The vintage was nearing its end. Jacques, head of the family and a true-hearted winemaker, produced excellent wine despite the fact the vineyard he owned was rather small. Thus, the bottles containing the red gold were distributed only among his friends. The vintage was a family event. On that evening, far from lights of the town, they all gathered for a dinner in their tiny stone house sitting on a hill. Candles were lit and cheese was served while the courtyard in front of the house resounded with an uninterrupted singing of the cicadas.
“It’s been a nice day, hasn’t it, Marie?” Jacques asked his wife.
“Oh, indeed. It’s been beautiful,” she answered a bit negligently, propping her head against her hand in a gesture of tiredness. An uneasy silence filled the room.
“Dad, do you think life is real?” said Daniel, a boy with dark curly hair. He was fascinated by everything he saw or heard, but did nothing particular about anything.
“What are you talking about?” Jacques stopped eating.
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“Daniel means that we can’t learn the truth – we can only choose our illusion. He told me that when we were in the town. I think he had read too much Shakespeare,” interjected Charlotte, sweeping back her long hair. She was the daughter of Jacques and Marie. Her plate was still empty and she only observed slices of cheese circulating around the table.
“The last time I was in the town was… it was quite a long time ago,” Jacques retreated into his thought. “I need to go there. I need to get my hair cut,” he stroked his hair that was already turning grey.
“In a barber shop?” Daniel sneered.
“Where else do you think?”
“I don’t know, maybe…”
“Stop teasing me this instant!”
Daniel went silent, vibrating for the next few seconds from a remnant of the last sound he made, like a string of a guitar. He straightened out and fixed his eyes on the white wall on the other side of the room. His father put another slice of cheese in his mouth.
“You’ve been in town today? When? What for?” Marie returned to the topic.
“We’ve gone there to meet with some friends. Maybe we’ll hitch-hike around the country in the summer, go to the Gorges du Verdon and do a bungee jump. What do you think, Daniel?” Charlotte addressed her brother who nodded with approval.
“Do you want to leave us, me and your Dad?”
“Of course we don’t, you know that. You’re always taking it personally. You need to change your attitude. You don’t need to worry so much.”
“But I don’t!”
“You should be here. One day, the vineyard will be yours and…”
“Please, don’t plan my life! I will do you what I want to!”
“But you don’t know what you want.”
“Marie, Charlotte, calm down, both of you,” Jacques tried to intervene in the dispute. “Could you just wait for a moment…”
“Don’t you tell me to wait…”
“…the snails are almost ready. Marie, do you remember that story?” he spoke as if nothing had just happened between his wife and daughter.
“Oh no, not again, Dad…” Daniel buried his face in his hands.
It seemed unbelievable but Marie smiled and that smile completely changed the look of her face like the sky gets rid of rain clouds.
“I remember it so well! They picked snails after the rain and invited us to a dinner on the next day but the snails escaped in the night! Would you believe that? What a story!”
Charlotte and Daniel remained silent. Jacques smiled to his wife.
“It was a nice day as well…” he said, submerging himself in memories of the past.
“Indeed. Just like today… It was beautiful.”
“I’m afraid I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” Daniel muttered as he woke up after a short nap. He was sleepy and there were dark circles under his eyes. He was weary but he didn’t know whether of the things he had done or rather the things he had slept through. Anyway, he didn’t like traveling by car. Long drives tired him.
“And what is it you’re looking for?” asked him Charlotte who was sitting next to him in the back seat. In the front seats, their parents remained silent, staring at the road ahead of the car. Even the radio was switched off.
“I’m sure I’ll find it.”
“It’s good to have something to believe in. But it can take you a while, don’t you think?”
“Time is relative. In the end, we both don’t know why we’re here and what really goes on around us. Mom and Dad even cannot talk to each other.”
“Did you say anything?” Jacques’ hearing was excellent but it remained dormant most of the time and only switched on unexpectedly on the most surprising occasions.
“We’ve recently discussed the universe at school. I thought all that was so unreal… then, I guess I’ve experienced… a humanistic hangover of some sort.”
“And is that what you just said?”
“No. I said we’re all beyond our lives.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Daniel only shrugged his arms and gave no answer to his father’s question.
“So, it’s only about shaping beautiful sentences. Nothing more as it seems…”
“I played pétanque yesterday and I never had such good results before. After each end, my boule was the closest one to le cochonnet. I was in the lead from start to finish,” Charlotte joined in.
“Really?” Marie perked up.
“No,” answered Charlotte, then closed her eyes and nestled comfortably in her seat to get some sleep.
The road was narrow and it meandered along the green vineyards and olive trees, going up and down the hills. The landscape kept changing as the road escaped from under the wheels. The car hummed quietly and a deadly silence pervaded inside.
“I remember my visit to London.” Daniel started talking once again. It seemed as if he talked to himself. “There were so many people in the subway… and some of them acted funny. A woman in an old-fashioned overcoat and a hat with a feather got on the train with coffee in a plastic cup. She spilt the coffee on her coat, then looked around, and changed cars at the next station. Interesting.” his eyes glowed every time he told such stories.
“It’s just talking. Everyone’s going to forget about it in a second. Including you,” Charlotte muttered almost inaudibly.
