Returned for Spring
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
There is one hour to go.
I am nervous. I know you are not here yet, but I must begin talking to you now. The butterflies in my stomach are driving me crazy. My nerves have been building all day, and now I think I might be sick. In my mind, I hear your voice,
"You have got this."
Four little words, and it works. It works every time.
I can picture your crooked, asymmetrical smile and that little wink you used to give me if I was too far away to hear your voice. It was that smile and wink I fell in love with so long ago.
Back then, I was working in the Irish bar on The East Terrace in Adelaide. You’d drop in every Friday night, at seven on the hour for your glass of wine. You meant it to appear casual, of course, but I knew that secretly you were hoping to find me behind the bar so you could work that old magic. And it worked. God, you looked so beautiful.
But that was a lifetime ago.
I have picked a Merlot ready for you tonight: a 2016 bottle of ‘Bird in the Hand.’
Fifty minutes to go.
I put the bottle of Merlot in the fridge. You taught me this trick.
My mind drifts back to the past.
I remember laughing at you.
"Who chills a red wine?"
You chuckled at me, gave me that special wink.
"Only a genius, an absolute genius!"
I shook my head but took the suggestion, and you were right; you were often right.
We danced around each other for weeks until that night in September, unable to admit how we felt. Until the day I told you it was my birthday.
You rolled your eyes and grinned.
"I just know. And guess what? I even brought you a present."
I sensed a trick and stepped back; I wasn’t one for surprises.
Before I could finish my sentence, you flung your arms around my neck and kissed me.
It was our first kiss, deep and warm, and I knew then I would love you forever.
You will be impressed with my cooking; I am fussing over it now. Everything is perfect; it needs nothing doing. One more final-final check quiets my mind and calms me.
Our menu is boeuf Bourguignon, except I cooked it with Guinness to give us that Irish bar nostalgia. I’m pairing it with creamed lemon rice, and roasted beetroot salad tossed with Roquefort and cider vinegar. You will be impressed with the new skills I have picked up since we have been apart.
I run my hands through my hair and drag my palms over my eyes, cringing at the memory of the last time I cooked such a special meal for you. But, don’t worry, this one will be much different from the dinner I served the night we got engaged.
I had had it all planned out— like tonight. Only, back then, I burnt the food and could get nothing right. You were strange, slightly off. The evening didn’t feel the way I had imagined it would, so I changed my mind—not from marrying you— I decided to postpone the moment. As the dinner went on, you drank more than usual, drank far past the point of decency. At the time, I had no idea why, but at least I was certain it was the right decision to delay. When I brought out dessert, you dropped down on one knee and proposed to me! It turned out you had overheard me telling my plans to my sister on the phone, and it had made you feel overwhelmed. I burst into laughter, accepted your awkward proposal and brought out the ring. After I slipped it on your finger, we spent the rest of the night in the toilet with me stroking your hair as you groaned and hugged the bowl. I don't think I have ever been happier.
Thirty minutes to go.
I decide I don't like my shirt, and I’m going upstairs to change. I’m older and fatter than when you last saw me. What do you think? Vertical stripes? More slimming? I go with the pinstripes. I have been sweating too much. Better jump in the shower again.
You must know that the whole time we have been apart, there has been no one else.
No one would—could—ever compare.
I hope they told you that, let you know. I never strayed; my heart stayed true.
If something happened, wherever you ended up, and there was someone else, I want you to know I don't care.
It doesn't matter; only tonight matters, nothing else.
Ten minutes to go.
I think you will like where I live now. I picked a house by the river, and I’ve put the table for us to eat outside under a towering cherry blossom tree.
Bistro style. Your favourite.
The petals look like candy floss today. In one more week, the wind will pick up, and the sky will fill with flurries of pink snow.
I dash to the fridge and pull out the bottle. Cool to the touch: perfect. I open it and let it breathe.
I found this place at precisely this time of year. I have always looked for the most beautiful places in April. I found this place by chance, and it was for sale. It counterbalances that April many years ago when we were driving to town.
We were goofing around with the stereo, singing the songs. Then you drove through that junction, and the truck slammed into the driver's side.
Stopped and went dark.
I check my watch. You should have been here by now! My nerves are buzzing; my hands shake.
Flowers will help.
I have daffodils still blooming in the garden. I cut a few to put in a vase and add them to the table. The task steadies my hands.
You always did love daffodils.
