The first time we saw V she was hefting a dead sheep into the back of her Mercedes SUV. Maile and I, in England for less than a week, still felt jet-lagged and homesick.
I hadn’t figure out how to use the radiators – nights were cold, especially after the wood fires burned out. Our little cottage was mostly empty. And we were still sleeping on the floor. There’s nothing like sleeping on the floor to make you miss home and wonder what’s so great about adventures.
“Let’s go for a walk,” I said, persuading Maile to put on something warm and join me for a jaunt through the foreign countryside. We walked away from the main road and back our lane toward the gardener’s house. Yes, there was a gardener.
Just past the courtyard (where we would park a vehicle, if we ever got one) was a fence, and on the other side we saw a small lady in Wellington boots shuffling among the sheep. Her SUV was backed up into the pen, and she was in the process of lifting what looked like a giant sack of wool.
“Oomph,” she grunted. The back of the Merc dropped with the weight. Then she saw us. A smile the size of the Atlantic lit up her face. Her icy blue eyes sparkled.
“You must be Shawn and Maile,” she said in the most perfect British accent I had ever heard. We both sort of nodded.
“Oh dear,” she said, laughing at herself and throwing her work gloves into the SUV, on top of the dead sheep, “I am a mess!” She held out a small hand, which I shook, and it felt more alive than bare electrical wire. She immediately came in close for a kiss on both cheeks, which I must admit I hadn’t been expecting, but I think I played the part reasonably well. Maile, forewarned, executed a much better English greeting than I had.
“Look at you two. Are you getting any rest? Do you like the cottage? It’s frightful, isn’t it. We have some furniture that Stanley can bring down – have you met Stanley? He’s the groundskeeper, lives in the house at the end of your lane.”
We kept nodding. I didn’t want to talk, certain that my American accent would sound clumsy and oafish next to her silken threads of speech.
“Do you need a hand?” I asked, nodding toward the vehicle carrying the dead animal.
“No, thank you. We will dispose of it properly. Now, on to more important things. What are you doing tonight?”
“Tonight?” Maile asked. “Nothing. Why?”
“Then you must come to our house tonight, 8 o’clock. We’re having a dinner party.”
I wanted to refuse, just because I am mostly an interminable humbug and homebody, but we had no excuse. Not only were we not doing anything that night, we weren’t doing anything any night any time soon.
“Excellent, see you at eight,” she said, flashing one of those approving grins that made you feel like she was your best friend in the world, or your mother at her proudest moment.
We turned to continue our exploration, but she shouted at us before we had gone fifty yards down the lane.
“Do you have a car?”
“We have an extra in the garage,” (she pronounced garage like gare-ahhh-j). “I’ll put the keys through your mail slot.”
We shrugged. There was no way I was driving one of her cars on the wrong side of the road.
“See you at eight!” she shouted.
(continued here: The Undressed Man)