Oh hey. None of this actually belongs to me. I like reviews but that sort of goes without saying, doesn't it?
The old path is fraught with memories, but she can't bring herself to travel any other route. Her bare feet pilot her over the bridge, past the clearing where they'd play after church, past the trees that they would climb in (before the girls were too ladylike to do such things) – all with whispers, whispers pursuing her. She'll quicken her pace, trying to avoid those whispers, but seldom does it help. She is used to it, anyhow, even if it hurts. She's used to hurt.
She's come, today, on business; Nohl has sent her for pigments, he's nearly run out of the stuff to mix the jaundiced yellow he's so fond of. He's trusting, today; sometimes she'd not be allowed to so much as touch his precious paints, but he approved of her today. She's glad of the chance to visit Moritz – it's been days, it seems, since she last came. Days too long.
It takes only minutes in the shop; the man behind the counter knows Nohl's name and hurries to attend to her on his behalf. (If she'd just come on her own account, there's no telling how long it'd be before he attended to her, just a little girl practically, all painted and disheveled.) Once the package is safe in her hands, she's back on the path, out to the graveyard. She can't stay long, Nohl will wonder; but she wants to say hello, at the least. She drops to her knees, runs the tips of her fingers over the cool ground – loosens the wrapping around the painting things and leaves a small chip of amber at the foot of the grave, glowing softly in the late afternoon sun. She murmurs an apology for rushing so, a soft farewell: never goodbye. Never goodnight.
She hopes he can forgive her.
Somewhere down the path, near the houses, the little neighborhood that she could once call her own, she hears a voice call out: "Ilse! Ilse, wait!"
It sends a chill up her spine – at first she assumes it's only her imagination, and keeps walking. But it calls again: "Ilse, wait!"
A hand on her shoulder – she should be used to that by now, but she still gets startled. She turns around and, to her surprise, sees an already-withdrawing Melchior. "I didn't mean to scare you," he murmurs. She notices a harried look in his eyes, one of lost sleep and hours of agony – it seems out of place on his boyishly handsome face, but she understands all the same.
"It's all right," she says, and forces a smile. She's not so easily shaken up. (Sure, she may have become a bit more skittish in recent weeks, but with the echoes that seem to follow her so constantly, you can't really blame her for that.)
"Have you been – " he begins, but he stops, involuntarily traces his fingertips over the only half-healed gash on her arm. His touch makes her shiver; she'd almost forgotten it was there. It's nothing out of the ordinary. "My God, Ilse, what happened?"
She shrugs, pulling away – trying to hide it, as if that would somehow help. "A run-in with Adolar's chisel is all," she replies. "Really, it's nothing."
Something about her saying that gets to him, and she can see that, but neither of them pursues the subject further. Instead, he takes an envelope from his pocket and asks, "Could you take this to Wendla?"
"To Wendla?" she repeats. "Yes, I suppose; what's keeping you from it?"
He looks downward and shakes his head. "Ilse, I'm in trouble," he finally says. "I don't know if I shall be here much longer."
"On account of, of… you mean," she stammers – so the rumors Martha told her are true, the teachers have charged him with Moritz's death (as if he'd somehow pulled the trigger – as if it hadn't been the teachers themselves who'd practically done it) – she can't quite believe it. "Yes, yes, of course I'll take Wendla the letter." She peers closer at his face, concerned now for her old friend. She can't help but brush his bangs out of his eyes - he doesn't twitch or pull away – and she asks, "Is there anything more I can do?"
But he shakes his head again – a shadow of the confident boy she once knew. Yet another of us ruined, she thinks. And for what?
"No," he says, his voice quiet. "No… Goodbye, Ilse."
He turns to go; she grabs his wrist. "Truly, Melchi," she says, almost forcefully, using a name so familiar yet after all this time strange on her tongue. "If you need anything at all."
"Yes… I appreciate it," he nods. He tries to smile, but it's only a sliver of one; nonetheless, she accepts it. "Goodbye," he says again.
"Farewell," she says, and she watches him hurry away before she turns to see Wendla. She'll hardly be a welcome presence in the sainted Bergman house, but a promise is a promise and besides she hasn't truly spoken to Wendla in so long…
No answer when she knocks at the door, but she sees the curtains in Wendla's windows flutter. She gulps and tosses a pebble, hoping to get her attention, hoping she's there. Sure enough, soon the sash rises and Wendla pokes her head out. She looks so pale.
"Ilse!" she exclaims, shocked. "What are you doing here?"
"I've got something for you," she replies. "Can you come out? Just for a minute."
Wendla bites her lip, looks around. "Quickly," she concedes. "Mama will be back soon, but…"
And she disappears from the window, and within seconds she's flung the door open and run out. She's in nothing but her nightdress. "Oh, Ilse, it's so good to see you," she sighs, taking the other girl's hands in her own. "How have you been?"
"Surviving," she replies – trying to avoid any irony or lies as the question begs. "And you?"
"I've not been well," Wendla admits. "Mama doesn't know what the matter could be. I've had the most awful pains, here – " and she touches her stomach, with another airy sigh – "But I'm to see the doctor soon."
The gesture makes Ilse's own stomach turn.
Could Wendla be…?
She dismisses that thought, though; she's got more pressing matters to attend to. "Here," she smiles, offering Wendla the letter and seeing her eyes light up.
"Have you seen him? Is he well?" Wendla presses.
"He's… he's getting on."
"Oh, I hope…" But here Wendla stops herself – no, she daren't say what she's thinking. She backtracks. "I hope he is," she finishes, weakly. Her pale hands stay wrapped around the letter; her thumb idly caresses it.
"Well, I suppose I should be off…"
"Will you come again?" Wendla asks eagerly. What she means, of course, is Will you come again with news of Melchior, but to say that… "Soon."
"I shall try," Ilse replies, feeling suddenly sad at the sweetness in her friend's eyes, the excitement. In that instant she understands; she knows how much she and Wendla once had in common; she aches, knowing. "Goodbye, Wendla."
"Not goodbye," Wendla smiles innocently. "Just… farewell, for now."
"Yes," Ilse agrees, choking on her words. Yes, of course… "Farewell."