Some years ago, when I was young, I knew a girl. Her name was Vanessa and she lived along the beach from our house. She used to tell me all kinds of stories, some of which I believed and lots I wasn't sure were true or not. She was tall and skinny then, so was I. Her hair was dark brown as her eyes and her skin was tanned from being out on the beach whenever she could. She was a bit of a tomboy too and older than me by about two years. I adored her. She seemed to know so much and to be so wise.
Along the beach there was a pathway that led from the beach to the old Snagsby house. Old Mr. Snagsby had owned it, but then he fell ill and went to hospital and never came out again. So Vanessa said anyway. He had no children or anyone, so the house was left alone. It was in pretty good order. Vanessa and me used to go and hide in there and tell each other ghost stories. In that empty house they were pretty scary.
The path that led from the beach to the Snagsby house was long and hedged in on either side. It had its own name, 'Chemin Des Galettes', which Vanessa told me meant Pancake Path or the Way of the Pancakes. It struck me as an odd name for a path. I asked Vanessa why it was called that and she told me this story.
A long time ago in the olden days, she said, the Great Grandad of Mr Snagsby lived in the house. He'd got married to a woman from the south of France and she was a great cook. Great Granpa Snagsby was a big fat old man because of all that lovely food. Well one day, Great Granpa Snagsby's little boy went down to the beach to play in the sea. But he didn't come home at all. His footsteps went down the beach to the shore and disappeared. There were no other footprints around to suggest he'd been kidnapped off the beach. The police thought maybe he'd been snatched by sea and got taken away in a boat to an island with a big old castle on it. So Vanessa said.
Then one evening, he appeared at the door and was brought indoors and told off for wandering away. He couldn't speak for some reason and his skin was damp. In fact, as much as they tried to dry him off, his skin stayed damp. Great Granpa Snagsby was scared because he didn't know what had happened to the little boy and the little boy couldn't tell him. But his French wife was furious for some reason. She went into the kitchen and made a heap of pancakes specially. Snagsby thought they were for the boy, but they weren't. The French woman took a plate of pancakes and went down to the sea in the evening. It weren't quite day and it weren't quite night when she went down to the sea. She took the pancakes and folded them up and threw them into the sea. Then she went back to the house and wrapped the little boy up warm and took him to her bed with her.
The next afternoon she made more pancakes and the same thing - she took them to the beach in the evening and threw them into the sea without a word. Snagsby thought the woman had gone mad, but she had a furious look in her eye so he kept his peace. The boy was not so damp that day and he seemed more lively too. His mama wasn't finished though.
The following afternoon she's in the kitchen again and cooking them pancakes for all she's worth. A whole heap of them she made. Snagsby wasn't allowed a single one either. She wrote him a note that said he'd have to wait until eight o'clock. Then she took the piled up pancakes in the evening and went down to the beach. Those pancakes went the way of the rest - into the sea every last one of them. A small crowd of people watched this time. They all thought she was mad, but she wasn't. This time, when the last pancake was thrown into the sea, the tide went all the way out and suddenly came rushing in. Everyone fled from the beach, but the French woman, she saw a small fish left on the beach when the tide went out and she took that fish back to the house with her and made the little lad swallow it whole. Just the way it was too, live and wriggling. Well it went down alright and it didn't come up again.
Then she went into the kitchen and made a new heap of pancakes with ham and an egg in each of them. This was for the family. It seems that the little boy was to stay with the mermaids under the sea if they wasn't fed for three evenings in silence. If the woman had uttered a sound or made no pancakes over the last three days, the little boy would have returned to the sea forever. She knew because her grandma had told her of something similar happening a long time ago near Marseille.
So in honour of her, the people put hedges along the pathway and called it the Way of the Pancakes in French, see. So Vanessa said and I believed her too, because I wanted to.
Years later, I came back home and met her on the beach. I reminded her of that story and she laughed. It wasn't true. The pathway was named after fishermen's wives making hot galettes for the fishermen before the fleet went out to fish.
"Still," she told me, "You remembered it, didn't you?"
We were older then. She was a novelist and I was a teacher. Out there on the beach, I proposed to her, for I had never forgotten her and never stopped missing her. She kissed me gently and said no, softly. She had built a life on her own and got used to it. But she gave me her address and told me to come and visit her. She had bought the old Snagsby house. She took me back there and made me galettes and told me stories.