The moon was new, the backyard shadowed with weeping willows and tall flowering hedges. She heard the babbling of the creek that meandered in the distance. She sighed and thought of all the chores left undone; decided she’d tackle the dishes last. The warm water would feel good before bed.
“Bacchus,” she called from the back door. She clapped her hands and shouted, “Bacchus, come … now!”
She heard the wind before she felt it—a rush of leaves that sounded like a swiftly flowing river. When she felt the first slaps of sleet she called frantically for the dog. Bacchus darted out of the trees and into the house. The dog knew they were coming on the freezing wind, she thought, but I never expected them so early in the season.
Leaving the door open she dove back inside, heart racing. Moving quickly, she took the best china from the glass-enclosed cabinet and placed it on the polished shelf that ran the length of her great grandmother’s mahogany treasure. She struck a match and put the kettle on to boil. When she turned to fetch the tea from the shelf she saw the dishes stacked in the sink and cursed herself for not having washed them for three days.
She untied and tossed her apron onto the stack of unwashed laundry and dug her grandmother’s lace tablecloth out of an ancient chest. She snapped it twice, releasing the strong scents of cedar and mothball. Hurrying back to the dining room, she let the fine linen settle, then smoothed it gently on the shiny maple table.
She felt them before she saw them. Some came through the windows, others through the walls, some just appeared; none bothered with the door. They hovered above her head before settling around the long antique table, a wedding gift to her father’s mother. The wavering image of her grandmother smiled and ran a young diamond-ringed hand along the tablecloth.
She poured the tea, sugar and milk for some, plain for others, a shot of brandy for great-uncle Mathias. They spoke in hushed tones. Some telling tales of wandering in darkness, others of reveling in never-ending sunlight.
As dawn approached they left one-by-one, until only her husband and great grandmother remained. Great grandmamma had waited for the others to leave before scolding her for not having washed the dishes or the laundry, then vanished before the first rays of morning filtered through the sheer curtains.
At last she was alone with the man she had lived with for more than thirty years. He looked younger than when he’d died—more alive now, if truth be told. He asked if she needed help with the dishes. “You’d be as much help with the dishes now as you were when you were alive,” she chided him.
He chuckled and followed her to the kitchen, stood behind her as she filled the sink and submerged her hands in the sudsy warmth. He kissed the back of her neck and was gone.
She sighed. Bacchus crept into the room and whimpered. “I know big boy. But he never stays long.”