Monday 17 July 2017

The Frenchman

This story was shortlisted in The Brian Moore short story competition and the Fish short story competition.
Competitions are great motivators!!!

The Frenchman

She would close his eyes in death; that was all she knew about him.

The Frenchman who sold her the cottage made a living from his vegetables. Set on the edge of Clare Galway the stone cottage with its Stanley range and converted hayloft seemed suspended in a time warp. Oil fired central heating was a promise and, for the moment, Sarah spent her days lugging buckets of turf and logs from the out house, feeding them to the black iron Stanley that choked and spluttered and spewed out wood smoke. She saw little of the Frenchman.


“She sallies about that cottage naked in the dead of night,” said the farmer.
“I’ve seen her in satins and bows and high-heeled shoes wavering in and out of the cow shed,” said his neighbour.
“She only got two letters all summer long and them nude postcards from abroad written in Italian,” offered the postman.
“Sure I’d hate to live near any of yous,” said Ruth the barmaid.
“She crumbled out of the car last week,” began the Frenchman.
“You mean clambered,” said the postman.
“No, I mean she was tired, or arthritic.”
“Ugly and arthritic too,” said the farmer into the bottom of his pint.
“She keeps herself to herself is all you can hold on her,” replied the Frenchman as he smoothed the plastic tablecloth with his fingers. He seemed to be patting down some imaginary fold with long sweep strokes; thirty years speaking English in this rural backwater and still his hands fumbled with something he couldn’t quite fathom.
“Hold on her? Would ye listen to yer man!”


“How do people die if they die with their eyes wide open?” she asked her friends in the city.

“A knife in the gut.”
“A jealous lover.”
“A shock to the system!”

All predicted sudden and violent deaths.


She watched him from her deep recessed cottage window; a tall lithe man pushing fifty, his spade sliding easily into the caked earth as he cut beds for winter seeding.

Swallows dipped in and out of the turf shed, wild pheasants ate the grass seeds she’d planted in late summer. The russeting oak cradled the blossoming holly and she nearly trod underfoot fungi bright as hot coals. Winter was coming.

She’d best stay away from the Frenchman, for how could she close his eyes in death if she never went near him; it was the intimacy implied in that gesture that bothered her.


She howls by the light of the moon.
She walks naked at sunset.
She has teeth like fangs.
She pees in the turf shed.
She’s a queer one for sure.
She works hard…
He means for a blow-in!

There was a light tapping at her door, playful like a tune. Sarah was stacking woodpile in the corner of the alcove where the black Stanley squatted, and through the half-door windowpane she saw the tall man standing. She looked into eyes that were black as the Stanley; his skin was rain beaten, and he held himself straighter than any man she could remember.

“It’s you so,” she muttered opening the door.
“No, a life-size model! The Irish! They love to state the obvious or talk in riddle. “I’ll do it now, in a minute,”” and he laughed, his black eyes twinkling.
“Have you something to tell me or not?” asked Sarah bristling.
“You’re a sour woman, or is it dour? I’ve come about the system,” and he waved his hands towards the Stanley. “I notice smoke from your chimney and I see you have it fired.”
“You’re an observant man,” she quipped back.
“What I mean is the electricity is cutting and the pump is not functioning and the system…” Words fluttered and danced. She could see him tilt and turn the spade this way and that, testing; words sliding across the blade, settling only when he had done explaining.
“You didn’t interrupt me!”
“Sure why should I? Thank you. I understand; about the system. And it’s dour, but sour works too.” And she closed the door on a bemused expression.


They say she has a hoard of illegitmates in the city.
They say she killed a man by simply sitting on him.
They say she has the evil eye and can cast a spell.
They say she stacks money in the chimney.

“She listens,” said the Frenchman.


She had never been wrong before; her intimations she always trusted.
But he appeared more often now.

Did the flue need cleaning?
A tile had fallen off the roof.
The hedge needed trimming?

And so he came, feeding her stove and her emptiness with hands that smoothed and folded imaginary contours on her cotton tablecloth and, stroking it, he told her his story. And once in the telling his eyes rolled upwards in their sockets and her heart stopped; she leaned towards him fumbling.


Swallows dipped in and out of the loft that night and the lovers flew with them. They flew out through the roof and waltzed on the Milky Way; followed the quest of the plough and ended up in the Northern Star. Then they fell into a deep, deep sleep.

“La petite mort, we call it.”
“Little death?”
“And la grande mort, that’s death; the end or the beginning.”

Sarah began to laugh; her rolling laughter scattering the swallows that nested under the eaves. And then the tears came, and the falling of the ache she had been holding.

“So you’re not dead yet,” she said placing her palms over his eyes.
“The Irish!”

“I know! We always state the obvious…”

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2017

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