When he opened the door, he saw the face. Until the door had been fully opened, the patterns of the face had been forgotten, a configuration confined to the past and a dusty closet of his mind. For five years before the door opened, he dwelt with a certainty that he would never see that face again. It seemed that his hand gripped the screen door again, opened the door again, that it creaked as though a draft had caught it and sent it swinging. It seemed the face looked up to his again. He was caught in the moment. The galaxy of his mind revolved around the event.
It must have been four in the morning. She smiled wanly, weakly. He bluntly stared at that coy smile, an image from another lifetime, here and now, greeting him at his own doorstep.
“Kyle,” she said. “I’ve come back to you. Let me in.”
For a moment, he recalled the night she ran out on him, and then he swept the recollection away. Kyle dropped his gaze. He looked away from her face, ghostly pale in the moonlight. Looking at the floor, he placed a thumbnail against his lip and curled his index finger around it, covering his mouth. Kyle looked down, said nothing, but stood squarely in the doorway.
“I…” he began, but he drifted into a search. With his eyes, he wandered over his land; with his mind he rummaged for words, for a solution.
The entire yard was garden. He had planted it, the flowers, the roses, the vegetable patch, and the apple and the plum, and of course the great sycamore tree. He didn’t weed the garden anymore, didn’t even plant. The vines and peas reseeded themselves; the apples and plums fell to the ground unless the children from neighboring farms came in the night to raid the trees. He feasted on it all with his eyes, laughed at his neighbors’ young as they conducted their incursions and made their retreats, content until he saw her face again. Not inside – he wasn’t going to let her inside.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said.
“I’ve come a long way,” she came back, her voice pleading. “Let me in. We’ll talk.”
He raised his hand, directing her away from the doorway. “Under the big tree, then – you always liked the bench swing there in the shade.”
She nodded her consent. If being denied entry had provoked sullenness, it was buried beneath fatigue, beneath an immense absence of rest. Her very existence was absence of rest. They moved together, silently, away from the doorway.
She swung the bench with her fingertips; it swayed as if a breeze had done it. Then she sat. He sat beside her.
“What shall we talk about?” he asked.
She looked to him, and then away.
“Do you want to know why I left you? Should I explain?”
“No,” he answered.
“You don’t want to know?”
“When we were married, you had the right to have as many discussions on our relationship as you wished, but you chose not to. You had the right to ask me to go to marriage counseling, or to work with you through some self-help book – anything. You didn’t make any of those choices. You just walked out. Now that you are not married to me, you no longer have those rights. You have no right to make me endure listening to some lecture about what I did wrong in our marriage.”
She bit at her lip. Obviously not the way this should go.
He felt her discomfort, and changed the course of their conversation. He had no mind to be cruel. “I looked for the car, you know. I want you to know I looked.”
She gave a nervous little laugh, began to speak rapidly: “You would think somebody would have found our car by now. It’s just off the road, and a lot of people go down that road, but it’s in a deep gully. It ran downhill through the trees. It was really scary. It’s so steep there, and at the end it went over this little rock wall.”
She paused here. Kyle could see it was difficult for her to recall it.
“The car’s on its side,” she continued. “The wheels are up against the rock wall. The driver’s side is in the water. With all the bushes on top of that wall, you could walk right by without seeing it. It’s pretty thick there. It’s been five years Kyle. I don’t think anyone’s going to find it.”
He was silent. He stood. He kept her behind him, so that he didn’t have to look at her. Instead, he surveyed the house and gardens.
“It’s been five years for me too,” he said. “I’m comfortable here now. I’ve found true rest.”
“There,” he pointed, “beneath the sycamore. I like it there. The sycamore’s so huge. I always liked it there.”
“Let me into the house,” she urged. “I could make it like it used to be.”
He blew out a sighing gust. “You’re speaking in clichés now.”
“And I’ll stay with you here forever this time. You know I will. I’ll have to.” She stepped to him, put her arms around his bicep. “I’m with you now.”
“Not yet,” he answered in a sharp whisper. “You haven’t crossed my threshold yet.”
She withdrew a pace and stood for a moment, and then returned to the bench swing, sitting silently. He didn’t know where to direct the conversation next.
“Was there someone you were running to?” he asked.
Maybe if he knew there hadn’t been someone else that would make a difference. He couldn’t have said how.
“No – I was only running away.”
“Maybe you should keep going. Maybe it would be better for the both of us.”
She tried to laugh. “Now who’s speaking in clichés?”
“Why did you come back to me?”
She shrugged. “You didn’t want to know why I left.”
“You’re here. I need to know why.”
“I can’t go to a stranger. You see me as I was; they would see me as I am now.”
As I am now – five years in that car, in the water, in the wild. He thought briefly about raccoons.
“Kyle,” she pleaded, “it’s almost dawn.”
“I’m going back inside.”
He was inside. He faced the screen door. She stood on the porch again, facing in. “Kyle!” she pleaded.
The dawn was coming. After five years, he could feel it. He turned to the dust-covered living room. As if a breeze had blown, the screen door swung shut. He stepped away.
She flurried about the old porch, but the aged wooden steps didn’t creak.
He heard the last words through the door: Let me in…
The Sun dawned on the farmyard.
He turned to the living room, where the rope hung before they cut it down. He, of course, could still see it there. He would see it forever. Now, with the dawn almost to his window, he knew that her face would be behind the front door when he opened it tomorrow, but he also knew that when he opened the door, it would be the same shock.
The Sun’s rays reached through his window, smeared with five years’ of grime.