The road to the Carraway’s home wound between tall pines and past a small, smooth lake that looked like black glass in the gathering darkness. As Sara drove out from under the trees she could see the sloping metal roof of the single story home. The house was boxed in by a porch that wrapped all the way around. Whatever else she may have to say about William’s family, this simple Southern home was like something out of a dream to her.
William often spoke of how his memories of growing up here were a bright spot in his past. He would tell her tales of playing with his Legos and toy trucks on the porch, swinging in the wide wooden porch swing, and spending hours swimming and fishing in the lake. Whatever came after those blissful days could not quite compare. But he held on to the memories as one of his greatest treasures.
The slight rise up from the lake to the front yard of the home was packed with cars, the house already lit up as the sun’s light was almost gone from the sky. Sara parked and climbed out of her car. She could see a group of young men standing between two parked trucks, red plastic cups held discreetly by their sides. Sara had come to think of their button down Oxford shirts in various pastels and khaki pants as the Southern boy uniform. William had enjoyed the same comfortable clothes in the hot summers and he had always looked amazing. Sun-tanned, tall and blond he had only gotten better looking as he had moved through his twenties.
Sara stopped for a moment by the side of the pond and remembered again the first time William had brought her here. She had been so nervous, but so excited because his bringing her had meant that he really cared about her and that was something that she never thought would happen. After meeting in the bookstore that long ago evening they had struck up a conversation, one that continued up to the check-out counter and over to a local bar where they shared a beer, and then dinner. When they left the bar it was only because it was closing. Sara’s apartment was within walking distance so William walked her home.
Sara remembered stealing glances at him as they walked through campus. The night air was warm and she had still been tan from her summer job as a waitress at a beach side restaurant. Sara felt pretty and a little buzzed from the drinks that they had shared. As they walked William’s arm would brush against hers and the anticipation built all the way to her apartment. At her door, Sara turned the key in the lock. Looking back at William, she said “Well, good night.” Just as she had hoped, he leaned in and kissed her. At the time, it was the most romantic moment of her whole life. The night, the conversation, and William – beautiful, Southern, long-legged William. The kiss was one she would not forget over the days, weeks and years that followed. Even now, Sara could feel his lips on hers and she reached up to her lips as if she might find his where they ought to be.
Enough of this, she thought and turned away from the now dark lake.
The young men nodded at her as she walked past them up the slight hill towards the house. The mosquitos were already in full force and Sara could feel the bites beginning to welt up on her uncovered arms. She climbed the wide front steps of the house and nodded at the people standing near the door. The front door was closed against the heat, but she was sure the crush of bodies inside would make the air-conditioning almost pointless and as she opened the door and stepped inside, she knew she was right.
The smooth, wide pine planks that she stepped in on were original to the home, and each piece of furniture, each original artwork and each expensive fake plant were perfectly placed by a local decorator. The effect was a stunning first impression of shiny hardwood floors, tall white walls and simple lighting. The house was really beautiful and Sara had hoped when she and William had first visited here together that she would find in it a place to call home. But Miss Emily had never thought her good enough for William and, Sara had come to accept, she never would.
A silence fell over the crowd as she walked through the foyer into the hallway. She should be more embarrassed than she was, but the day had been too long and she was too tired to think anymore. Sara knew that it was time to say good-bye to William’s mother. She had not planned to leave tonight, but now saw no reason to stay. She spotted her sister at the door leading into the kitchen. The expression on Eve’s face was hard to read. Sara couldn’t tell if she was relieved or angry. Probably both, Sara thought with a sigh and walked over to where she was standing.
“Where have you been?” Eve asked in an angry whisper. Her voice was quivering though, and Sara wondered at this. They moved on into the kitchen where the crowd was at a minimum.
“I’ve been burying my husband, if you must know. Thanks for asking.” Sara was exasperated with this whole routine. The back and forth that the two of them had been doing for years was getting old. Still, Sara should have been easier on Eve. She was sure that from her perspective Sara’s disappearance this afternoon was a major pain.
“Everyone’s been asking where you were. I called your cell. I called the hotel. Nothing. I’m your sister, for Christ’s sake, and you didn’t tell me where you were going. I was – ” here Sara heard it again, a momentary quiver “I was really worried about you.” Sara looked up at Eve and could only see her profile, but she was sure she saw the glimmer of tears in her eyes. “I mean, what if something had happened to you. What would I do? You’re all I have.”
“All you have? What about Chase and your kids?” Sara had never before had Eve speak to her so. She never showed emotion. Never.
