John woke up to the sound of banging and clanking and the aroma of strong coffee. The sun was streaming through the cracks in the wooden shutters and the white linen curtains were fluttering in the early morning breeze.
There was a knock on the door and Jean- Marie called out that breakfast was ready.
John went to the window and looked down into the square. It was market day and he could see bright coloured clothes on display and mounds of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Just below his window the stall had an impressive mix of soft furnishing, scented candles,and hand knitted jumpers in blues and whites. There were some tightly belted trench rain coats in emerald and red that reminded John of French detectives. There was also a lacy umbrella with polka dots that looked unlikely to be of use in a storm. The owner of the stall turned and looked up at John. Her shiny hair swung as she moved and a smile played on her lips. John became aware that he wasn't wearing pyjamas and the window casing was quite low.
'Bonjour, good morning,' he mumbled.
In reply he got a torrent of French and a mischievous grin.
She sounded like the automatic voice from the motorway paying machine that thanked you and wished you a pleasant journey, husky and warm. He had almost replied the first time he'd heard it. The French even made robots sensual.
Drinking coffee with Jean- Marie and Bernard he asked who she was.
'Oh that must be Nathalie. She is, how do say in English? A corker, no? She is a decorator for interiors and has set up the market stall to promote her business. She goes to all the villages perchés.'
Bernard came in with fresh croissants and a large baguette. Jean- Marie bit into one and handed the bag to John.
'We are going to Dijon today to stay with our sister Annie. She is organizing a family reunion. John we are very happy for you to stay here for as long as you like. In the Autumn we will arrange a reunion with your mother too maybe.'
When the two men had left John decided to explore the village. As he walked into the square Nathalie called out.
'Oh you are dressed now ! '
John felt his cheeks burn and stopped in front of her and held out his hand.
'Hello I am John, I'm staying in Jean- Marie's house.'
'I am Nathalie. If you like I can show you round, my grandfather Jacques will look after the stall.'
She propelled John past a beautiful purple cascading Bougainville and towards the maze of narrow streets. She was an excellent guide, making the town and its past come to life before John's eyes. She showed him where Picasso liked to sit and draw.
'He even used my grandmother as a model.' She looked at him in a way that made him think of the word coquette. She pulled him towards her and linked her arm through his.
They looked at the olive oil press and the small boutiques and work shops where the local artists were busy at work. Nathalie was wearing one of her creations, a tight- fitting belted jacket , she announced that she was far too hot and needed a drink.
They moved towards a cafe with red tables and chairs and a white awning.
'You must try our local drink, Pastis with lots of water and ice. I will have the same.'
As they sat in an easy silence sipping their drinks , John found himself telling her all about his father, about his friend Mark and then with a heavy sigh about Rosie.
Some instinct told him that he should be clear. When he'd finished , Nathalie shrugged off her jacket revealing a very tight low necked top. She inhaled deeply from her French cigarette.
'It is terrible about your father and your friend. I am very sorry.'
A tear glistened on her cheek and she leaned towards him.
'As for your wife, I am not one to give advice. I was with a married man for many years and I begged him to leave his wife. Then one day I saw him in a supermarket with her and their little children. They were all laughing and looked so happy together. It was like a punch in the stomach for me and I felt so ashamed.'
John was amazed at her candour and was surprised to see his hand on hers in a gesture of understanding. Something rattled loose inside him and he caught the faint smell of jasmine and rose that seemed to surround her. The moment passed and Nathalie stood up.
'I must get back to my stall. My grandfather will be tired. Would you like to come with me to The Grape Festival tomorrow.?'
John nodded in a daze, he was amazed to realise he hadn't thought about Rosie once all morning.