As cool as the pale wet leaves
She lay beside me in the dawn.
Ezra Pound, "Alba"
When he comes back, the sun is just crawling out from the far reaches of the Atlantic.
"He's asleep," she says, not specifying whether it's her dad or Tommy she's talking about. She leans against the doorframe—the doorframe of the house she grew up in—and sighs. Then, without another word, she takes Richard Harrow by the hand and invites him back into her life.
The floorboards creak. There's an old grandfather clock in the front hall he somehow hadn't noticed before. In the glow of the early morning light, Julia Sagorsky looks strangely angelic, and he wants to tell her so—but as always, he holds back.
"We put him in school," Julia says, just as they walk into the kitchen. "Well—I did. Dad didn't think it was a good idea, but I enrolled him under our name."
Out comes the kettle, filled with water. Onto the stovetop it goes, and Julia asks, almost in a practiced monotone, "Can you get the matches? They're on top of the icebox. Over there."
Richard obeys, almost instinctively, as though he was born to fetch matchsticks and matchsticks only. He turns the box over in his hands. He finds himself distracted by his own thoughts—and then he remembers to speak.
"Has he been any trouble?" It comes out in his signature rasp.
She appears at his side. "Tommy?" She takes the box. "No, I wouldn't say—" She strikes a match, frowns when it doesn't light. Tries again. "—he's a kid, after all. He's not trouble, but... well, he's troubled."
There's a moment where they just look at each other. He knows exactly what she's talking about, and she knows it's something she's not allowed to understand. Julia emits yet another sigh and attempts to ignite a flame again.
The burning match, much like the kind folks use to light cigarettes and candles on birthday cakes, alights like a threat: Richard Harrow, observant as always, remembers a time when he was complete and could blow out such a flame by a simple puckering of the lips.
She turns on the gas, lights the stove—as quickly as these things occur, both Julia and Richard know it will all be over soon.
They sit at her kitchen table, she on one end, he at the other.
"I made apple cake, if you're hungry—"
"No," he grunts.
He looks down. "I came here for something else."
Julia Sagorsky nods, as if out of confirmation of her understanding. She stares at the masked man opposite her and wills him to say more—but she knows it's in his nature to be brief, and that it's up to her to take initiative.
And so she reaches across the table, and she takes Richard's left hand in her right, and like the lone woman she had been and still very much is, she squeezes it as though she'll never have the chance to again. He, of course, looks up, and his eye pierces Julia straight through to her soul.
"I can't take him now," he says.
That throws her off. "Why not?"
"It's not safe."
"Richard—it's been six months."
He pulls his hand away. She sighs. Richard Harrow and Julia Sagorsky then proceed to lapse into another round of silence, their inaudible heartbeats falling in sync with the ticks of the grandfather clock just outside the kitchen.
The kettle begins to whistle, and in one fluid motion, she leaps to her feet to attend to it. He stares in awe at the sight of her hair in the morning light. As she turns off the gas, it occurs to her that the gurgle of the boiled water reminds her of the man sitting not five feet away.
And then there's the sudden weight of his hand on her shoulder, and she, both welcoming and detesting his presence, can't help but take that hand in hers. She turns around. She brings the hand to her face, suddenly needing to be close to him. He, in turn, moves in just like so.
"I love you," says Richard Harrow.
She blinks, considering his declaration. That isn't quite what she's expecting. But her face softens, and she is at his mercy.
"I love you too," says Julia Sagorsky.
And out in the hall, the grandfather clock chimes seven times, ushering in a new day.