With Clémence’s parents and sister, I drive a couple hours to the neighboring region of Picardie, where the extended family is having a large reunion. Some are French, some are German; either way, the beer and wine flow excessively. After a few glasses I find that my French does, too. Even Roger, usually so quiet, smiles at my chattiness.
The next day, moving slightly more slowly than usual, I lace up my shoes and announce that I am going for a run. Clémence and her family have gotten used to this, not even looking up in astonishment anymore when I come back into the house after a long workout. Indeed, I think the entire country neighborhood in Normandie has come to terms with my athletic eccentricity; familiar voices shout Bon courage! as I run by, the cries bouncing off the thatched roofs across the lane and following me down the road.
But today Pauline is worried about me being alone out on these different roads. She enlists the help of Guillaume, Clémence’s cousin, who is tall and bony-thin and doesn’t look like he has ever run in his life, at least no more than the distance to the tabac for more rolling papers. Even so, Pauline insists that he accompanies me.
Guillaume smokes one cigarette before we head out, another during my stretching break, and then two when we get back an hour later, his lungs heaving with the effort of inhaling the tobacco. I just stand there and watch, curious, and I feel my heart rate return to normal.