Homecoming

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By Joseph Cox

The wind wisped through the tree in an eerie flow and whistled through the depths of my hallowed soul. The willow hung dreadfully over me, as a fitting blanket for a lonely day. The table on which I sat had aged. When I was here last, the polished tan oak stood in contrast of the olive-green grass, but the graying wood now fades into the deepness of the green. I’ve faded too over the years, for time is rarely kind to the body. I had not wanted to come here again, but here I sit with the splintering wood jutting into my tailbone, as I helplessly prop myself on the table top. I slump over with my feet stamped into the seats of the table, and stare at the horizon. I do not know what I was looking for, but I knew this was the only place that it could be found. I cannot see my breath in the fading daylight, but I know it is cold. The air is much cooler than the last time I was here. It has an icy thickness to it. I took comfort in its steel embrace, for it reflected what I held back.

She didn’t take long to arrive. I heard her coming, as the wind wiped the moss along the bed of grass behind me, but I did not bother to turn around. She sat down behind me. Her body filled the small space left in the old table, and it creaked beneath the weight of a new wandering soul. At first, she sat upright to let me savor my final moments in the chilling tranquility. Soon, she would begin to pry her way in, and I played into her hand. I pushed my body upright, clenched my eyes, and felt the air seep into the goosebumps on my skin.

That’s when I felt her touch again. The contact was nothing more than a graze. She had pushed herself into me, but only to the point that her back lightly met my own. I could feel only the wool of her sweater, but that was enough. In just that graze, she had cut through the cold. She had ice picked her way inside me again, and I forgot why I had ever let her go. The chill within me melted down to the bones, as if my muscles had become rigid from ice. I could not remember the last time I had truly breathed. Everything felt limp, and I seeped into her, as I had done years before.

We sat back to back now. Our breaths in sequence with one another, and our hearts beating with the new-found freedom. Her head rested beneath mine, and her hair weaved its way onto the back of my neck. Amid this winter evening, she was the breath of spring. Her scent dug into the air around us, and encompassed me. I was caught once again, and had no desire to let go.

Here, in this warm embrace, we sat for what felt like hours. The time I had spent without her seemed distant now. The setting sun eclipsed on the horizon, and I felt tears well up in my eyes. I felt the warm water drift down my chilled cheeks, and began to breathe in bursts of exhalations. Weight escaped my shoulders with each passing moment, and each breath brought decompression to my constricted lungs. I thought I had lost her for good this time.

“Why did you come back?” Her voice wisped with the fairness of the wind. For a while, I did not answer; I just smiled, like a parched nomad that had finally found fresh water. Part of me did not want to reply, but bask in the glory of the moment. “Because I thought I had lost you for good this time,” I said to her between my deep exhalations. “I could feel my heart beat, but did not know if you were still there.” I had been broken, but with her I could heal once again. I could be free once more.

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