He held his breath, quieted his heart, told himself to turn, walk, and take each step down with precision, numbering them, fifteen, fourteen, thirteen, moving in darkness with no rush, six, five, four, and at last one. He opened the front screen door with only a whisper, and was on the porch without frightening what might be out beyond waiting for him.

Quietly, he moved down the porch steps to the edge of the lawn, like one who stands on the rim of a pond. Out in the center of that pond, the young woman stood, trapped like someone on thin ice that might at any moment break and drop her through.

She did not see him. And then …

She did a thing that was a signal. Tonight her hair was fixed in a knot at the back of her head. She lifted her white arms in a gesture and with one touch of her fingers, a touch of snow, loosened her hair.

It fell in a dark banner, to blow and repattern itself across her shoulders, which trembled with their shadows.

The wind stirred her hair in the night and moved it about her face and on her uplifted hands.

The shadows laid down by the moon under every tree leaned as if called by the motion.

The entire world shifted in its sleep.

The wind blew as the young woman waited.

But no footsteps sounded along the white sidewalks. No front doors opened far down the street. No windows were raised. No motion caused front porches to creak and shift.

He took another step out onto the small meadow of night.

“Who are you-?” she gasped, and stepped back. “No, no,” he said softly. “It’s all right.” Another trembling had taken over her body. Where before it had been some hope, some anticipation, now it was fear. One hand stopped her hair from blowing; the other half shielded her face.

“I’ll stand right here,” he said. “Believe me.” She waited a long while, staring at him until her shoulders relaxed and the lines around her mouth vanished. Her whole body sensed the truth of his words.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“I don’t either.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I don’t know.”

“What am I doing here?”

“You came to meet someone,” he said.

“Did I?”

The town clock struck three in the morning far away. She listened to it, her face shadowed by the sound.

“But it’s so late. People don’t walk around late on front lawns!”

“They do if they must,” he said.

“But why?”

“Maybe we can find out, if we talk.”

“About what, what?!”

“About why you’re here. If we talk long enough, we may know. I know why I’m here, of course. I heard you crying.”

“Oh, I’m so ashamed.”

“Don’t be. Why are people ashamed of tears? I cry often. Then I start laughing. But the crying must come first. Go ahead.”

“What a strange man you are.”

Her hand fell away from her hair. Her other hand moved away so her face was illuminated by a small and growing curiosity.

“I thought I was the only one who knew about crying,” she said.

“Everyone thinks that. It’s one of those little secrets we keep from each other. Show me a serious man and I’ll show you a man who has never wept. Show me a madman and I’ll show you a man who dried his tears a long time ago. Go ahead.”

“I think I’m done,” she said.

“Any time, start over.”

She burst out a tiny laugh. “Oh, you are strange. Who are you?”

“We’ll come to that.”

She peered across the lawn at his hands, his face, his mouth, and then at his eyes.

“Oh, I know you. But from where?!”

“That would spoil it. You wouldn’t believe, anyway.”

“I would!”

Now it was his turn to laugh quietly. “You’re very young.”

“No, nineteen! Ancient!”

“Girls, by the time they go from twelve to nineteen, are full of years, yes. I don’t know; but it must be so. Now, please, why are you out here in the middle of the night?”

“I-“ She shut her eyes to think in on it. “I’m waiting.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray