(Photo: Orchard near St Nectaire – Peter Curbishley)
It was a time of longing, a time of sweet anticipation. Summer was drawing to a close, tucking the soft rolling landscape away. The orchard was heavy with russets and damsons, the baskets had been cleaned in readiness and were waiting for him to return.
Early in the morning, when the carpet of dew was still perfect and sparkling, I heard the music. I went to the window to watch for him, the horse slowed and turned in to the yard, the caravan clattering over the uneven cobbles. He smiled, raising a hand as he passed through the yard and out into the orchard. I pulled on a clean dress, covering it with a blue apron; the flower and the flute worked on the pocket in brightly coloured threads during the long months of waiting.
In a corner of the orchard the horse was tethered, drinking water drawn from the well. The caravan was turned towards the sun, the bright green paint replaced by dark red swirls, traces of blue clouds with yellow flowers growing up and over the top, green leaves curling round the sides. Summer.
He was sitting on the back board, long legs swinging over the side. He smiled a broad lazy smile, his eyes crinkling. He placed the flute to his lips and blew a twirl of notes that escaped and rose up into the morning air. My feet traced steps in the grass as I swayed in time to his music. There were no words between us, just the music and a feeling of joy.
We walked together through the orchard; he held the boughs as I plucked the dark juicy damsons and sweet brown russets. We filled two baskets each then rested on the bank by the river. He took crusty bread from his pocket and a chunk of cheese which he cut into pieces. Later he took water from the river, offering his cupped hands so that I could drink.
The air was warm and still. Where had he been since I saw him last? Had he remembered the shawl, or had he forgotten all those things I told him as we talked together late into the night on his last visit? I waited and wondered.
He looked at me and smiled, he did not like being questioned, that much I knew. I lay back in the grass and listened to his tales of black cloaked travellers who roamed vast deserts under a blazing sun; of how he had joined them, gone with them on trails invisible to him but well known to them; of his visit to the dream weavers to hear their stories as they wove them into lightly spun threads as soft as gossamer.
I closed my eyes and was aware then of his breath on my face. He gently traced a line along my mouth and up towards my eyes. I felt a light brushing of his lips on mine.
He laughed, “I have it ma fleur, come.”
I took his hand and let him lead me back towards the orchard. The shawl was beautiful, colours shimmering and dancing in the late afternoon sun. He helped me up and we sat together as he told how the weavers had made my shawl.
Later as he slept, I lay within the circle of his arms, watching the sunlight dancing over the golden symbols painted on the roof. Wrapping my dreams around my nakedness, I gathered my clothes and slipped away to the river. When I looked back the sun was going down and I could hear a flute playing softly in the distance.