She carried two wine glasses to the ring of chairs in the backyard and set them on the oak stump that her family had used as a fireside table for many years. A gathering point. This was routine by now; she’d cart out the glasses and the bottle again tomorrow night, certainly. The sun lay low behind waning trees, and the cold sky grew bruised in purple and orange. In sorrow, she slowly built a good fire.
If only, she thought, he could slide open the glass door of their home and walk down the hill to join her again.
He was there, watching. He liked to watch her do the small things that made a day. Brewing coffee in the French press, walking Barney up and down Sargasso Street, crocheting a floral pattern in the gently dim light of their living room. She’d answer game show trivia without ever looking up from her work. She laughed at her own jokes. Drinking wine and recounting their days.
She poured from a bottle of cabernet sauvignon, a slim bottle that would be empty before long. The fire was crackling nicely, and she stared into its warmth. The house stood above her, just up the knoll, sort of looming in an unavoidable way.
He sat down on the green chair across from her. She was wrapped in a red blanket, woolen and scented with time spent laughing on the couch together. Barney’s fur still clung to the weathered fabric. She felt warmer now—the fire, the blanket—but was she really? It’s impossible to say what happens in the space between mind and body. What does it mean to feel something? If she shivered, would she notice? Would he?
Of course he’d notice. He liked to watch her, noting small shifts in attitude and physical tone, not interjecting so much as leaning in and making his supportive presence known. Listening. When her father began to forget her name a few years back, he listened to her describe moments in her childhood that she’d never shared before. A steaming pot of coffee at the kitchen table. He’d called her by her sister’s name when she first took off on her bike, learning to ride and feeling a cresting, nervous pride when her father let go and watched her sail around the bend in the driveway. The young girl in 1981 rode for hours, whole weekends, up and down Sargasso Street in a long buried era.
They’d been excellent listeners, something their friends had remarked on over the years.
He tried to lean in now, passing through the small licks of flame in the backyard. He tried to say her name aloud, to correct all the fleeting moments that had gone wrong.
How long would it be like this?
She poured another glass. He lingered, floating, will-o’-the-wisp draping light across her downcast eyes. She poured another glass.