The silence was the silence after everything has been said, and nothing has changed. They leaned on the fence together, a cold foot of empty space between them, not touching. Her hands worked, the sunlight catching the flash of a wedding band as it tumbled around in her palms, constantly moving, the strip of skin where her ring used to sit pale against her sun browned hands.
"When I first met you—" the man said, his voice as rough as the hands that gripped the fence.
"Don't." She said. "Don't say any more. It won't do any good."
He hurried past her objection in a rush of words, "it was the same day that I saw something else. Something—" he heaved a sigh, "something beyond beautiful, wonderful— I can't begin to explain to you what it meant to me. It was like when you open a window in a stuffy office after a long day of work and a gust of the most refreshing air blows in on your face and you remember that—there's more to the world than what's right in front of us…All the good in the world isn't just a fairy tale, it's bigger and better than all the grief and pain and drudgery."
The ring stilled in the busy fingers.
"And then," he continued, "then I met you."
"And what, ruined your wonderful vision?" She cut in over top of him. "Or did you decide that I didn't deserve to have any of that good that you saw, that you'd just keep it for yourself."
"I expected you to act like you'd seen what I saw and that was wrong of me. I didn't try to explain it to you and now it's too late. I think—I know it would have changed something between us."
His wife straightened, her lips tight. "So now you're apologizing because you should have expected less of me—poor me without any celestial visions. You're not getting the point. You should have expected more of yourself! How you expect any woman to cook and clean day in and—"
He dragged his hands over his face and let them drop, limp.
She stopped, ashamed of restarting the subject she'd asked him to stop talking about. "I guess I said that already."
She looked down at the plain ring in her hands, took a shaky breath, and then held it out to him, dropping it in his open palm. "I'm done."
But a movement caught the corner of her gaze and she paused to look across the fence. There, lying in the field, was a large, blindingly white feather. It shimmered in the sunlight.
Her husband inhaled sharply and straightened, staring at the feather. A breeze made it shiver, as if it might take flight without its wing.
And then they forgot the feather as a shadow descended on it. Gusts of warm wind, smelling of honeysuckle and clover, flattened the pasture grass and made the watching couple's hair flutter. The woman blinked and inhaled the gusts of sweet air, feeling the knots in her throat and heart loosen.
A horse descended from the sky, creating the breeze with massive wings, and softly planting its hooves onto the ground.
For a moment, they stood there and looked at it, and then, in unison, they stepped forward, the man pushing open the gate, his wife following him.
What are we doing? She thought as she stepped towards the silver glow emanating from the winged horse. For a moment, her eyes drifted to her husband—and she stopped.
A king stood beside her, the lines of his face carved with majesty and humility. There were deep cares reflected in his eyes, his hands were strong with experience and work. For a moment, she didn't recognize him, and then memory flooded her mind. This was the truth of the man she had glimpsed years ago, before the marriage, before the failing farm, before the clamoring chaos of children. Even then his real nature had been hidden by the trivialities of the world, but she had been able to see this truth at the core of him anyway.
She stopped, suddenly shy. What did she look like to these two—the winged horse that revealed truth with its wings and the king who still held her parting betrayal in his hand?
She clutched her hands to her chest. They felt bony and dusty to her, as if through all her pining for something more she had become merely a skeleton, abandoned by feeling or passion, all chance of life and living crumbling around her.
Her husband took a few steps without her and then turned back when he realized she had stopped. "Come on, Em." He said, extending a hand to her, and she saw in his eyes not disgust, but the same look she had seen on his face every day of their lives: love. She hadn't paid attention for years, but it had been there. She ducked her head in shame and saw her ring, glinting on his outstretched palm.
Surprised, certain he'd forgotten it was there, she inhaled sharply. "You can't…"
"Come with me."
For a moment, she stood frozen, hands clutched to her chest, and then with something between a sob and a gasp of joy she reached out and took the ring back from him, slipping it on her hand.
Then together, the two of them approached the waiting winged horse. And when he helped her up onto the horse's back, and she was smiling down at him, she was not the plain farmer's wife any more; she shone with the grace and loveliness that her bitterness had muted. She was a queen, an equal and match for her king in every way.
He helped her up onto the horse's back, followed behind her, and with a gust of clover and honeysuckle wind, the horse leapt into the sky and dwindled, a bright white speck vanishing against the blue.