Too little, Too Late

by Dan

Catherine had always dreamed of running a business.

And with daughters and husband gone, she’d done it. Selling organic bouquet-garnis and other sustainable herb products grown in her garden.

She’d had no complaints about married life or motherhood but this was her time. Alone, in France with a kind of independence that women of her generation hadn’t had before. Using her art degree on the design. Using monetary skills honed by running a house on a budget. Using her deep love for nature, largely forgotten for forty years. True happiness had come like late-flowering lavender.

But the hot sun of this freak summer made it hard.

Shade was a relief as she wafted round the market like a tall poppy, waving at farmers and addressing them in schoolgirl French. (The farmers couldn’t understand a word but smiled benevolently because she paid over the odds and employed their children).

“La Grele! A quatorze heures” said the farmers looking at the sky and ostentatiously shivering to signify something. Catherine nodded sagely but uncomprehendingly. She’d never mastered the 24 hour clock properly and didn’t know what was occurring at whatever time they were on about.

“Oui, il fait chaud!” she smiled.

A coffee in the square with ex-pat friends preceded a lovely walk home through undulating countryside, Catherine loved the smell of hot pine. Her basket was stuffed with goat’s cheese that would moulder in her fridge but was irresistibly wrapped in brown leaves.

A heaven as hot as hell.

Christ these gallstones, she should have taken her pills. 40 degrees. It didn’t used to get this hot in France.

A big sleeve tattoo of purple cloud brewed upon the horizon. She sat down under the shade of a large tree and dreamed.

She couldn’t say how long she’d dropped off for but the wind that whipped her awake was freezing cold.

Everything had changed.

Geese honked desperately and wood cracked in the forest.

The storm broke. Savage skies threw hailstones at her as though she were a Saudi woman stepping out of line. She tried to walk on through nature’s fury, too old to run. The wind blew right in her face. The golf ball sized spheres of ice battered her mercilessly. They knocked her down and blacked her eye. She cried for help. A 2cv with an English number-plate passed but did not stop.

She staggered blindly through the space where her gate had been and into the carnage of her beloved garden and scrabbled desperately to save things.

The largest branch of an apple tree was ripped from the trunk and knocked her to the floor again and this time she slept for a long time.

She woke again days later. She was in bed. It was sweltering again. Her daughters squabbled about whose fault it was she’d been left out here on her own. And who would be taking her home to England. She knew neither of them really wanted to, she didn’t want to either, but she also knew from the pain that wracked her body that she wouldn’t walk again.

She felt despair and regret that her changed life and her conversion to the cause of nature had been too little and too late for both of them.