N’est-ce pas

N’est-ce pas 05

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Sean slinks between the the endless fence and the rhododendron bushes. This morning’s rain lies in wobbling blobs on leaves. Occasionally he disturbs one only have it dive down his school shirt collar and shudder him all the way to his underwear.

He peers between fence slats and into the gardener’s area. Gazing lovingly at the huge motorised lawnmower with its seat and enclosed cab, at the quad-bike and small tractor, his eyes return to the quad-bike.

One day when he’s rich and famous for … for something… Sean’s shoulders slump. His school reports make it quite clear he’s never going to be good at anything.

Pushing branches aside with muddy hands he peers between bushes. The coast is clear, well all the way across the sculptured lawns to the… Sean blinks. ‘Wot the feck?’ He’s just at the age of wanting to swear but still a little daunted by the real words.

He’s stunned. A couple of hundred metres away a golden statue of what may be a human… He squints – wishing he hadn’t broken his glasses in a fight last week. He’s transfixed and curiosity wins.
Giving up all hope of not getting caught he dives out of the shrubbery, sprints across the grass and comes to a panting halt in front of the conservatory of stone and glass that’s longer than the council house he lives in.

Leaning and tilting his head sideways he tries to make sense of the new statue. It’s of a woman doing a headstand. Her back is a tight crescent, head stretched right up so she can see. One foot holds a bow, the other has the arrow and bow-string at full stretch.

A door bangs open; he’s been seen but doesn’t care. He’s going to take the moment before he’s caught to take in the whole figure.

Footsteps clack across stone. ‘Zut Alors! This time I ‘ave called the police. You are a trespasser and I ‘ave you on the security camera. You run but they will know ‘oo you are, n’est-ce pas?’

Dragging his eyes from the intoxicating figure Sean turns to the old lady and wails, ‘But, miss, I can’t go the other way. I can’t. There’s great big dogs and everything.’

You are afraid of dogs? A boy afraid of dogs?’

You ‘aven’t seen them. They’re great big and they’ve been digging at the bottom of the fence. They go mad every time I walk past. One day they’ll get me.’ Tears fill his eyes.

The woman says, ‘I think it is stupid that you are afraid of dogs. You are a coward and now you will be arrested. You should have been braver, no?’

But, miss, anyone would be scared of them even you.’

The woman’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise then plunge to a frown. ‘I am not afraid of dogs.’

These ones are ‘orrible. They crash against the fence and try to pull it apart with their teeth and everything.’

The woman narrows her eyes. Sean wonders what’s going on behind them, desperately hoping for a molecule of compassion. His heart sinks when she says, ‘You show me these dogs, where they are.’

But, miss, you don’t want to go there either.’

Every day I hear dogs barking. Is so annoying. I do something about it. Come, you show me.’

Yeah, wot you ‘ear is them trying to kill me when I go to school or when I go ‘ome. They go mental.’

The woman beckons, ‘Come, you show me.’

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Chantalle wants a quiet and dignified retirement. One in which she can entertain old friends from finishing school and not one in which uncontrolled dogs bark over polite conversation or similarly uncontrolled muddy boys use her gardens as a short-cut.

She lets the boy lead her back across the lawns, through the bamboo area by the fountain and carp pools and to a wrought-iron side gate. She points, ‘You climb this?’

Yes miss.’ He frowns and looks at her. ‘You’ll need a key it’s locked.’

I climb with you.’

Wot?’

She nods at the gate. ‘Go.’

I … I … but miss, ‘ow old are you? I mean, no way…’

Chantalle considers this and decides to be honest. ‘I am Eighty-seven. You don’t think I can climb that gate?’

Um…’ The boy stares at her with wide eyes, turns and scrambles up, hugs the stone arch at the top, throws his leg over and wriggles until he’s lying on it, lets his legs drop and falls blind until he’s able catch the uprights of the gate half way down the other side.

Chantalle is impressed. The metal of the whorls and leaves would have taken his fingers off and it must have taken some guts to learn to fall until he got to the uprights. Despite wearing a dress her extra height allows her to negotiate the arch by straddling it; her longer legs can reach footholds without her having to drop.

The boy stands watching her as if in awe. She straightens her dress, wipes her hands together and says, ‘Let us go on.’ The boy walks ahead, looking back at her from time to time.

Ten minutes later she’s discovered the source of the morning and afternoon noise pollution. She’s never been to this area of wasteland, didn’t know it existed.

