There was an old man who lived in my village who wore a flannel coat year round, with a faded green cap squashed down on his bald head. His upper lip sagged under the weight of a thick grey moustache and he drove a long-bedded truck.
He was kinder than most of the locals – while many of the farmers treated us foreigners with a indifference that bordered on hostility, he never failed to offer us a friendly “bonjour.” With his truck parked under the eaves of the barn across from the church, he would stand leaning against it, chatting to whoever happened to be out and about.
When I would jog past him on my run towards the forest and the clearing with the beehives, he would call out “Allez, allez, allez !”
He had a German shepherd that he walked in the park every evening. When our dog was a puppy, we would walk there, too, and if we ran into the pair of them the old man would chat and chat away, while I translate for whichever parent I happened to be with, trying to keep up with the pace of his monologue. Mostly he talked about the dogs.
He would say, “Vous savez, in dog years this old guy is almost ninety. I’ve had him a very long time. Raised him right from a pup.”
The dog in question was a colossus. A mane of gold-and-silver ridged his back, tall, wide ears like caverns and a black snout filled with teeth the length of my pinky finger. He was old, though, and his skin hung off his large frame like an oversized coat. While his master chatted, he would lower himself cautiously onto his belly, joints creaking. When our excitable Yorkshire would get too close, a low warning growl would simmer in his throat. Once or twice it boiled over into a snapping of jaws that gave us a scare and sent the puppy tumbling head over heels. Only the old man laughed and said he was harmless.
Eventually they began ing to the park less frequently. None of us noticed when we stopped running into them them altogether.
I only remembered their existence when, on my run through the forest, I saw his truck pulled into the turnoff of a logging road. The old man was leaning against it with his arms crossed, talking softly to his dog who lay panting in the truck bed.
“Allez!” he called out, and I stopped for a minute to talk.
The dog had to have a hip operation, the old man explained, and couldn’t quit make it to the park anymore.
“I drive him out here instead. It’s nice and peaceful. He’s over a hundred in dog years, you know. An old man,” he looked at his dog with a sad smile, “I’ve had him since he was this big.”
One morning I stood at the kitchen counter kneading bread when his truck pulled up outside the window, and heard the door slam as he got out. I thought he must have made a mistake, because no one from the village ever comes to our door except for the chimney sweep, once a year. But then came a knock on the door, followed immediately by the clatter of our cowbell, and I hurriedly scraped the dough from my fingers to answer it.
The old man stood on our stoop holding a jar of honey in his hands.
It was organic, homemade, raw – no pasteurisation or filtration or anything. Straight from the hives. I hadn’t known he was the beekeeper.
Did I want to taste it?
I do not like honey and I did not want to taste it but I said yes, anyways, and the heady sweetness coated my whole mouth and throat, seeping up my nose behind my eyes.
How was his dog?
His dog had died, about a month ago. His eyes glittered blue.
“But you know, he was old. Over a hundred in dog years. I raised him from a pup. I don’t think I can get another, they need a lot of love and – if I die first…”
I bought three jars of honey for 10CHF a piece.