The Golden Oriole in the Fig Tree

“Look”, says, Richard, “you can see the rings of Saturn.”

He has set his telescope up in the garden. It is a warm August night.

I have taken Jake to see Richard. A friend has come with him, Sebastien, — we call him Seb.

“Wow,” says Jake, “regarde ça”.

Richard shows them Mars too. Then he says: “Look, there goes the space station.” It trails across the night sky.

I never told you about Richard.

Richard was Polly’s husband, Connie’s father.

For the last ten years of her life, they seemed to live apart.

He spent most of his time at the little farmhouse in France, which they bought in about 1985, with its old barns which are gradually falling down.

They would visit each other. I didn’t understand how it worked. Neither of them are — were — people who talked about themselves much.

I didn’t want Jake to lose contact with Richard, so I’ve brought him here.

It’s been a magical day.

Richard is almost self-sufficient. He grows melons — their tendrils trailing around the dry brown earth — and tomatoes and aubergines and many other things.

The melons he slices, then dries in a commercial drier.

When we were sitting outside in the afternoon there was a flash of yellow in the fig tree. (He dries figs too.)

It was a golden oriole.

The boys made silly translations from French into English and collapsed in peals of  laughter at each one.

“Champignons — jumping onions” Jake shouted, and their laugher rolled all the way down the valley to the road at the bottom where the yellow post van was passing.

Then they tumbled off down the garden to see if they could see the snakes in the pond.

“There goes the space station again, ” said Richard,  “travelling at 17000 miles and hour.”

It was dark now.

“What’s that very bright star?” asked Maureen.

“Arcturus,”said Richard.

There had been the most amazing sunset earlier, but I had only had my iPhone with me.

“I think I am going to go to Mars”, Jake had said over dinner.

After dinner Maureen and Richard and I sat on the step of his house looking across the valley to the farm opposite.

He was smoking one of the cheroots he went to Spain to buy in large batches every six months.

“Polly and I were like north and south,” he said. “One has no meaning without the other.”

I understood for the first time. This is where they were going to end their days.

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