It could be something administrative. There could be more forms to fill out. But somehow I know that’s not the case. We’ve done all the forms. We’ve done everything we can do. At this point all we do is wait. I grip the phone and tap the screen to answer it, my fingers shaking. Please God. Please.
I am used to traveling; the Eastern District, where I work as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, stretches from the northern tip of the coast all the way down to Wilmington and then east to Raleigh and up to the Virginia border. The courthouse in Elizabeth City is staffed only when court is in session. Otherwise, it stays locked up, the wood swelling in the summer heat and contracting when the weather is cold. Today, the large courtroom was almost empty. Nobody sat in the rows of wooden benches and the group of U.S. marshals in the lobby, standing around and leaning against the desks, seemed superfluous. The air-conditioning vents rattled in the high-ceilinged courtroom. The judge and lawyers spoke loudly to compensate. I focused on the legal file in front of me, grateful that work kept my mind occupied.
Until I got the call, the drive back home was much like the early morning drive out. I passed fields, a small hardware store, a gas station, and here and there a house, usually set back from the road. Trees, some with birds in them. Sometimes a car went by on the other side of the road. Otherwise it was me and the music. Me and love and loss. Waiting.
After I hang up, I sit in the car with my eyes closed for a minute, wishing Trey were here with me. Tonight I will ask him what he remembers, about all that has brought us here to this point. Knowing that he can recall like it was yesterday asking when it would be our turn, thinking we knew best, believing we could paint the picture and have it come to life.
I am somewhere near Windsor, still far from home. A sign says that Hope Plantation is four miles away. “Hope,” it says. I look twice to be sure. I check email on my phone, but there is nothing pressing at work. I feel drawn to the dirt road, wondering about the house off in the distance beyond my sight. I drive through flat fields of tobacco plants until I see the long driveway shaded by old trees. When I park in the visitor center parking lot, only one other car is there.
“Welcome! Thanks for coming.” The woman behind the front desk stands as I walk over, tucking her gray hair behind her ears. “What brings you here today? Would you like to tour the house?”
“I would, thank you.”
I feel nervous, being here by myself, playing the part of a tourist instead of going back to the office. No one even knows I am here. After I pay the $8 admission fee, the woman, whose name tag reads “Ellie,” reaches for a set of keys on the desk.
“We have a lovely museum room across the hall. Did you want to take a look before we go up to the house?”
“That’s okay; the house will be fine.”
“No problem. I can see you’re on your lunch break.”
I look down at my suit and heels. “Something like that.” My voice sounds strange. I am not myself.
As Ellie closes up the visitor center, I look around the corner. I can’t see the house through the trees, but I know it’s there, up ahead. A tall, white house that will appear like a promise fulfilled or an answered prayer.
We follow a path around to the back of the house where its full height is revealed. There are steps leading up to the first level and a double portico with wooden railings. In my mind, I pictured the house facing the Roanoke River. But now I see that the water is far off in the distance, hidden by more trees, and I realize some things, even beautiful ones, aren’t like I imagined they would be.
“When the house was built in 1803, Halifax Road would’ve been right there,” Ellie says pointing to the grassy lawn, like she has read my mind and is trying to explain the river’s absence. It’s okay, I think. This seems right after all.
When Ellie opens the front doors, I feel the coolness inside. The scars on the wood floor are smoothed over with gray paint, and the white plaster walls stand thick and strong. We move into the front parlor where Ellie talks mostly about the fireplace. Above the mantel, there is a mirror bordered in gold, and even though the reflection is shadowy, I can see myself in it.
I don’t say anything as we wander around the rooms: the parlor, the library, the dining room. Ellie is describing things, explaining histories, but she is hard to hear, even right beside me. I hear David Gray singing.
Upstairs, we pass through bedrooms, where the late afternoon sun shines through lacy curtains and the walls are painted surprising colors: coral in one, a dark, dusty blue in another. In one room next to a bed covered with a faded and worn blanket, I see a cradle carved out of wood, its finish worn dull. I kneel down beside it, smiling. Love and loss, and then love.
About the Author: Heather Bell Adams has published non-fiction, poetry, flash and short fiction. She can be found on Twitter @Heatherbelladam.
Story Song: Anything by David Gray, especially "A Moment Changes Everything"