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Grace Gillian kneels before her hyacinth bed, her bare fingers raking the accumulation of decaying leaves from around the plants. She has long since shucked off her gardening gloves. She loves the feel of the earth’s awakening, the humid, fertile smell of it.
Grace is thirty-eight years old. Slender. High cheekbones. Generous mouth. Dark brown hair, almost auburn with the russet highlights around her face. But it is her eyes, soft gray eyes tilting up at the corners, that one remembers. When she reads a poem she loves or when a student makes a perceptive comment, her face lights up and her eyes become radiantly blue. But she does not know she is beautiful. And, although her name is Grace, neither does she think of herself at all, it is in sensible, nearly mundane terms—teacher, gardener, friend. But she is neither sensible nor mundane. And on this day, as she rakes the sodden leaves from the hyacinth bed, she is thinking of John, whom she loves beyond telling. My true, pure love. A love not fueled by desire. This is what she believes. She feels she has long since turned away from desire.
The pecan trees, arching high over her and over her tourquoise-colored house, have not yet leafed out. Nor has the elm by the front door. But the magnificent live oak is in full leaf. And a single wild plum and a domestic peach in the northwest corner of her garden are dizzily in bloom, infusing the blue air and the yellow grass with the colors and scents of spring.
A song from the kitchen radio drifts out into her garden. “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places,” Jo Stafford sings tenderly. Since the War, all the songs are heartrendering to Grace. Looking closely at the hyacinth buds, she can faintly discern the color—purple or white—each will become. Colors of the mourning.
She, Grace, although not in mourning, is deeply sad. Anna, her next-door neighbor, is sick. Sick to death. When she thinks it again, sick to death, the phrase takes on its literal meaning. Anna is sick, and in a day or two she will go to her death. And then John will leave. He has told her this. “If something happens to Anna”—IF not WHEN said carefully—“I’m going to get into this War.” Raising an eyebrow, he smiled. “I’ll probably end up with a desk job. But if they’ll have me, I’m going.” Remembering, her eyes fill, and she sits back on her heel and with the sleeve of her sweater wipes the perspiration and tears from her face.