Clara liked the way the water of the Bella-Bella was at night, leaning over the bridge - black, except where the light of the one old-fashioned sodium streetlight sent orange streaking paths across the rushing water. The light did not illuminate; it did not reveal the transparency, the brightness of the water by day. Instead, under the light, the water became blacker, more opaque. More solid.
On nights when she couldn’t sleep, she sometimes stood there for hours, watching the light on the rippling black water. There wasn’t really a reason - it simply called to her. And as long as she was watching the water… well, she wasn’t thinking.
Not thinking had never been a blessing, before.
So she stood there, and she felt. Dreamed, maybe. At night, it felt like a place where something might happen. Mystery and strangeness, and there, she could be strange too.
She’d tried to explain places like that to Peter. Once. How a long stretch of road leading out of Three Pines felt like an invitation, but only on certain days, in certain lights. How the old elm ten minutes’ walk into the forest seemed to clasp a door in its trunk. The way the rosebush at the bottom of the garden, on foggy nights, its long shoots curving downwards with their own weight, felt like it might have a kiss waiting in it. He’d laughed.
Clara had laughed too, too old to believe in doors in trees, in finding the future in a cast of light, but - it had hurt. And he had never kissed her by that rose, not in all the years they’d lived together by that garden.
Now, she wondered what he’d see here that she could not. Not Peter as he had been, not the Peter who had laughed at her, but the Peter who had seen terror and laughter in a river and painted it with smiles. Who had seen the stone rabbits moving in the Cosmic Garden. Perhaps he would have been able to paint the way the river was a promise, potential in jet and firelight, the way she didn’t dare to try.
Even now, thinking of him hurt. She missed him, her husband of so many years, the bone deep ache of it still startling from time to time, but it passed. Just as it had passed, eventually, when she had asked him to leave. What did not pass was the new love - the unfurling tenderness and excitement of it. She could have loved him, this new Peter, and she had known it the moment she had seen those strange, clumsy paintings of his. Had known it, felt it building in her throughout that whole breathless, hectic, terrifying search, had been so frightened, and yet so sure that she was running towards a future, towards a love so great it would overshadow all that had gone before. A partnership that let light in, instead of closing it out.
That was what she missed, more than anything - not the Peter she had always sensed and never found, but the anticipation, the dreaming. That part of her had been awakened, and now she could not be quiet again.
So she came out here at night and watch the water and thought about painting it and decided not to. But only when the sky was dark, heavy with clouds and the wind kicking up the treetops. She was too old to be dreaming of a meeting by moonlight. Old and dried-up and alone. And the stronger for it. Perhaps one day Myra would move in with her and they would drift into irrelevance together, drinking wine and reading books and laughing till their old bones ached.
It was a good future. But the steady light on the flickering black water still called to her. And night after night, she came and watched it.
Better than lying in bed and grieving. Better than lying there and thinking nothing at all.
She hadn’t painted in weeks. Hadn’t made anything.
Perhaps that was why she was drawn here, she thought. There was something here, if she waited, if she watched. Something would change. Artistically, if nothing else.
Behind her, in between gusts of wind, she heard quiet, steady footsteps. She supposed she ought to be afraid - Death was not unfamiliar to Three Pines, after all, and had held its hand out to her more than once - but she was not. She knew who it was, after all. Their watcher. Their guardian.
He came to stand beside her and stood there silently. She could hear his breath, and the sound of it, rhythmic and unhurried, soothed her.
“I’m not going in, Armand,” she told him finally. “I’m not so stupid. Or self-pitying.”
“No,” he agreed. “Despair’s not in your line, is it? I’ll not, Carrion Comfort, despair, not feast on thee - is that it?“
“I do prefer my feasts a little more substantial. And with butter.”
“Life, Sarah’s croissants. What’s the difference?” Clara smiled. “It’s late, Armand.”
“Yes,” he said. “I saw you standing out here, and wondered what you were seeing.”
“The river,” she said. “Or something. I’m not sure myself - I think I come here to find out.”
“The mystery of it?”
“Yes,” she said, and she found herself laughing a little at the pleasure of it, of being understood - that there was pleasure in not knowing, in continuing to seek. “That’s it exactly. How did you know?”
“You look for it in everything. For what’s there, and for what might be there.” He put his hand on her shoulder, and the warmth of it seeped through her shirt, into her skin, melted through her like a sunrise.
“I suppose I do.”
“And you find it, more often than not.” He turned, and his hand fell from her shoulder. The cool night air seeped in immediately, washing over the warmth he had left. “When you do, I look forward to seeing it. Goodnight, Clara.”
She didn’t turn to watch him walk away, just as she had not turned to watch him come. But she knew when he had passed beyond her sight.