“At least, it will make them think for a while. They won’t be indifferent for that moment. It’ll be good for them. If you have a friend…”
“Do you have a friend?”
Daniel was just about to open his mouth and say something but Jacques interrupted the conversation, out of a sudden.
“If we’re lucky enough, we’ll be in Italy before evening.”
“At such a pace, we wouldn’t reach Lyon before it gets dark. We’re moving at snail’s pace,” Marie remarked.
“Snails! Do you remember that autumn, Marie?” Jacques brightened up as if he had just returned from a distant land where everything remained motionless.
“How could I not remember? They picked snails after the rain and invited us to a dinner on the next day but the snails escaped in the night! What a story!”
“Not again…” Daniel felt an urgent desire to get out of the car.
“Listen, kids. Maybe you’ll have a chance to experience something similar one day!”
“I would rather play pétanque, even if I had to play it on my own. In fact, I’ll get to it as soon as we arrive.” Once she said that, Charlotte sighed with relief and fell asleep.
They were sipping coffee in a pleasant café. People around them were excited as they usually are on Friday nights. The bartender danced behind the bar, preparing drinks for the customers. There were two musicians playing jazz standards on a piano and a double bass. Behind the window, there were two men smoking outside.
“We were supposed to buy tickets to the theatre,” noted Jacques. “I’ve always wanted to see Les Misérables.”
“I’d like to as well but we still have plenty of time. You don’t need to get nervous. All in due time.”
“I really hope we get those tickets.”
“I can remember the theatres in Vienna. Our stay there was definitely too short. I often dream about visiting Vienna one more time…” Marie raised her eyes.
“What about going there this summer?” suggested Jacques.
“I don’t think so. We don’t have the money and there’s a lot of work to do. No, it’s not going to happen.” Marie started to resignedly play with a teaspoon in a bowl of sugar.
“Will you please tell me what’s going on?” Daniel put an empty cup on the table.
“Why don’t you tell us?”
“The problem is you don’t even want to know.”
Jacques hesitated for a short while.
“Please, stop arguing, will you? It was supposed to be a nice evening,” Marie raised her voice.
“A nice evening? Where? In this place? You must be kidding… What’s it called, anyway?” Charlotte was outraged.
“Dans la maison de l’escargot,” Marie answered calmly.
“Please, anything but not this…” Daniel covered his ears and his face started to fall into despair.
“The running snails. Who would have thought… just after they invited us over for a dinner…” Jacques breathed in loudly.
“Stop!” Daniel rose from the table. The bartender stopped dancing and looked at him in surprise. “I’ve officially got enough of it so I leave.”
“Where will you go? To Louise? She’s just a friend who happens to share a school desk with you, nothing more…” Marie didn’t like it when others went through difficult moments because she wasn’t any good at handling them herself.
Daniel shook his head.
“You don’t know anything about her. You don’t have the faintest idea…”
He left the café, slamming the door without looking behind.
“So, he left. What do we do now?” Jacques spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with you two but I don’t feel like staying here even a second longer.” Charlotte finally knew what she wanted. “Frankly speaking, I didn’t want to come here in the first place. I was supposed to go to a concert and this is what I’m going to do now.”
“What for? You should get interested in something that matters. When I was at your age…”
“I don’t care about what you did when you were at my age! Times are changing! Don’t you get it? What do you know, anyway? You’re spending all days doing nothing but listening to those goddamn cicadas!”
“Do you really believe you can become a singer?” Marie made a worried face.
“At least, I’ll give it a try. You haven’t.”
Charlotte left the café as well. Jacques and Marie were alone. They looked at each other for a while, simultaneously rose from the table and left the café together but split up once they were outside. Inside, the jazz band was still playing and the people were still having fun.
It wasn’t until later that day when fate decided to cross their paths again. A couple of minutes before midnight, they all met on a bus stop. They looked like travelers coming from different parts of the world who came up against each other by accident and all they had was a faint subconscious feeling that they had known each other.
“It’s been a nice day, hasn’t it?” said Marie.
“Oh, it’s been beautiful,” Jacques answered. “Is that our bus coming?”
“It certainly is. I can tell it from a distance,” Daniel confirmed.
They got on the bus and picked the seats in the back so they could all sit together.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to get tickets for Les Misérables anymore,” Marie was afraid of her husband’s reaction but he only waved his hand at it.
“Forget about it. It doesn’t matter anymore. I can’t wait for the summer and Vienna.” Marie smiled to him for the first time on that day.
“I can’t believe how slow this bus is!” Charlotte knit her brow.
“Like a snail,” added Daniel.
“But you need to remember that snails can also run away,” remarked Jacques.
“What did you actually do that autumn? What happened?” Charlotte became interested.
“That’s when we met. I was a postman and your mother used to sing Edith Piaf’s songs in the streets. I remember everything so vividly. Great times. Sun, long walks, playing pétanque…”
“And the snails.”
“Right, the snails.”
They looked at each other. They were the figures painted by a hermit painter, who felt a sudden desire to make them smile. So they smiled, playing their game the entire journey back home.
To be continued
You can buy the entire novel here: http://www.amazon.com/Twist-Fate-Mikolaj-Wyrzykowski-ebook/dp/B00W63AV26/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1454255063&sr=1-1