I remember that day at the beach when we over-indulged on ice cream. You explained to me how their real name was narcissus, named after the Greek God, who fell in love with his reflection and was doomed to be tormented by it for eternity. You also told me the word refers to narcotics, and they can be prepared as a poison. So daffodils, narcissus—they are the flowers of the dead.
When that truck hit our car, I was told I was clinically dead for twelve minutes.
You were dead . . . for . . . longer.
You’re not supposed to remember where you go when you die. I think it's one of the rules. It didn't work for me; I remember everything.
We were different when we crossed over, no longer corporeal, only energy, two essences floating in the ether, then we entwined and became one. The euphoria and ecstasy of those moments were the most incredible feelings of my life. We had become two halves of the same whole.
Where are you? Why are you not here?!
I have done everything I was asked to do!
When we were on the other side, they separated us.
Split us brutally apart.
They told me I couldn't continue on, told me to return, that it was not my time. I want you to know: I fought them. I refused! Then they threatened me. I still refused! I didn't care about living if it wasn't with you. Then they informed me I would never be allowed to join you if I did not return. That was a sobering thought, yet, still, I fought! They threatened me again, told me there were other places I could be sent; then they threatened you and said there were other places you could be sent. That thought terrified me, but I need you to know I still refused to give you up.
Tears flow. If you arrive now, what will you think? I'm a mess. I pour myself a glass of wine, deciding to start without you. I put the second bottle of wine in the fridge.
It tastes good, but not as good as sharing it.
Something is wrong, something doesn't feel right!
I am afraid now.
If—when— you arrive, you may find me a blubbering drunk wreck.
While I was fighting for you on the other side, a more reasonable voice came into the debate.
“The universe in its entirety is like a machine: infinitely connected in endless ways. Our purpose is to do our job inside the machine and move on. You are a vital cog; you have work to do. Your job is not yet finished. If you do not return, your small cog could go out of sync and break the machine. If this happens, the machine will need repairing, which is costly for everyone and everything on so many levels.”
But, I did not want to be a cog! Not without turning alongside you! I told them I did not care for their machine. So we talked, we negotiated; my twelve minutes felt like a lifetime.
I don't need to tell you that; you already know time flows differently on their side.
At last, we brokered a deal: I play the cog, and in return, after I’m through you come back to me. I called it my Persephone Contract.
I have played their game and moved the pieces around the board. It’s time they fulfil their end of the bargain. It’s time you come home to me! It has been twenty years, and finally, my tiny cog has done all its turning. They have no more hoops for me to jump. I am finally surplus to requirements.
Today is the day: they chose the time, and I picked the place. The waiting has come to an end.
At first, the beauty of the evening filled me with hope, but now the doubts sneak in. Have I been duped? It could be the night drawing to a close, but I could swear the world is slowly losing its colour. The skies have turned grey, changing the light.
I fulfilled my part; why are you not here?
I walk down to the river and look at the stone steps. I catch my reflection, but unlike Narcissus, what I see disgusts me.
Then I see a flicker, a twinkling light born from deep down in the depths! A spark of emerald explodes into a cacophony of activity. Pulsing and growing, the illumination spreads throughout the silt. My breath catches in my throat as slowly a head rises from the glow, it ascends through the water and out to the surface, followed by shoulders and a body.
I know it’s you but I cannot see your face. Your hair is wet and plastered in front of your eyes. You arise with such silence, such ominous intent.
My heart skips a beat. I had never imagined how you would look when you returned. Frozen with expectation and shock, I am terrified. My wine glass falls to the ground, breaking into a million shards, but I barely notice.
You climb the stairs and sweep your hair back from your face.
There you are at the top of the stone steps, wearing your skinny jeans and that old check shirt of mine you took the scissors to and fashioned into something different, something new.
You’ve not aged a day.
Then that asymmetrical smile comes beaming out, and you give me that wink.
Still working that old magic.
My heart aches with pain and longing.
Just like Persephone, you have returned.
Returned for Spring.
I rush towards you and embrace you.
The world melts away; for the first time in forever, it feels like home.
I tried to do something different with this piece.
I removed all the obvious gender pronouns for the two characters. If I did it well, then this is the first time you noticed.
I did not do it to achieve any political message.
I wanted to see that if by removing he and she and his and hers, the reader can reflect their own preference and desired orientation on to the story.
I hope it worked.
Please do not hesitate to share my story if you feel it will be of interest to others.
I have more stories here. Enjoy and thank you for this read.