He whirled and stumbled toward the closet to seize down an avalanche of boxes and albums. In the dark he scrabbled, then pulled on the closet light, tossed aside six albums until finally, dragging another forth and riffling pages, he gave a cry, stopped, and held a photo close, then turned and moved blindly to the window.
There he stared down at the lawn and then at the photograph, very old, very yellowed with age.
Yes, yes, the same! The image struck his eyes and then his heart. His whole body shook, made an immense pulsation, as he leaned at the album, leaned on the window frame, and almost shouted:
You! How dare you come back! How dare you be young! How dare you be what? A girl untouched, wandering late on my lawn!? You were never that young! Never! Damn, oh, damn your warm blood, damn your wild soul!
But this he did not shout or say.
For something in his eyes, like a beacon, must have flashed.
The crying of the young woman on the lawn stopped.
She looked up.
At which instant the album fell from his fingers, through the burst-wide screen, and down like a dark bird fluttering to strike the earth.
The young man gave a muted cry, whirled, and ran. “No, no!” he cried aloud. “I didn’t mean-come back!” He was down the stairs and out on the porch in a matter of seconds. The door slammed behind him like a gunshot. The explosion nailed him to the rail, half down to the lawn, where there was nothing to be seen but footprints. Either way, up the street lay empty sidewalks and shadows under trees. A radio played off in an upstairs window in a house behind trees. A car passed, murmuring, at a far intersection.
“Wait,” he whispered. “Come back. I shouldn’t have said-“
He stopped. He had said nothing, but only thought it. But his outrage, his jealousy?
She had felt that. She had somehow heard. And now. ..?
She’ll never come back, he thought. Oh God!
He sat on the porch steps for a while, quietly biting his knuckle.
At three in the morning, in bed, he thought he heard a sigh and soft footsteps in grass, and waited. The photo album lay closed on the floor. Even though it lay shut, he could see and know her face. And it was utterly impossible, utterly insane.
His last thought before sleep was: ghost.
The strangest ghost that ever walked.
The ghost of someone dead.
The ghost of someone who died very old.
But somehow come back not as her old self.
But a ghost that was somehow young.
Weren’t ghosts always, when they returned, the same age as when they died?
Not this one anyway.
“Why . ..?” he whispered.
And dream took over the whisper.
One night passed and then another and another, and there was nothing on the lawn but the light of a moon that changed its face from outright stare to half grimace.
The first night a more than ordinarily casual cat crossed the yard at two a.m.
The second night a dog trotted by, wearing his tongue half out of his mouth like a loosely tied red cravat, smiling at trees.
The third night a spider spent from twelve-twenty-five until four a.m. building a baroque clockface on the air between lawn and trees, which a bird broke in passing at dawn.
He slept most of Sunday and awoke with a fever that was not an illness at dusk.
Late in the twilight of the fifth day, the color of the sky somehow promised her return, as did the way the wind leaned against the trees and the look of the moon when it finally rose to set the scene.
“All right,” he said, half aloud. “Now.” But at midnight, nothing.
“Come on,” he whispered.
One o’clock, nothing.
You must, he thought.
No, you will.
He slept for ten minutes and woke suddenly at two-ten, knowing that when he went to the window-
She would be there.
At first, he didn’t see her, and groaned, and then, in the shadow of the great oak far out on the edge of the lawn, he saw something move, and one foot came out, and she took a step and stood very still.