Last Light

The house had the appearance of a French villa but it was here in the middle of Ohio. Icicles hung from its eaves and the beige brick was bright against the snow, which had melted and then frozen again, forming a crust that Edward’s boots sank into once he stepped from the car.

“This might have been a mistake,” he said.

Angela was at the front door, peering inside. “What do you mean?” she said over her shoulder.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to get out of this driveway,” he said, stomping his feet onto the porch.

“This one looks nice,” she said, turning back to the small windows beside the door.

The wind pressed against them and tangled Angela’s hair. Edward studied the driveway, assessing its grade, the bald tires of their SUV, which he had been too cheap to buy with four-wheel drive.

“Where’s Melissa?” He put his hands in his pockets and braced himself against the cold. “Did you text her?”

“She’s on her way.” In truth he didn’t want to be here. He had reluctantly agreed to resume the house hunt after a three-month hiatus because they had run into Melissa at the grocery and she told them she had the perfect home.

Melissa’s headlights flashed and her German SUV, with all four of its powered tires, dug into the snow-covered drive with a satisfying crunch. The house sat on a knob that overlooked a flat parcel of land that stretched to a passel of trees. The sun was just at their tops, falling below the horizon and turning the clouds a magnificent peach.

“Sorry I’m late,” Melissa said. She held the MLS sheets out to Angela and punched in the code on the lockbox.

Angela turtled her head to keep her ears out of the wind. The sun broke through a bank of windows opposite the entryway and the wheat colored floors seemed to flare once Melissa managed to open the door, and they were inside, standing in sheets of light.

“That’s impressive,” Angela said, turning to Edward. He only nodded. They had a rhythm and routine in these things. They didn’t say much and didn’t tour the house together. Both of them often left Melissa alone in the kitchen as they each separately went through basements and bedrooms, tugged at windowsills, and flipped on lights.

Home buying was such strange business, Edward thought. He often tried to recreate life inside the blank space, thinking of the lives that been lived in these rooms, the meals taken at the kitchen counter, the arguments shouted past the walls.

“What do you think?” Angela said, coming toward him.

“Seems like a lot of space.” He stood by a pair of patio doors, watching the ebbing light as the sun sunk beneath the trees. “Maybe too much.”

“I don’t think so,” she said. “I like this patio.”

The brick pavers were arranged in a herringbone pattern. They were neat and level. Edward had only looked at a few rooms: the master bedroom and what would be their child’s room if they decided to try again. The field below the house was also crusted with ice and the trees’ shadows were merging with evening.

“It’s a lot of money,” he said.

“We can afford it.”

“Barely.”

“That’s not true. We’ve been saving.”

“I’d like to save more. Wait a year.”

He saw her suppress a sigh and then flash her eyes to Melissa, who was punching away at her phone in the kitchen, oblivious of them. She was not a good realtor. “Not this again,” Angela said. “Just once I wish you didn’t do this to me. We’ve been looking so long. You’re never sure about anything.”

He could not summon any conviction to argue this point. He was serially unsure about nearly everything, always allowing his mind to race to dozens of worst-case scenarios. He wanted to feel the solidity of their marriage, to forget about the miscarriage and the corners of their rented house it had driven them to. He still loved her and he could tell, in certain but rare light-hearted moments, she him, but she was more broken than he.

“Should we talk to her about the house?” Angela said, nodding toward the realtor.

“Yes,” he said.

Melissa ran them through the pros and cons, the neighborhood, and how the market might increase its inventory when spring finally arrived. Edward was skeptical about a future within the house, but he let Angela ask her questions about plumbing, HVAC, roofs, the schools and the neighborhood. By the time they walked back outside, night had come on and he no longer saw the trees. Melissa pulled away, tires spinning at first, then the tread took hold and she was off.

“Well?” Angela said, waiting, it had seemed, to make sure the woman was out of earshot.

“I think we’re stuck.” Edward kicked behind a tire.

“Not about the car,” she said.

“I want to buy it,” he said.

Her eyes brightened. “You do?”

He didn’t but he thought if he could give her this piece of happiness, swallow his own fears, then they might find their way back to each other and how it had been coming home from the doctor’s office after that first ultrasound and the good dreams they had not known until the moment they heard the child’s heartbeat.

“Yes,” he said. “It’ll be our home.”

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Call Melissa and tell her to start the paperwork.”

“Are you serious?” she said, a smile widening.

“I am,” he said.

“Maybe we should think about this more. In the car. I’m cold.”

The blower hummed warm air over their toes. “We’ve looked at so many houses, can this be the one?” she said.

His heart beat fast. “I think we found it,” he said. His chest tightened, a flash of heat burned his sternum.

“And you really like it?”

If it will make you happy, I would buy you ten houses like this one, he whispered in his head.

“We’re going to buy this house, aren’t we?” she said, allowing herself to be happy.

“Let’s go have supper and call Melissa,” he said.

She put the car in gear but the tires only spun, rocking the vehicle into the ice.

He stepped outside, leaving his door open. “We’re in pretty deep.”

“Can you push us?” she said.

“I can try,” he said.

The vehicle’s warm exhaust turned white in the cold air. Through the back window, the curls of her hair were lit from the dashboard. He tapped the glass and motioned for her to roll her window down. Then he took a stance, his hands pressed flat against the lift gate, and told her to gun it. The engine revved loud and he pushed so hard blood rose to his head and the muscles in his chest constricted. His feet slipped but he caught himself and pushed harder, but they did not move. Breathless, he stood and went back to her window. His front was covered with mud. “I’m a mess,” he said. They both shared a small laugh.

“We’ll call a tow truck,” she said. “Come get out of the weather and sit with me.” She reached her hand out to him and he took it. A smile was in her eyes and he felt her fingers move across the back of his hand. He bent down and kissed her, felt how cold his own nose was pressed against hers. Then he stood and looked past her shoulder, imagining a thousand sunsets like the one from earlier, the way the evening had clung to every bit of the sun’s last light.

Michael Croley was born in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Corbin, Kentucky. He won an NEA Fellowship in Literature for 2016 as well as an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award. Croley's work has appeared in Lit Hub, Narrative, Kenyon Review Online, The Paris Review Daily, Blackbird, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Southern Review, Fourth Genre, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. He teaches creative writing at Denison University.

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