This is a girl named Barbara. She came from Germany. I met her in the South of France when I was 16 years old. We were staying at an international campsite in the grounds of a monastery, and somehow we just gravitated together. It was one of those classic dramatically doomed teenage holiday romances, and we soon lost touch after going our separate ways. Now, thirty-something years later, I can’t even remember her surname. In this picture, she’s wearing my hat as we walk through the streets of the nearby village. It’s the only picture I have of her.
I’m telling you all this is because I included a slightly fictionalised account of our relationship in my story ‘The Redoubt’, which appears in my short fiction collection, The Last Reef and Other Stories. Here’s a relevant excerpt:
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I remember it as an idyllic time. We took long walks together. There were wild poppies in the hedgerows and coloured lights in the trees. The village streets were steep and narrow. In the evenings we met our friends under the café’s corrugated tin roof, to drink wine and tell stories.
‘Come with me,’ I remember her saying on the last night we were together. She had a white cotton blouse and frayed blue jeans. She took my hand and led me downhill, away from the café and our circle of tents, until we came to the stone bridge where the lane crossed the stream.
‘I’m so glad I met you,’ she said, giving me a squeeze. ‘And I’ll be so sad tomorrow, when I have to leave.’
We leaned against the parapet. The rough stones held the day’s heat. The water bubbled and chuckled underneath.
‘Try not to think about it,’ I said smoothing a stray hair from her cheek. I knew I was going to miss her and didn’t want to talk about it. I tried to kiss her but she pulled away.
‘Will you write to me?’ she said.
‘Of course.’ ‘You promise you won’t forget me?’
‘I promise.’ She bit her lip. Then she pulled one of her wristbands off. ‘Here, I want you to have this,’ she said, and tucked it into my shirt pocket. I put my arms around her and kissed the top of her head. We could hear someone playing a guitar up in the café.
‘Are you alright?’ I asked.
She huddled closer. ‘Just hold me,’ she said.