The Travel to Dordogne
Ever since I was little
I had heard of the Dordogne.
In a way The Dordogne took shape in my consciousness as the Promised Land. While other families went on vacation to small villages, mostly small, intimate resorts situated by some kind of idyllic lake, or lodging with relatives in the mountains, our family spent vacations in a small, cramped apartment, happy with our heads bowed over some yellowed clippings and a crumpled map. Or rather, the map. For it was the only one. In some places the map was so thin that one could see right through the paper. We had to roll it out with the greatest caution. But all this was more than offset by the fact that the map was so large that it covered almost the entire living room floor. The map was a map of the Dordogne. Roads and places were marked with pencil. Some things were circled with pencil, some were underlined. Fine dotted lines specified paths and roads. Both the clippings and the map were grandfathers. Also the dream, then. The dream of the Dordogne.
One of my earliest memories is that I am sitting on grandfather’s knee, riding cowboy-style. Below us lies the map unfurled. We play that we are riders through the deep Dordogne forests. Sometimes we are on the hunt. Birds, rabbits. To make it extra scary grandfather often pretends there is a bear in the grove. Or a wolf.
“Is it a bear?” hums grandfather from deep in his throat and his knee is moving slowly. “Is it a wolf?” his knee hardly moving at all. From his half-open mouth comes a low growl. I get scared. I cling to him, holding his neck with small, sweaty hands. Eyes closed. Grandfather knows how much is enough. The knee starts moving. The growl becomes weaker. Soon we are in full gallop along. The wolf is far behind.
“You can open your eyes again now, Marcel,” said grandfather quietly.
I do so as far as I dare. I hold firmly to him, cautiously looking around.
Grandfather’s knee jumps up and down. Faster and faster! My hands are sweating. I am about to let go.
“Now we are speeding up
a hill!” cries Grandfather.
Just as I think I’ll fall off, he lifts me up in the air and turns around. I scream, screaming with a mixture of fear and joy. Of joy and anxiety. Is the wolf really gone? Totally, totally gone?
“The wolf is far away, Marcel!» said Grandfather. The voice is calm and confident. Carefully he puts me down on his knee again.
“Look here, «he
continues, pointing to a location on the map with one hand “We are right next
to a castle!»
“A castle?” I exclaimed eagerly. “What’s it called, Grandfather?”
“Chateau de Beynac.”
I hear in his voice that he is never been so proud.
“Who lives there?”
I’m so excited that I almost slide off his knee. Grandfather grabs me by the braces, lifts me up. He makes sure that I’m sitting firmly on his knee again. He puts both arms around me. His face is close to mine. I can clearly feel the smell of him. Coffee, tobacco and something indefinable. Slightly unclean? Sweat? A slightly sour smell, actually, a bit musty. Grandfather does not shave every day. His stubble scratches my cheek. He puts his mouth to my ear, whispering
“An English knight lives in that castle, Marcel!”
Behind the stubble grandfather skin is smooth and soft. I run a hand over his face. Feeling the skin under your fingertips. It is good and soft. I press a finger into the middle of his cheek. I can push and push, and the finger disappears deeper inside. I turn my head and look deeply into grandfathers eyes. My eyes are so close to his eyes that I see and not see them. I’m looking for something. An English knight? A castle with pennants fluttering from the tower at the drawbridge? Is Grandfather kidding me? Is it really a castle? A real castle? And no wolf, surely? Deep inside grandfather’s eyes, I think once I glimpsed a figure in red armour. On his helmet waved a red tassel. The Knight.
The next moment he is
sat on a prancing horse. In one hand he holds a lance, in the other a shield.
The shield has a border of red and gold and in the centre a green tree. I stare
and stare, and just as I am about to get drawn into grandfather’s eyes, Grandma
“You must not make the kid totally confused!” she says.
Although she tries to make her voice stern, I know that she just pretends.
“He believes almost
everything you say! “. I turn toward her.
“Grandma! I say, “We are in the Dordogne! Also, we have escaped a wolf! And now we are at a castle, and I saw a real knight in red armour and ….!”
I am so anxious that the words stick. Grandfather laughed into my ear.
Grandma shakes her head.
“You two!”, «she said lightly and I understand at once that she really is not mad at all. “Look, here’s something hot to drink for you.”
She puts two steaming cups on the table.
“Grandma?” I ask seriously, “Is it true that you’ve been in the Dordogne? Is it not true? Say you have, Grandma. Please!”
Grandma shakes her head gently.
