Expat life in France is not always as quiet as it seems, underneath the tranquillity may lie seething passions and secrets says Peter Schoenmaker, an expat in France, hotelier and author of ‘Clogs, Frogs & les Rosbifs’ a book that needs a UK publisher…
“Ça sera tout?” asked the baker’s wife, licking her pencil before calculating the damage.
Today she is looking exceptionally radiant, though only now do I notice the two flour hand prints on her chest. On her dark brown jumper they really do stand out now that I have noticed them. Had her husband been feeling amorous this morning and given her breasts a quick squeeze from behind? No, he couldn’t have, for then I remember; he left yesterday for Paris with the rest of the local rugby team to watch France v Scotland. As the only customer, should I discretely say something? I consider for a moment then decide not to. Neither of us could bear the embarrassment. It’s not like telling someone their shoelace is undone.
I pay, take my leave and head across the road to the café for my morning tea, where I am quickly surrounded by a flock of Brits happily chatting in their mother tongue.
Sipping my tea I’m already having second thoughts about what I saw in the boulangerie. I can almost hear the gossip already doing the rounds. I start analysing the facts.
The thumbs of the floury white hands pointed outwards, so she must have been grabbed from behind; had she been grabbed from the front the thumbs would have been pointing inwards. So she probably hadn’t seen it coming. She had been surprised. She was possibly totally innocent…or was she? I decide that it was the baker’s apprentice, who else could it have been?
However, if she was the innocent party why did she look so radiant? Had she enjoyed it? Had she provoked it? How long had it been going on? Was there anything going on? The longer I thought, the more questions there were. Maybe she was just looking pleased with herself after having countered the attack and given him a good slap in the face, told him off and declared in an outraged tone that she would tell her husband if it ever happened again.
The whole village knew that the baker was not only the jealous type, but as strong as an ox from years of manhandling huge sacks of flour. What would happen if he found out because I hadn’t said a word? Would my silence result in a crime passionel in the village? That was not as unlikely as you would think.
The hotel next to the bakery had been empty for many years when we came to live in the area. Soon after, a couple bought it and it was reopened. She was cheerful, blond and fortyish, he a rather grumpy man, older by maybe 20 years. We hardly saw him, but she rapidly became the heart and soul of the restaurant, always having a warm welcome and a smile for each guest, while always keeping a tight rein on the staff. She and the restaurant became more popular by the day.
A few months earlier it had been the baker’s wife herself who had told me the sad story of the hotel’s tragic history.
“Have you heard?”
“That man from next door”, she nodded towards the hotel, “Couldn’t stand it that his wife had become so popular. Yesterday he lured her into the woods, under the pretext of looking for mushrooms. Then he killed her from behind with a hammer – and then himself with his rifle!”
I was shocked, and she continued saying how the whole village was naturally very upset. Then she told me why the hotel had been closed for so long before.
The previous owner of the hotel had also been killed; poisoned by his wife!
Already feeling guilty I finished my cigarette and decided I must prevent yet another crime. On a mission, I fabricated my story as I headed back across the street. I would pretend I had forgotten something…. but when I entered the bakery I saw immediately that she had already changed her jumper.
Were we both thinking the same thing?
About Peter Schoenmaker: At 17 my mother decided that I had had enough schooling and arranged my first job at a chocolate factory, soon followed by a brief stint in IT but advertising became my calling. I loved the writing part but after 30 years decided to become a hotelier…. to end up as a full time writer. My lovely wife Janneke gave me a dear son and an adventurous daughter. www.peterschoenmaker.nl