Half-schnockered

Depositphotos_8310888_xs“Let’s walk this way.” Bunny suggested once outside. “A Dutchman is selling this home and is asking a fortune.” After we followed her through a maze of streets, she stopped and peered upward. “There!” she shouted. “Shine your torch inside.” The front door was missing so my flashlight easily exposed decaying wood and dusty piles of rocks everywhere. “My word, it’s falling down!” She said, “Run! Before it collapses!” Her thin legs sprinted up the road and she playfully beckoning us to follow her. We passed the townhouses we’d seen on our first day – the ones owned by people from all over the world. “Foreigners” she grunted as we passed.

“Look there. She stopped in front of another building. “That used to be a butcher shop.” My light fell across dusty stainless counters, green tiled walls, and an assortment of relics from a different age. It was like staring into a time capsule and I loved it. A large sign lying on the floor looked as though it once hung above the door. Not since I was a kid had I seen anything like this.

“How long has the shop been abandoned?” I asked.

“Let’s see. . . .he left when my daughter was fourteen, and she was born in 1959.”

“Over 30 years ago? ”

Bunny placed her gloved hand against her face. “My word, has it been that long?”

I realized then Bunny was probably the same age as my mother.

We walked out of the “shopping district, out to the main road. Nestled into a hill below sat an old brick building Donna and I had seen earlier that puzzled us. Donna thought it might have been a water treatment plant, I thought it was a hotel. It looked very much out of place.

“What is that?”

“Do you mean that building there?” she grabbed my arm to bring me into her site of it.

“Yes – the one that says Claviers on the front.”

“Oh yes, the nicest young man stays there. His father lived there for years, now he comes every few days.” She stalled as if to make an important point, “just to feed three hens and a cat.” Her face gleamed as if Elvis had just jumped across the roof. “Look!” She pointed at the building, “Do you see his car parked on the side of the road? He must be staying the night!”

It was a long shot, but I hoped I could get her back on track: “What was the building originally used for?”

“It was the train station.”

Trains ran through here?”

“Yes, in fact we’re standing on the tunnel”

“We are?”

“Do you want to go down and see it?” she grabbed my arm.

My heart pounded. “Yes!”

“I must warn you – it‘s a bit scary at night” she said, “We should run through it quickly as possible!” She began skipping down the tiny walkway. As the four of us ascended the hill, I took a moment to summarized this situation – my kids and I in a tiny French village in total darkness on our way to explore an abandoned railroad tunnel with our fearless leader – a half-schnockered old woman.

At the bottom, we followed a small path through some heavy foliage. “There” she said, pointing to a dark void below the road. Trees and bushes camouflaged the entrance. A gravel path extended from the abandoned tunnel and lead toward the building where an unsuspecting man fed hens and cats. From this point of view, the building looked perfectly in place. It made sense to me now – the train platform had been converted into the front patio. I imagined another time – when locamotives steamed where we stood.

“When did the trains last run? I asked.

She was quiet as she gathered her thoughts. “When did the war end?”

I had a feeling she was referring to the big one. “1945?”

“Yes” she said. “The bridges were bombed by the French Resistance. That put an end to the railroad.”

“They really bombed their own bridges?” Jill asked.

“Oh, yes dear – it was better than letting those bloody Germans use them.”

Her words were interrupted by a young couple that seemed to come out of nowhere – lots of black clothing and tattoos. They walked an enormous black dog and their sudden appearance seemed to take Bunny by surprise. “Let’s go before that dog gets loose and tears us from limb to limb!” We pranced away into the darkness.

NEXT: Happy Hour

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