For the next few days the situation gradually worsened. There was no music for two days, then the music began again, louder than ever. Several times the gang of motorcyclists called, each time revving violently as they arrived and left, and doing laps around the block where they raced one another and uttered long ululating cries. The group of regulars at the Snack-Wagon showed no sign of diminishing, and every day I spent longer and longer picking up discarded cans and papers from the sides of the road. Worse still the wagon began to open in the evenings too, from seven until midnight-coincidentally, these were identical to my own hours-and I began to fear the sound of the wagon’s generator as it powered up, knowing that my quiet cr^eperie would soon be facing an ever-growing street party. A pink neon strip above the wagon’s counter announced, Chez Luc, Sandwiches-Snacks-Frites, and the fairground smells of frying and beer and sweet hot waffles filled the soft night air.
Some of my customers complained. Some simply stayed away. By the end of the week, seven of my regulars had seemingly stopped coming altogether and the place was half empty on weekdays. On Saturday a group of nine came from Angers, but the noise was especially bad that evening, and they looked nervously at the crowd at the roadside where their cars were parked, finally leaving without dessert or coffee and with the conspicuous absence of a tip.
This couldn’t go on.
Les Laveuses has no police station, but there is one gendarme, Louis Ramondin-Francois’s grandson-though I never had much to do with him, he being from one of the Families. A man in his late thirties, lately divorced following a too-early marriage to a local girl, with the look of his uncle Guilherm, the one with the wooden leg. I didn’t want to talk to him now, but I could feel everything slipping away from me, pulling me apart in every direction, and I needed help.
I explained the situation with the Snack-Wagon. I told him about the noise, the litter, my customers, the motorcycles. He listened with the look of an indulgent young man talking to a fussy grandmother, nodding and smiling so that I longed to knock heads with him. Then he told me-in the cheery, patient tone the young reserve for the deaf and the elderly-that no law was as yet being infringed. Cr^epe Framboise was on a main road, he explained. Things had changed since I first moved to the village. He might be able to talk to Luc, but I must try to understand…
Oh, I understood. I saw him later by the Snack-Wagon, out of uniform, chatting with a pretty girl in a white T-shirt and jeans. He had a can of Stella in one hand and a sugared waffle in the other. Luc gave me one of his satirical smiles as I went by with my shopping basket, and I ignored them both. I understood.
In the days that followed, business at Cr^epe Framboise slumped even more. The place was only half full now, even on Saturday nights, and weekday lunchtimes were even poorer. Paul stayed, though, loyal Paul with his special every day and his demi, and out of simple gratitude I began to give him a beer on the house, though he never asked for more than the single glass.
Lise told me that Luc-our Snack-Wagon owner-was staying over at the Caf'e de La Mauvaise R'eputation, where they still rent a few rooms.
“I don’t know where he’s from,” she told me. “Angers, I think. He’s paid his rent three months in advance, so it looks as if he’s planning to stay.”
Three months. That would take us almost to December. I wondered whether his clientele would be as keen when the first frost came. It was always a low season for me, with only a few regulars to keep things going, and I knew that with things as they were I might not even be able to count on those. Summer was my high time, and in those holiday months I usually managed to set aside enough money to make me comfortable until the spring. But this summer…As things were at present, I told myself coolly, I might make a loss. It was all right; I had money put away, but there was Lise’s wage, plus the money I sent for Reine, feed for the animals, stores, fuel, machine rental… And with autumn coming soon there would be the laborers to pay, the apple pickers and Michel Hourias with his combine, though I could sell the grain and the cider in Angers to tide myself over.
Still, it might be hard. For some time I fretted uselessly over figures and estimates. I forgot to play with my grandchildren, and for the first time wished that Pistache had not come for the summer. She stayed another week, then left with Ricot and Prune, and I could see in her eyes that she felt I was unreasonable, but I could not find enough warmth in me to tell her what I felt. There was a cold hard place where my love for her should have been, a hard dry place like the stone in a fruit. I held her briefly as we said good-bye, and turned away dry-eyed. Prune gave me a bunch of flowers she had picked in the fields, and for a moment a sudden terror overwhelmed me. I was behaving like my mother, I told myself. Stern and impassive, but secretly filled with fears and insecurities. I wanted to reach out to my daughter, to explain that it wasn’t anything she had done-but somehow I couldn’t. We were always raised to keep things to ourselves. It isn’t a habit that can be easily broken.