“What nonsense you fill that boys head with!” she says accusingly to Grandfather. He smiled apologetically and ruffled my hair.
Grandma had never been in the Dordogne.
Not Grandfather either, for that matter. It did not matter. Not very much, at least. Just enough that I struggled to understand what was true and what was not. I could stare at the map of the Dordogne and ask myself if it really existed. In reality I was not quite sure. I knew well the apartment building where we lived, the streets outside and a part of the neighbouring streets, but the town we lived in was as unknown to me as the country the map on the floor in the living room was a part of. Could the world really be so big? And another place so different?
Many times I sat on grandfather’s knee. The map of the Dordogne stretched like a vast landscape across the living room floor. Eventually, we visited many castles, rode through the great forests and I stopped being afraid of the wolf. One day I even said to grandfather:
“Let’s kill it!”
Grandfather’s knee suddenly stopped moving. For a while we sat completely still.
“My boy,» he said finally. Slowly, “I think we’ve ridden enough for today. I’m tired and need to rest.”
“Oh, no, grandpa!” I protested. “Not now that it so exciting! Please!”
I tried to get up again on grandfather’s knee. But Grandpa had risen. He put his hand on my head, yawned. With a tired voice he asked me to clear away the map.
“But remember to fold it neatly, Marcel! I do not think that your father will be happy if it were to be destroyed.”
Grandpa went to sleep. I folded the map carefully, but inside me I was nevertheless still in the Dordogne. I rode over bridges, across fields and into the woods. Somewhere was the wolf. One day I would chase it. Kill it. When finally the map was nicely folded, I put it on the table along with the father’s things. I did not know it then, but henceforth it would be longer and longer between the times I rode on grandfather’s knee.
Apart from riding trips on grandfather’s knee became more seldom, my childhood was unchanging. I saw that my grandparents got older, but that‘s how it is with time, and anyway, it didn‘t worry me. My grandfather was grandfather. Grandma always grandma. Time came and went, and fell like leaves in the large Dordogne forests.
As was customary, my grandparents lived with us. The apartment was certainly not huge. It consisted of a living room and small kitchen. Behind the kitchen there was an even smaller closet. There slept grandfather and grandmother. The cubby-hole was certainly cold and draughty in winter and too hot in summer, but I never thought of it. Every morning, as soon as mother let me, I ran into them. Sometimes, not often, it happened that I woke up before mom and dad. There I lay hearing them breathe in their sleep, turning over, sometimes Father snoring or breathing extra heavily. When I woke up I was wide awake at once. Impossible to sleep again.
This was just such a
morning. My parents were asleep. Complete still in the apartment. I lay and
listened to the ambient sounds, and heard the steps from the apartment above
us. This meant that the day had already started. My neighbour above us was
really a strange case. As far as I remember he was a driver or something like
that, at least he could be gone for days at a stretch, and when he came home
there was always lots of noise on the first night; footsteps on the stairs,
woman laughing and yelling late into the night. These nights, I was always in
bed early. Mom thought it was best that way.
“This is not for your ears, Marcel! In bed with you!”
And if I protested? I think I sulked more than anything. I was an obedient child, obedient and affectionate, and after a ride on grandfather’s knee, I fell asleep whilst thinking of the Dordogne, the mystical wonderland.
I lay for a while and listened to my parents’ sleep sounds.
A pale daylight seeped in from behind the curtains. I was wide awake. I tried to lie quietly, but it was impossible. Just couldn‘t do it. Suddenly I scratched a little here, scratched a little there. I turned around. I lay on one side, tried the other side, lay on my back and stared up at the ceiling whilst I listened to footsteps from the apartment above. «I wonder if there is morning in the Dordogne.» I asked myself. It was the sign I was waiting for. Morning in the Dordogne. I saw instantly an avenue of lime trees, dew on the leaves. The sky was bright blue. Or was it? I screwed my eyes together. No, it was a mix of blue and green. Almost like water. How I imagined the sea looked. The Sea. I had never seen the sea, but hadn’t grandfather said that you had to sail across the ocean to get to the Dordogne? The question churned in my head. Sailing across the sea? Did that mean that the Dordogne bordered the sea? And if so, what part of the Dordogne? The questions made me dizzy and uneasy. I tried to recall the map of the Dordogne, but it was huge, covering almost the entire living room floor and it was too large for me to see all the detail. If only I could have I would have seen that the Dordogne had a coastline. The questions were driving out any hope of getting to back sleep, so quietly I as I could I got out of bed, and tiptoed on bare feet to the kitchen. The door to the closet where my grandparents lived stood ajar.