But the door was closing, Sara could see, as Eve dabbed at her eyes with a napkin she had picked up from the kitchen table and squared her shoulders, a gesture Sara knew meant she was moving on.
“I just…I mean Miss Emily has been asking after you. I think that it’s very embarrassing for her that you haven’t been here. You should go and find her and apologize.”
“I’ll go find her, but it won’t be to apologize. I shouldn’t have to apologize for taking the time to watch my husband buried. Just because it’s not what’s proper in Oden, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. I’ll go find her, because I’m leaving tonight. And it’s the right thing to do to say good-bye.” Sara had thought for just a second that she might be able to share her news with her sister after all. Eve would never understand though. And Sara would keep the fact of her pregnancy to herself.
“Will you leave tonight if I do or will you stay and go home tomorrow?” Sara suddenly remembered that Eve didn’t belong here either. “Of course you’re welcome to come to Savannah. I have an extra room. I just thought Chase would be ready for you to come home.”
Eve looked miserable and Sara wondered for the first time if there was something that she was missing, something Eve wasn’t telling her.
“Is there something wrong, Eve? Something I can help with?” Sara reached out to Eve, but she shrugged her hand off.
“What kind of sister would I be asking for your help at a time like this? I’m fine.” Eve’s smile was forced. “Of course, I’m ready to go home. Chase, Jr. and Laura have school and I have work and…as long as you don’t need me anymore, I’ll leave now.” Eve reached over and gave her a quick squeeze and kiss on the cheek. “I’ll call you next week, okay?”
And she was gone, out the kitchen door to the porch. Sara watched her leave, wishing for moment that she had asked her to stay. William had been her best friend and now the only family she had was leaving. She and Eve had never been friends though, so this shouldn’t feel like a loss, but it did. It really did.
Sara grabbed a cup from the stack on the kitchen table and filled it with water from the dispenser on the fridge. She stood for just a moment thinking of the cups of coffee she had shared with William here at this table, the late night bottles of cold beer on the screened porch just out the kitchen door. She would miss the memories she had of him here – but she wouldn’t miss here.
She put her cup next to the sink and turned, walking out the door and into the hallway. She saw one of William’s favorite aunts talking to the pastor.
“Have you seen Miss Emily, Aunt Louise?” Sara asked the kind woman.
“I believe she went upstairs, dear. She was looking for you. I think she was worried.”
“Thank you. I needed to rest after the service. I’m fine now though. I’ll just go find her and let her know I’m alright.” Sara headed up the stairs as Aunt Louise turned back to her conversation.
She peeked in the door to the master bedroom but there was no one there and the door to the bathroom was open. She walked on soft feet to the door of the room she and William had shared when they came here. She found Miss Emily there, sitting on William’s bed, her hand moving back and forth across the coverlet.
“Miss Emily?” Sara said in a low voice. Miss Emily looked up. She was crying. Sara felt immediately sorry that this woman had to live through this heartbreak. She so wished that the two of them had been friends, then perhaps they could go through this together.
“Oh, Miss Emily, I didn’t mean to intrude, I was just…”
Miss Emily put up her hand and turned her face away, then stood up from the bed, wiping at her eyes as she walked towards Sara.
“We were terribly worried about you, dear. People have been asking after you. It just doesn’t look good for you to disappear like that. Your duty is here. People wish to pay their respects.” Miss Emily was steering Sara towards the door. “I know you didn’t grow up in an environment where you would have learned this kind of thing, but as the widow you have a certain responsibility to the people who knew and loved William. There will be time to grieve later. For now, we must go and speak to our guests.”
Sara stopped at the top of the stairs. She turned towards the woman who had loved William more than anything and, Sara believed, despised her for taking him.
“Miss Emily, I know that you don’t like me. I know that you didn’t think that I was good enough for him. And now we’ve lost him, you and I. We’ve both lost the man we loved more than anyone else in the world. Because I know that you love him, too, I hope you’ll understand when I say that I can’t wait to grieve for him. And I have to do it my way. I have to go home. I have to leave now. I just wanted to say good-bye.”
Sara started down the stairs. Then thought of one more thing that she wanted to say to her.
“Perhaps the best thing to come out of William’s death is that you are finally rid of me. Good-bye, Miss Emily.”
Emily Carraway’s mouth hung open for the first time since she was nine years old. Her mother would have told her she looked like a cow. But her son’s widow had just rendered her speechless. Sara was down the stairs and out the front door before she could think of what to say, and so Emily Carraway put on her best not-too-bright smile and went back to her guests, as her mother taught her to do.
Copyright © 2017 · All Rights Reserved · Katherine Barron