The boy points. ‘That’s the alley. The fence is getting loose at the bottom. I don’t want to take you any closer. The dogs in the scrapyard can hear when you ‘ave to walk over all that gravel.’
Chantalle is touched. The boy has expressed concern for her safety twice now. Her opinion of him rises. ‘This is, what you say, scrap yard?’
‘Yeah, old cars and shiz.’

Ow, do I get in?’

What? No way! You’ll be torn to shreds.’

But people get in and out with old cars, n’est-ce pas?’

Yeah but it means walking down the alley. You can’t get the other way, because of the river.’

We go down the alley and I talk to man about dogs.’ She notes way the the boy sags and looks at her in despair. ‘We will be safe. I not scared of dogs. Come!’ Marching over the gravel, Chantalle hears the all too familiar cacophony of howls and snarls. Two large mongrels race between wrecked cars and hurl themselves at the chicken wire.
She feels a twinge of fear and not a little sympathy for the boy who says, ‘Miss, you can get to the front of the scrap yard if you drive past the recycling place. It’s too long to walk though.’

Is good this way.’ She enters the alley, walled in brick to her left way above her head.

The dogs follow on the other side of the fence, snarling, scrabbling and biting the fence, yellow fangs spattering the wire with foaming saliva.

Clearly working themselves into a murderous fury the dogs race to the loosened area at the bottom. One writhes and thrashes trying to push through a gap too small. The boy screams, ‘Miss, it’s pulling it all up!’
The dog wrenches its body into the alley, claws scrabbling on the tarmac. The boy runs to Chantalle, grabs her hand and shouts, ‘Climb the fence! We can’t run fast enough.’ She’s dragged to the chicken wire and he pushes her hand against it. With no better plan she climbs, the boy clambering beside her and saying, ‘Faster, miss, I reckon they can jump really high.’ He holds down a hand to help her but she scrambles to safety without his aid, the dogs jumping either side, just unable to reach her feet.

Chantalle winces at the pain of fingers taking her weight on thin wire. ‘Is not good, not good. We split up. I go to the left you go to the right, one of us could get help for the other.’

Brilliant idea,’ says the boy and moves at the speed of a monkey until he’s right back at the corner. The dog inside the compound follows him, the one in the alley concentrates on her.

Poorly braced, the fence begins to stretch and leans into the alley, and towards the demonic hound.

She moves further left, but the clasp, holding the fence to the nearest pole, snaps, flies off with a hiss of rust and clatters on an old car bonnet.
Chantalle notes the boy is safe and racing away over the gravel. The fence gives a little more; much further and she won’t be able to use it as a foothold; her legs will drop and the dog won’t even have to jump high to get at them.

Some fingers are already numb, others burn with a fierce pain. Her shoulders shake with effort. She screams for help. Her voice echoing, unanswered, from brick walls.

Through a haze of agony, Chantalle realises the second dog has also managed to get through the opening. As the fence leans further, she can feel hot breath on her ankles as the dogs jump.

She hears sounds to the right, but can’t see through tortured tears. The dogs’ snarls turn to howls of terror; roars fill the air.

Something hits the wall behind then the fence and the wall again. The air fills with exhaust fumes. The boy shouts up, ‘You can let go now! Put you legs down.’

Moaning with pain, Chantalle lets one leg then the other down. Her fingers give up and she drops onto the boy – and over the quad bike. The boy says, ‘Quick! Quick! They’re coming back.’ She’s helped up, bundled onto the carrier and the boy leaps to the seat. Her vision clears as they accelerate, two dogs in pursuit but falling behind and showered with gravel.

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Sean walks over the lawn. It’s Friday evening and school is over. Today he carries a bag over his shoulder. He walks to the statue and stares in awe, blinded as sunlight reflects from gold leaf. A bird has left a white and black stain on the statue’s shoulder. Sean pulls out a ragged tissue, spits on it and wipes the mess away.
A door bangs behind him. ‘And ‘ow is my trespasser today?’
Sean continues to stare at the statue. ‘That’s you, innit? Olympic games and stuff. I saw it on Youtube. Amazing. Your’re Chantalle Billot ain’t you?’

I am and you are Sean, my hero. I copied that pose from Lilia … a truly amazing woman and dear friend.’ She lifts the bag from his shoulder. ‘You brought your, how you say, kit?’

Yes, miss.’

Yes, Chantalle. Well, get changed into it. Is long time since I trained a future Olympic gymnast and I miss it so much.’

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©Gary Bonn 2014

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