“How old is she?” “83 or 84, I can’t really remember anymore.” “And she lives alone up there, all alone?” “For more than 20 years now, right after the divorce with her second husband. She rented out her flat in Lausanne, she gave away most of her clothes and furniture, took 2 suitcases, 2 trains and there she was, at the village of her childhood summers.” The train is sliding around the vineyards that are soaked in rain; yellow leaves still linger on the vines. Not for much longer now. Dreamy châteux now and then, below dark cloudy skies.
The smell of coffee, the silence of the wagon on an early Saturday morning. Old passengers reading through trashy free-press, paper bags of croissants, the smell of capucinnos dusted with cocoa powder. Swiss train life. The fabric of the seats a bit worn out by the bodies of passengers, hundrends and hundrends every month. We change to another train, they check our tickets again, greeting in French and German, just in case, changing to English if you don’t reply, move or smile. We go through colourful forests, stip hills, bridges, small chalets. Autumn postcards, wherever you look.
She is waiting for us at the train station. Glasses, woolen scarf and matching bonnet, heavy brown coat, winter boots lined with fur. Unchanged and steady, the woman I used to thread as a kid. She gives her hand to Paul first, bonjour, echantée monsieur, all the kind words she has been performing all her life. She looks at me with an examining eye, scanning my clothes, my hair, my posture. In the end she smiles and hugs me, a short hug, a little tight and tender-to my surprise. Age must be softening her up. We walk to the chalet following a path at the banks of the small river I used to splash in as a kid. She doesn’t talk much, she’s walking ahead, Paul is glancing at me, I smile and make faces to him. We arrive.
Dust. The house smells like her. She has prepared the beds for us at the childrens’ room, the small piano is still there, my drawings are still hanging on the walls. I feel 8 again, it’s surrealistic to be here with a man. She bought local cheeses and cream and yogurt for Paul to try, she makes tea, we seat and have dinner at the table where we played cards so many times. The fire is burning the wood slowly, we don’t talk much. She goes to bed early, and so do we. It feels like we’ve been there a week already, it’s still 9 but it feels like midnight.
The next morning, everything is covered in white. The first real snow of the year. Silence. It creacks below our boots as we walk around in the forest. The neighbour’s dog comes over, he rolls in the snow, his fur is white, he plays with us. All is white but the river’s water is black. In two hours we need to take the train back. I try to picture her leaving alone with the snow, walking to her chorus practice every Tuesday evening, having tea with her friend Clementine every Friday morning. “T’es heureuse ici Mamie?” She squeezes my hand in hers and smiles.