blanket of gray clouds was always draped over the sky at that time of the
afternoon, and the sun was nowhere to be seen when the woman emerged from the
grove of trees. The wisps of her pallid blue dress trailed behind her. Her
feet, what little of them was visible beneath the dress, were bare. The curls
of her eerily shimmery locks cascaded down past her shoulders and likewise
trailed along behind her as she stepped forward along the tufted ground. The
blank expression on her face did little to convey her purpose as she neared the
edge of the seaside cliff.
her hands she held an open envelope. It was that envelope which caught the
said the girl.
she neared the edge of the cliff the woman slowed and turned her head to the
left. There was a little girl sitting on a log, or rather a bench carved out of
a fallen log, a short distance from the edge. Her back was bent over. She wore
a gray scarf flecked with strands of violet, and a simple purple coat coupled
with a pair of denim jeans. Her feet, unlike the woman's, were protected from
the cold ground by a pair of yellow and white polyester shoes. In her hands she
held a doll adorned in yellow yarn and a blue skirt. The girl's tussled black
hair gently waved about as the breeze from the late afternoon blew past her.
had watched the woman approach with the envelope in her hands and turned to
look at her, and she seemed nice so the girl thought it best to say, "Hi.” The little girl continued to look at the
woman even when she did not respond. Her
blank stare made her seem despondent, or as the girl might have said she looked
woman looked back at the little girl, blue gaze locked on her. She said nothing. The little girl could only look back for so
long before averting her gaze to mountains across the sea in front of her,
nearly hidden by the afternoon’s gray haze, then to her doll. She held the doll’s yarn hair in her fingers,
intertwining the strings as she sat in silence. Her brows rose as she smiled and looked back at the woman, who was still
gazing at her.
you want to sit down?” The woman did not move, or even respond. “It’s made out
of a tree, see?” The little girl knocked on the wood of the bench.
blue eyes fell to the bench. Pale
fingers tightened on the yellowed envelope as she turned her body away from the
direction of the cliff. The little girl
patted the space beside her, silently asking the woman once again if she wished
to sit. The woman in the blue dress regarded the little girl and the bench with
her blank eyes, and still she said nothing. As the little girl turned away and continued to play with her doll the
woman’s feet began to take her to the bench, the rest of her body rigid and
unwavering. Her hair and dress now billowed silently towards the trees she had
emerged from. She walked to the bench
and sat beside the little girl, placing the envelope on the bench beside her,
bringing her knees up as far as she could and wrapping her arms around them.
She held her two bare feet together beneath her, and stared out across the sea.
do you look sad?” said the little girl. The woman kept her gaze on the waves below. She parted her lips as if to
speak, but said nothing. The little girl thought she heard a noise, but it was
no more than an inaudible whisper.
she said. She leaned over, bringing the side of her head closer to the woman’s
lips. The woman was also slightly louder the second time, or so the girl
thought. Narrow lips shaped and stretched as each word was slowly uttered.
“I… lost… someone. Someone… very close, that I loved.”
in the woods?” The little girl gestured to the grove of trees behind them with
her empty hand. “My dad says if I get lost I should scream to high heaven and
someone will come to find me.”
The little girl turned to look at her hands, fingers intertwined in front of
her knees. “Are you lost?”
woman closed her eyes and turned her head once to the left, once to the right,
and stopped when she was facing the sea again.
okay.” The little girl’s eyes drifted along the woman from her head to her
feet. “Are you cold?” The woman opened her eyes and nodded.
dad says I should never go out without a jacket because the food in my stomach
will freeze into ice cubes. Didn’t your dad ever tell you that?” The woman
remained still, and the little girl did not press the question. She sat next to
the woman for another few moments in silence, and then began to unwrap the
scarf around her neck. The woman turned her head to watch when she noticed the
movement near her. When the scarf was removed the little girl turned to the
woman and held it up.
