There are other days when you feel alert, engaged, alive, perhaps because of a letter from Newcastle or London, some connection with the world outside yourself that returns you from solipsism, gives you solidity. Sitting beneath the trees across the road, on the bank that holds their roots and fences off the bellowing Charolais, you mark such days by watching the sunset behind the fragile tiles of an old barn’s holed roof. The bats begin to flit, relieving the birds of their diurnal control of the air. With squeaky toy screeches and curfew patrols flown centimetres over your head, they eventually send you inside.
The Norman nights, when you venture out into them, are wild with stillness or with wind. Desperation for another voice means the cabine téléphonique is often your destination, and you go out late to take advantage of the cheapest rate. Not yet having been prey to sacrificial knives or unscrupulous xenophobes, and at home now in the village, the night holds no fear for you: the dark simply increases your exhilaration at being so free to do and go as you please. Sometimes you cycle, whistling through the wind, and sometimes you walk, looking up at the sky. There is barely a terrestrial glimmer, for the villagers are seemingly already in bed, early risers all, with no time for the ever-extending night arm of the media world. The stars sing out visual hallelujahs as uplifting as the wind or the rain battering your ear drums with their roar. You pick out Cassiopeia, and Castor and Pollux in Gemini, and follow the line created by the last two stars of the Plough to the Polaris; a line that points towards home.
You clang the door of the telephone box open in the silent centre of the village. The light from the bar does not reach as far as the box, so you have your bike lamp with you to tell apart the denominations of coins. Occasionally a figure will leave the bar and piss in the street. You ring your mother or your sister or a friend, but you never ring Louise, fearing the vast emptiness that might open up with the money counting down, and all that you could say either too much or not enough. Most of all, because you could not bear to hear her tears crystallize along the wire to your ear.
The cross-Channel lines seem to buzz with transatlantic delay before you hear the familiar burrs of home. At first you get stuck, forgetting swathes of vocabulary, your mental engine barely turning over. Then, recognising how necessary and precious is this connection with your old life, words avalanche from you and it is as much as you can do to stop and listen to the news from home.
You ring your friend, and he tells you that the tour is on, and there’ll be a place for you in the minibus or the back of the van. Come September, you’ll find them all in Rouen.