Amar · Responsabilidad personal · Short stories

Chav takes a plane (III) – Heidi

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting extracts from my forthcoming new book – this time a novel – provisionally titled “Chav takes a plane”. Feedback welcome!

The railway embankment was punctuated by large monolithic grey junction boxes and miles and miles of heavy black cable and the work of rabbits industriously creating underground villages. A middle-aged woman strode deftly past him down the aisle and went through the door into the next carriage. Her blonde hair was curled up in a loose bun and held in place with an embossed leather clasp with a wooden pin. He wondered what Heidi would look like now, thirty-odd, nearly forty years on, and whether she had stayed in that idyllic rural Alsace setting or whether she had long since set sail for a capital paved with golden promises, just as her parents feared, like so many country youngsters with little hope of finding a suitable farm-loving partner.

Go back again tomorrow,” insisted the tall, ragged Jean-Paul, fondling his christ-at-sunset ginger hair and long, skimpy beard. His inner forearms were marked with faint red tracks, and a bicep peeping from below the loose sleeve of a faded orange teeshirt bore a faint blue emblem. “Try again. If I hadn’t been there too, they would have taken you on. They need a hand with something.”

The rumble of his motorcycle rebooted the previous day’s rehearsal: first the farmer emerged affably with his hands in the pockets of his loose brown cord trousers, to be followed moments later by the lady of the house with coffee in hand, wiping her mouth with a delicately embroidered linen napkin, surveying the scene with a critical eye through oval tortoiseshell glasses below insolent, bobbed brown hair. All that was missing to complete the previous day’s perfect portrayal of rural bliss was the third ingredient, the key point, the anchor, the pivot, her inquisitive expression. Chav fancied that he could hear the faint sound of somebody flushing a toilet at the back of the house.

Fine showers of rice fell upon Chav and Heidi that sunny April day as they stepped from the church amid cheers and general jubilation, her pastoral complexion and golden curls released from the constraints of the gauze veil, he in pinstriped tails and patent black, the sun-toasted family in rented suits and new cotton dresses, sticking plasters averting the agony of new high heels, coloured beads flashing sparks, smiling lips of scarlet. Jean-Paul had been right, they needed a hand with the final harvest in the steeply sloped vineyards, the exquisite crop of succulent grapes glistening in the first frost of a star-speckled late September night.

Pigs don’t know they’re pigs,” said Heidi with a hint of disdainful sneer, her pretty, freckled nose wrinkling as she tossed handfuls of left-over greens and squashy fruit from the vegetable garden into the pen. “All they do is eat, sleep and shit, fight over scraps and have sex. Until they get fat enough to eat. Occasionally they might try to climb out of the sty, but if they’ve got enough food, mostly they don’t bother.”

However much Chav loved her pervading scent of recently baked buttery croissants, her attitude to the animals upset him. He knew that his feelings of loyalty to the squealing hogs was misplaced, but, nonetheless, he silently objected to her assumption that she was on the outside of the enclosure. He understood that to let them loose meant seeing them chomp their way through the vegetable patch, and trample and stamp upon the pretty flower border below the leaf-green louvred shutters of the beautiful stone farmhouse, but she made him feel like an intermediary between the two worlds, the negotiator, the referee, a swineherd throwing pearls to swine.

The toot of a passing train jolted him out of the recurrent daydream. His allegiance to the tatty but noble Frenchman had meant that he never did go back to the farm the following day. For want of her real name he called her Heidi because of her blonde pigtails and sparkling blue eyes. He had imagined their wedding because the fantasy pleased him, it felt squidgy and warm and delicious. Or it would have, if her aunt hadn’t made a scene over Chav throwing the champagne corks in the kitchen waste bin along with the metal cap. Her husband was a bottle-cap collector and although he had disappeared without trace years ago never to be seen again, his hobby room in the attic of their immaculate house remained a shrine to his favourite things, choc-a-bloc with brown cardboard boxes all tied up with string.

He had made up her aversion to pigs too. He needed a grudge to hold against her, to protect himself from his shy indecision, his lack of assertiveness, to convince himself that not meeting her again didn’t matter, that life was merely a game of chance or at best, of foiled serendipity. Any throbbing, irrational pagan vibes were to be ignored and synchronicity spurned.

But the grapes were not sour enough to bar him from conjuring up the swarthy-skinned, unruly blond children in the barn, the famous five climbing on bales of hay looking for eggs laid by plump, clucking farmyard hens. Their mission accomplished, the laughing youngsters skipped gaily back to the warm sunlit kitchen and placed the ancient wicker basket on the vast oak table, raucously helping themselves to freshly-made lemonade.