The seldom-used gramophone scratched out a Viennese waltz, as we whirled around the garden, bodies finally touching, spirits at last reuniting. Surrounded by the coming darkness, we shone. For that one brief dance, we lit up the world. Hitler’s armies advancing from one side, Lord Bonbourne’s suspicions glowering from another, painful memories forming curlicues of older laughter, other conversations. If only I had bared my heart to her that afternoon. We could have slipped away from the terrace, found a quiet alcove of roses. I could have told her the truth. Maybe we could have run away. Maybe I could have saved her.
Instead, I returned to the village that night, to my safe bed at the local inn. How could I possibly have known that at first light the low-flying planes would drop their bombs on the manor house, destroying the past, the present and my often-dreamed-of future? Emmaline was gone, her gossamer glow swallowed by black smoke and smoldering ruins. We met for the first and last time that day. She would never know what that afternoon dance had meant to me.
The war ended decades ago, but villagers revel in ancient gossip. They still whisper about the dashing foreigner who danced at the manor the day before it was destroyed, the one who had whirled another beautiful young woman around that same garden twenty-three years earlier. The apple doesn’t drop far from the tree, they like to leer. Poor old Lord Bonbourne – more fool he. They don’t seem concerned that Lord Bonbourne and his children all died that night. More importantly, the family rumor mill is very much alive and churning.
I don’t give a fig what villagers say or think. I bought the manor land, built an imposing new home, created a garden. My specialty is day lilies. They each shine for one magical moment. When the day lilies bloom, she returns for an achingly brief day, to light up my world. Then the flower crumples, the music stops, the dance ends. And once again, my Emmaline is gone.
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Learn more about the contest which inspired this story: Nutshell Narratives 2019-04