SHORT STORY TIME: I’ve had this tale on the burner for a couple of years, but thought it was time I finished it and give you all something else to think about for a change. It’s been cold and wet this week so hope you have a fire and a coffee to curl up with. This is Part 1, there may be more than a Part 2.
As you can also see, Roddy has been invaluable for some advice and a couple of the photos!
As the plane banked over south-west France in the early morning spring sunshine, Tom Little peered down from his window at the roofs stretching out below him as the suburbs of Bordeaux wheeled under a glinting wing. A new life beckoned, on a continent he had never visited, and he hoped his decision to change his life completely would prove to be the right one. Washington to Bordeaux, Boeing to Airbus – a rare change of employer which had alienated many of his friends, but the offer had suited a desire to change, to leave behind a bitter divorce and the shroud of unhappiness that had hung over him for a year. The work permit had been a long process, but something Airbus had dealt with and he had a house already rented close to his new office in Saint Médard-en-Jalles where a fresh project beckoned, attractive with complex problems in the vacuum of space that needed to be solved, a speciality that Tom excelled in and which had been the reason for the offer of a new career. There was a bump of turbulence that distracted his view and he looked about the plane as it levelled; then there was the ping of an intercom and Tom tightened his seat-belt for landing, his hands clutching a French phrase-book that he knew he would most certainly need in the coming weeks and months.
The house was a perfect size for one, on a quiet road on the outskirts of Issac, and Tom grew to like its peacefulness and relative obscurity as he settled into a new routine; this was a process which over the course of several months gradually blurred the worst of the memories and blunted the unhappiness he had lived with since the break-up of his marriage, a slow strangulation of love that had taken years of discontent before divorce became inevitable.
A shipment of belongings arrived six weeks into his new life, and he put pictures on walls, loaded a shelf with books, unpacked important possessions, re-assembled his beloved bicycle and fed a wardrobe some clothing and shoes. On another shelf went his camera equipment, part of a life-long hobby that had kept him company through much of is ife, and as the summer opened up its blue skies, Tom started to stretch out his horizons and explore the countryside on his bicycle whenever he was not glued to the bank of computers in his office. This was a routine he was familiar with, and one he exercised diligently – it was a routine where he worked at full power, but then turned off completely out of office hours. It was something very different to how many of the brilliant minds he worked with lived their lives, but it was a rhythm that had always worked for him. He kept work at a comfortable distance, socialising when needed and making friendships as they happened, but happy to be alone at the weekends with his cameras and his bicycle. Along the way, his bi-weekly French lessons broadened his understanding of his new world, and the new language became a challenge he relished, one in which the academic part of his character sought out opportunities with which he could practice and broaden his growing knowledge.
In Tom’s tiny patch of garden behind his house was a lawn surrounded by several flower beds, gifts from a previous tenant which Tom nurtured and watered diligently, for the inhabitants kept him amused and very much in touch with his photography. The colourful insects that buzzed and hovered around each different plant were part of a world which he was most familiar with, for one of Tom’s passions was a facet of his hobby that he had followed for many years – macro photography. Tom was very fond of getting closer than most people to his tiny neighbours, a remarkable contrast to his life studying space, but a familiar paradigm to anyone who studies genius. On the one hand there was an understanding and respect for the vastness of the cosmos, but to balance that was a fascination with the microcosms of the planet that Tom lived on, anda need to understand and enjoy the smallest denizens of the same earth. It was an interest that had only increased and developed further in the past few months as Tom had retreated a little from life after the difficulties of his marriage.
One Sunday morning in July, under an endless blue sky, Tom walked out into his small garden, a coffee in one and and his camera in the other. It was just after ten o’clock, and his destination was a plant well known to insect watchers, for its tall spires of dark purple flowers had an uncanny ability to attract bees and butterflies. The flowers, which nodded and dreamed in the sun, were part of the butterfly bush, a name by which the buddleia is sometimes more familiarly known. This particular morning, the bush was alive with life, and several beautiful black and white swallowtails, one of Europe’s most spectacular species, were feeding with regularity amongst the purple booms. Tom put down his coffee on the low wall that kept the flowerbeds in check, and turned on his camera. Putting his lens on manual focus he then approached the buddleia with slow and easy movements, carefully making sure his shadow never fell on the plant, and stopping each time a butterfly changed its feeding position.
Behind the bush was a fence made of vertical wooden slats, several each to a panel that made erection easy and predictable. It was the work of a man who had visited a garden centre five years before, and although a modern touch in the garden, the wood had weathered and become easy to the eye over the years, offering a distinct but kindly separation between Tom’s garden and his neighbours. There was a butterfly low down on the bush some way around the side, and Tom dropped to his knees to lessen his silhouette and worked his way towards the insect as it sat on a low bloom, its wings slowly swallowing the sunlight in a rhythm that echoed the best of the languid summer hear. At the rear of each wing was a lobe of red colour endemic to the species, and Tom brought his camera to his eye slowly, hoping to focus cleanly on the details this drowsy individual seemed to offer. He brought his left leg up underneath him and used its knee to steady his hands as he focused on the butterfly.
Initially he struggled to see through the viewfinder, but the image grew clearer into focus as he shuffled his legs slowly closer, the fingers of his left hand deft on the focus ring of the lens, and his right finger touching the shutter button softly. The wings in the frame moved up and down in slow movement and he slowly pushed down on the shutter, a soft click from the camera the only echo of life in the still garden.
Then, as Tom moved his face away from the viewfinder, he caught a movement along the fence-line, a flicker from something small. He turned towards it, expecting a lizard or some other small creature to be present in the crack between two planks, in the darkness of the vertical plane, but it was not an insect at all. To his surprise, it was an eye, a bright blue human eye with an iris flecked with hazel and yellow, and as Tom jerked with the recognition of its proximity, it blinked again, showing a faint flicker of eyelash, and then it vanished into the dark, leaving Tom bereft of thought and breath.
Putting down the camera as quickly as he could in the soft growth of the flower bed, he made his way the few paces to the wooden fence, and standing on tip-toe, he peered over it. There was nothing to be seen, save a view of a space that seemed to be all gravel and potted plants, some of them quite large. It was a very Mediterranean affair, with not a blade of grass in sight and in the middle of this carefully arranged stone-walled area, a fountain showered water at the blue sky. Tom waited, watching, but there was no movement and after a minute or two he stepped back and went back to his camera, wondering what on earth he had just seen. Had he been dreaming? Had it been just his imagination?
If you would like to read more of my short stories, my new book is now available on Amazon Kindle. You will find a link on our website here.
PART 2 TO FOLLOW ……