You cycle down to the shop and spend a hundred francs on wine and food and water. Your first bottle of red, a litre for eight francs, and a second more expensive treat, prompt a swift invite to the bar next door from the shop owner, cash tills ringing up in her eyes. But you will spend tonight alone, not thinking that such enforced contemplation might unwittingly be setting the tenor of your stay. Returning to the cottage, you move the cooker into the most habitable room, having swept and scrubbed the floor. As you move from backpack to panniers to crates, a flavour of all the tents you ever slept in comes haunting. You draw fresh air at the door and watch how the dying light of the day falls across this new scenery. Avenues of trees frame the foreground and protect you from a view of too much sky that might become too harsh a reminder of the Suffolk landscape which was the background to your formative years. – Bonne nuit m’sieu, Monsieur Drouet says, appearing out of nowhere to pass across property that was once his, and across the dusk, short as a stable lad, a pitchfork resting against his shoulder as you rest against the door jamb.
Taking refuge in the warmth of the sleeping bag, never before slept in, you cannot bear to listen to music; it would sing too much of home, of everything before four days ago. Music will require the distracting warmth of daylight. You make a list, though the pen feels anything but comfortable in your hand. You need – you would like – a radio, else the hours of silence, or thoughts that you cannot silence, will surely drive you mad; a bowl for washing up and washing in; a mirror; a saucepan; a table and chair; envelopes and paper. You were wise enough to pack a corkscrew.
What you really need, and sooner than you thought, is Louise. Though you have left your cameras at home, you have brought some photos with you. Three are of her. Your favourite shows her standing by the Grand Union Canal, the shape of her face outlined by the light on the water, towards which she is leaning, wisps of hair in her eyes and a shout of laughter bursting from her mouth as a coot disappears beneath the surface, leaving its bum in the air. Catching her unawares and natural was easy, because your camera was such an everyday and every moment object, like spectacles for the short-sighted, or jackets in winter and sunglasses in summer. Like camcorders and nineties children. Even when the surroundings were deliberate – here is the shot of her looking abstractedly into the distance from the top of the Monument – Louise retained a disregard for the viewfinder that helped keep her from weariness or irritation. It was only when there was no lens to filter the tension that she shrank from view.
With only the wine for company, you can’t help but sing to yourself the songs you cannot listen to, until you lose heart and the feeble melodies dwindle against the imposing background of silence. Fixed in time and space, movement seems a lifeline. You don’t have to stay here. You can move around. It doesn’t have to be six months – you could honourably get away with five. You concentrate on the visits you have promised yourself, to the sea and to the Seine, to the cities and the mountains. You will not let yourself rot here, when escape is possible.