On Monday, I drove to a nearby hamlet to pick up a couple of blueberry plants. The hamlet’s locally famous for its road, which is one lane wide, closely hedged on both sides, and shaped more or less like a gigantic Z. Periodically, a delivery truck will get stuck on the one or the other of the Z’s angles. Or maybe that was only one truck, one time, but by the time the story worked its way to our end of the parish it’s happening once a week, and the trucks get stuck so thoroughly that road only stays open because of a Bermuda Triangle effect: No sooner does a new truck got stuck than it’s wafted bodily to wherever it is that trucks go when they’ve been not just good but a tiny bit careless as well.
So there I was, leaving with my blueberry plants, and what should I end up following but a truck. It was a blocky, one-piece thing—the kind that could deliver a dining room table, say, or a couch—and it was moving creeping along the way driver do around here when they’re looking for an address, which is another way of saying that it was lost. Except for one small patch of the village, addresses out here have nothing to do with street names and house numbers. Most of our roads don’t have names and most of our houses do, although they don’t necessarily display those names where you’d think to look for them. Most drivers find the post code they’re looking for, then wander helplessly, hoping to spot a name plaque.
Abandon logic, all ye who enter here.
I should have turned around and taken long way home, but—I guess it was curiosity that made me follow the truck. Here was parish legend, about to enact itself in front of my eyes. How could I turn away?
The truck reached the bend and stopped.
It sat there.
I sat there.
Beside the bend is a farm gate, and from behind the gate a dog barked.
I walked up to the truck to ask if they were okay. I mean, what with Bermuda Triangle effect and all, I might be the last person to talk to them. Before I could ask, though, the driver jumped down and asked if I knew where Tre-something was.
This being Cornwall, half the houses are called Tre-something. “Tre” is the Cornish word for homestead. Or according to some people, place. Or town. I don’t speak Cornish, so I can only report the muddle that’s passed around in the name of wisdom. Half the villages are also Tre-something, so I expect the rumors are right: It means both.
The villages that aren’t Tre-something are Saint Whosit.
I’m not good at remembering which house is named what, so I didn’t have a clue where Tre-something was. I asked about the post code and the passenger called it out to me from inside the truck.
This might have been helpful, but I didn’t know the hamlet’s post code.
I can’t think what they’d have done if they hadn’t run into me.
At this point in most can-you-tell-me-how-to-find conversations, the driver decides I’m not worth listening to because with my accent I can’t be local, but these guys didn’t do that. They were desperate, on top of which I hadn’t offered any information for them to dismiss, but even so it made me absurdly fond of them.
Finally the dog barked long enough to bring first one person out of the farmhouse and then two more. The driver asked the first one asked about Tre-something and she asked the other two, then one of them asked who lived there and all four of us shook our heads and said we didn’t recognize the name. At intervals, one after another, we repeated “Tre-something” as if that would help, and we shook our heads some more.
The dog kept barking. I began to suspect it knew Tre-something.
I asked about the farm’s post code and we established that it was the same as the one the guys in the truck were looking for.
If we’d gone on any longer, we’d have asked what they were delivering and what color it as and whether it matched the curtains, but instead one of the people from the farm said he was fairly sure Tre-something was on the other side of the ford. I was fairly sure it wasn’t, not because I knew the first thing about it but because I was convinced that post codes change when they cross water. But honestly, I’ve lived in the parish for eight years. The people on the other side of the gate have spent their lives here. I know—on rare occasions—when to shut up, and I did.
“If it’s not there,” the man said, “you can ask at the post office.”
This is the universal answer to can-you-tell-me-how-to-find questions. The driver headed for his truck.
At this point, I noticed that the truck’s front bumper was snuggled sweetly into the farm’s stone wall, which forms the most unforgiving part of the Z bend. The truck wasn’t, strictly speaking, too big to make the turn, but it was big enough not to make it easily.
I backed up to give it space. It backed up, with the help of some gesturing from behind the fence. In addition to an altruistic desire to help, the people behind the gate wanted to protect their wall.
Before the truck had backed far enough to try the bend again, I understood, with all the clarity of revelation, I didn’t want to be behind it if and when they didn’t find Tre-something on the other side of the ford. The road doesn’t make any sharp bends on that side, but it’s still only one lane wide. If they got into another long conversation, it wasn’t going to be as interesting—especially since I’d be out of excuses for jumping out of my car and joining in. So I backed up 100 yards (I’m making up the numbers, as I make up most numbers, but it was a fair distance) before I could turn in someone’s driveway, and I went home the long way, sacrificing my chance to see if the truck made the turn.
By the time I passed the post office, the truck was parked outside.
I never found out what they were delivering, but I bet someone in the post office did.