It had been a long train ride into the interior and an even longer ride down the river, cramped in the cabin of a steamboat. The nights were thick with the smell of the southern Mississippi and the days ... He didn't know much about the daylight. He leaned out over the rusted rail of the boat and caught the dim gaslight of a few shacks along the far side of the river. Took a short swig from the old wine bottle he carried with him, winced at the stale flavor of the liquid inside.
Two hours later and just past midnight landed him at the dock. The captain moored up the boat and took his fare silently. His lone passenger picked up the single trunk and made his way up the riverbank. The small town practically melted into the swamp, long swaths of Spanish moss tickling down his neck as he passed the small cabins. Faces paused at the windows, then retreated. A woman singing low, sweeping her porch, straighted and warily watched his progress to the other side of town. They knew about him just as they had known about her.
The mansion lay at the end of a long gravel path, its windows boarded up and the veranda sagging a little in the middle. It had seen better days. The gardens were still well-tended with nightbloomers and he stopped a moment by the dried-up fountain, trying to imagine what the place had looked like decades earlier, a century earlier, when he had last come here.
He quietly entered the house and immediately picked up on the musty scent of age and settled dust. The soft scuttling of rats. He set down the trunk and lit one of the nearby candleabras with a match. The glow, along with the light from the moon, illuminated the room in a series of half-shadows. Cracked tiles, peeling paint. The grand staircase beckoned him upwards and he followed. That room at the end of the hall ... He hesistanted for the briefest second, then allowed the door to swing in. He set down the candles carefully, as if even the slightest disturbance of the dust was unacceptable, and looked around.
The old satin sheets, heavy drapes, cherrywood furniture, a single delicate crystal glass left out. No one had lived here for ages. Thirty-nine years, he thought. That was how long it had taken him to come back here, finally leave his restless traveling in Russia and make the trip. Longer than that even, almost a century ago, they had parted ways in Vienna during the war. It was a bitter argument. He ran a finger across the surface of the crystal as if he could feel where her lips had last touched. Dead man's blood.
He stood there in the room, so long deserted, and didn't know where to go next. Thirty-nine years of wanting to come back but waiting, and now being here without the reason.
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