EQUINOX

It was September, and the days were getting shorter.
Katherine hummed quietly as her sunburned fingers probed the earth, as if to uncover a long-buried secret, on the corner of her Alaska acreage. The long hours of sunshine were a botanist's dream; nowhere else could one grow vegetables half as large as those displayed in Alaskan country fairs.
Katherine was no stranger to the Northern landscape, having grown up in Two Rivers, North Dakota over half a century before. In her youthful years, she had viewed each moment with the eyes of an exuberant summer sunrise. Lack of experience had caused her to thirst for whatever a new day could bring. Though few spoke of it, Katherine knew she had earned the disapproval of the more staunch residents of Two Rivers. Their taciturn glances, upon faces now interned within the rocky soil, proclaimed that she had laughed too loudly, cried too despairingly, fallen in love too quickly and cared not to learn the conduct becoming of a civilized young woman.
Only one act in Katherine's life had pleased the onlookers. A few seconds were purchased at the expense of all the years to follow, much like the glorious midnight sun was purchased by months of nearly total darkness on the opposite side of the year.
The summer she turned twenty-one, Katherine packed all her belongings and moved north, passing through the plains of Canada in favor of the rugged, mountain-haunted scenes of isolated southwestern Alaska. As her long hair turned from black to silver, she settled into a more mellow soul, living alone on the edge of a minuscule village. She earned a degree in botanical science by correspondence from the university in Anchorage and sold canned preserved and other foodstuffs in the town's general store. It was by no means a life of luxury, but it was more than enough.

* * *

The locals, who descended from the area's fur-trapping, mountaineering pioneers, spent many an hour exchanging tales of folklore. One morning, in early September, after collecting her weekly earnings from the general store, Katherine found herself sitting in a booth in the village's bar and grill. She couldn't recall when she had last been there, if ever. Unaccustomed to the company of anyone outside of memories, Katherine was content to sip her coffee in silence, listening to the conversations around her.
"Best be diggin' out the winter graves," A broad-shouldered miner took a gulp of his ale. "Equinox is comin' soon!"
"Not much time," agreed another man, covered in soot and dirt. "Stay 'way from the Seams of the Earth, that's for sure!" They laughed heartily as they toasted their drinks.
Katherine's attention was captured. She was certain she had heard of the Seams of the Earth legend. As much as she could recall, sailors and trappers had long considered it a mystical place. The plate tectonics theory was years away, so they hadn't known that the piece of tundra which they explored sat on one of the convection zones, where the ocean plate slipped silently beneath the continent. Such areas were known for earthquakes and the discovery of ancient rocks. One of these strange beaches was only two or three miles from her cottage. Stories had circulated that the past rose from the ocean during the equinox, when the days and nights were equal as the earth tried to set itself in balance. The past was often the only visitor through the long winter, lingering long enough to distract the lonely heart. One had to be cautious, however; staying too late on one of these mystical beaches during an equinox could cause one to become trapped in the past.
Katherine shook her head and sighed wearily. Her past was present enough without any equinox or Seams of the Earth. All she had to do was close her eyes. It was as if his gaze were etched on the inside of Katherine's eyelids. She was already trapped.

* * *

In her dreams, Katherine was twenty-one again.
"I'll come for you." Rex's once-tanned skin was pale from six months without the sun.
"I'll come for you, I'll come for you." The words echoed in her memory as if they were spoken only yesterday.
Her suitcase was packed and she was leaving town forever, to begin a new life away from her guilt. Five seconds on the witness stand. Two lives wrecked. The North Dakota skies were spinning, throwing her out. An exile. Careful to avoid obvious eye contact, she discreetly gave him a folded piece of paper with the name of her destination inside. Half Moon, Alaska. Near the Seams of the Earth. The beginning of her sentence of solitude.
Katherine's dreams did not usually reach any farther than the note and his promise to follow, but tonight was different.
Kisses, hot kisses. Inside the abandoned barn with the handsome, mysterious young farmer, newly arrived in Two Rivers. He was a good man. Nevertheless, the old women with blue hair in tight topknots whispered behind their knitting needles about him. How when he was only twelve years old he was caught robbing a gasoline station with his older brothers. Four years in juvenile detention centers. A bad boy. Katherine knew he was a good man, learning from his mistakes, growing up. He broke the monotony of her life.
Her father, the town sheriff, and all of his deputies swarmed the town like angry wasps the next day. A robbery had taken place at the bank, during the hot afternoon she and Rex had spent in the barn. He was on his way to her house, a new record in hand, when the deputies cornered him. It seemed that the town agreed with the knitting ladies. He was arrested at once.
She would tell her father, even at the risk of her reputation. They had been together in the barn all afternoon and evening. He was adamant in the face of her protests. "Lie. I'll take the fall." His eyes begged along with his voice. "I didn't want to tell you, but my brother's back. After he went to prison, he became a different person. Not right. I won't have them chasing him from here to Billings, he could hurt someone."
"You have to tell!" Katherine was full of youthful idealism, longing for a world put right.
"Katherine, you have to live in this town. I don't. I've been on the move for so long, I wouldn't know what a real home was like." Rex's fingers caressed hers.
He begged over and over. When she was on the witness stand, she couldn't keep her eyes from his face. He was silently pleading with her. Lie. I'll take the fall. Katherine was amazed to hear her own voice, as if it were coming from someone else, lying about spending the day in the woods. It was done; the judge would congratulate her for putting a criminal back behind bars, where he belonged. For once, the sheriff's daughter had done something good for the town. The knitting ladies greeted her from behind their yarn. She may turn out to be a decent young woman after all. Only time would tell.
Time told in six months, when Katherine could stand the hypocrisy no longer. She packed her car on the same day Rex was released from prison. She had secretly hoped to avoid him on her way out of town, but it was not to be. When she saw him, pale-skinned and ghostly, she scribbled the name of the town on a small piece of paper. After all they'd been through, they must belong together.
He'd come for her.
Katherine drove into the prairie wind. The entire trip seemed to be straight into the wind. Because the dirt was blowing across the land, she didn't see the car that was following in the distance, nor did she hear the gunshots. The sheriff was at last satisfied. No convict would ever touch his daughter. Deep in his heart, he knew her testimony had been a lie.
He said he'd come for her.
Fifty years later, part of her was still waiting.

