The dog adopts them near a village, running alongside them, cutting across a field, jumping for joy as it returns for more pats and encouragement. She decides to call him Ludwig.
“Why?” her companion asks.
“Central European feel. Must be these woods and lakes.”
On the roads around the village they come upon the sad remains of once-white sky lanterns, lovingly made from rice paper. They had clearly been magnificent delicate things during their short lives.
“I bet it was a wedding,” she says, imagining the dark alive with slow-moving illuminated ghosts over the silent, lush countryside.
In the village, the dog bounces into the church with them. The little building is a simple affair in undressed stone, suggesting faith and hardiness from another time. Its windows, destroyed during the war, are replaced by modern stained glass. Her wedding guess is confirmed by the white bows tied to rows and rows of white chairs. The original rough wood benches have been pushed to the back.
Her companion barely flips through brochures offering Sound and Light at weekends or concerts on Sunday evenings before he moves on to explore the architecture.
This is his life: history and architecture. Their apartment walls are covered in posters and timelines. He prepares complex Powerpoint images for his students. Their holidays involve cities and buildings in which he works and she wanders.
She is drawn to a large copybook to one side of the altar, marked ‘Book of Intentions.’ Fascinated and appalled, she reads the handwritten intentions:
Forgive me for what I have done
Please give my daughter a child
Look after my children and their children
Each page, each hand, suggests care, never abandon. She wonders if the writers crept in here alone, when there was no one around. You’d hardly write this kind of thing if friends and family were going to walk up and read it.
She studies her companion, lost in a Romanesque world. He considers history a science. His world is practical and material, undisturbed by religion, imagination or atmosphere.
She flips to the most recent entry in the Book of Intentions. It is an entire page filled with huge writing:
Thank you God!
Thank you for everything – for life!
It is signed Stéphane.
She calls Ludwig – noticing now that he smells very strongly – and heads for the door.
“Ludwig and I will be in the sun,” she calls to her companion.
Ludwig rushes out into the churchyard. He finds a small stick which he flings at her feet, then stamps at her to throw it for him, repeatedly.
Mary Byrne is the author of the short fiction collection Plugging the Causal Breach (Regal House 2019). Her short fiction has been published, broadcast and anthologised widely. She was born in Ireland, lives in France, tweets at https://twitter.com/BrigitteLOignon