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That spring night was exquisite. No wind stirred in the pine forest. Everything and everybody, even the squirrels and the cows in the pasture, all observed a reverent silence. All looked upwards to where a billion stars shone ice blue in a vast dome, reunifying for a few hours all sleeping earthly life and the universal expanse.
The familiar jagged shapes of the mountains behind and in front of the small wooden chalet shone as well, dull white, pure, chaste. The hermit stirred under the warm eider down blanket. From his pillow, his sleepy eyes could see through the window to the peaks as they caught the palest pink of new sunlight.
The first cuckoo called, on cue, far away. A brighter shaft of sunlight now gilded the tall pines. Down the steep valley, cows were moving, their big bells resounding assuredly.
The hermit normally took his time, sleeping in, stretching, sensuously feeling all parts of his naked body. It was his only luxury in life.
But he was soon up and nervous. There could be a visitor coming today and much needed to be done before she arrived.
He did not know when, or even if, she was coming, only that each year sometime in this month, she arrived unannounced at the village�s little train station. As there was only one train a day from Paris, he had been sitting on the bench everyday to wait for it. With only a week left in the month, she could very well be arriving today.
After being by himself for months, he had firstly been preparing to open himself to accommodate her, the person who now meant most to him in his simple life. Had she changed? Was he still attractive too her? Had she come to tell him that it was all over between them and that she would not make her annual trip to see him any more.
"Well, you know, every time I come, you are the same. This place is the same. How can you live in such a Spartan way? I have enjoyed our being together and our trips together. You know that I do. But maybe we shouldn't see each other so much anymore. We don't have enough to give to each other anymore and besides I am busy at home."
He had been hearing this in his head many nights now. Now he mentally prepared to hear it said to his face, a tear rolling down on to his cheek in anticipation.
He made his bed, putting on new sheets and pillow cases that he washed in the machine yesterday when it was sunny and dried them on the line in the backyard. His visitor was fussy and will appreciate his extra effort.
He cleaned out the Deux Chevaux as best he could. It was getting on in years and had putted bravely up many mountain passes for him. His visitor thought it an amusing little car and he was glad that it amused her.
Driving it down the valley to the village, he called in first to the bakery.
"Bonjour, monsieur. Ca va?," asked Madame Lebrun, of whom he was very fond. �"eut-etre votre amie arrive aujourd'hui, n'est-ce pas? Combien de temps reste-elle ici quand elle arrive?
"Bonjour, Madame. Peut-etres un mois."
"Vous avez de la chance, alors," said she with a wide grin, shaking the fingers of her hand from side to side in approval.
It was the same with the other shopkeepers, from whom he bought cheeses, lettuce, salami and wine, all of whom were happy that he would have company for a while. They felt sorry for him.
On the way back from the train station, he would drive slowly through the cobbled main street of the village, to show off his visitor to his friends: See, she came. I told you she would.
The slanting sun was bright and warm on the platform that morning. Snow was brilliant to the eye on the massive deep purple-blue range, standing higher than ever today.
Yes, it must be today. Even the mountains knew it. Still, he was again prepared to go back to the chalet in an empty car as he had done everyday this month.
Geneva was a favourite city of hers. She loved her first lung full of the pure air that blew straight from the massive Mont Blanc range rising up and up on the eastern horizon on the other side of the shining lake.
The visitor stood outside the airport terminal entrance and breathed deeply many times with her eyes closed, her head clearing, months of city pollution, heat and humidity of Asia dissipating.
As was her routine, she took a taxi to the park by the lake and walked and walked, feeling as free as she had ever felt for a while. She skipped and jumped a little on the path like a little girl, on the grass and under the trees, now light green with bursts of tiny new leaves.
In the abundant flower beds, big tulips, fleshy, bulbous and almost obscene in their sensuous shapes and colours, swayed their greeting.
"Bonjour Madame! Qu'il fait tellement beau, n'est-ce pas?" said an old woman with silver hair, shuffling along on. The visitor stopped herself from giving the old lady a hug.
"Mais oui, madame," she replied and a slight smile and walked sedately on.
Just over the low stone wall bordering the brilliant lake, there was a commotion on the water. The regal male white swan was flapping on the water after the female, splashing disgracefully. He caught up with the poor female and mated her with gusto right there in full view of the elderly promenaders, who averted their eyes and smiled at this familiar spring ritual.
The visitor squinted her eyes upwards. Mont Blanc was there three quarters of the way up to the sky, as white as could be, an ethereal entity.
