We were ripping out decrepit pre-war cabinets, sixty plus years of dust, food preparation grime, and critter debris freed from the interstitial spaces, exploding out, when fear washed over me. I looked over at Gabriel, sweating, yanking on a crowbar. He was focused, even contented to be doing the renovation. It was what I wanted, or what I thought I wanted. He was happy with the wonky house with temperamental plumbing and birds roosting freely in the attic. It was very much like the house he had grown up in not twenty miles away. Me? I liked the idea of living in rural France, but I wanted modern amenities, and modern clean design--stainless steel and cold white tile. Right angles and level floors. Most of all I didn't want my house to be a framework for an ecosystem.
I was always searching to have my environment conform to my own ideologies. Gabriel went along with my plans for the house simply because it made him happy to make me happy. I wish I could be happy just like that, just like him.
I wasn't shy of the home dust and exertion, or the change in surroundings that it heralded, but it was the age of the dust that bothered me. How many meals were cooked in this room? How many rainy afternoons were passed playing now vintage board games at the kitchen table? How many children were raised from mewling infancy, feeding at the highchair we found in the storage space, to adulthood, in this kitchen? Had they raised their own children here? I wonder if anyone ever died here, in this room, and if so, how long was it before the decaying body was discovered? We did get the house in an estate sale...
Gabriel noticed that I was just standing there.
"Êtes-vous fatigué?" he asked me if I was tired.
"No. I just think I need to get some fresh air," I said. I tried to push my thoughts to the back in my mind. Gabriel stood up straight and stretched and smiled broadly.
"Let's go outside. I could use a break too," he said. He rustled in his back pocket for his pack of cigarrettes (ah the French and their smoking...) We went outside. He put his arm around my shoulders and said something about the weather. It was drizzling a bit, still warm and humid. The rain had not fully settled in yet. We sat on the gray wooden bench next to the peeling kitchen door. We gazed out over the tall uncut grass, towards our neighbors' field of grape vines. A feral cat slinked around the corner of the house, and sat itself down, staring at us for a full minute before it turned its attention to throughly licking a paw. I guess we had blocked it's path. It must have been getting towards late afternoon, judging by the light. The sun was hidden somewhere behind the thick overcast, and I stopped wearing a watch long ago, so it was just a guess. Gabriel stretched out his legs as he finished his first cigarette. I figured there would be a couple more before we both felt obligated to get back to work.
"Que voulez-vous?" What are you thinking about, he said.
"Pas grand-chose," not much, I answered.
"I was just thinking of Kuta," he said. He looked over at me and smiled. That was where we first met. He was there for the surfing, and I was there because I thought it felt dangerous. Kuta's nightlife was famous and it had attracted a terrorist attack a few years previously. Gabriel and I were both natural wanderers, but where he sought out pleasure, I sought out some sense of residual danger. My vacation before Kuta was a tour of several of the former deathcamp sites in Poland, and the one after was in the West Bank (my family was always horrified with my choices). Nothing really bad has ever happened to me while traveling, but being in a place that's seen violence and cruelty and death and sadness, and then seeing it free of those things--there's a sort of ghost, the past permeates the present. You know that people are capable of terrible things, but someone, they mostly just want to live their lives, and follow a stable path.
"Remember that night we went dancing?" asked Gabriel.
"In that Irish pub, a few days after we met. You remember don't you?"
"I can't dance."
"I know," he said, chuckling. "It was fun to see you try though." He lit up another cigarette, then tried to call the cat over. The cat paused, tongue mid-lick, before it decided to ignore him, and resumed cleaning it's foot.
I leaned back against the house. It was so old, but it felt so solid. So stable. I briefly wondered if any Panzers had ever rolled down our street. Probably not. Gabriel had said that his grandparents talked about rationing and some local political infighting but apparently our area had escaped actual, physical war. The rain picked up a bit and started to bow the shafts of grass.
"Would you like to live here forever?" I asked. Gabriel thought a moment.
"As much as I would like to live anywhere forever, I will not. But I don't think that's what you're asking me," he said.
"No," I chuckled.
"It is nice here," he said, "but who knows." He looked over at me. "Was that the right answer?"
"It was satisfyingly vague enough," I said. He hugged me and kissed my forehead.
"Okay, enough deep thoughts," he said. "Let's leave the cabinets for now, and throw some paint on the walls. We can paint sunsets and graffiti, and badly drawn naked figures. We can be Picasso this afternoon. How does that sound?"
"That's sounds swell. And I think some of your father's wine." The fear receded away for another day.
The music video for this song