The old woman opened her eyes, and closed them quickly again. It was a hot summer afternoon, the flies were buzzing in the rafters, the women working in the courtyard. Her heart beat unsteadily, she coughed and opened her eyes again. It was no dream, he stood there, by the foot of her bed.
“You’ve come.” she said.
“You sent for me.” His voice had not changed, it was the same, as it had been sixty years ago, that year of the long spring. Or his eyes, resting gently on her face. She closed her eyes again, and kept them closed.
“I did not think you would come. I was sure you were dead—or would have forgotten.”
“You sent for me.”
“Well…it was pointless. There is nothing to say,” she paused, and opened her eyes to glance about the room.” She went into another coughing fit.
He said nothing, but held her in his gaze.
Suddenly, she spoke: “No one forced me to, you know. Oh, my parents had their say, but in the end I chose it too….of course I had my tears–”
“–I know.” he whispered, interrupting.
“–but I willed myself to carry through, to not look back… And he didn’t force me either, I chose that too. He didn’t beat me then, you know.”
She glanced about, he stood there still, his eyes fixed upon her face. As he had, that distant long-past spring, when they’d freely spoken their young and earnest vows, by the grassy riverbank. She looked away, out the door, the afternoon sun upon the flagstones in the courtyard.
“Our daughter was born that winter (she had your eyes)…she was a scrawny thing (how she cried incessantly!)… It finally died…I let it be. I was the baker’s new wife you know, there was another brood I had to bear.”
She glanced at him, he had not gone, but stood there still, searching her face and silent. As he had at that court trial, when she’d sworn before the judges, perjuring to his ill.
“Augh! Will you cry here too? Don’t cry over me—I was no passive victim—“
He did not answer, but came up beside, stretched out his hand, and touched her head.
“And now you caress me with your tears! I tell you, I chose. Oh I suffered, but I chose. Stop crying for me. The girl you knew is gone, I chose another path….You know I received your letters? Yes, all seven of them, your messengers were not false. But I did not come. First there was my marriage feast (it was a village affair, everyone was there, his father spared no expense…), and later, I was with the baker’s child. And later…he was buried, but there were still many duties to perform. I had the business to manage, and then the estate too….my mother was right, you know. I had a well-off life.”
She could not look at him, but looked away. “And I paid for every wretched bit of it.” She laughed mirthlessly, it turned to a coughing fit. When the cough subsided, she wiped her brow. “And so I never came, to join you in your exile. I would have had to leave everything behind. And now it is over anyway. Well, go. There is nothing else to tell.”
He stooped, and gently kissed her head.
“But will you come with me now?” he said.
Her eyes met his.
And so he took her hand, and raised her from her bed.
(The old woman was buried, with a graven headstone close to the church as was proper. What the funeral lacked in tears, it made up in ceremony. Her grandson sold the business and became a banker, and the family is now one of the chief clans of the city-state.)
And so she went with him, back down the path, beyond to the riverbank, to his country, that ancient Spring which never fades.