Almost Nightfall

An older couple contemplates life on a sunny afternoon.

     Emma nodded when the pond came into view, and John slowed the sedan onto the roadside and quieted the engine. They eased out and pulled a blanket and a brimming wicker basket from the back seat. They surveyed the pond. It was filled with geese today, the birds having also claimed the embankment. They moved to the water’s edge and he spun the blanket outward. The geese scattered far enough to allow the cloth to drift to the ground in an almost perfect square. The valley’s familiar diversions - the white steeple a mile away, and copses scattered acres apart - poked above the low brush. The afternoon heat was building, and John eased onto his elbows as he listened to the rustlings in the bramble, eventually falling asleep to the valley’s natural rhythms.

     He awoke to the rustling of paper. Emma had pulled a wrinkled bag from the basket. It was filled with the ends of bread loaves, which she tore apart, scattering the crumbs about her as she rose and circled the water. The bits of dough drew the attention of three goslings, and they waddled behind her nuzzling at the smallest pieces. Emma delighted in their odd parade until a large goose made chase. Honking, with her wings spread, the dithered fowl corralled her brood and marched them away. Emma turned, and laughed an undignified laugh before offering her apology for the intrusion.

     Alone, John lowered his glasses which he had set across his brow, and placed them on the tip of his nose. From his back pocket he withdrew an envelope that bore an elegant script running its length. Inside, the typed sheets of the will were long, luxuriant, nearly the texture of parchment, and bound together by brass fasteners. He scrutinized the words, and as Emma returned, still bright from her encounter, he extended the pages to her. Her smile evaporated, and she turned away, shooing the elderly man with a wave. He motioned for her to sit next to him. Instead, Emma closed her eyes and tilted her head toward the sun. When she lifted her hat’s brim to expose most of her lined face, he withdrew the pages and folded them away.

     Again, she left their modest encampment. This time to walk a graveled path, her arms in a fold, her nape at a gentle arch. Emma wore thick-soled shoes for the outing, and she kicked and poked at the small rocks, often unearthing the stones from her path. Not until much later, when the air had cooled, and Emma had returned and wrapped herself in a thick sweater, and each of their shadows had distorted, did the couple relinquish the day.

     The geese left singly throughout the afternoon and now none remained. John folded the blanket in halves, aligning the ends perfectly until it tucked neatly under his arm. His hand found the small of Emma’s back and he guided her through the gloaming. It was almost nightfall when they drove through the valley, and the beams of light bounced unpredictably over their irregular road.

The End

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