This time was easier than that. Now, they had so many good years behind them. Every one of the years they’d spent together had been good. It had been worth it, every single bit.
Robbie went through the front door so he didn’t have to see the dogs again. He walked down the porch steps and down the sloping path to the end of their yard. Across the road and along the little path cleared in the brush, the twigs snagging his trousers till he was standing on the rocks on the shore. Grey Maine granite, darkening to black, and when you looked at it closely there were little shining chips of mica like diamonds in it.
He took off his shoes and socks and left them on a high rock, untouched by spray. He left his shirt and trousers folded up beside them. Then, barefoot, he stepped on to the furthest rock, which was wet with surf and slippery with seaweed.
He’d thought it might be foggy today, but it wasn’t. It was all clear ahead of him and the sun was beginning to rise. It was gold and pink, not far off the colours of that wild rose he’d left beside Emily. It was going to be a good day, the kind of day where you could see Monhegan Island on the horizon. Lobster pots bobbed on the water, blue and white and red. He knew who owned all of them and knew what time they’d be coming in their boats to haul them up. Not for a little while, yet.
He had enough time.
Robbie jumped into the water. His body made barely a splash into the waves.
He had always been a strong swimmer. It was easy for him. Part fish, Emily called him. He kicked through the waves. Even after being warmed all the summer long, the water was cold enough to take your breath away, but if you kept moving you would be all right, for a while, at least until the current took you. Pieces of a boat that was wrecked on Marshall Point, a quarter mile from here to the north, had been found all the way up in Newfoundland.
He swam and he kept his eyes on the horizon. It took him a long time to tire out. Long enough so that he saw the top curve of the sun rising up from the water in front of him, a brilliant light, shining all the way along the water to him. It would shine through the window of the room where Emily slept and it would touch her cheek and her hair.
Robbie kept swimming until he couldn’t swim any more and then he let the water carry him away, into something bigger than himself, more vast than memory.
Clyde Bay, Maine
The cake was eaten, the iced tea drunk; Emily sat in the afternoon sunshine at the picnic table in their garden, holding Robbie’s hand. A breeze came off the ocean and kept it from being too hot.
‘I wasn’t expecting a cake,’ she said to Adam and Shelley, ‘but it was delicious. Thank you.’
‘We couldn’t let your anniversary go by with just ice cream,’ said her son. ‘Forty-three years is nothing to sneeze at.’
‘Only seven more years till you make it to fifty,’ said Shelley, their daughter-in-law.
Robbie squeezed her hand under the table. Francie, their youngest grandchild at four, wiped a blob of buttercream off her cheek and said, ‘What’s an anniservary?’
‘Anniversary. It’s a celebration of the date that two people got married,’ her father, Adam, told her. Francie had Adam’s blonde hair and Shelley’s dark eyes and freckles. The two elder ones, Chloe and Bryan, were pure redheads, unlike anyone else in the family. Sometimes Adam made a joke about recessive genes and the postman, which always ended in Shelley swatting him.
Rocco dropped a ball at Bryan’s feet and the boy was up, throwing it across the lawn for the Labrador to chase. Tybalt, the elder dog, lay panting in the shade of a tree. Chloe, who at twelve preferred to stay with the adults, drew faces on the table with spilled iced tea and said, ‘Where are your wedding pictures, Grandma? I’ve never seen your wedding dress.’
Emily smiled. ‘That’s because I didn’t have one. We eloped, your grandfather and I.’
‘Because I’m a born romantic,’ declared Robbie. ‘I swept your grandmother off her feet and she couldn’t rest until I put a ring on her finger.’
‘I seem to recall that you were the one who insisted on giving me a ring.’ She touched it with her thumb: a gold band in the shape of two clasped hands.
‘Can I see it?’ asked Chloe, and Emily twisted it off her finger. It wasn’t easy; her knuckles had swollen with age. She dropped it into Chloe’s waiting palm and watched her granddaughter turning it over, admiring it. ‘It’s like it doesn’t end,’ she said. ‘One hand turns into another one and then they hold on to each other.’
‘That’s exactly why I chose it,’ said Robbie. He took it back from Chloe and presented it to Emily, who took it and slipped it back on, smiling.
‘Was it love at first sight?’
Chloe was quite interested in love at first sight, Emily knew. The girl read book after book of young adult romance, most of it involving horrible illnesses, terrifying alternative futures, or vampires. Emily had read a few of them herself, on her granddaughter’s recommendation. She enjoyed them very much.
‘Absolutely at first sight,’ said Robbie. ‘The minute I saw your grandmother, I knew she was the only girl for me. And you knew the same, didn’t you, Emily?’
‘I knew you were very handsome. I can’t say marriage was on my mind right at that exact moment.’
‘You knew I was the most handsome man you’d ever seen,’ corrected Robbie.
‘Yes.’ She smiled, looking at his silver hair, still a full head of it. His dark eyes still had their twinkle, and his mouth quirked with good humour and confidence. ‘The most handsome man I’d ever seen. Also the most full of himself.’
‘With good reason.’
‘With very good reason.’
‘Where were you?’ asked Chloe.
‘In a train station,’ said Robbie. ‘I saw her across a crowded room.’
Emily squeezed his hand again, quickly. ‘No, darling,’ she said. ‘It was in an airport.’
He blinked at her, his face clouding and then clearing almost instantaneously, fast enough so that no one else but her would notice. ‘Oh, yes, that’s right. An airport, in 1972.’
‘In Florida,’ said Adam, ‘where I was born. We’ll have to go down there, one day. I don’t remember anything about it.’
‘Disney?’ suggested Francie immediately, climbing on to her father’s lap.
‘Maybe.’ He kissed her blonde head. ‘Or we could go to England, where your Grandma was born.’
‘So you eloped and moved from England to America?’ Chloe pursued. ‘You didn’t have a dress or flowers or anything?’
‘We just sailed off into the sunset together,’ said Emily.
‘In the same boat you have now?’
‘It was a different boat, back then.’
‘You got your feet wet,’ said Robbie. ‘But I rescued you.’
‘We rescued each other,’ said Emily. ‘And we’ve never been apart since, except for a night or two here or there.’
‘That’s so romantic,’ sighed Chloe. Emily swallowed hard, seeing across years the echo of another twelve-year-old: this one with dark hair instead of red. That was exactly something that Polly would have said, all those years ago. She glanced at Robbie, to see if he had caught it as well, but he was just smiling at his granddaughter.
‘Actually,’ Emily said, ‘romance is quite exhausting. I like everyday life much better.’