It was the whinnying of the horses in the stalls that woke her, their snorting and stomping, and the gusts of wind against the slat boards of the house. She sat up, back and neck sore from having fallen asleep in the rocking chair; she felt she creaked as much as the chair itself.
The house was glowing, and for a second she half believed it was on fire. She had lit every candle and oil lamp she had in her possession, but even all of them, meager as they were, in force did little to conquer the night. The house moaned and Lily clutched at the locket around her neck. It was late, and judging by the candles she had not slept long.
She eased herself from the rocker, straightened her self, felt the knotted muscles. In the kitchen she saw the warm glow of one of the lamps. She had not placed one there.
She walked into the kitchen as a fresh breath of wind welled up outside and horses kicked at their stalls.
“Isaac,” she breathed and felt her her knees go weak. She held to the wall to keep from falling.
He sat still at the table, hands flat, fingers splayed in the dull lamp light. He watched the flame.
“I didn’t want to wake you,” he said, his voice dry, words measured as if he were unsure of how to speak them or what the meant.
“I wish you had,” Lily’s voice caught in emotion. “How long you…”
“I…I watched you a little,” Isaac said, still watching the lamp’s flame. “Watched you, you sleep. Like I…used to.”
Lily stepped toward him, legs quivering, threatening to fail her at any moment. “Isaac,” she repeated, whispered, taking the sight of him to heart. He was as gray as the Confederate coat he wore, the one he was buried in; dirt ringed his dry eyes and mouth, dusted his hair.
“You, you do…this?” he asked.
“A charm,” she said and sat in a chair. The stink of the grave was on him. “The Cherokee woman-“
Isaac looked at her. “Witch,” he said. “The, the witch.”
“No,” said Lily. Tears had begun to softly fall down her cheeks.
“I dug…my way out,” he said, watching the flame again. “Knew I had to, had to see you.”
She placed her hand atop his. Isaac drew his away.
“There’s…things,” he said. “Good. And bad. But I made it…back.”
“I never said good-bye,” Lily said. “I never had a chance. Only after you was gone did I get a last chance to say it. And to tell you how much I love you.” She held his hand. He didn’t draw away. “I’ve been waiting for some days for you to come back.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It hurts. I can’t stay.”
“I love you, Isaac,” she said.
He stood, with effort, rocking on his feet. Lily was up and holding him. She put her arms around him. Steadied him.
“I love you,” Lily said.
“I, I know,” he said. “I love you…too.” His arms slid slowly around her.
“Every day I think about when I first saw you at the church social. You were so handsome, but you hated that suit of yours.” She began to sway gently back and forth. The danced, ever so gently, in place. “It was at the barn dance you first kissed me, Isaac.”
“Yes,” he said, his voice so far away.
They swayed softly. “I think of our wedding, too.”
“You were, were nervous.”
“So were you,” she smiled.
His hands were at her shoulders. They looked at each other.
“Do you have to go now?” she asked, fresh tears in her eyes.
Lily tried to talk but the sobs robbed her voice.
“I do…love you,” he said.
“I don’t think-“ a cry rose in her throat. “I can’t lose you again, Isaac. I don’t know how to go on, I don’t, and I don’t know if I can, every day is a struggle! I can’t watch you go. It hurts as much as the first time. I don’t know which hurts worse: somebody tellin’ me you’re gone, or seein’ you leave!”
His hands dropped to his sides and she stumbled back.
“I love you so much,” she moaned, shaking, knees finally losing the struggle to keep her upright. “So much,” she sobbed into her dress.
Isaac’s slow pace took him through the house to the waiting night. He crossed the field, the wind blowing dirt from his clothes and hair. Lily’s sobs were carried on the wind, and it hurt worse than never having heard them.