“Grandfather?» I whispered through the crack in the door.
Sleeping Sounds. No one answered.
Impatient I leaned closer through the crack.
“Grandfather?» I repeated a little louder. I Listened. No. Just sleep sounds.
The kitchen floor was cold to stand on. I had bare feet and a worn nightshirt and began to freeze. I opened the door carefully and stuck my head inside. It was dark and smelled musty. But it smelled like something else. Something sour. The smell of Grandfather. Now I was seriously cold. The cubby-hole was very small. The bed took most of the space. I was barely able to open the door halfway before hitting the bed frame. A shelf hung above the bed where grandma and grandpa kept their things. I glimpsed a few reed baskets. A bundle of clothes. At the end, next to a pair of shoes, was grandfather’s two shirts neatly folded. In the part of the room facing the wall was a small drop-leaf table. Alongside stood a chair. Above the chair hung an assortment of clothes. On the small table were my grandmother’s things and grandfather’s razor. Every morning grandfather and father shaved in the kitchen sink. I was never tired of watching them. Smeared with suds they both looked strange. I did not believe that I would one day get to do the same. It was probably just something they said to tease me. Everyone knew that shaving was something grown men did. And all the adults were old. So old that it was impossible to contemplate, impossible to imagine. 8 years, 9 years, and even 12 years was the number one could think of. 5 was so small that there was nothing to worry about, but anything above 15 was staggering. And Grandfather was over 70! That was a lot. Dizzyingly so. I gave up thinking about how much it was. Instead, I wondered what he did with all the years. Were they were stored somewhere in your head? Or heart? There was also something I was wondering. I was not quite sure if I dared to think the idea completely. Now my feet felt almost like ice. I stood on one foot, then on the other. Over in the bed Grandma sighed in her sleep. I thought how nice and warm it was to be in bed.
What I wondered was if
you sort of got scared because the numbers became larger and larger. The
numbers were not infinite. One of them would be the last. I felt a twinge in my
“Grandfather?” I stuttered unhappily.
My voice was shaking with cold.
An indescribable feeling of relief came over me when I heard grandfather’s voice. My thoughts had made me rather sad. I wanted always hear my name spoken by Grandfather. Always! I would always hear grandfather’s voice say my name.
Now I was cold so I my
teeth chattered. With a sudden jump, I arrived at the bed. Instantly I slipped
under the duvet and clung to grandfather’s warm body.
“So cold you are!” he whispered into my ear. “Your toes are like ice, my boy! But now we must lie very still so we do not wake grandma.”
He pulled me close. It was good to be under the covers. I was shaking with cold. Grandfather’s body was so hot. He wrapped the quilt firmly around my back and put his arm around me to ensure that it covered me completely. Then he gently stroked my hair.
“Were you doing up at this time?” he asked.
“I woke up and I began to think of the Dordogne, and an avenue of lime trees. There was fresh dew on all the leaves and the sky was blue. No, it was a mixture of green and blue, almost more green.”
I took a deep breath, continued:
“And the colour reminds you of the sea, doesn‘t it, Grandpa?
“Perhaps,» said grandfather quietly.
Again he stroked my hair.
“I could not sleep, and so I wondered if you have to sail across the ocean to get to the Dordogne.
“Do you have to grandfather, sail across the ocean?”
We lay close together, grandfather and me. Slowly I became warmer. It helped to talk too. It had been so quiet in the apartment when all were asleep and only I was awake. Grandpa continued to stroke my hair. He looked deeply into my eyes and said:
“Yes, you have to sail across the ocean to get to the Dordogne.”
“Oh, you have to!” tumbled out of me.
I felt happy, relieved. I knew I was onto something, something important. I had known that actually. That one had to sail across the ocean, I mean. I just had not wanted to say it. The fact that I had known it made me proud. I knew a little of everything. I knew about knights, wolves and that one had to sail across the ocean to get to the Dordogne. The certainty of this was warming, too.
“Which sea is it?» I whispered eagerly.
For a while, grandfather remained still. I could see he was thinking about. The hand that had stroked my hair rested quietly against my neck. It was nice to feel grandfather’s warm hand on my neck. I think it was the sweetest feeling.
“The Deep Blue Sea“, said grandfather.
“ I knew it? I exclaimed, surprised.
“Yes?” replied Grandfather. “Did you?”
“No,” I replied, ashamed.
