“Ruthie….” croaked my best friend on the other end of the telephone.
The minute I heard her voice I knew something was wrong. I glanced at the fridge with which I had just finished stuffing twenty top notch oysters ‘spécial numéro 2’, a mammoth dotty turbot, a cheese selection ranging from a chèvre wrapped in an oak leaf to a blue drenched in beaumes de venise, and a bottle of champagne. A kitten was nibbling at a bowl of the last of the season’s grapes and there was a bed made up fresh and sprayed with lavender water with two cats keeping it warm upstairs. My friend was supposed to be on the train, on a one-day visit in-between Glyndebourne performances, but there was a telling lack of disturbance on the line when she spoke.
“Something terrible has happened.” She said. I gulped. “I ate some stupid mackerel paté yesterday at lunch and hardly made it through the first act of Macbeth. I've been up all night, you know...I tried to get up at eight but....I feel so sad…”
As I was out on my run this morning a southern breeze was blowing and the olive trees were puffing out clouds of finches. The recent snow had melted on the Ventoux and I was looking forward to coffee on the terrace. It would, of course, have been an ideal day for my friend to be here, I thought with regret. Then suddenly, out of the trees along with the birds perhaps, there came an image of a child sitting in a shoe-shop being fitted for new shoes. Each time a child’s foot changes shape, I thought, we get her fitted for a new pair of shoes. The child leaves the old shoes in the shop and bounces out in the new ready for the next adventure. Even when the child loves her old shoes (I remember a pair of denim platform ‘wedges’ I found particularly hard to let go of), she usually lets them go in favour of the new ones, because the new ones fit. Each time the shape of my life changes, I thought, I keep pinching, squeezing, stuffing and folding myself in and up in the hope that I can still fit in to the outdated mould. I often do it even when the new mould is right in front of me, like the child in the shoe shop continuing to stuff her feet in the old pair of shoes.
Later that day as we prepared the turbot with a white bean ratatouille, opened oysters and drank champagne the telephone rang again. This time it was our neighbour:
“I have just baked bread. Stand outside the window and I will give you some.”
“That reminds me, do you like oysters?” I asked. “We have some extra.”
And so it was that as the stars bored into the sky and the wind whipped up the night, I stood beneath my neighbour’s window like Romeo. She lowered a basket with home-baked bread in it, which I returned with twelve magnificent oysters. They were a perfect marriage.
As it turns out, there was a message on my friend’s mobile phone from Eurostar saying that because of French rail strikes, her train wouldn’t be stopping at Lille that day, and that she should call them to make other plans. It is probable that if she had ever got here she certainly would not have been able to return in time for Macbeth on Tuesday. With the cool help of her boyfriend she managed to change her ticket without letting on that she had missed the train because of food poisoning and at no extra charge she will come in December for longer.
As is usually the case, life is not so terrible after all. Throw the moulds to the wind, I say!