The Village Doctor

From: Views of Other Places by Graham Bathgate

Jacques Lepoutre had planned carefully. As he drove on the quiet road three kilometres out of the village into rough garrigue country, he mused dreamily. The midnight-blue Renault <<Onze>> hummed along the narrow road flanked by plane trees and fields of crinkly vines in the direction of Verhan, a mediaeval village of 300 people in the south of France. It was November – the colours of the vines were rape yellow, wine red and flaming orange. It was mild but the sky was heavy and grey. Jacques always liked autumn after the work of the <<vendanges>>, when the huge light-blue-grey Braud machines shook the grapes off the vines. He had often sweated over vines out this way where he had two parcels of land. He was heading to one of them now.

Jacques’s wife and two daughters were asleep already in the back. He smiled at their peacefulness. Usually, they would be all excited noise and bickering. The track off the road was dusty and potholed, but the solid suspension of the old car cushioned the bumps. He came to the chosen spot in dark shade under a fig tree. It was a little surprising to him how relaxed he felt. The drugs he had taken were strong prescription tranquillizers and he had timed the arrival to coincide with their taking effect. His wife and daughters slept on in their drug-induced comas.

There was an instant of clarity, as if he was experiencing normality for the first time in many years – all calm, no voices, no agony ….

Louis Lottisse, a doctor in the town of Roseanne, was out for his routine pre-breakfast jog. He noted a burst of light in the distance not unlike a flash of autumn colour among the vines, but thought nothing of it as he concentrated on his run.

It had been a bad morning. His wife had rushed off without making his breakfast as usual – a slice of fresh melon, Grand-mère Degustation Pur Arabica and a tartine – so he had to spend 15 minutes doing it himself. The melon bit was more usually before dinner, soaked with the sweet Muscat common in the south of France, but Lottisse had developed a taste for it as petit déjeuner after one of his Brit patients had told him of his morning melon habit. Lottisse told himself if it was good enough for the 'Breeteesh' it was surely good enough for him. Turned out to be a bonne idée ......

Then he couldn`t find his favourite jeans. In the Midi, people were unsophisticated in the heat, so it was all right for doctors to dress down, so much more comfortable that way. Anyway, Lottisse had been Downunder, to Nouvelle Zelande actually, and had been quite taken with the cheery “Giddays” (not unlike his country’s obligatory Bonjour!), the casual ways, everyone as good as his neighbour, even the business people in shorts and dress socks.

Louis wondered what else would happen to interfere with his routines before the day's patients.

About the same time as Louis was musing over his melon, an old vintner was cycling from his nearby home to his <<terrain>>. He had nearly fallen off his bike when he saw the black shell of the Renault ….