“How can you do that?”
“I have to see her. She’ll find me, and I can tell her. I can promise her again. I can explain about you and Saul. Maybe she be won’t be happy, like we were, but then she’ll understand and won’t mind waiting until it’s my time.”
Mary nodded and leaned back in the chair. “Yes, when it’s your time.”
Matthew stood on the shore of Lake Promise with the toes of his boots submerged in the lapping water. He’d only been standing there a minute, waiting for the surface to still. The afternoon sun cast long shadows over the water toward the east. The glare of the shimmering sunset made it a little hard to see if he faced Saul’s boat, so he turned his back to it. His gaze went deliberately downward to where he found his own face staring back. He knew her reflection would appear once he was calm, so he had disturbed the water as little as possible and stood unmoving.
Matthew was also listening. The rustling of Saul’s long strides through the browning grass was getting quieter now on the way to the cabin. He had told him that he and Mary had had a fight, that she was meddling in his personal business, and he wanted to come here to think. Saul was instantly worried Mary would go to town again, maybe never come back. Matthew knew he would worry. Matthew expected him to try to console her. Matthew knew Saul would be gone long enough for Sarah to find her way to him again. By the time Saul learned there had been no argument, before he could even run back, this would all be done.
He was right. Sarah’s image floated upward toward him, as if she were walking on the bottom of the lake and might emerge as a swimmer might do, walking knee deep in the waves toward the shore. For a second he wished she would. Just as quickly he knew she’d stop. When she did, her face smiled as wide as ever and she reached her hand toward him.
The whisper rose urgent from the water, “Come to me, now.”
Matthew smiled back at her and took a deep breath.
All at once he let himself plunge into the lake, instantly submerging, and pushed himself away from the shore. With his eyes closed he again heard her whispery giggle from under the water.
Then she grasped his hand and pulled him deeper. He could feel the pressure of the water build in his ears and rush past his whiskers, through his hair, pulling at his clothes as they went deeper.
When he stopped moving he opened his eyes and saw Sarah floating in front of him, the rippling waves illuminating her with a green-blue light. She smiled at him again and moved closer, wrapping her arms around his waist and pulling him close. This time he didn’t wait to kiss her. This time her lips were cold but welcoming, wet, but there. He pressed his entire being into that kiss. He kissed her with the passion he’d reserved for her since that rainy spring day and prepared to exhale.
He watched the bubbles rise as they escaped his mouth, slowly at first and small. Then he relaxed and the bubbles enlarged, rapidly tickling the tiny hairs of his face as they went by. Sarah’s watery whisper giggled at him again.
“I’ve waited so long, Matthew. Now nothing can separate us.”
He wanted to reply. He wondered how to do it as she did, to whisper with her mind straight into his. The lake water pressed its way into his mouth and down into his body. The cold felt no different than winter air chilling his lungs, but the silt felt gritty and a putrid fish smell filled his body instead. He let it fill him up. He smiled at Sarah again. He felt her cold hand hold the side of his face as she stared into his eyes.
His vision was fading, darkening. Sarah’s image was still close and he forced himself to keep seeing her. He felt his body begin to sink and he let his eyelids droop shut.
Matthew expected to find himself in a meadow, near the cherry tree or somewhere else on the farm. He expected Sarah to hold his hand and walk with him in the afternoon sun. He waited for her light to tell him where she was.
Instead he waited in the darkness.
Something was hurting him. Something was hitting his chest. Again and again it pounded at him. Why didn’t it stop? What was it? In his mind he called out for Sarah, but couldn’t hear her whisper anymore.
Finally he opened his eyes. Nothing made sense. He saw an odd purple sky. He saw someone hovering above him, glowing. He sensed another someone nearby. He began to cough the muddy lake water back out, sputtering and gasping like a fish. As his vision cleared he found a face ringed by blond hair, glowing in what was left of the afternoon sun.
“Oh, thank God!” Saul exclaimed. “Matthew! Matthew! Can you hear me? Look at me!”
Matthew couldn’t help but look. He stared at Saul for a few seconds and then began to look around. He was lying on his back on the lake shore. Mary was kneeling next to him, tears streaming down her cheeks that smiled the biggest smile he’d ever seen on her.
