One Of The Flock

I was running away from the news, from the computer. And looking for a snack.

Sunday afternoon in rural France. Good luck finding anything to eat. The shops and restaurants are closed. Most of the bars are closed. And even the ones that are open don't have much in the way of food. Some peanuts maybe?

Then I remembered - it's springtime! Vide greniers, flea markets. People selling old stuff and always a few tables with cans of foie gras, cassoulet. Bottles of wine, apples. Usually a cake or two.

So I was navigating the tiny roads, fuel gauge on E but no gas station between me and the closest flea market. I figured it was worth the risk, to get a snack.

I never imagined I could enjoy driving a manual car - not back when I was learning. But now that I know the roads, where to brake and shift, through muscle memory as much as anything, I feel capable when driving again. The way I used to do back on the open roads of the USA.

Back. I'm going back! I can't stop thinking about it. Everything I do I'm thinking, "if all goes well I won't be here this time next year." And this (brake, shift, shift, accelerate) will all be a memory. I am ready to go.

Round the corner in front of Chateau de Brie, start to descend and there's a car in front of me, slowing down. A flock of sheep is being driven along the road. They're so cute.

And annoying. Really annoying. The woman urging them on isn't really urging hard enough. She's smiling a little too smugly, and her clothes aren't exactly farmer clothes. A sheep farmer come lately?

At first I'm smiling too. Look at the little one, trailing behind his mother. So cute.

Then I'm cursing, the same as if I was stuck in traffic on the Williamsburg Bridge or on Chagrin Boulevard or Hillsboro Road. "Would you move your fucking....sheep?!"

Finally make it to the flea market. And it's like every person I ever met around here is there. Not friends I've made but people like the butcher and the massage therapist, and the evil boulanger and the kooky woman who used to sell old furniture. I'm thinking maybe I died, back by that flock of sheep. It could be that this is what it's like in purgatory, because nobody that I really really love is there, and we're all going to be stuck together for eternity unless I make amends for...things.

I see Nick and Angie and that hints at a more promising forever, but they're headed in the other direction. Then I hear Shania Twain blaring out of tinny speakers that are hanging everywhere. That would be about right, for purgatory. I like Shania okay, but with all the country music I love to choose from, it would be pretty sad if she was the soundtrack I had to purify myself to.

I hear the thumping of boots on a wooden stage, and across a field I see a team of country line dancers. All togged up in jeans, plaid western shirts and matching straw cowboy hats, they are kicking and stepping, slapping leather and turning and clapping, then changing position and doing it all again. Brows furrowed, mouths set in grim determination, eyes staring straight ahead - they don't appear to be having much fun. I see the woman who owns the lingerie shop execute a joyless heel and toe. The man who works at the dump, the lone male dancer, is the only one who smiles.

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Inside I do a little of both while dialing in "wry smile" for a facial expression. Then I find the table with the cakes. I buy some and hurry back to the car, which I wisely parked facing away from the fete. I must've known I'd want to flee.

"If the car starts, and has enough fuel to get home, I promise to be a better person," I pray. I turn the key.

Then I see Bob Dylan's "Modern Times" on the seat. I put it into the player. "Thunder On The Mountain" comes in. It's not purgatory any more. Or if it is, it's not so bad, because someone I really really love is there.

The lousy and wicked and perfect things people do and the future in front of me and Eric, and whatever missteps behind and ahead - like a good acid trip, Bob still helps me feel like it's all leading to something. I guess that's called hope? Happy Birthday Bob.

I'm tempted to go back to the flea market and force them to stick Dylan in the player and see how the line dancers do. But the gas tank light just came on.