Lillian, the broken promise

The ground did not thaw until the beginning of April, Lillian said to me over the phone.  The last of the ice melted from the banks of the Fox River only the week before. Spring arrived late this year. She said it had waited for my return.  “I waited for you too, Knox.”

The following morning I woke up hungover in Geneva, Illinois. I watched the commuter trains leave for Chicago as the sun came up. Geneva is where Lillian lived and where my Grandfather died.

Grabbing a cheeseburger at the Caboose Pub and Grill, I wondered if the smell of stale beer was coming from me or from behind the bar. My thoughts swirled when I thought about Lillian, the way she cried lying next to me in my Grandfather’s bed. After eating, I ordered a six-pack of tall boys to go. I headed toward a baseball field where Lillian told me to meet her.  She was sitting alone in the bleachers when I arrived.   Her back was toward me.  I dropped the beer and quickly walked away.

I had come to Geneva the previous December to scatter my Grandfather’s ashes and to take the best of his books before they, along with the rest of his belongings, were auctioned off.  Lillian was the assistant to a lawyer who was to handle the sale of my Grandfather’s estate.  She was sent to my Grandfather’s home to catalogue his belongings.  I found her behavior curious.

She caressed framed photographs of my family.   She set the dining room table and played waltzes on an ancient gramophone. Her body circled the kitchen. She sipped white wine out of a bottle from the refrigerator. I even caught her pressing her face against the cushion of a loveseat in the living room, inhaling deeply through her nose. When she quietly turned to me and whispered, “Do you think he became the man he wanted to be as a boy?” I wasn’t sure who she was talking about.

When she asked me to lie down next to her in my Grandfather’s bed I couldn’t say no.  And there we stayed for hours. She rubbed her head and hair up and down my forearm, the tears slowly streaming down her soft cheeks.  She did everything that day that I had wanted to do but somehow couldn’t.

When she asked me to return to visit her in the Spring I promised her I would.  It was the first promise that I’ve broken in a long time.

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