(I miss you, she says.
I miss you, he says.
The words pass each other unheard.)
(Lyra takes in a breath.)
I keep thinking of things to tell you once I get here, you know, but now that I’m here, I can’t think of anything.
It was a year ago today that you left. I’ve changed some, probably. Pan says so. I work at the college. Sometimes I sit in on a class or two but they all seem boring, after everything.
What are you doing?
I guess that’s a stupid question. You’re sitting on this bench, right? You’re sitting there. Right there.
Pan says hi.
I can’t think of anything to say, Will. Sorry.
But I’m glad you’re there.
(The sun is brilliant against her closed eyelids. Lyra tilts her head up and smiles, happy despite the constant ache in her chest.)
(Will takes a seat.)
I’ve entered University on scholarship; Dr. Halloway arranged everything. I’ve mentioned him before.
I think I’ll major in physics. There are still a lot of things we don’t know.
They don’t allow pets in the dormitories, but Kirjava and I will be all right. The University is far, so it’ll be hard for me to come for the next few years, but I’ll find a way.
I come back to visit this place a lot. We’ve picked a nice place. I think you probably visit more often too, but I’m not sure.
Sometimes it’s nice to just be here. I’m sure you understand.
I miss you, Lyra.
(Then, there is silence.)
(Lyra has brought things with her today: brushes, a canvas, a tiny easel. She sets up and talks quietly while she works.)
I’ve started painting over the past year. It feels good to do something that isn’t research.
I know, I’m surprised too. I’ve never been much of an academic, but I get to travel a lot. I’m happy.
I’ve been giving speeches on my latest discoveries, but it’s nice to be back home for a little while. I like being in front of people, talking, but I can’t really tell stories like I used to. I can’t go around making things up anymore.
So I paint instead. You don’t mind, do you? It’s so rare to get a day all to myself like this.
I’m glad I can spend it with you.
(Lyra paints swiftly, all bright colors and sketchy lines. She paints the sky, the low wall, the creeping vines, the weatherbeaten bench of gray stone. Then she paints herself with the ease of long practice. She’s made dozens of self-portraits, imagining herself the way others see her, the way Will would have seen her if he were there: looking out the window, standing on the edge of a cliff, curled in the sheets, eyes fluttering in the moment just before waking.
Lyra in the painting is laughing, leaning back on her hands. She’s almost thirty, but she looks young for her age. Her hair is long and golden, spilling around her face and down her back. Pantalamion is a soft brown shape at her side.
She pauses, thinking, and then lifts her brush again. She paints large hands, a blue sweater, wide, strong shoulders.
Her paintbrush hesitates inches from the canvas. It’s been over ten years, she realizes. What does Will look like now?
Lyra closes her eyes as pain flashes through her. Pantalamion slinks forward to press his nose reassuringly against her free hand.
Blue eyes, she thinks. A smile that never quite reaches his eyes and a messy fringe of brown hair.
She paints quickly. When she’s finished, Will is leaning on her shoulder—smiling, older, but unmistakable. Two lovers sitting together on a nondescript bench on a day just like any other.
She adds the date and her signature. I won’t forget, she whispers.)
(The next time Will visits, he has to clear the weeds away. He’s moved to Ireland, following work, and he worries that the old bench won’t be here this time next year.)
I wish I could visit more often, as I did when I was young, but it’s a hard trip. You’re busy too, aren’t you?
My students are worse every year, but I can’t give up on them. There’s always one or two who remind me of myself at that age. Or you. They make the effort worthwhile.
To have found something so perfect when I was still just a child…it’s really a shame, isn’t it? There’s no way I could be satisfied with less, now.
I think of you often—more than often. The ache has dulled, but it’s never gone away, of course.
To think of you, being so close here.
I love you, Lyra.
That’s never changed.
(When he stands to leave at the close of the day, his joints creak. He’s not getting any younger. He’s forty years old, but he can close his eyes and remember her—holding the fruit to his lips, the bursting feeling in his chest, the hope that glistened in her eyes—as if it had been yesterday.)
(I don’t miss you, she says. The bench is gone, but Lyra is still sprightly at fifty, and she’s brought a blanket to sit upon. She leans against the wall and Pantalamion stretches out in the sun beside her.
I don’t miss you, she repeats. How do you miss someone who’s never really left?)
(Will’s recovering from another round of chemotherapy and his chest rattles with every breath he takes.
He imagines Lyra sitting on the bench, her eyes etched with crow’s feet, hair faded by a lifetime of adventure, waiting for him. But the reality is that he’s trapped here, chained by thin IV lines, walled in by the bed’s thin aluminum railing, and there’s no way he’s going to make it to the meeting place today. In fifty-one years, this is the first time he’s missed it.
He imagines her hopeful smile. He imagines her patting the cool stone beside him invitingly, just like he does. I’m sorry, he says, I’m sorry, and Kirjava shivers underneath his bed because she can’t even curl into his arms, because the nurses could come in at any time. I’m sorry, I love you, I’m sorry.
Will, Kirjava whispers, You love each other no matter where you are. It has always been that way.
The next year, he limps there with a cane. When he sees the old bench, the rush of relief he feels is so strong he bursts out laughing with it.
I’m home, he says.)
(Twelve years old seems like such a long time ago, she says.
Lyra has lived a good, long life. She has changed the world in smaller, less dramatic ways since the days of her childhood. She has relearned how to read the alethiometer, helped foster breakthroughs and unearthed lost histories. The name Lyra Silvertongue is stamped on books and articles in libraries across the world, and she still visits Iorek’s daughter, her godchild, when she can spare the time.
It’s been a long time, she repeats. I’ve made the most of it. I know you have, too.
At the end of the day, she returns to a home full of portraits, at least half of which are of a man with dark brown hair and blue, blue eyes.)
(His friends draw closer to the bed, and Will says: Lyra.
He’s never spoken of her before. When asked why he has never married, never even dated, he’s only smiled and shaken his head. He’s kept her a secret because he knows that on the other side of the veil a whole world has her where he can’t touch, but here, in his heart, she’s something only he has.
But it’s too late now, and the name spills from his lips. He’s desperate to hear it, to be close to her one last time. Lyra, he breathes. Lyra.
His eyes close.
A world away, Lyra gasps as something within her takes flight.)
(The sun rises. The day is clear and cold.
One bench, one field—both stand empty.
At long last, the sun rests.)