Friday 12 October 2012

'The Luckiest Man Alive' by Sarah-Clare Conlon

As luck would have it, Mathieu’s ran out at the hottest point of the day. The crickets had worked themselves into an ear-shattering frenzy; the autoroute in the valley below wobbled like a deformed blackcurrant jelly towards the sparse hills; the nearby ripe red wine grapes made the arid air high as the aftermath of a middle-class dinner party.

The traumatic temperature, blinding brightness and thickening thirst conspired to make Mathieu light-headed and not fully attached to the earth he worked; as if he were watching himself in a dream. It seemed unreal, squatting in the shade of a lush canopy of grotesquely huge plants in this immense glass and iron structure, where his emotions were hothoused daily into a hallucinatory intensity.

Dizzy with the thick scent of flower cultivation, he was under the spell of the beautiful specimens whose lives he maintained only to cut short in all their pretty prime. His was the pursuit of perfumes for the Parisian set. Victims of fashion for fashion victims, he mused, although he loved the ladies he glamorised as much as he loved these lilies he so delicately gilded. And Mathieu wasn't alone in this profession, he was just one of many artisan horticulturists grafting away up here; his greenhouse just one among hundreds piled up on terraces tumbling across the steep slope, fancy terracotta villas tottering overhead and leering down.

His senses drunk by these heady surrounds, Mathieu seemed cast adrift with a reverse vertigo; the gendarmes assumed that’s why he couldn't move after he’d heard the terrible squeak and looked up. All he could do was gaze into the shower of shards that shattered around him, shearing off leaves and scattering colour across the floor. A red tear trickled from Mathieu’s eye. He had been the luckiest man alive.

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