SWANS AND STORM
NOAH WAS sitting in his rocker, drinking sweet tea, when he finally heard the car turn up the drive. He went around to the front and watched the car pull up and park beneath the oak tree again. Noah saw Allie wave from inside the car.
Allie met him halfway, carrying a small bag. She surprised him by kissing him gently on the cheek; her free hand was lingering at his waist after she pulled back.
«Hi,» she said, with radiance in her eyes, «where’s the surprise?»
«Not even a ‘Good afternoon’ or ‘How was your night?'» She smiled. Patience had never been one of her strongest attributes.
«Fine. Good afternoon. How was your night? And where’s the surprise?»
He laughed lightly, then paused. «Allie, I’ve got some bad news. I was going to take you someplace, but with those clouds coming in I’m not sure we should go.»
«It’s not raining yet. How far is it?»
«Up the river about a mile.»
«And I’ve never been there before?»
«Not when it was like this.»
She thought for a second while she looked around. When she spoke, her voice was determined. «Then we’ll go. I don’t care if it rains.»
«Are you sure?»
«Then we’d better go now. Can I bring that in for you?»
She nodded, handing her bag to him, and he jogged to the house and took it inside, placing it on a chair in the living room. Then he grabbed some bread and put it in a bag, bringing it with him as he left the house.
They walked to the canoe. Allie was beside him, a little closer than yesterday.
After tossing the bag in the canoe, Noah slid the canoe to the water.
«Can I do anything?» Allie asked.
«No, just get in.»
After she climbed in, he pushed the canoe further into the water. Then he gracefully stepped off the jetty into the canoe.
She sat at the front of the canoe, facing backwards.
She couldn’t think of anyone else who remotely resembled Noah. He was complicated, almost contradictory in so many ways, yet simple. On the surface, he was a country boy, home from war, and he probably saw himself in those terms. Yet there was so much more to him. Perhaps it was the poetry that made him different, or perhaps it was the values his father had instilled in him. Either way, he enjoyed life more fully than others, and that was what had first attracted her to him.
She understood then that something was stirring within her, as it had so many years ago. Watching his body move made her feel it. And as their eyes met for a second, she felt the heat in her neck and breasts, and she flushed, turning away before he noticed.
«How much further?» she asked.
«Another half-mile or so. Not any more than that.»
A pause. Then she said, «Tell me, Noah, what do you remember most from the summer we spent together?»
«All of it.»
«Anything in particular?»
«No,» he said.
«You don’t remember?»
He answered quietly. «No, it’s not that. It’s not what you’re thinking. I was serious when I said ‘all of it.’ I can remember every moment we were together, and in each of them, there was something wonderful. I can’t pick any one time that meant more than any other. The entire summer was perfect. How could I pick one moment over another?
«Poets often describe love as an emotion that we can’t control, one that overwhelms logic and common sense. That’s what it was like for me. I didn’t plan on falling in love with you, and I doubt if you planned on falling in love with me. But once we met, it was clear that neither of us could control what was happening to us. We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created. For me, love like that has happened only once, and that’s why every minute we spent together is in my memory. I’ll never forget a single moment of it.»
Allie stared at him. No one had ever said anything like that to her before. Ever. She didn’t know what to say and stayed silent.
«I’m sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable, Allie. I didn’t mean to. But that summer has stayed with me and probably always will. I know it can’t be the same between us, but that doesn’t change the way I felt about you then.»
«It didn’t make me uncomfortable, Noah… It’s just that I don’t ever hear things like that. What you said was beautiful.» Peaceful silence descended on them. The paddle moved rhythmically. The breeze had stopped, and the clouds grew blacker as the canoe moved onwards.
Allie noticed it all, every sound, every thought. Her senses had come alive, and she felt strangely satisfied that she’d come, pleased that Noah had turned into the type of man she’d thought he would, pleased that she would live forever with that knowledge. She had seen too many men in the past few years destroyed by war, or time, or even money. It took strength to hold on to inner passion, and Noah had done that.
This was a worker’s world, not a poet’s, and people would have a hard time understanding Noah. Who did she know in Raleigh who took time off to fix a house? Or read poetry? These weren’t the things that drove society, but she felt they made living worthwhile.