Monsieur Martin, frequently in a state of semi-undress, drives past Pascale’s house on his tractor most days. He lives down the lane with his short wife, an impressive number of small speckled ponies that are often accompanied by several attendant Little Egrets and a dog that begins to bark every evening just as the aperitif arrives.
The ponies are of a miniature variety; their purpose is unspecified save to make more spotted ponies which can then be sold to someone who may be of restricted growth. And the dog is a nasty but unfortunate creature that belongs to a son who keeps him locked in a shed. Madame Martin never steps outside the front or back doors of the house which her husband constructed for her security. Madame Martin is a recluse: badly treated as a child, she was forced to assume a position of disproportionate responsibility as the bottom prop in a large family of acrobats.
She was rescued by Monsieur Martin who, as a younger man, happened to pass a summer in the big top with a troupe of performing poodles. Madame Martin, despite being afraid of dogs, was, nonetheless, swept off her tiny feet by promises of a new life wherein canvas was replaced by bricks, and poodles substituted with small ponies; in a place where she could get everyone off her back. However, history doesn’t shed its load so easily; which is why, according to Monsieur Martin, his wife spends her hot Provencal days inside the house. Apparently, she passes her time making confiture from the various ingredients which her husband grows in the garden that she only views occasionally through a grimy window.
Madame Martin has a bad back: the weight of her family caused this disability. She finds it difficult to walk and, never a tall woman in the first place, she has, apparently, shrunk in size; and continues to do so. Perhaps marrying a woman who is vertically challenged is what inspired the half-naked, but not unsympathetic, Monsieur Martin to invest in a selection of equally small ponies. Possibly, it was a thoughtful attempt to lessen her feelings of torment caused by a larger world; although why he married such a woman when the only possible benefit was a constant supply of home-made jam is unclear.
When not in the kitchen, Madame Martin likes to watch television, especially with her son, Christophe. The son departs at an early hour to pack potatoes into sacks somewhere or other and returns home to spend the rest of the day indoors watching French TV with his mother. To my mind, there’s not much difference between the entertainment value of a sack of potatoes and French TV, but, each to their own. There’s little in the way of alternative entertainment in the tiny hamlet of Cabannes. Still, it can’t be easy for Monsieur Martin who, having saved his wife from an overbearing family and fulfilling all his promises, has little to shout about apart from a spoonful of home-made Reine Claude every now and then with his breakfast. This is probably why he was so keen on Sophy.
Sophy, who was once Christophe’s girlfriend, also lived down the lane. Monsieur Martin liked her very much in a paternal sort of way. This was largely due to the fact that she didn’t make jam and had no interest in French television; preferring to be outside in the Provencal sunshine with the semi-naked Monsieur Martin, the small speckled ponies and the Little Egrets. Sadly, this happy companionship had no future. Sophy was also shrinking.
It was difficult to say when it began – more a question of Monsieur Martin suddenly noticing one day how much weight Sophy had lost. He sent her off to Noves to see young Doctor Giraud, a man so slight in stature as to seem of little consequence. The good doctor promptly prescribed a course of medication entirely without efficacy. Sophy refused to gain any weight and became smaller and smaller. No amount of Monsieur Martin’s home-grown, oddly shaped, but uniquely tasty tomatoes and aubergines as crooked as a French politician could adequately sustain the young woman. Surprisingly, his enormous courgettes also appeared to be nutritionally deficient. Even the sun-soaked natural sweetness of Madame Martin’s confiture held no obvious redeeming properties. For Monsieur Martin, the situation was une catastrophe: Sophy, who was also shrinking in height, became too tiny to help with the ponies and Monsieur Martin was eventually forced to reduce the herd. In number that is.
For a whole year, under her caring father-in-law’s supervision, Sophy continued to visit Doctor Giraud until, one day, the ever-diminishing young woman disappeared completely. Like Madame Martin, who had yet to vanish into oblivion, Sophy was not seen in public again; her disappearance unnoticed by two of the three who lived down the lane. Unlike Madame Martin, however, she was not ensconced in a darkened kitchen filling pots with jam or hidden away in front of television game shows designed for the small minded: she was recuperating in bed in Noves – with Doctor Giraud.
Gradually, with the kindly doctor’s help, but sadly unknown to Monsieur Martin, Sophy regained her strength and general interest in life. Soon, she was seen out and about in the village; which is more than would ever be said for Madame Martin. One day, Sophy was even spotted jogging down the road to Cabannes where she paused briefly to look with some longing at the remaining small speckled ponies in the field. She didn’t turn down the lane though. That way laid desolation where no-one was on top. Far more fun to be under the doctor. ©