It had been only two days since I asked Kate to marry me and we were to stay the night in a castle. The Château Montmaur had two circular turrets, one either side of a fortified wall. Its ancient walls like a set from a horror movie.
As we walked through the doors it was both like coming home to a place that you belonged and unsettling at the same time. The château had an old worldly charm, with thick hardwood beams, giant stone blocks along with woven tapestries and rugs. But still there was something uncomfortable about this place.
The elderly lady who owned the château had distinctive Russian features and greeted us in that same offhanded manner that many of the French use with tourists. (They are actually lovely people). She explained that during the war the château had been used by the French resistance to hide allied soldiers. An old man with a toothless smile led us up a grand spiral staircase to our room.
The room was beautifully quaint; it was like stepping back in time. Everything seemed to accentuate the history of this magnificent castle, including the pictures on the walls. In our bedroom there was an old lithograph, a couple of paintings of the French countryside and a tiny painting of a woman. Upon seeing the painting of the woman Kate made an off hand comment about how bitter the woman looked.
We showered and dressed and went to check out the local town. As we made our way down the spiral staircase Kate fell.
The stairs became only three inches wide at the very centre of the spiral. It was here that her foot slipped out from under her and all of her weight came down on the other leg. I said, “Are you alright?” But as soon as I saw her foot flapping in the breeze I knew she wasn’t. “I think I’ve broken my leg.” She was turning pale, I was already pale. “I was pushed,” Kate said. I looked, but there was no one there.
My friends would later say that Kate had tried to commit suicide after realizing that she had promised to marry me.
Kate held onto my shoulder and we made our way to the car. She was almost passing out. The lady who owned the château hopped in the back seat and as we drove to Gap hospital, mostly on the wrong side of the road, the woman would tap me on the shoulder that corresponded to the direction I had to turn.
We raced into emergency and the woman from the château summoned the troupes. I have no idea what we would have done without her generosity. Kate screamed “Je sui allergic.” She is allergic to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
Later I left Kate at the hospital and tried to find my way back to the château to get some toiletries and clothes for her. This was hard because not only was the trip to hospital a blur, but I hadn’t driven the entire time we’d been in France so I was struggling with the whole wrong side of the road thing.
Despite several wrong turns and a couple of ‘grown man crying like a baby’ outbursts, I made it back to the hospital just as the sun was setting. But the emergency section was closed, so I frantically walked all the way around the place looking for an entrance but found none.
There was an old wing to the hospital that was attached by a walkway on about the fourth floor; in I went. This must have been the original part of the hospital and it looked as though it had not been used in years, no, centuries. It looked like an old lunatic asylum or tuberculosis ward. There were occasional ancient hospital fixtures still hanging from the walls but mostly there were just stains, rot and decay. I wove my way up an ancient fire escape. The hair on the back of my neck standing up. I was emotionally shattered, the light was fading fast and I was in the bowels of Bedlam itself. And I am sure that I was not alone. Scared and lost, I wandered aimlessly into room after room looking for a way out. Past rooms that still contained obsolete laboratory equipment. Then, as if from nowhere a nurse appeared. She was shocked to see me. I pleaded, “Du un, du un.” Kate’s room number 2121. The nurse pointed but did not move and I soon found myself in the main hospital. I turned to thank her but she was nowhere to be seen.
Kate had a spiral fracture which required major surgery. In spite of the doctors recommendations she wanted to return to Australia. The French doctors put her leg in a half cast, which meant she could only fly in first class. There was a huge risk of clotting, (Deep vein thrombosis), so each day she had to inject herself in the stomach, a task that I didn’t have the stomach for. To get to Paris we had a two day drive across the French Alps from Gap. I’ll tell you the rest of the story another day.