North of here

"Will you sit?" she said, nodding to the couch. I went over and sat on the lush Victorian-era sofa, made recently warm by the ample rear end of the clergyman. She took a second before joining me, a sweet delay. I shuddered as she eased down beside me. There was a series of old photographs on the table and we looked at them, our legs lightly touching from knee to hipbone. It was unbearable. She stood to get us more coffee, and when she came back she sat in another chair, maybe out of mercy to us both. She told me a little about the history of the family farm as I watched the weak electric light on her face. She had four older brothers, she said, and a younger sister who'd died in infancy. I imagined Constance as a child beside the tiny coffin. I imagined her mother Florence dressed in black, her breasts engorged with the milk that no-one would drink.

Lights were suddenly turned out; first in the kitchen, then in the stairwell and the yard. The signal from her parents was clear. Milking was at 4:30 AM. The cows would be there or be square. The evening was over.

We stood and walked to the center of the room. This was the moment of truth. Only a fool could not now know what I was doing here and she was no fool. As soon as I looked her in the eye I'd read the answer. Instead I looked away. I wasn't ready to receive life-altering news. "That was my great-grandfather," she said. She assumed that my back was turned because I was studying a painting on the wall.

"Doesn't look like you," I said, finally turning to her. She was smiling. It was a deep smile, beyond civility and great-grandfathers. It said yes. Yes you may. You may come into my house, into my life, and at some point into my body. And you’re brave for trying….

We stood there looking at each other and then down to the rug, and to the left and to the right. The four feet between us quivered like plasma. Our first kiss, our marriage, the birth of our children, the lowering of the other into their grave, all of that--if it came--would be in a long parade of moments that began with this one.

I swayed a little, like a bridge on a hot day. Back in the United States, in my precocious circles anyway, this would have streaked to its carnal conclusion. Here there was proportion and respect. Her parents had left us alone. The lights were going out and I would leave. It was a matter of honor....and anticipation. I walked past her without touching her and went out the door. Once in the yard, I grabbed onto a fence post to keep from falling. I began to cry. It felt like the first actual moment of my life.

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