Marie-Ann buzzed down the windows and Theresa could smell dampness. She said in surprise, “Are we near a river?” And Claude said, “You have zee nose of a paysan.” Theresa understood this somehow. She said, “Yes, I grew up in the country” and Jin arched an eyebrow at her again. She said, “What? Is that so hard to believe?” and he grinned at her and said, “Did your Black-berry help you grow the crops?”
She chose to ignore him. The car glided silently down a long, dark alley of trees. The alley gave way to a grassy area and just beyond it, Theresa could see the white outlines of a building. Claude said, “Come, come,” and they all got out of the car and walked through a formal garden. That’s when Theresa saw it: a long, white elegant castle built on a bridge spanning the river. She stopped still. Marie-Anne watched her. “That’s the most beautiful castle I’ve ever seen,” she breathed. “It’s like a fairytale.”
Behind her Jin said, “Ah, too bad you don’t believe in fairytales.” Theresa looked at him sharply over her shoulder. “What makes you say that?” and he shrugged in response.
Claude walked ahead, making her look at the tall arches on the central span, pointing out the stone dock under the kitchen. He said to her, “Eat is the castle of women, you know? Eat was made for zee women and always zee women owns this.” Jin said, “Chenonceau, Le Chateau des Femmes.” Marie-Anne fired something off, pointing at the castle where it met the other side of the river. Jinn translated, “She says this chateau symbolizes love: it joins together two opposite sides and builds something beautiful in the middle.”
Theresa turned and looked at the older woman in understanding. Marie-Anne nodded back at her. They stood quietly for a moment, looking at the lights from the tall windows dappling the quite surface of the river and then they turned to go back to the car.
As they came through the gardens Theresa said to Jinn, “What made you say I don’t believe in fairytales?” He said, “But you do not, do you?”
She said, “No. Do you?” Jinn smiled. “In Germany they are not called fairy tales. They are called wundermarchen, wonder tales. I think that better describes stories about magical things.” He turned to her. “Come, even if you do not believe in fairies, you must still believe in magic.” Theresa shook her head. Jinn shook his head back at her. “Ahh, Terese. Magic happens. You just have to be on the look-out for it.”
He helped her into the car. Marie-Anne stifled a yawn as she clipped her seat belt and was asleep before they had pulled out of the parking area. In the back seat, Jin folded his arms across his chest, leaned his forehead against the window, and promptly nodded off. Theresa turned and looked out the back window as the car drove out of the alley.
Claude did not go back to the highway but instead kept to the smaller roads. Theresa wasn’t sleepy at all but she didn’t want to wake the others. Claude looked in the rear view mirror and saw her watching the countryside. He said, “You like?” and Theresa whispered back, “My grandparents owned a farm in Illinois. I grew up there.” Claude said, “So zis is why you do your work?” “I guess so. The farm is gone. Now I buy other people’s farms, sort of.” “You miss le farm?” She smiled at him. “Not until tonight.” Claude said, “Okay, so we make a visit to some farms” and turned again suddenly and found a one-lane road. Theresa idly wondered whether Claude invented roads as he needed them or whether he had extremely gifted night vision.
Dawn was beginning to break and Theresa could see the fields dropping away from the low stone walls that ambled next to the road. She saw men in blue coats with large baskets slung over their shoulders, heading down into the fields. She said to Claude, “But those look like bean fields!” and he nodded. She said, “I thought everything in the Loire was vineyards and sunflowers.” Claude laughed quietly. He said, “Zose are the picture cards we make for zee tourists, but we ave to eat when zay go home, yes?” And laughed again.
In the pre-dawn quiet of the car, Theresa’s Blackberry beeped a text message and Theresa hurried to shut off the sound before it woke Jinn and Marie-Ann. She tossed it back into her bag without looking at it and turned back to the fields. Claude watched her without comment in the mirror.
To be continued …