In the latter portion of my Franco-British tour of friends and relatives; having unpacked my suitcase for the 5th, and penultimate, time in a fortnight; I find the familiar guest bedroom in the open-plan house of Chantal and Olivier, who qualify as both friends and family.
When I first met Chantal three decades ago in Southern France, I was her father's English girlfriend. Now, she introduces me, with a smile, as her step-mother. Last March, her 53rd birthday preceded mine by four days and her subsequent birthdays will continue to do so. The official description of our relationship matters little. We have a mountain of shared interests and memories in common.
The sliding glass doors are left open day and night at this time of year, which is why a rope barrier has been looped across the the accessible edges of the big wooden deck, to keep Pegase (Pegasus), the 36 year old bay horse, out of the house.
After lunch and story-swapping for a while, I asked if Chantal wanted to go for a walk. She suggested a hike along the coastal path which sounded good to me. There are numerous little bays and coves around this part of the Mediterranean. Small beaches, with patches of sand or round, wave-smoothed pebbles. These inlets provide tranquil moorings for small boats and inviting, warm end of season water for sun-worshippers unfettered by school age children.
Monsieur Photographer reciprocates with pictures using my camera. His, unlike mine, show deliberate composition.
7 am California time and I'm at least an hour's walk away from anything. How to find the number of the local Sheriff's Department back home? I try dialing 411, the information line, with the international prefix for the USA but that doesn't work. I tried Lovely Daughter and a couple of friends but it's too early. No one is answering their phones. Finally we call Olivier and he gets a number from his computer. Chantal scratches it onto a rock with a pebble and I dial. The recorder message says business hours don't start for another hour and gives a number to call for immediate help. I give Chantal some digits to memorize and try to retain the rest. When I finally get through to a Deputy to make a report, Chantal wanders away, strips down and takes a swim. I'm standing by the edge of the path, afraid to move and lose my connection. It feels very inappropriate to be talking on the phone amid such serenity.
TAO is calling again. He's found a photo of his car that shows his license plate. He rattles off letters and numbers. Whoa there! I have nothing to write with, which he seems not to comprehend in his excitement. This beach is all pebbles. I use my finger to scribe the information but it's barely legible as the little rocks roll down and quickly blur the outlines. Chantal, who is done swimming and has dried in the sun and redressed, comes back over to help and once again, I call the Sheriff's Dept. This time I connect with a female dispatcher who doesn't appreciate that I don't have my full case number at hand and she keeps stopping me to complain about the background noises. I do my best not to lose patience as I repeatedly explain that I'm inches away from the waves, which are not only noisy, but every ripple threatens to erase the information I need to impart.
TAO is on the line once more, asking me to call an employee to collect him and get him to our place of business. I first remind him he's supposed to wait for someone to take his report and then start racking my brain for a source who might help me find the phone number I need. Funnily enough, I don't have any employee files with me here.
I leave a message with one person who's number I have, who has borrowed a helper from us once or twice. I ask him to text me when he gets my call. Finally, I think of a neighboring fork-lift repair business, whose number I know by heart and who start work early. They immediately promise to go over and pass along the message that TAO needs rescuing. I'm glad that I've bought them chocolate cakes a couple of times as I try hard never to exceed the goodwill quota of neighborliness.