Claudette was the first person to meet the stranger when he arrived in the Rolle boat harbour on that wind ruffled afternoon in late October. The sky had been overcast for days and early signs of winter were there but all the locals knew that the real winter was a long way off.
She had finished work at Boccards around three and instead of going straight home she wandered along the lakeside towards Lausanne, past the closed down caravan park and cafe to what is known as the beach. It didn’t look like much of a beach that day, with restless seagulls arguing with ducks and swans beneath the swarthy sky for the scraps of floating weed. The fact that a month ago she had been swimming in the lake right here and sneaking in a bit of topless sunbathing seemed totally out of the question now. She remembered the last day that she swam here. That French artist staying in the old Kombi van at the caravan park asked her if she would pose nude for him if he gave her an original drawing. For more than a moment it seemed like a fun option but Claudette did not need another naked drawing of herself. She had a box full of them in her art studio. There was something about the artist she didn’t trust. If he had just come straight out and said he wanted to have sex with her she may have went along for the ride. But he complemented her. Told her what a fantastic body she had and how with her amazing natural beauty and his art school of Paris honed and crafted talent it was a perfect artistic combination.
No Claudette could get sex whenever she wanted it on her terms. Besides she never trusted those weasily French artists with their waxed-thin mustaches. Her first college professor had one. She fell under his spell and during her first nude sitting she found herself under him. But that was something too painful to think about today.
The trees along the eastern end of the beach gave protection from the wind. Still there was no warmth to hold onto her body underneath the white Esprit quilted vest. Claudette for no conscious reason was feeling as unsettled as the weather. Maybe her period was due not that that inconvenience bothered her much these days. Work was the same as always. She loved the ‘bon ami’ of the customers at Boccards. The work wasn’t mentally challenging but it gave her social intercourse and energy to work on her art at night and her days off. Maybe it was just what they called the restless forties in all those women’s magazines that she glanced at in the hairdressers but never read. Anyway she knew it would pass like this cloud filled day into sunshine and pale blue skies or snow.
Walking back along the lake towards the castle she watched a white swan and five almost fully grown grey cygnets paddle proudly around the children’s playground heading in the direction of the stone steps behind the castle where strangers and locals alike would feed them bread. There was no hint of an ugly duckling in this family. The playground was festooned with activity. Colourfully dressed children helping themselves to fun while their mothers and fathers watched on with mobile phones pressed hard up against their beanies. She could even remember the man and what looked like his grandson feeding the ducks on the tiny jetty opposite the island, chaos surrounding them as the ducks scrambled for each pellet of processed matter that they judged to be better than what they could find on the surface of their home. Much like take-away food for us Claudette had thought at the time.
She couldn’t remember how long she had been sitting on the green painted seat at the end of the rock wall that formed a part of the Rolle boat harbour when she had first noticed the loud singing projecting from the sailing boat that was making it’s entry. She was the only person who had bothered to walk to the very end since she had sat down to be quiet and still. She noticed the name of the boat before the singing. The had ‘Gypsy Lover’ script written on purple paint.The name stood out more because it didn’t have a VD registration number painted on it but an FRA one, which meant it was a French vessel, probably from Thonon or Evian on the other side of the lake. It motored sweetly by between the two projecting rock walls that protected the boats from a lake that had a hidden nasty side to it’s usually calm personality from time to time. The Gypsy Lover, with an equally wild looking, grey-haired man at the tiller with a booming voice singing a song she had never heard before about a ‘wild colonial boy’. But she will never forget him. Not then and even more so now.
‘Comment ca va ma Swiss belle.’ were his first words to me in a very unreliable French accent, followed by ‘Je m’appelle Jack Doolan’. Well with a name like that I knew he certainly wasn’t French or Swiss. Then again what dealings I had had with sailors on the Mediterranean and this lake, most of them turned out to be vagabonds and liars. All they were interested in was themselves and what they could garner with their smooth stories. There is no reason why this one would be any different.
Lost in my daydreams and visions of my next art exhibition I had almost forgotten about this Jack Doolan character until he plonks himself down beside me on the green bench seat like some local with seat naming rights.
‘ Parle-vouz Francais madam?’ I glanced sideways to see this crooked, tanned face, with itinerant scars and grey stubble smiling back at me from the other end of the bench. But it is those milky-blue, other worldly eyes that I fall straight into that get me into trouble.
‘Parle-vouz Anglaise?’ It didn’t matter what language this stranger on a bench seat spoke to me in. I was already gone for all money. I could smell a hint of beer on his breath, the thick odor of Italian cigars on his clothes but I couldn’t stand up and walk away. I wouldn’t have been physically capable. I just kept looking into those blue pools and I found the answer to my restlessness. The calm, the solution. I don’t know you Jack Doolan I mumbled inside but I as sure as hell am going to.
‘Is you name really Jack Doolan?’
‘So English it is my sweet one. And a very harmonious French educated Swiss one at that I might add.’
He was so presumptuous this Jack and so accurate as well. His English accent really had me guessing. His world washed look gave me a bit of a hint but I was a central European kind of girl, more interested in artwork than bedding sailors. He definitely wasn’t from the UK or the USA.
‘No it’s not really Jack Doolan. But if I told you my real name I would have to lock you up in the Gypsy Lover and keep you quiet until my dying day.’ He was a most handsome man. Not young and gorgeous, but sandstone carved by the wind and the rain.
‘So Jack Doolan it will be.’ I managed to let out and unlock some personality.
‘Unless you change your mind and settle for the other option.’ he grinned back.
‘And what would your name be my lovely?’
‘Now Jack if I told you that I would have to lock you up in my attic and keep you there so that you could never set foot on a leaky old sailing boat again.’ I could feel my face catch fire from my heart heat.
He reached for my hand to shake it then bent down and kissed it so sensuously that I wanted to wrap my whole body around him there and then on the bench seat regardless of the weather and my pending period.
‘And what would a beautiful woman like you be doing in a sleepy village like Rolle... Claudette?’
My mind was whooshing. He’s a hypnotist. He’s gotta be a mesmerist of some type I thought. I felt compelled to be very un-Swiss and tell him my life story.
‘I’m an artist.’ I almost gulped out my admission.
Jack continued to look at me like a mongoose enchanting a snake, but in a supernally natural way.
‘Now Claudette it looks to me like we both have the opportunity to explore a friendship with benefits and options. It seems like we are both working in the same industry.’
‘You... an artist?’ Now that was a definite lie and come on line.
‘Judge not enchantress. I said we were in the same industry.’ He lent in so close to me I could see every woman he’d ever seduced. ‘I’m more tied up in the wholesale side of things.’
And without thinking beyond that moment I lent into him and kissed his dry, wind-blown lips with my wet swollen ones. And that’s is how I met the stranger, this Jack Doolan, ‘the wild colonial boy’.