“I miss you.” Sarah sat on the stone bench and gazed at the rolling landscape, filled with rows of grey headstones marking the graves of those who now slumbered. The grass, a new-sprung green, blanketed the ground around each headstone with the color of life. It was April, after all. In the middle of the cemetery stood an old Cherry Blossom whose blossoms had unfurled, revealing a refreshing breath of pink. Sarah closed her eyes and tilted her head slightly back as a smile began to lazily stretch its way across her face. A cool breeze played with her auburn curls as she breathed in deeply, inhaling the aftermath of the rainstorm that had swept in the night before. It smelled of dirt and worms, the organic smell of decomposition. She released her breath in a long, drawn-out sigh. “I wish it hadn’t ended.”
Nathan sat quietly beside Sarah, but it was not the remnants of the rainstorm that overwhelmed his senses but Sarah’s perfume. Shalimar. It was the same drugstore brand Sarah’s grandmother had worn. Sarah wore it as a way to keep her grandmother’s memory alive. Nathan chuckled to himself. Sarah had always been sentimental. It was one of the things that had endeared her to him. “I miss you too. But you know we can’t go back.”
“Yes, I know.” Sarah opened her eyes. The large gray cloud looming over the cemetery moments ago had disappeared, leaving a cluster of smaller ones behind, creating space for a patch of blue sky to reveal itself. “I’m finally going.”
Nathan raised his eyebrows. “Really? The Northern Lights? That’s wonderful, Sarah. You always wanted to go.”
Sarah looked into Nathan’s eyes and saw a fleck of sadness. They were the deepest brown, nearly black, like dark pools of chocolate. She could get lost in their depths. She wanted more than anything to reach out her hand and extend her fingers until the tips touched his face. She still held onto the memories of their time together. The late nights drinking wine and playing backgammon. Candlelight sessions of cribbage while they made plans, big plans, for a life together. The places they would travel, the sights they would see. The world had seemed so big. But that was thirty years ago, and even the best-laid plans could not prevent the inevitable end of their love affair. They had been married for only nine years, two months shy of ten, before it came to an end. Sarah cringed, and a sharp pain shot through her at the memory of their last night together. “It should have been us going. Why couldn’t it have been us?”
“Don’t do that, Sarah. Life has been good to you. Who knows, maybe even better than if we would have had a life together.” Nathan smiled weakly at her. He said the words, but he didn’t mean them. He loved Sarah more than anything. “How is Eliza?”
“She’s good. Real good. Jim got the promotion. Just in time too. The baby should be coming in June.”
“Sarah is going to be a grandmother. Look at that!” Nathan winked playfully.
“And Nathan’s going to be a grandfather. Look at that!” Sarah’s laughter startled a finch perched on the headstone a short distance in front of them, and it took flight.
“I guess I’ve really aged, haven’t I, Nathan? But you, you haven’t changed a bit.”
“You’re as beautiful as the day I first met you. What were you? Eighteen? Nineteen?”
“Nineteen. It was at the 4H Fair.”
“Yes, that’s it. We were on the same hayride.”
“And it got stuck in the mud.”
“That’s right. I saw you sitting in the front of the wagon with that fellow. What was his name?”
“Ha! Jim Bray. And there you were with your red hair in the sunlight, looking like fire. So prim and proper. And I thought that’s her. That’s the girl I’m going to marry. How can I possibly get her attention away from Jim Bray, all-star running back?”
“And you thought getting the whole wagon singing that silly song would do it, what was it called-“
“Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavor-“
“On the Bed Post Overnight!” Sarah laughed at the memory. “I thought you were crazy.”
“I was. Crazy for you. Have been ever since. And it worked, didn’t it? Married you the next year. 1962 was a good year, wasn’t it, Sarah?”
They stared at one another, allowing a comfortable silence to settle between them. It had been twenty-one years since they had been separated. Though Sarah had moved on with her life, going on to marry a second time to an ordinary man named Hal, who was good to her and Eliza, she had never stopped loving Nathan. So many nights, when the lights had been turned out and Hal’s deep snore resonated throughout the room like a wild hog in the throes of death, Sarah would conjure up an image of Nathan. His chestnut hair flowing in waves down to his broad shoulders. The great expanse of his chest and how whenever she found herself in his arms, it felt just like coming home. He smelled of sweat and sunshine, and she could remember just how good the salt tasted on his skin. The longing to feel his lips again was so deep it filled her with an unbearable ache. But then the sun would rise, and Sarah would put those thoughts of Nathan away.
“I have to go now. It’s getting late. The clouds are moving back in. You can smell the rain in the air.” Sarah stood up, and Nathan stood beside her. The familiar pain of their goodbyes filled her eyes with tears.
“Don’t cry, Sarah. You’re going to hold our grandchild soon. Right? Two more months. And you’re going to see those Northern Lights. You’ll tell me all about it next year. Ok? I’ll meet you back here at our bench. Same time, same place.”
Sarah turned her back to Nathan and took several steps to the headstone on which the finch had been perched. She retrieved a flower from her bag and laid it gently on top. Engraved on the stone face were the words:
In Loving Memory
Nathan Lewis Updyke
She looked back at the stone bench. Nathan was gone. Sarah wiped a stray tear from her cheek, “Same time, same place.”
Categories: Literary Lounge