Late yesterday afternoon Celine phoned to say she would call around as she was in the area, interviewing the residents of the care home for her book. She seemed fed up, complaining the visit had been a waste of time as most of the residents were asleep when she arrived and one elderly man wouldn't leave her alone; repeatedly asking if she knew where his keys were. She told me the place can be so depressing sometimes.
I tried to cheer her up by telling her I'd just sold two of my books. She suggested. that we go out and celebrate. So we decided to look for a restaurant in Vannes and take my car as I needed to fill up with petrol.
On the way I told Celine about the house in Pontivy where Karl and I heard the mysterious knocking on the door. She told me that when she was in her early twenties her father had been planning to rent a house in Normandy. We went to an auction sale in Rouen where he bought an oak table and chairs, which were then delivered to the empty house. On the following day he and Celine went to check that everything had arrived. Celine recalled going into the dining room and telling her father to come and look. The table and chairs had been placed in the middle of the room and all the legs were covered in deep scratches, as if made by a large dog. She and her father looked in every room of the house and there was no sign of a dog. Her father was so shocked that he withdrew his plans to rent the house and found somewhere else instead.
I asked celine what her father did with the table and chairs. She said he left them there.
We drove in silence for a while, both thinking about this. The silence was soon broken by a rattling noise from the car's engine. It didn't sound good but I tried to ignore it.
Celine was relating Napoleon's latest attempts at mice catching when the car started to shake. I was heading down a deserted lane when the steering wheel began to tighten. The car began to slow down, eventually coming to a halt. I turned the ignition. Nothing. I got out and kicked the side panel and swore at the old banger.
Celine took out her phone and asked me for the number of the garage. I said I didn't know and thought it would be closed by then. I was considering phoning Karl when an ancient 2CV van trundled down the lane towards us. With a squeaking of brakes it stopped and a bearded man, his bulk taking up the whole of the driver's side, wound down his window. Next to him sat a tiny white haired woman, smoking a cigar with a small terrier dozing on her lap. Between the two sat another dog of indeterminate breed. The man asked if we needed any help.
Before I could think of the words to give him an answer, he leapt out of his van and ordered me to steer while he pushed the car up the lane and through the entrance of a field. I stepped of my car, at which point the man slapped me on the back and told me to smile.
Celine and the white haired woman were standing next to the van talking. The woman, dressed in faded dungarees tucked into green thigh boots, was rocking the sleeping terrier in her arms. Celine called over to tell me the couple lived near my cottage and would be able to give us a lift back.
We climbed into the back of the van. The floor was littered with old newspapers, receipts, handwritten notes, lists and chewed up boxes of dog biscuits. We drove off accompanied by loud accordion music. The man whistled along as his wife sucked on her cigar. The terrier snored in her lap whilst the large dog turned to stare at us.
It wasn't long before we realized we were not alone in the back. The music was accompanied by clucking sounds and we both turned to find two cages behind us each containing a pair chickens. They were all gazing at me.
Celine's attention, however, was taken up by something else. Next to the chickens was a hutch containing a grey and white rabbit; his nose twitching through the wire. Celine asked the couple where they had got him from. Both speaking at once, they told us they had been to the market that afternoon and bought the rabbit and the chickens from there. Celine told them the rabbit was beautiful and it would make a very good pet.
The woman almost spat out her cigar. Both she and her husband seemed to find this very amusing.
"No,no, they are for la cuisine; the rabbit and the chickens!" The man smacked his lips, assuring us the rabbit was destined for the pot that very evening.
Celine was horrified. "You can't do that!"
She later told me she had a vision of the unfortunate rabbit in the film, Fatal Attraction. She took a twenty Euro note from her bag and waved it in front of the little old lady. The dog sniffed at it.
"Take this," she said. "And I will take the rabbit." She had to shout over the music to make herself heard. The couple started to laugh, telling Celine she could have the rabbit, there were plenty more. My French vocabulary had deserted me so I asked Celine if she would offer the couple ten Euros for the chickens. They wanted twenty but we eventually settled on fifteen. It was another twenty minutes before we reached my cottage and during that time the couple conducted a whispered conversation interspersed with bursts of laughter.
Celine told me they think we're mad!
Once we arrived at my place the couple laughed as we took the rabbit and chickens from the back of the van. We heard them laughing as they drove off.
We took the animals indoors, Celine asking if I had any lettuce. I didn't, but I found a couple of old carrots at the back of a cupboard and she took the rabbit out of his cage to stroke him. He trembled whilst the chickens looked on. I was certain Karl would be pleased to have them.
So, despite the car breaking down and being the centre of amusement, at least we'd been given a lift home and managed to rescue a few animals from the pot.
After a coffee Celine left with Maximillian, the rabbit's new name, saying she was looking forward to introducing Napoleon to him. (I'm sure he'll be thrilled!)
This morning I phoned the garage in Lorient and arranged for them to pick up the car. A couple of hours later I received a phone call to let me know the cost: nearly three hundred Euros! Bloody cars!