The answers to both these questions were to coalesce rather neatly as we rolled gently into the next village. (Kintzheim, I believe; or was it Bergheim or Wittisheim? One of the ‘-heims’, at any rate.) Pausing at the central crossroads, the parking sensors on the front of our hire car went slightly berserk, even without another car in sight. Puzzled, I dared to look at my passenger. “I fear we have a rabbit on the front of the car,”
was his logical conjecture.
, I said – swiftly making the deux-plus-deux
calculation in my mind, my horror not quite outweighing the impulse to keep practising schoolboy French. Pulling slowly over to the kerb, I got out of the car, and bent down to examine the grille with no small degree of trepidation.
Sure enough, there he was: floppy ears wedged right behind the radiator surround, with the rest of him plastered across the front of the car in a kind of uncomfortable repose – as though he’d hitched a lift in the diciest of circumstances. The only way to hold my nerve as I made to extract him from his entanglement was to imagine him an all-too-real cuddly toy. (Not as much of a stretch as you might imagine, given that my constant companion as a child had been a similarly floppy-eared, stuffed rabbit going by the name of... ‘Floppy Ears’.)
I laid him out, on the edge of the pavement: there was not a scratch or fleck of blood to be seen, and he looked for all the world as though he was merely enjoying a glassy-eyed sleep. Then – quelle horreur!
– a rather attractive French lady approached on foot, hand-in-hand with her daughter. The child must have been about six or seven years old – a perfect bunny-loving age, I thought to myself ruefully.
The ensuing conversation, though (even allowing for my amateur language skills and limited comprehension), allayed my fears somewhat. My chic interlocutor proved to be rather more sanguine about the whole affair than I had imagined, and the little girl was – if anything – even more laissez-faire
than her mother. And although I can’t be sure, I fancy there was a slight smile forming at the edges of her little mouth, as she no doubt twigged what might be about to happen next.
“I would take it home for dinner,”
said the woman. “But I’m very sorry: you see, I don’t have a bag.”
And so it transpired that, as if in a dream, I reached inside the back of the car, un-crumpled an old Sainsbury’s plastic carrier bag, and held it open by the handles. Monsieur Lièvre (for by that stage I knew the word for ‘hare’) was unceremoniously picked up by his ears, dangled into the bag – a metre or more in length, as I say – and carried home for tea
Once back in the car, I turned to my bemused companion, who had watched the whole encounter without uttering – or hearing – a word (like the silent black comedies of old, I imagined), and shrugged. “I was wondering earlier on why there seems to be no roadkill in France,”
I offered. “But now I know.”