Dust motes danced in the air like tiny fairies, captured in the pale yellow sunlight streaming in through the tall windows. Eleanor sat relaxed in her high backed chair, with her book open on her knee. Her eyes stared unseeing out into the garden as the birds pecked at the bread crumbs on the lawn.
Her silver hair curled in wispy tendrils around her lined face. The faint vestiges of beauty were still evident in the slant of her cheek bones and the arch of her brow, but her hazel eyes were faded and her skin papery with age.
The house was blissfully silent. Jessie had gone out for a couple of hours to visit her new friend. As much as she loved the girl, Eleanor was rather relieved to have some peace and quiet; it allowed her time to sift through her memories and enjoy the familiar creaks of the old house.
Jessie had the annoying habit of playing her music loud whenever she was around. Either that or she was singing tunelessly. Still, reflected Eleanor, she brought much needed life into the old house. Her own children were long gone and she had no one left any more.
Marie had died of cancer twenty seven years ago and Eleanor still missed her very much. She had found it hard to come to terms with the loss of her youngest daughter. It did not seem right to out-live one's children and she had asked God many times why Marie had been taken from her. He had never answered of course and Eleanor doubted He ever would.
Sarah, Marie's sister, moved to Australia three years after Marie died, and Eleanor had only heard from her a few times since then. They had never been close and when Marie passed away, the ties holding them together finally snapped. Eleanor just couldn't reach Sarah; their grief kept them apart, each locked in their own private hell.
Aaron had passed away a decade before Marie. She still missed her beloved husband every second of every day. He had been the love of her life and when he was killed in a senseless accident, she had honestly believed that she couldn't go on any longer. But Marie had made her see that life was for living and she had eventually found the strength to smile again.
It had been a whole lot harder when Marie died. But Eleanor carried on regardless. If it was God's will that she survived all of them, then so be it. She had slowly learned to find pleasure in the smallest things and to take each day as it came.
The day Jessie rescued the tiny kitten had been one of those days. Oliver had very nearly frozen to death after being abandoned by a callous neighbour. Jessie had heard the pitiful meowing from inside a bin bag, as she walked back from the shop one evening.
Upon investigation, she had found a small, pathetic bundle of misery, shoved into a bag and cruelly left to die. Jessie had brought the shivering kitten into the house and given it some warm milk and tuna fish. Neither of them had thought the tiny creature would survive the night, but miraculously the courageous kitten had fought his way back from the brink of death.
As the days passed, he grew stronger and his cheeky personality soon emerged. Despite his naughty nature, Eleanor grew to love the cat dearly. He had certainly made up for his poor start in life - he had not stopped eating since! Jessie constantly scolded Eleanor for passing him titbits off her plate, but she took no notice. She had very little appetite these days and it didn't hurt to pass some food to Oliver now and again.
Her reward for all the subterfuge was a purring bundle of fur on her bed every night; that and absolutely no mice anywhere in the house. Eleanor smiled as she recalled Jessie's disgust the first time Oliver had bought a 'present' back for them. A small rodent deposited on the back step was not Jessie's idea of a gift. She had screamed blue murder at the sight of the decapitated corpse. Oliver had merely sat there looking extremely pleased with his feline self.
Eleanor coughed slightly and pulled her shawl tightly around her shoulders; the air was growing chilly now the sun had dropped down behind the tall fir trees. A heavy blanket across her knees kept her legs warm and she closed her eyes, feeling the drowsiness of age slipping over her like a comfortable shroud. The faint noises from the distant street faded away and she drifted into a dreamy state, her hands loosening on the worn paperback novel she held on her lap.
Gradually her head nodded forward and the book slowly slid un-noticed onto the worn rug. The ancient grandfather clock in the hall struck five, but Eleanor was unaware. Darkness crept gradually over the room as the old lady slept on, her breathing raspy and shallow.
Oliver wandered in, his paws silent on the Persian rug as he looked for a warm place to sleep. He stared unblinkingly at the old lady for a moment and debated whether to jump up and snuggle on the blanket. But his stomach reminded him it was nearly supper time and he decided to head for the kitchen in search of food instead. He knew Jessie had left some chicken breasts out to defrost because he could smell them with his sensitive nose. The thought of chicken was far too tempting to resist and with an idle yawn he trotted away, his tail twitching.
The shadows lengthened and the clock ticked on. Reflections from distant car head-lights lit up the room in with occasional bursts of illumination. A streak of light caught the pictures lined up on the mantle and a smiling girl stared out into the room, her dark hair caught in a moment of time. In the photograph next to the girl, a young man stood laughing, his arms wrapped firmly around a youthful Eleanor.
Eleanor smiled dreamily in her sleep. She could faintly hear the notes of The Blue Danube, her favourite waltz.
How they had loved to dance the evenings away...
The parties had been wonderful; beautiful people shimmering and laughing amidst the elegance of the old house. Dancing all night long until the sun rose over the trees and tiredness set in. They were magical times.
