Disclaimer: Anything you recognize – be it character, location, idea or line – belongs to others; I may be playing with them but I make no profit from this. And I would like to thank my wonderful friends from La Racine, who good-naturedly accepted to play the part of Fleur's family.
When Fleur asks him to spend Christmas 'chez Pepé' – with her father's family – Bill knows he can not object. He has asked so much of his wife during the war; it is time to give back.
He grimaces however when he realizes they will be staying in an old mountain farm in the middle of nowhere, buried in the snow. Bill hates the cold. Give him the scorching Egyptian desert every day; or at least, a roaring fire and thick walls between him and the dreaded winter.
But Fleur's happy smile makes him forget every complaint: she is worth anything.
They arrive at night, the white snow blanket thrown over everything – the rolling fields, the winding road, the huge roofs - softened into the darkness. Their destination is buried cosily in the snow, nothing but a dark silhouette against the dark sky, shades of black overlapping like in a Shadow play.
The only colour, a lit window, warmly yellow and shining like a promise of warmth and company, of food and laughter.
Inside, Fleur's gorgeously silvery hair shines among a merry feast of hues, not in contrast as Bill is used to, but blending, welcome, included.
And still so special.
Outside, Bill grumbles about the snow – so soft- and smooth-looking – being actually so crunchy and wetly cold.
Inside, he delights in running a hand on the different surfaces – the wooden wall-panels are rough, but pleasantly so, the silken tablecloths are warmer than he would have guessed, the books on the shelves intriguingly irregular.
He is not surprised that the lumpy, worn-looking armchairs are so comfortable, because his mother's furniture is the same. Their cushions wrap around his body in a soft mould; his wife slides into his arms and moulds herself to his body as well, cocooning him in bliss.
The silence of these snow-covered woods is perplexingly welcoming instead of eerie like in the forests of Scotland. Most sounds are hidden away, buried in the warm cosy homes: laughter and quarrels, music and chatter, pottering and tinkering…
Outside, it is the little sounds that acquire importance in the still silence: Bill's heavy steps on the crunchy snow, the slightly irritating rustle of the skis he still cannot use properly, his muttered curses when he falls yet again in a sprawled heap.
And Fleur's crystalline laugh that rings out so sweetly: to Bill, the most beautiful sound in the world.
The biting air outside is fresh and odourless, carrying barely a hint of wet wood and hay; inside, smells explode and mix with enthralling richness: the pungent cigars, the acrid but warming stove smoke, the decorations of cinnamon sticks and dry orange slices, the slightly floral and herbal hints from the household linens and most of all, the gorgeously aromatic scents coming from the kitchen, strong tones of wine and meat and rich desserts, sprinkled with sour accents in perfect balance with fruity or tangy aromas…
And always, Fleur's captivating perfume trailing enticingly in the crowded rooms, ensnaring Bill's senses.
Wrapped in his scarf, Bill is almost grateful for the unpleasant woolly taste, comfortingly familiar against an overwhelming cuisine, full of amazing cinnamon pears and homemade elderberry marmalade, textured cheeses and intense wines.
Oftentimes, Fleur's grandfather sails regally into the kitchen and, crowned with a Chef's hat, produces pork in wine sauce and candied onions, potatoes dripping with butter, spicy tartes and fragrant croissants …
He glares so fiercely as he serves his creations that even intrepid Bill is intimidated; but then he forgets the patriarch because Fleur is licking her lips in delight, making Bill's insides twist with desire…