Madame Poulard, her long black skirt sweeping the dusty road, toiled up the hill towards the whitewashed
villa whose red pantiles seemed to dance in the heat. Pausing to wipe the perspiration from her brow, she eased the arm holding
the basket of goats cheese and olives. Cursed her arthritis.
The long table was set beneath the walnut tree, white cloth anchored against a hoped-for breeze by blue and
white bowls of luscious, blushing peaches. Fresh loaves, still warm and wrapped in damp muslin sent their fragrance into the
air and four great earthenware pitchers of wine stood beside a dozen crystal glasses.
The guest were already taking their places and M.Blanc, his hair pomaded, moustaches waxed, was directing
them as if they were incapable of finding seating for themselves.
'Mme Dubois, here if you please. Anton, at the end mon ami…'
As Mme. Poulard reached the garden and entered through the gate almost hidden by scarlet Bougainvillea, the children came, in procession from the house wearing
their Sunday best and expressions of grave importance.
Behind them, Bertrice and Armand carried platters of roasted fowl, crisp and golden as the sun, and vegetables
which had been growing in the kitchen garden less than an hour before.
The children waited in a line, collars and smocks pristine, eyes downcast as was seemly before guests.
Then at a signal from Papa, they curtseyed or bowed, then raised their heads, eyes bright with anticipation.
The guests applauded and the children took their seats. Jacques reached for a peach but Emilie pulled back
his plump little hand with a wary glance at her father. M. Blanc had not noticed and the children swapped conspiratorial and
much relieved looks.
Mme Poulard approached the table, breathless from exertion and placed the cheese, and olives, black, green
and succulent, in a prominent place, apologising for her lateness. Bertrice brought out platters of finely sliced tomatoes
tossed with olive oil and fresh basil; Armand added the finishing touch, a vase of meadow flowers.
M. Blanc held up a hand and all was silent. ' Seigneur, Père saint, tu nous rassembles autour de cette
Once the Grace was said - the birthday meal began.
Copyright © 2006 Lynda Finn