* * *

The day before the Autumn Equinox found Katherine in a strangely cheerful mood. She prepared a picnic lunch of freshly-baked bread and blueberries she'd canned herself, and took it into the woods a few blocks from her cottage. For the first time in years, Katherine noticed how blue the sky was, how clear and bright the Alaskan sun was even so close to the darkness of winter. It was as if she were seeing the countryside for the first time. Something about the dream she'd had about Rex and everything that had taken place so long ago caused the guilt to loosen its grip. For once, her life in Alaska didn't seem so much like a sentence, but a privilege.
Katherine could hear the ocean waves crashing against the shore, preparing for the next day, when the past and present would converge like an ancient rock seeing the sun after thousands of years at the bottom of the sea. Suddenly she was filled with a yearning to forget about her tasks for the rest of the day and sit on the shore, waiting for one of the rocks to appear. The wind changed, and the urge was gone. Katherine picked up her picnic basket and returned home.

* * *

Darkness was coming sooner every day. By seven o'clock, the sun had set and shadows began to form. Katherine shivered as she drew the curtains and ran a warm bath.
Her muscles ached after a day spent stretching and leaning over her gardens. Half an hour later, she was dressed in a bathrobe and slippers. She was reclining at her table with a week-old issue of the village's newspaper when she heard a knock at the door. At first, Katherine dismissed it, hoping that whoever it was would leave and return at a more convenient time. She heard another knock, stronger and more persistent. It could not go unanswered.
Katherine folded the paper, pushed her chair in and walked to the door. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. She felt her entire body relax against the doorframe, then reached for the knob. Swinging the door open wide, she found a smiling young man with dark hair and tanned skin. He wore a navy suit in the style of the late 1950's.
"Katherine," He savored the sound of her name. "I told you I'd follow you here." He held out a record album that had been new on the shelves when she left Two Rivers. "I brought you a present." The smile she had loved so well pulled at the sides of his mouth.
She reached for the album. "Rex!" She was twenty-one-year-old Katherine again. "I don't have a record player."
"Come with me, my love," he took her hand and led her out the door. "I know a place where we can dance, without hiding or sneaking. Come with me!"
"But, I'm not dressed for dancing," Katherine protested, remembering that she had undressed and put on her robe and slippers.
"Nonsense," Rex answered, pulling gently at her hand. "I remember the day you bought that dress!"
Katherine looked down at her clothing. She was wearing a red velvet party dress, one she had not seen for forty years. "Show me, Rex!" Katherine was exuberant as she and her lover walked by the moonlight toward the place where they could dance unhindered. "Show me, I can't wait!"
Rex laughed and kissed her tenderly. "We'll have plenty of time, plenty!"
The young couple did not notice that they had passed the shallow creek into the Seams of the Earth. "My cabin!" Rex pointed toward something in the distance. "Straight ahead. See the light? See the light, Katherine? That's where we're going to dance!"
The cabin, sparsely furnished with only a sofa and console record player, smelled of new pine. As Rex opened the console and placed the record on the turntable, Katherine gleefully noticed that the floor had not so much been walked upon. In a moment, she was dancing in the arms of her lover, swirling back and forth with the music. Rex always knew how to give good presents. This music, swelling into the night sky, was made to dance to in the Seams of the Earth. For all they knew, the music was the Seams of the Earth itself. She tried to whisper into her lover's ear, but the voice of the saxophone, clearer than that of any person, was all that she heard.
A few feet from the cabin, a pearly pink seashell was washed onto the beach.