He coughed again, expelling more water and taking in enough air to clear his vision completely. Sitting up, Matthew began to complain, “What… cough, cough… what did you do? Cough… cough, cough. Why’d you do that?”
“What? Save your life?” Saul questioned.
“She was there, she was with me! I was keeping my promise!” Matthew suffered a new bout of coughing and shoved at Saul, willing him to disappear.
“What are you talking about? Sarah?” Saul began to understand, but looked to Mary for help. She looked back at him with apologetic eyes, a look she had never given him before. “Mary? Does he mean Sarah? What’s going on?”
“Yes, Saul, he’s talking about her.” Mary glanced at Matthew again, who had returned to lying on the ground. One of his arms seemed to rest loosely over his eyes. She let him stay that way. “He’s been seeing her. So have I, ever since I came here. Remember that day I came here and fished with you?”
“Yes, what does that have to do with Sarah?”
“When I went in your house to get a drink, I found the photo album. I found their wedding photo. That’s when I knew who she was.”
“Wait, you are saying she was here? She did what, visited you?” Saul had been sitting on the ground when Matthew began to revive, but now he sat forward on his knees, pressing the palms of his hands onto the tops of his thighs.
“Yes, Saul. At first I thought she was real, only catching glimpses of her out the window. That day your dog arrived she was there on the other side of the barn. That changed the day we were fishing. I saw her in the lake, Saul. She spoke to me, told me that this was her place. That’s why I left so quickly. She meant to scare me. I worried she might try to hurt me if I didn’t go.”
“Sarah would never hurt anyone! She wouldn’t!” The tone of his voice rose in pitch, getting defensive. Mary put her hands together in front of her chest, the same way she would during prayer. She began speaking with the same gentleness she had used with Matthew when he needed to hear her words.
“You’re right. He wouldn’t have loved her so much otherwise. His connection to her might have faded. What matters is that it didn’t. Their love kept her here. When I told Matthew what had been happening he wasn’t surprised. I didn’t know how often he’d seen her or for how long, but it was clear he hadn’t let go after all this time.”
“That’s why he went into the lake? He really wanted…?” Saul couldn’t finish his thought aloud. He sat back on his feet and slumped his shoulders. He looked at Matthew lying next to him, the brother he had saved, and both worry and relief swirled around in his chest. “What now?”
Mary looked over at Matthew as well, noticing his breathing had returned to normal. He may have been pretending to be elsewhere, but he was listening.
“I asked Matthew to decide what to tell her, to give her peace,” Mary continued, facing directly toward Matthew even though she spoke to Saul. “He said he’d try to talk to her. His actions today probably would have worked, and we would never have seen either one of them again. But this wasn’t the way; he needs to do something else.”
Matthew lifted his arm away from his face and turned to find Mary’s concern instead of anger or disappointment on her face.
“I can’t let her go,” he whispered once he covered his eyes again. “I can’t forget. I didn’t want to wait anymore.”“Matthew,” Mary began. “Matthew, I know about loss. I can see you never want to forget her. You don’t have to. You just need to decide how to remember her.”
“Remember,” he said quietly. “Remember is all I do.”
“But she needs to know that, Matthew. She needs proof.”
Saul had remained quiet the last few minutes, also remembering his sister. He interrupted, “I still never named that dog. It’s a boy, but I can still call it Sarah. I think if I use her name for something she loved it might help.”
Matthew sat up and looked at Saul squarely in the eyes. He recognized some of Sarah’s features there, and her kindness, and realized Saul was right.
“That’s perfect, Saul, for you. That won’t be enough for me, though. But you’re right about using her name. There’s nothing here or on the farm that carries her name. It needs to be something permanent, everlasting, like our love.” He sat quietly for another minute, the two of them letting him get his thoughts back in order.
“I know what she’s missing. It’s the only thing I avoided after she was gone because it really meant the end. I know now life’s different, and painful, but not over.”
“Yes,” Saul replied, “yes, that’s what she needs.”
“Matthew, what?” Mary asked, not sure what both men seemed to understand so easily.
“She needs a gravestone,” Matthew told her. “She needs that recognition that she was here, that I still love her and the whole world will know it.”
Mary smiled at him, pleased that he found a way to remember and a way to live with the memory of Sarah.
“How can you do that?”