They’d been married once. Younger then, their lives had been a collage of rain dimpling a duck pond, wishing games in the high branches of the evergreens, intimate meals in the kitchen and nights that grew richer with familiarity.

Theirs was a strange, almost inarticulate love best captured in the mornings she’d fall asleep at her easel, exhausted over a night’s work, or the cold-coffee dawns he’d come home with a split lip and nothing to show for a week on the road with his combo.

“I like it.”
“You don’t think the trees are too green?”
“They’re beautiful.”
“I’m glad you’re home.”
“Me too.”
“How much do we owe the landlord?”
“I’m glad you’re home. The landlord will keep.”

There were, as well, those funny/sad times when the edge cut so deep it blunted itself on midnight cornflake conversations.

“What are you doing still up?”
“Couldn’t sleep. What’s your excuse?”
“I missed you. Go for a walk?”
“Like this?”
“You look fine.”

And then they’d stroll the quiet streets, reaping a clear night star harvest, or stand alone on the levee, watching the moon play on the rolling glass river. Sometimes it was back to the all-night coffee shop, where they would sit across from each other without talking, or needing to. Theirs was the rule of no apology, and that gentle dictate blessed their lives for two years and a season.

Then time and an era caught up with them.

His best friend was killed in battle over Thanksgiving, and she sold two of her canvases, only to learn they’d been purchased for their frames. She began her rage at one end of town, he his at the other, and they met in the heat of it all at the coffee shop. She cursed him for something he said, and he slapped her. In a moment of absolute terror, they told each other they were sorry.

He came back 18 months later with a limp and a double row of campaign ribbons. They talked over coffee, and he whistled at the prices her paintings were bringing. She reached out to touch the gaunt planes of his cheeks. They dined together, then went walking.

Along dusty country lanes, they played in rainbow leaves, chased squirrels and waded in the Indian summer silt of bullfrog ponds. They renamed the trees and called the southbound geese by the colors of the palette. She memorized the gentle strength of his hands and heard the quiet joy of words a cordite-parched throat could barely speak. Loves was theirs once more — and for an emerald instant — time and an era left them in peace.

When he returned to stay, she met him at the airport and saw him through the final mile home. He never smiled or told her how glad he was to see her. She never mentioned how much she had missed him. When the final strains of epitaph faded into the eternal chill,

she walked home and sat down on the living room couch.

Rain fell softly beyond her.

© 1990 Merritt Scott Miller