For a while, we were so close together, the heat from the grandfather’s hand on my neck spreading down my back. I do not think it had mattered that I did not know that the sea was called The Deep Blue Sea. Not to grandfather at least.
“Do you want me to tell you about The Deep Blue Sea?”
“Yes please, Grandfather! I whispered.
“The Deep Blue Sea has a strange colour like no other sea, an indeterminate mix of green and blue. In The Deep Blue Sea there live some weird fish. They are totally flat, yes, they look almost like plates. Their heads are tiny, but their eyes are huge.
“Wow!” I replied.
I felt I was getting sleepy. And hot. It was an effort to stay awake. I imagined the strange, flat fish with tiny heads and big eyes, and thought of all the other strange things that undoubtedly existed in The Deep Blue Sea, the sea we had to sail over to get to the Dordogne. Grandfather took a deep breath to continue, I closed my eyes and fell asleep.
It was Grandfathers and my secret that I let myself in my grandparents’ bed most mornings if I woke up early and could not sleep. It was wonderful to have such a secret that only we two knew. He and I. Me and him. My best friend. I wished everyone could have a friend like grandfather. All he knew! All he could tell! I knew no one who knew about as much as Grandpa. Dad knew a lot. But Dad was different. He was kind enough. But that wasn’t it. Father worked. In the morning he was in office, in the evening he read the newspaper. The fact of the matter was that father was tired, tired, or busy in serious talks with the mother. Grandpa, however, was always there. Just knowing that I could crawl under the covers for him at any time meant that I often asked to go to bed.
«Are you going to bed already?» Dad would say, but I could see that he teased me. Since the apartment was so small, the room served as a bedroom. Each evening laid the sleeping places on the floor and then rolled them together again in the morning, and stuck them under the coffee table. Because I often wanted to go to bed early, my place sleeping place was at the opposite end of the room from where father sat and smoked, immersed in reading the newspaper with a cup of tea within reach. As was commonplace mother liked to do handicrafts in the evening. Socks would be darned, clothes mended. It didn’t bother me that they did not go to bed. Indeed the opposite. I liked to be listening to them and the sounds they made. Sometimes they disappeared into the kitchen. Occasionally grandfather or grandmother, perhaps both, came into the living room and sat down beside my father. Sometimes they played cards while Grandma helped mother, or tried to help the mother is probably nearer the mark. She was more of a hindrance than a help, but the mother hadn’t the heart to tell her. Grandpa would have a smoke with my father both smoking their pipes, as men did at that time. If there was something unusual in the news they would talk together for ages, Dad pointing at something in the newspaper, making a comment. Grandpa did not need to be asked twice, and soon the conversation started between them. If they were too loud mother would coughed and nod in my direction.
Then they both glanced
toward where I lay, stared silently for a moment, but not anymore after the
conversation going again. I loved those evenings.
But, I did not go to bed early every evening. As far as I can remember it was mostly on Saturdays that I insisted on getting to bed early, for then I could have a long and relaxing Sunday morning along with grandfather.
“Tell me about The Deep Blue Sea!”
It was early one Sunday morning.
I had not been outside the door waiting as before, but instead walked straight in and lay down next to grandfather. He was awake already. As I had gone to bed so early the night before he had anticipated that I would come.
“The Deep Blue Sea is known and feared for its mysteries”, whispered Grandpa in a low voice.
“Only the best captains on the best ships are able to cross it. Storms suddenly blow. The wind is so strong that it will sail to rip and blow people overboard. It can also blow ships off course. Instead of anchoring off the coast of the Dordogne, they end up in the far north. Yes! All the way to Greenland!
“Greenland?» I repeated in amazement.
That was miles away. I knew nothing about Greenland other than it was so cold and so far away. Moreover, there had polar bears there.
“There are polar bears!” I exclaimed, and was very pleased that grandpa was lying close to me. I hesitated a bit, plucked up courage and asked
“Are they dangerous?”
“Yes, very» replied Grandfather seriously.
“Why are they called polar bears? Are they made of ice?”
I imagined a large, transparent form of ice. Cold and powerful set it on two legs. I shivered, hid my head under the pillow.
“What is it, Marcel?” asked grandfather worried.
He lifted the pillow and looked seriously at me.
“You can take it easy. There are no polar bears here,” he continued. “And they’re not made of ice. Polar bears are real bears. In contrast to all other bears polar bears have white fur. And as most bears are afraid of people.
“Are bears afraid of us? Afraid of ordinary people?”
