Morning dawned unremarkably—-windless, gray, the air compacted with mist. Dark, gogglelike glasses, with leather shields at the temples, concealed her eyes. I rather like it here, you know. Her plan was to ride east along the river, to follow its course through the mountains. She closed her eyes, emptying her mind. Only when she had cleared this space would the voice emerge. It came from the same place dreams did, like wind from a cave, whispering into her ear.
Alicia, you are not alone. Come to me. Come home. The day was just ending when Peter returned to the house. Above him, the immense Utah sky was breaking open in long fingers of color against the deepening blue. An evening in early autumn: the nights were cold, the days still fair. He made his way homeward along the murmuring river, his pole over his shoulder, the dog ambling at his side. In his bag were two fat trout, wrapped in golden leaves. As he approached the farmstead, he heard music coming from the house. He removed his muddy boots on the porch, put down his bag, and eased inside.
Amy was sitting at the old upright piano, her back facing the door. He moved in quietly behind her.
So total was her concentration that she failed to notice his entry. He listened without moving, barely with breath.
Her fingers moved nimbly up and down the keyboard, not so much playing the notes as calling them forth. The song was like a sonic embodiment of pure emotion.
There was a deep heartache inside its phrases, but the feeling was expressed with such tenderness that it did not seem sad. It made him think of the way time felt, always falling into the past, becoming memory. The song had ended without his noticing. As he placed his hands on her shoulders, she shifted on the bench and tilted her face upward.
He bent to receive her kiss. Her beauty was astonishing, a fresh discovery every time he looked at her. He tipped his head at the keys. He told her he did; he loved it.
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It made him think of so many things, he said. It was hard to put into words. Her hair was freshly washed, smelling of the herbs she used to soften the harsh lye. He moved through the kitchen to the back door and into the yard.
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The garden was fading; soon it would sleep beneath the snow, the last of its bounty put up for winter. The dog had gone off on his own. His orbits were wide, but Peter never worried; always he would find his way home before dark. At the pump Peter filled the basin, removed his shirt, splashed water on his face and chest, and wiped himself down.
The last rays of sun, ricocheting off the hillsides, lay long shadows on the ground. It was the time of day he liked best, the feeling of things merged into one another, everything held in suspension. As the darkness deepened he watched the stars appear, first one and then another and another. He started the fire, cleaned his catch, and set the soft white meat in the pan with a dollop of lard.
Amy came outside and sat beside him while they watched their dinner cook. They ate in the kitchen by candlelight: the trout, sliced tomatoes, a potato roasted in the coals. Afterward they shared an apple. In the living room, they made a fire and settled on the couch beneath a blanket, the dog taking his customary place at their feet. They watched the flames without speaking; there was no need for words, all having been said between them, everything shared and known. When a certain time had passed, Amy rose and offered her hand. Carrying candles, they ascended the stairs. In the tiny bedroom under the eaves they undressed and huddled beneath the quilts, their bodies curled together for heat.
At the foot of the bed, the dog exhaled a windy sigh and lowered himself to the floor. A good old dog, loyal as a lion: he would remain there until morning, watching over the two of them. All his life he had wanted to be known by just one person. Love was being known. Some time had passed.
His mind, afloat in the dimensionless space between sleep and waking, had wandered to old memories. That night in the barn when the viral attacked. For a moment, Amy was silent.
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Had she? And what could she mean by such a statement? At the time of the attack, he had been in Colorado, many miles and days away. How could he have been the one? The farmstead is special. Past and present and future are all the same. You were there in the barn because you needed to be. Not for you. But the time will come when it does. To save Caleb. Caleb, his boy.
He felt a sudden, overwhelming sadness, an intense and yearning love. Tears rose to his throat. So many years. So many years gone by. He was. So very, very tired. He felt the years in his bones. A memory touched down in his mind, of looking at his face in the river. When was that? A week ago, a month, a year? His reflection wavered in the current.
The deep creases and sagging jowls, the pockets of flesh beneath eyes dulled by time, and his hair, what little remained, gone white, like a cap of snow. Amy gave no answer. Peter understood, then, what she was telling him. Not just that he would die, as everyone must, but that death was not the end. He would remain in this place, a watchful spirit, outside the walls of time. That was the key to everything; it opened a door beyond which lay the answer to all the mysteries of life.
Everything inexplicably intact, the larder stocked, curtains on the windows and dishes on the table, as if it were waiting for them. It was his one true home in the world. Lying in the dark, he felt his chest swell with contentment. There were things he had lost, people who had gone. All things passed away.
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Even the earth itself, the sky and the river and the stars he loved, would, one day, come to the end of their existence.