Happy Hour

Sparks of champagneAfter spending an uneventful day in Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, I found myself in a funk. Everything seemed to annoy me. The only thing that cheered me up was the thought of getting back to the townhouse and enjoying a quiet evening.

We found a grocery store and I picked up fresh pastry and mozzarella cheese for a Calzone. Donna selected a bottle of local wine. Alex picked out some fresh steamed shrimp and  Jill got a potted plant. “A goodbye present for Bunny.” she declared, placing it in the cart.

My stomach rumbled as we pulled into Claviers.

“We need to drop the plant off at Bunny’s house.”

“Okay Sis. Be quick.”

Up the road, Bunny happened to be walking her little dog. I honked, but she didn’t respond. Once our faces came into view she jumped with excitement – and I mean straight up in the air. Chris giggled.

“I was just coming over to deliver this” she said with delight, handing a thank-you card to Donna. “I set out to find your house, but got lost.”

“We were coming to your house to give you something.” Jill said.

“Coming to my house? Bunny placed her hand upon the breast buttons of her camel-haired coat. “To give me something?” She spoke with such animation, as if on stage.  “Come on up,” she stepped back from the car and pointed up the road. “Come on up!”

I put the car in gear.

“No Dad, we’ll stay forever,” Alex protested. “Turn around!”

“Don’t be a jerk Alex.”

“Shut up Jill.”

“We’ll only stay long enough to say goodbye” Donna assured

“Yeah, right”

We followed the fast-walking woman up a small hill. I cut the engine and parked just shy of her iron driveway gates. Bunny’s keys jingled as she unlocked them. Tire paths worn into the overgrown grass lead toward a garage where a small truck was parked. Beside a neatly landscaped terrace sat her cottage-style house. She unlocked the sliding door to a glass-enclosed patio where a wired-haired terrier seemed as excited as her. “He won’t hurt you” Bunny said into the glass. “Not like that dreadful dog last evening.”

Jill presented Bunny with the plant she’d bought at the grocery store. Bunny cradled it as if it were an Oscar and thanked each of us individually.

“Come in. I’ve got a bit of Champaign.” I tried to stop her but she’d already disappeared into the house. Alex tapped his toe against the atrium tile floor.  “Mom?”

“The world does not revolve around you, Alex.”

After several moments, Bunny emerged with a fresh coat of red lipstick and a bottle in each hand. My house is a mess.” she declared. “Let’s have our Champaign right here.” She placed the bottles on a wooden table in the middle of the atrium. She turned to Chris. “Would you be a dear and help me get two more chairs?”

Everybody sat down except Alex, who remained standing at the door. “While I was looking for your home,” Bunny said, placing glasses on the table. “a group of woman approached me and asked if I was lost. I explained that I was looking for my American friends. They told me they hadn’t seen you today.” Donna and I looked at each other – surprised that our temporary neighbors had noticed us. We hadn’t been around long enough to get to know anybody except Bunny.

She rested one hand on a bottle and went on: “There is a lovely woman that I’ve recently met. She is from Paris. She was walking her dog the other day. Do you know what kind of dog it was? A Lab-ra-dor.“  she annunciated the syllables while making eye contact with each of us – like an elementary school teacher, ensuring the class is listening. I caught Alex rolling his eyes. We waited for the point of her story, but it never came, only tangents. Those tangents had sub-tangents.

She pointed to the load of ceramic floor tiles in the truck parked in front of her garage. “Can we help you unload?” I offered.

“Oh no – I’ve got a couple Poles coming tomorrow to do that.”

Darkness was falling and the bottles still hadn’t been opened. Alex leaned toward Donna and whispered. “I’m walking back” She shot him the look of death.

Just as we wondered if that Champagne would ever get poured, Bunny fetched a device that looked like a medieval torture device. She clamped it on the neck of the bottle and struggled to turn the cork, all the while going on about the string of bad luck she’d had with carpenters and plumbers during her remodeling process. Foam suddenly erupted from the bottle and spilled everywhere. She turned toward Chris.” Dear, get a dish towel from the kitchen.”

Donna helped dry the table as Bunny filled a variety of glasses. “I’m sorry they don’t match, they’re the best I’ve got – after all I’m just camping here.”

We raised our glasses. “Cheers.” Bunny said. I tried to think of an appropriate word to add when a burst of flatulence suddenly echoed across the atrium. Bunny seemed oblivious even as the pungent aroma consumed the room. She started talking about David Beckham. Alex was desperately suppressing laughter but managed to identify the culprit. He shared this by discreetly nodded his head toward the dog. We watched the little terrier look at him with big, guilty-looking eyes. The sight was too much for Jill, who exploded in laughter.

Bunny looked at her, clearly confused.

“Posh Spice!” Jill exclaimed. “What does he see in her?”

It worked. Bunny slapped her knee. “Oh, isn’t she dreadful?”

Rummy with hunger and exhaustion, all of us began giggling out of control. Bunny sat her empty glass on the table and went back inside.

What happened next reminded me of seeing a patrol car along the side of the road when speeding, or spotting a bear in the woods – a place that teeters between alarm and flat out panic.

Bunny came back with a rifle.

The atrium fell silent. There she was – this older lady, awkwardly holding a gun that seemed twice her size. I could see the headlines in the Herald Tribune: Murder-Suicide in Quiet Hillside Village – Inebriated Expat Shoots American Family for Laughing at her Dog.

Her eyes met mine. Perfect. Of course she’d shoot me first. I thought of Squeeky Fromme pointing that gun at President Ford. I thought of the day before – laying on that leather couch trying to convince the others we shouldn’t get involved with strangers.

“Dear,” she asked, matter-of-factly, “Can you show me how to clean this?”

I breathed a sigh of relief and stood up. With my knees wobbling, I carefully took the rifle from her and pointed the barrel upward. Thank God it was not loaded. “Do you have a gun cleaning kit, by chance?” She didn’t have a clue what I was talking about.

“Take it to a gun shop – unloaded of course.” I suggested.

“We’ve got to go.” Donna stood up. Alex wasted no time and jumped down the steps to the front lawn.” Bunny called after him. “Be careful dear, its awful dark out there.” As everybody bolted, I propped the gun against the wall in the kitchen. I’d shot hundreds of guns in my life and this one was small in caliber, yet the sight of it unnerved me like nothing else.

In the night air, we finished our goodbyes. I gave Bunny my hug then headed toward the car where Alex and Chris had already seized the back seat. Donna joined us. I flipped on the headlights and illuminated Bunny and Jill standing on the lawn. They were embraced in a hug. Bunny pulled away and smoothed Jill’s hair. She smiled adoringly as she spoke to Jill. Her eyes looked so serious. I couldn’t hear the words. It was like watching a movie.

Jill finally got into the car and we backed down the driveway. We could see Bunny fade into the distance through the windshield – waving goodbye.

“What was she saying to you, Jill?”

“I guess she’d been overwhelmed with fixing up her house – all the problems made her depressed -  she hadn’t eaten in several days.”

Donna and I looked at each other.

“She told me she didn’t know what she would have done if she hadn’t met us.”

NEXT: Boom! It’s Rome



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