Had it not been grandfather who said it, I would not have believed it. How was it possible for something as big and dangerous to be afraid of people?
Reassured and feeling happier, I turned to lay my head upon the pillow once more.
“All animals are afraid of people, Marcel”.
I closed my eyes and tried to understand why, while I felt grandfather’s quiet breath against my cheek.
“Animals are afraid of people?”
Suddenly I was far away. I went to an ice-floe. On my feet I had shoes of leather and on my head a thick fur hat. Above me the stars twinkled. I raised my hand and peered in front of me. There, in sight! A huge, transparent figure on two legs! It stood perfectly still with his front paws lifted up. I sneaked closer. I saw that the figure was partly covered with frost. I was going to take it when someone shook me gently by the shoulder.
I blinked my eyes.
Dad stood by the bedside.
“It’s a late, Marcel. You must get up and have breakfast”.
I was wondering if I should tell the father about the polar bear.
“I dreamt about a polar bear”, I said.
“Was it called grandfather?” asked father, and lifted me smiling out of bed.
I do not remember when the turnaround came. Presumably it must have happened gradually, without me noticing anything. I was too busy with mine. Perhaps fortunately. Grandfather and Grandma were a natural part of life’s order. It was unthinkable a few changes. I saw that my parents sometimes seemed more worried than usual. Or did I? I’m certainly not sure. But I remember that I repeatedly asked mother why Grandma increasingly stayed so long in bed. It started when she went to bed after breakfast. Said she had not slept so well at night and were tired. Then she began to sleep after the rest of us had eaten breakfast. She woke up only when it was late in the day, and always claimed that she was not hungry. But mother would not hear of it. She cooked soup for Grandma and served hot, sweet tea. Then one day the grandmother lay in bed all day. The next day she got up and talked a bit with the mother in the evening, but after that she only got out of bed when she was going to the toilet.
One afternoon, mother took me aside.
“Marcel, my friend, grandma is not well so please do not creep into bed with grandfather for a while. You see, Grandma is very tired and no one must disturb her. Grandma must get some rest. Do you understand, my friend?
I thought it sounded very strange. I wanted to ask the mother why grandmother was so tired, and why she had to sleep all day while she slept all night, but there was something in mother’s face and eyes which made me rather said:
“ But when can I go to Grandfather?
“I do not know, Marcel. Maybe some other time. Or maybe you can talk with Grandfather in the afternoons?”
“Oh” was all I could say. I really did not know what to answer.
The thought of not being able to crawl into bed with Grandfather made me unhappy.
My mother stroked my hair and said “
You must not forget
that grandfather is old and tired. Now that Grandma is not well, he must have
peace and quiet.
I wasn’t exactly sure what mum meant by «not healthy» and «tired», but knew well enough that I could not creep into bed with Grandfather for a while. Suddenly it occurred to me that he been somewhat different lately. He spent time less frequently with the father in the evening. During meals, he hardly touched the food, and it seemed that no sooner had he sat down that he left the table to see grandmother. His beard became longer, and his trousers seemed to grow by two sizes. All-in-all he simply did less.
I looked up at Mom.
“Is it serious?” I asked.
“It’s just a part of
life”, mother replied slowly.
She looked very sad.
I went over to the desk and rummaged around in Dad’s things. The large map of the Dordogne was neatly packaged under the albums with the yellowed clippings. I took out one of the albums, and leafed through it. There were too many words for me to read it all, but the drawings were beautiful and elaborate. I studied them carefully. Dordogne was very beautiful. All the churches had a spire of silver and gilded domes. The streets were not all full of mud and silt as with us, but were paved with the finest cobblestone.
“Mother”, I cried out to the kitchen, “it is far from the Dordogne to Greenland?”
But Mom was busy and did not respond.
Some days later grandmother stopped waking up. I use the phrase deliberately that she stopped waking up, for it was what mother said to me.
“Grandma is sleeping with
us, but is awake with God,” Mom said quietly.
Dad came home early from the office, looking pale and drawn.
“I have made a decision,
«Mom said to him.
Dad looked at me.
“ Marcel,» he said, “come let’s go for a walk”.
We wandered around the streets. At a kiosk father bought a pastry for me. He said little, but
held my hand firmly the whole time. When we got back home I heard grandfather and mother talking softly inside the closet behind the kitchen.
