew very few people here; a barbecue and dance would be an excellent opportunity to go about making some friends. But what did Henri find so intriguing.

It was Annie who filled me in on his background. Seemed she used to do some cleaning up at their house during the better times. 'The better times' was Annie's shorthand for the period before his wife walked out on him. "Ran off with a good for nothing conman who'd persuaded her he owned half the state. Maybe, he did 'n all as far as I know. But he was bad news that guy, that I do know. Walked out on him right on his birthday Doctor, and he's never been the same since. Sure, he did try to get his life back in order. Set up a transport company exactly one year after; got a really good contract from the old steelworks down behind the canal. He invested heavily but they never paid. When he went to court, they declared bankruptcy. He lost everything. Had to move to one of the terraces. Remember I took him a cake the day he moved, bring some birthday cheer and all that. But never asks me to clean now. Never asks anyone anything now."

To my surprise Henri turned up at the barbecue. Judging by the whispers I wasn't the only one surprised. He was standing silently beside the festive pole when the village Mayor clapped a hand on his shoulder:

"Happy birthday, Henri. How are you holding up?" The only reply he got was a pair of raised eyebrows as Henri turned away. He reminded me of a dog we'd once had. Such a beautiful creature, he'd been the pride of the family. I remember I'd have given anything to be allowed to take him off to college with me. But when I came home for vacation the spark had gone out of him. Shortly after the vet suggested... at his age it was only normal.

Henri was still in the prime of life, but the spark had gone out him. He must have been a handsome, imposing man... once. But now, there was just that droop. The music started up and I was pushed along with the masses. A hand grabbed me from the right, another from the left and around we whirled. And as the band started a little jig, I twisted inside and out, from one partner to the other. One, two, three, four, five, six... and I found myself standing in front of Henri. I more or less had to place myself in his arms, so surprised he was to find himself with a dancing partner, but once we got going he led with assurance. My thoughts too were in a whirl but I was glad when he kept hold of me when the music stopped and we set off on a second adventure of the evening.

After the first round of dances the barbecue was lit and Henri beat a hasty retreat before I could say anything. But I could help notice the occasional glance he cast me from across the square. Once I smiled back and I'm sure I detected a brief spark light up his eyes before he turned away.

I ate with a group of people who lived in the same street as me. From where I was sitting, I couldn't see Henri, but my mind kept coming back to him. The moment the band started up and the next dance was announced, I pushed my way through to the edge of the dance floor. There was Henri standing alone by the festive pole. When he saw me, he seemed to hesitate. Would he dare? He took two steps forward but then moved quickly to the drinks table. He picked up a glass and hesitated between the bottle of water and the whisky. I watched with bated breath as our future hung in the balance. I saw him pour and swallow and by the time he'd turned round, I was already in the arms of the young man standing next to me whom I'd asked to dance. The last thing I needed was a man who took his courage from a bottle.


This piece intrigued me and kept me reading. We get to see the background to Henri, but also the narrator's perspective; that brooding gossipy comment is a great way to finish off. I'm very impressed.

3 July 2010 at 13:31  

Poor Henri! Would this party be his birthday party? It seems as if the village is trying to make things festive to get him out of his funk and he's trying, only to end up sticking to his ways.

3 July 2010 at 15:16  

The ending was not what I expected - but that's good! I like the way you conveyed all the information about Henri's life. Really nice tight story.

3 July 2010 at 19:46  

This piece feels like part of a bigger story. It leaves more questions unanswered than answered. That's a good thing, to make your readers want more!

3 July 2010 at 19:50  

I like that you built a study of the man from second hand observations, and village gossip. In light of that it was a shame that the conclusion was based on assumptions ... not much of a good doctor that one! Really enjoyable thanks.

4 July 2010 at 00:44  

great little snapshot of village life, allowing the readers to get into Henris skin

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5 July 2010 at 05:41  

Loved the last line. Loved the tension - would he step up and dance, or would he let the possibility go by? Her reaction was smart and put a smile on my face. Nice work.

6 July 2010 at 15:44  

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