The sounds of the music and the laughter gradually roused her from the cocoon of sleep. She sleepily opened her eyes and blinked a little. Candles burned on the mantle and the room was bathed in a golden glow. The scent of tangy floral notes filled the air and she struggled to deal with the sensation that something wasn't quite right.
The old gramophone in the corner played the familiar notes of the waltz and Eleanor found herself floating, listening with remembered pleasure. It had been a long time since she had heard the music. She was more used to the grating sounds of dance music and hip hop blasting out of the kitchen these days.
The sound of her name being called softly startled her once again. Her eyes opened in surprise when she realised a man was standing in front of her. She wondered if she was still dreaming and quickly blinked a couple of times. But the man was still there when she looked again.
"Shall we dance my dear?" he asked with a smile, his hand held out in invitation.
Eleanor wanted to speak, but her lips stubbornly refused to obey her. She moved her mouth, but nothing came out. Instead she stared up into the dark eyes and handsome face of her companion. He waited patiently for her response, his mouth curled in amusement.
Helplessly Eleanor took his proffered hand and stood shakily. Glancing down at herself she realised in wonderment she was wearing the elegant crimson silk dress she had worn for their famous Valentine's Ball in 1933. Her hand was smooth; the skin milky white and no longer stained with the brown discolouration of age. She reached upwards and touched her face. The wrinkles and lines were gone; her cheeks satin smooth.
With a shocked cry she dashed over to the huge gilt mirror hanging above the fire place. Her own reflection stared back at her, the face of a young and vibrant woman again. Her ebony hair hung in glossy waves over her shoulders. The young man stood behind her, his hands resting on her slim waist. Eleanor spun round to face him.
"How?" she asked in wonderment.
He merely smiled enigmatically and taking her hands, he pulled her into the familiar movements of the waltz. Round and round the room they danced, the music flowing over them hypnotically. Eleanor lost herself in the pleasure of the fluid movements. She laughed out loud as he led them around the room in time with the music.
It had been so long; too long...
How they had loved to dance. Aaron had enjoyed it as much as she. She smiled up at him, her head still struggling to comprehend what her heart was telling her.
"Aaron, I...don't understand," she said as they slowed down, the music ending.
"You don't need to understand," he said quietly. "I am here and that is enough."
Eleanor stared at him in bemusement. It had been so many years since her eyes had gazed upon his beloved features. It just made no sense at all. How was it he was here with her now and they were young again? She had to be dreaming; it just wasn't possible.
But she didn't care. It felt real enough right now. The feel of Aaron's hard body against hers was immensely pleasurable. She revelled in the unfamiliar strength flooding through her veins; old age had long been her constant companion.
Aaron halted beneath the mantle. For a second Eleanor gazed up at him, her heart thumping wildly. Unfamiliar sensations of desire swept through her body. Her senses were alive and humming in anticipation of something, although she knew not what.
They stared intently into one another's eyes. The tension crackled like electricity, the candles beneath the mirror spluttering hot wax. Eleanor watched hypnotised, as the flames flickered and cast mysterious shadows over Aarons face. His eyes darkened and his lips parted slightly.
"I love you," he whispered.
"Oh Aaron," she replied. A single solitary tear slid down her velvety cheek. The intensity of her emotions frightened her. She knew this couldn't be happening, but it felt so real. The joy of being with her beloved Aaron again was acute.
Lifting a hand, she reached and cupped his face, feeling the faint stubble on his chin. Surely these details would not be in a dream, she told herself. Still she tried to fight the growing conviction that something mysterious was happening; something beyond the realms of her understanding.
A slow realisation began to dawn. Today was the anniversary of his death - Valentines Day. She had almost forgotten the date; at her age the days just seemed to merge into one long stretch of endless time.
She really should have known what day it was. Jessie had seemed unusually happy this morning and Eleanor had fleetingly wondered why. The girl had bounced around the house with a spring in her step and even the smallest things had not been too much trouble.
Eleanor knew Jessie had a young man she liked. She had talked about him frequently enough over the last few weeks. He was called Samuel she seemed to think. Or was it Michael? Her memory wasn't what it used to be.
Not that she could ever forget the night Aaron was killed. Her blood ran cold and she shivered at the painful memory. He seemed to sense the chill in her and he pulled her into the circle of his arms.
"Don't think about that now," he told her, his chin resting on the top of her head.
That was easier said than done however. She tried to dispel the memory of the Police Officers standing on the porch, their faces grave and sad. They tried to be gentle but there was never an easy way to tell somebody that their loved one had been killed by a drunk driver. It was a senseless death; Aaron had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The irony was he should have been at home with her. Instead he had made the short journey to the shop for some milk -- all because she had forgotten to buy some. It had been over in an instant and he was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver had been a young kid who didn't even have a license to drive. Aaron's life had been snuffed out in the blink of an eye -- all because of a cheap thrill ride by a stupid boy trying to impress his friends.
