Barb Ed, why are you are still ere?
You ave not gone with Madame to the airport?
Ed looked up
at the closed shutters, paint-brush in hand. If
hed stopped to ask himself that question
when he first alighted in Bergerac hed have
taken the next flight back to Blighty. Still, the
old man was just being neighbourly, and at least
he spoke English.
Jacques, I decided against it. Not enough
room in the car coming back if I went along too.
Grandchildren on school holidays - I expect
theyll bring all their electronic gadgets.
gosses! Jacques shrugged and smiled, then
hobbled off up the street, leaving Ed to his
For a long
time hed been Edward Stirling, chief
accountant. Time slipped by and retirement took
him by surprise but there must have been a moment
when he could have stopped the train of events.
If so, hed failed to notice.
The house in
France had been Claras idea. Back then
everyone was doing it repairing cheap
tumbledown manors in the Dordogne and talking
about retirement in the sun. At least hed
had the sense to insist on a village location.
The heat was
at its fiercest when Ed began painting, a
battered hat shielding him from the mid-day glare.
With luck and solid application hed be
finished before Clara returned from the airport.
She wouldnt appreciate his little joke, but
thered be no fuss in front of Clive, Jane
and the grandchildren.
froid- it was a term theyd appreciate,
perhaps, in what passed for a pub here. Bistro,
Clara called it, the single village bar where the
clean-shaven, black-suited old men had bestowed
on him the soubriquet, Barb Ed. His
beard marked him out as a foreigner, albeit the
well-clipped goatee proclaimed he was no hippy. As
was his wont, hed let it pass without
In England, it
was keeping a stiff upper lip, a
knack hed acquired, aged seven, at
boarding school. Closing the shutters had been
useful all his life; painting them was a new
He was soon
lost to the afternoon heat, the drowsy scent of
mimosa and pine and the whirring cicadas. Clara
had instructed him to wait until Clive arrived;
not to go up the ladder.
She was right.
His old bones had complained, but the rung
against his knees kept him steady.
When the car
turned into the street it was easy for the
children to spot the house, distinctive against
the bleached brick and faded green woodwork of
its neighbours. Ed smiled as he rested on an
old wicker chair. Behind him, four wooden
rectangles glowed in the dusk. At his side was
the empty paint can, labelled: English
Pillar Box Red.