But it was with serious thoughts that she looked at the station�s clock hand ticking over to nine o'clock. That was the signal for the train to roll forward on its journey which the visitor had taken each year for the last two years.
But her heart was heavy this time.
The train line skirted the hazy blue mountain range on the left with its reflection in the rippling lake, through bare vineyards, and around little picturesque villages, first of Switzerland then France. In no time at all, the train entered pine forests and she knew that her stop was approaching fast.
She was not ready.
The visitor was nervous. She had not seen her lover since the previous year. It normally took them a few days to be at ease with each other again. First moments were the worst.
Usually she was so glad to see him that she could not keep her eyes and her hands off him and likewise for him. But after days of fumbling awkwardness, there were usually memorable moments, so serene, achingly beautiful, so deeply erotic that they last her the rest of the year.
The train slowed.
She could see light at the end of the dark forest. Her heart thumped, out of time with the clacking train. The station approached, lit by warm morning sunlight. The train stopped, brakes grinding.
On a seat by a big pot of pink geraniums, sat her friend. He stood up and was looking hard at the two or three passengers alighting. The slanting sunlight in his face was too bright and he could not see her.
He looked more gaunt and gray. But there was a healthy spring tan on his cheeks and thinning patch on his head. She thought he looked well for his age, still trim and full of the solitary healthy mountain life that he had chosen for himself.
The impeccably-dressed station master now stepped up to wave his little green flag and the train rolled forward, The visitor's heart ached as she saw the disappointment on the face of her lover as she passed unseen on her seat in front of him.
Looking back, she saw him sitting back down again and gazed forlornly at the departing train, a look of stoic acceptance on his face.
It was at the next village that she alighted, hefting her heavy suitcase as she walked down the hill to the main street of the village. She ordered piping hot cheese raclette, bread and a small carafe of chilled local white for lunch in the bistro by the little fountain in the middle of the village square.
While walking along the narrow road back towards her friend's village, a farmer in a small truck gave her a lift, talking to her all the while in the quaint local dialect, some of which she understood. From the village square, the visitor was happy to walk steeply up along the winding road through the aromatic forest, dappled with light.
The pure air fuelled her. She felt the warm sun on the face and bare arms. Soon her friend's little chalet appeared above through the big trees, looking out over the steep valley to the shimmering snow-capped mountains on the horizon.
She turned now into the hushed forest and scrambled quietly in dead leaves up hill and now she looked back on the chalet itself from higher ground. She found a level place under a big tree, took out her sleeping bag, a baguette and a small thermos of tea. There the afternoon passed.
She saw her friend in his studio as he painted. Now and again he walked out onto the little balcony, gazing out to the wide mountain vista, and she heard classical music. She saw him go into his bedroom as the afternoon wore on, she knew, to have his siesta.
The vast sky turned deep shades of purple as the sun set abruptly, its last rays turning the snow mountains into purest gold. As the stars twinkled in the cold sky, the hermit lit his solitary candle in the kitchen to eat his supper: some salad, a cooked sausage and strangely, a solitary stale-looking croissant.
It was not long before he retired to bed. She saw him silhouetted against the little reading light as he removed his clothes. Her heart missed a beat at his vulnerable nakedness now lit by the bed light, as he slowly climbed under the thick bedding.
The dome of sky was a mass of stars when she slowly walked up the pinewood stairs to the bedroom. Soon she was looking at her lover as he snored gently. She bent down to very lightly kiss his forehead, then just brushed his lips with hers.
That gentle touch shook her. She reached under the bedding to touch her lover�s skin, warm and waiting. A tear had fallen from her eye and now rested like a little clear gem on his cheek, maybe until morning.
With more tears streaming cool in the night air, the visitor retraced her route down the little road back to the village, her boots crunching on the road grit in that stillness. The village station was cold and dark. She looked back towards the hill where the chalet was then she saw the beam of the train's light approaching.
The visitor knew that towards sunrise, this Geneva-bound train would cross with the one coming from that city, one that brought her here yesterday.
Between here and the next station, she must decide whether to continue on home or get off and take the train from Geneva again back to the little station where her lover would be waiting expectantly this morning on his seat by the pink geraniums.
The train appeared around the side of the mountain and out of the thick dark pine forest. It slowed then braked noisily at the platform.
After a very long time, one passenger stepped down from it into a patch of sunlight. As the fresh spring breeze blew, she pulled the fur collar of her thick jacket around her neck. Her long thick hair bounced behind her.
As the hermit stood tense and nervous, he saw her familiar knowing eyes and that devastating smile of his dreams.