Eleanor shivered in anguish. The months that followed were bleak, coloured only by a million shades of black. It took a long time for the sun to shine again, but one day she knew that it was finally time to move on.
Aaron took a step back and tilted her chin upwards.
"Look at me, Eleanor," he commanded.
She gazed at him and drank in his familiar features joyfully, the pain abating once more in the pleasure of his presence.
"Don't think about the sad things now. Think only of the here and now. We don't have long like this, so just enjoy the time we have. Soon we will be together forever, but for now let's dance..." He clicked his fingers and the music began to play again.
Aaron took her hand and placed his arm around her waist. With a smile they moved off into the first steps of the waltz, their feet lighter than air, dancing round the familiar room as if they had never stopped.
On and on they danced, the music as endless as the pleasure it invoked. The candles carried on burning brightly, wisps of smoke curling upwards towards the high vaulted ceiling. It was if time had stood still for a few precious hours. Eleanor had never been so happy; it was a magical time and she prayed that it would never end.
* * *
When Jessie returned to the house, she was surprised to find it dark and in shadow. It was unusual. Eleanor would normally turn the lights on as the daylight faded. She was old, but she was more than capable of moving round the house and doing simple tasks like that.
Jessie unlocked the back door, humming to herself. On her finger a large diamond ring sparkled brightly. She was so excited about what had happened this afternoon -- Sam had asked her to marry him! She couldn't wait to tell Eleanor. She could hardly wait to announce it to the whole damn world!
Oliver brushed past her legs purring loudly and Jessie reached down to scratch his ears. Then she remembered the chicken she had left out and cursed loudly.
"You better not have eaten that chicken, cat!" she said in warning as Oliver wound in and out of her legs. He looked at her unblinkingly and almost appeared to grin in a catlike way.
Jessie's heart sank. He had eaten it - she just knew it...damn that cat!
Quickly she went through and switched the lights on in the kitchen. Sure enough - the chicken was gone. An empty plate left on the shelf and a very fat cat was the only evidence a crime had been committed.
Jessie was about to clobber the cat when it occurred to her that the house was unnaturally quiet. There was a very strange feeling in the air and for a moment the fine hairs in the back of her neck stood up.
"Eleanor?" she called loudly. Surely the old woman had not gone to bed. She did tend to nod off on a fairly regular basis, but it was much too early for her to have turned in for the night -- besides, they had not had tea yet.
She walked through the kitchen and into the back hallway. "Eleanor?" she called again, louder this time.
Still Jessie had no reply. She could smell the faint odour of candles burning and she wondered why Eleanor would have lit candles. They were never lit -- they sat on the mantle for decoration rather than light.
Switching lights on as she went, Jessie made her way through the house towards the living room where she had left the old lady sitting in her chair with her book. It was almost dark outside and Jessie was beginning to feel a little spooked. It was odd that Eleanor had not answered her -- even if she had fallen asleep, she should have woken up by now.
The grandfather clock struck six o'clock with a series of loud booming chimes. Jessie walked into the living room and she could just about make out the shape of Eleanor sat in her chair, partially illuminated in the moonlight shining through the tall windows.
"Hey sleepyhead!" said Jessie as she walked over to the lamps by the fireplace. "You haven't been asleep all afternoon have you?" she scolded good-naturedly.
That's strange, thought Jessie as she switched the lamps on. There were wisps of smoke drifting from the wicks on the candles. It was almost as if they had only just been blown out. The gramophone in the corner of the room had the lid up and several of the records had been moved.
"Have you been having a party while I've been out?" Jessie asked as she headed over to Eleanor's chair.
Eleanor sat slumped in her chair, her head tilted to one side and her eyes closed. She looked peacefully asleep, but when Jessie reached out for her hand, she did not move and her chest was still. Jessie's heart stopped a moment and her blood froze in her veins.
This was the moment she had been dreading for years -- the old lady had finally passed away. Jessie knelt at her feet, still holding her hand tightly. She could not have stopped the tears falling even if she had wanted to.
"Oh Eleanor..." she sobbed, "I am going to miss you..." She looked up, her eyes blurred with tears, and suddenly realised that the old lady was smiling joyfully even in death.
Her face was utterly serene and she looked much happier than she had in a long time. Jessie took some comfort from the fact that Eleanor had passed away so peacefully. She could only hope that she had gone to a better place.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
From far above, Eleanor watch the scene as she stood hand in hand with her beloved Aaron. She wished she could comfort Jessie, but she knew she could not help her now. It was time for her to move on. But one day she would see Jessie again, although hopefully not for a long time. Jessie was young and she had a whole lifetime to live before she came here.
"Come Eleanor," Aaron said gently. "Marie is waiting for us..."
Eleanor's face lit up with a brilliant smile. She was so happy to be reunited with the people she loved most in the world. Holding hands they walked into the light.