Abby had a little trick that she used any time Red acted like a cranky old codger. She reminded herself of the day she had fallen in love with him. “It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon,” she’d begin, and it would all come back to her—the newness of it, the whole new world magically opening before her at the moment when she first realized that this person that she’d barely noticed all these years was, in fact, a treasure. He was perfect, was how she’d put it to herself. And then that clear-eyed, calm-faced boy would shine forth from Red’s sags and wrinkles, from his crumpled eyelids and hollowed cheeks and the two deep crevices bracketing his mouth and just his general obtuseness, his stubbornness, his infuriating belief that simple cold logic could solve all of life’s problems, and she would feel unspeakably lucky to have ended up with him.
He had stood there looking around him, hunting someone, and had not found whoever it was and turned to go; but in turning, he caught sight of Emily and paused and looked at her again, and then frowned and went on out. She had not actually been introduced to him for another week. But now it seemed to her that at his entrance--swinging through the library door, carrying a single book in his hand (his fingers fine-textured and brown, his shirtcuffs so perfectly white)--her life had suddenly bee set in motion. Everything had started up, as if complicated wheels and gears had finally connected, and had raced along in a blur from then on. It was only now, in this slowed-down room, that she had a chance to examine what had happened
At the end of the piece, Reverend Alban rose and approached the lectern again. He placed his fingertips together. “I didn’t know Mrs. Whitshank,” he said, “and therefore I don’t have the memories that the rest of you have. But it has occurred to me, on occasion, that our memories of our loved ones might not be the point. Maybe the point is their memories—all that they take away with them. What if heaven is just a vast consciousness that the dead return to? And their assignment is to report on the experiences they collected during their time on earth. The hardware store their father owned with the cat asleep on the grass seed, and the friend they used to laugh with till the tears streamed down their cheeks, and the Saturdays when their grandchildren sat next to them gluing Popsicle sticks. The spring mornings they woke up to a million birds singing their hearts out, and the summer afternoons with the swim towels hung over the porch rail, and the October air that smelled like wood smoke and apple cider, and the warm yellow windows of home when they came in on a snowy night. ‘That’s what my experience has been,’ they say, and it gets folded in with the others—one more report on what living felt like. What it was like to be alive.
Last night I dreamed about her,” he said. “She had this shawl wrapped around her shoulders with tassels hanging off it, and her hair was long like old times. She said, ‘Red, I want to learn every step of you, and dance till the end of the night.’ ” He stopped speaking. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose. Denny and Stem stood with a screen balanced between them and looked at each other helplessly.“Then I woke up,” Red said after a minute. He stuffed the handkerchief back in his pocket. “I thought, ‘This must mean I miss having her close attention, the way I’ve always been used to.’ Then I woke up again, for real. Have either of you ever done that? Dreamed that you woke up, and then found you’d still been asleep? I woke up for real and I thought, ‘Oh, boy. I see I’ve still got a long way to go with this.’ Seems I haven’t quite gotten over it, you know?