It‘s been a sweltering day, moving slowly into an exhausting, hot night. It’s been a day when the sun softens the world with heat and paints everything with gold, a day when all there is to be done is lie in the shade fanning yourself with a napkin, a day to spend sucking at ice lollies or eating strawberries or twisting your hair in your hand so it doesn’t stick to the back of your neck.
* * *
Though it had been a day for doing nothing, we did everything.
I took the kids down to swim in the river. When we got back to the house, I let them run on the grass in the garden to dry off. For a while I chased them, laughing hysterically and tickling them, but then the heat got the better of me, and I went inside. It was too hot to cook, so I made a sort of salad for dinner. I watched through the window as the children chased each other, collapsed with fatigue, and chased once again.
After, I called them in, and we ate the makeshift salad with bread and butter. We drank lots of lemonade and ate lots of ice cream. I took them on a walk to the meadow and told them to be very, very quiet and not to move at all because then we’d see the rabbits. We wandered home through the dusk, and they put on their pyjamas. Becky pulled her nightshirt over her head but then stripped it off immediately because she was too hot, so I opened all the windows in their room and let them splash cold water on their faces. I told them a story. When I go back to check on them now, they’re asleep, but the blankets are in a heap on the floor.
Leaving the back door open, I go outside. It’s cooling down out here despite getting stuffier in the house. The shadows are growing longer and the gold light is fading to give way to night. I walk down the garden and lean on the back gate, watching the sunset. And then I see you.
You take your time coming up the lane that runs by the back of the house. You’re very close before I see your face, and I know for sure that it’s you. Long before that, I become very conscious of how faded the flowers are on the summer dress I’m wearing, of how tangled my hair is, and of how dirty the soles of my feet are because it had been too hot for shoes all day. When I see that it’s you, I feel dreamlike. Not that I think I’m asleep – I know it’s real, and that’s what makes it a dream.
When you finally reach me, you stop, so there’s nothing between us but that rusty gate. This was where you’d always kissed me goodnight. This was where the best kind of silence had always replaced the best kind of words. This was where you’d looked in my eyes and promised never to do what you’d done. This was where I’d waited for you every night for all of the first year you were gone.
Today, I wait for you to break the silence.
But you don’t. You look past me, up the garden towards the house that was our home, with a sort of longing in your eyes.
I wonder if you know about your lighter lying on my dressing table and how I used it that one time I tried to smoke after everyone claimed it’d help me relax. I wonder if you know about the way I kept buying your favourite tea bags for months. I wonder if you know how guilty I felt after I replaced those yellow curtains you picked out. If you know how I jumped down my sister’s throat when she sat in your chair on her visit. How I had to stop the clock because the ticking drove me mad. How much I cried after giving away your clothes. I wonder if you know how I broke all the china in the house after you were gone.
I wonder if you know just how angry I was.
But I’m doing well. I keep on telling myself I’m doing well. The pain is still there, but I’m learning to live with it without hurting too much, and I can manage almost a day without thinking of you. I met a nice guy at the meeting in the town hall — Michael he was called — and he invited me out for coffee and gave me flowers. He’s been around a few times, and the kids like him. Max climbed all over him, and Carrie sat on his knee and looked up at him with round, shy eyes. He tried to kiss me once. I turned my face away, so he got my cheek. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and maybe next time I’ll let him.
Shouldn’t you be the first one to speak? I don’t know what it is you’re here to say.
You touch my face. Your hand is familiar to me. And it’s so much better than fantasies or tear-soaked sheets or nights filled with silence.
“It’s time to let me go,” you whisper. I shake my head.
“Yes it is. It’s time,” you insist, your voice soft. “You’ve been holding on to me, and I’ve been holding onto you. But we’re both ready. It’s time.”
“You promised you’d never leave me,” I choke out. I think I’m crying.
“You know I had no choice,” you remind me gently. How have I managed for so long without you to remind me of things? “You know it was my time to die. Come on now. You’re ready. You can do it. You can let me go.”
I cry. And finally I nod. You lean forward and kiss my mouth. I close my eyes. When I open them, there’s nothing but the sunset and my fingers stroking thin air.
Carol McGill lives in Dublin, where she spends odious amounts of time procrastinating. She does, however, occasionally have productive periods which result in stories being written. Currently enjoying Transition Year, she is dreading September when the Leaving Cert gets real. Her story “A Summer’s Evening” has been previously published in an anthology called Words To Tie To Bricks.