Dad told me to wait in the living room and went in to them. I do not know how long I waited. For a while I wondered if I should fold out map of the Dordogne. But it was too large for me to do it alone. I do not remember if I fell asleep or just dropped off awhile. I certainly I dreamed I sailed across an ocean with a water so blue it almost hurt the eyes. The Deep Blue Sea? I stood in front of the bow, gazing out over the sea. Grandfather held the rudder. I do not remember if my father and mother were also there.
“Where are we sailing
to?” I turned and shouted to Grandfather, but it was as if he did not hear me.
Grandfather was very quiet with his eyes fixed on a point in the distance. I
tried to look in the same direction, but only saw the sea and more sea.
Suddenly I understood that we were looking for grandmother. I had joined to
help grandfather. For some reason I did not like that idea. I was not afraid.
Not really, more restless, uneasy. I missed my father and mother. I turned and
shouted over and over something to grandfather. He kept his eyes rigidly fixed
on the invisible point on the horizon and did not hear me.
“Marcel, you have to wake up!”
I turned around, tried to escape the voice.
“Marcel, wake up!”
A hand touches me. For a brief moment I thought it was an arm rising from the sea, and I think I cried
“Let me go!”
At that moment I opened my eyes and looked straight into the mother’s face. Her eyes were reddened.
“Marcel» she said,
“You have to come with me, but be as quiet as you can.
“Where’s Grandfather?” I asked.
The dream was still heavy in me and part of me was still in it.
“We will go to grandfather now,» replied mother. Her voice was mild. She looked so strange to me.
“And remember to be
quiet, Marcel, Grandfather is very sick.”
“Grandfather is sick?”
I could not believe my ears. It was not right.
grandfather,» I said “He is out sailing. I dreamed that he and I …”
I did not get any further. Mom put a finger over my mouth and an arm around my shoulders. We went into the kitchen. Dad stood on the kitchen floor his arms hanging straight down in front of him.
The door to the grandmother and grandfather’s closet was ajar.
“Is Grandfather there? I asked. It was difficult to speak. I had a strange lump in my throat.
Neither of my parents responded. Finally, father nodded his head slightly.
“Can I go in to him?” I asked.
Dad came over to me. He laid a hand on each shoulder, said slowly
“Do it, my boy, but be very quiet and cautious. And you cannot stay long with him.”
Dad looked into my eyes, pressed my head into his chest.
“Go now,» he said quietly.
It was dark in the room, but I glimpsed the outline of the grandfather’s body under the covers. I walked the few steps over to the bed, leaned into it and whispered
Grandfather moved so slowly. He breathed heavily.
“Well, well, is that not Marcel,» he said in a voice I hardly recognized.
“Come here and lie next to me for a while, my boy. There is something I have to talk to you about.”
Grandfather had not finished talking before I rushed in under the duvet. Soon we were close together in bed.
“Can you keep a big secret, Marcel?”
Grandfather was breathing heavily and unevenly.
“Yes, Grandfather,» I whispered.
“I will soon embark on a long journey, Marcel. I have to follow grandmother, you understand. But before I leave you I will confide a secret.”
“A secret?” I pushed even closer to Grandfather.
“There is a channel from The Deep Blue Sea way to the town of Cahors,” said Grandfather. There was a whistling in his chest when he spoke.
“Most people who travel to the Dordogne are not aware of this channel. It is hidden behind a dense forest, and flows out at a small bend in the river that goes around the city. The few who know about and use the channel travel to Cahors for a special reason. For a place in the city, a very secret place,” continued grandfather with a voice that sounded as if it came further and further away
“is an old
well. And this is no ordinary well, Marcel. There is a magic well. The water in
the well is such that every drop of it is equivalent to one year of your life.”
I did not move, but held my breath with excitement.
“But” he said “you never know in advance whether the water makes you older or younger. Therefore, it is very dangerous to drink it. Those who do drink the water do not change their appearance. Not immediately, anyway. But inside they are either younger or older, and some add many years to their lives and live longer than everyone else, or some die much earlier than they should have done.
I could no longer keep quiet, and asked
“Have you been there, Grandfather?”
“Yes,” he replied.
The voice was so weak that I barely heard what he said. Grandfather slowly breathed in. He held his chest as if he had pain there.
“What were you doing there?”
“I fetched water for Grandmother,» he replied and closed his eyes. The hand with which he held his chest fell forward.
In his fist was a small sailboat.
It was made of paper and matches, and I was going to grab it when I suddenly heard the cry of gulls and the smell of salt water, and knew that the trip to the Dordogne was over.
English version by the kind courtesy of Simon Kennerley
Copyright John Michael Hudtwalcker, 2008/2019