you can use it. My dad says I should be helpful or I won’t get any Butterfingers
after dinner.” The woman inched her hand towards the scarf and touched her
fingers to it. Her eyes widened, just slightly, as she moved her hand closer to
the material, placing her hand flat against the woven garment. Eventually she
coiled her fingers around it, and brought it to her knees. The little girl
watched and giggled as she observed the woman’s ineptitude with a
no, that’s not where it goes. Watch.” She stood and pulled the scarf from the
woman’s hand, then walked around behind her. The woman turned slightly as if to
watch what she was doing, but not enough to actually see. The little girl stood
behind her and wrapped the scarf around the woman’s neck, leaving both ends
dangling across her chest. She then pulled the woman’s hair out from beneath
the fabric before returning to her seat, smiling all the way.
that’s how. It will warm you up, watch.” The woman brought one hand to the
scarf and felt its rough edges, tracing strands of fabric from top to bottom.
As she did this the little girl picked up her doll again and resumed running
her fingers through the yarn.
you ever had Butterfingers?” she then said. “They’re really good.
They’re the best candy ever.” The little girl smiled widely as she pondered
Butterfingers. “I bet my dad brought some Butterfingers today, too. They’re
going to be so good!” The woman remained silent. Obviously, she was not
interested in Butterfingers. The little girl smirked and pursed her lips as she
thought. Then, she said, “Who did you lose?”
“What?” said the woman. The little girl was
glad that the woman was speaking loudly.
did you lose? You said you lost someone.”
loved…” The woman furrowed
her brows, as if to make certain before completing her response. “…a man.”
like your boyfriend?” said the little girl mockingly. The woman nodded in her
slow, deliberate manner.
did you love him?”
“I… loved him. He loved me.”
why?” asked the little girl. The woman lowered her eyes to her hands, which she
placed in her lap.
“He loved me.”
The little girl thought for a moment. “Was he a good man? My dad’s a good man,”
she said. “My mom says so.”
“Lucky, your mother,” she said. The woman
looked away again, back to the mountains across the sea.
your name?” asked the little girl.
“Name?” She looked down at her hands once
more. “Don’t recall… my name?”
girl smiled and looked at the woman incredulously. “Everyone has a name.”
“Don’t recall,” said the woman. “Your name?”
“Nice name… Jan.”
don’t think it’s nice,” she said. “Everyone calls me Jan-In-A-Can. My dad says
they don’t like their names either, so they make fun of mine.” She poked her
doll, then said, “Did you know that Jan means ‘gracious’?”
left side of the woman’s lips rose. It was not quite a smile, but it was more
than the blank, thin line that she had worn since she appeared from the trees. “Your dad says?”
she said solemnly, “my mom.”
“Funny little girl,” said the woman. Jan
scratched her dark head and stretched her legs out across the sandstone angled
down towards the cliff. She stared at her feet for a moment, unsure of how to
respond. Beyond her feet she noticed that the gray clouds were getting thicker,
and darker. They filled the sky now and there were no light patches between the
dark patches, like before. It was just dark everywhere.
woman rose, then, and Jan did not even see her move to stand up, but she was.
The envelope was once again in her hands.
“I must go.” She looked to her left, down at
have to leave?”
“Very sad,” said the woman.
have to leave ‘cause you’re sad?” asked Jan. The woman nodded.
“I cannot stay here… without him. No life… without him.”
Then she added, “you come, too?”
said her dad said not too wander too far.
squeezed her lips together as she considered the proposal. “Well, okay, but
only if it’s not far away.” She approached the woman, who’s left arm was
slightly raised towards Jan. Jan reached out and took her hand.
you’re still really cold! You should buy gloves at the store.”
woman closed her grip on the little girl’s fingers and began to lead her
forward, away from the grove of trees and bench, towards the sea and the gray
are we going?” asked Jan.
“A better place. Quiet place.”
place?” said Jan. “That sounds boring.” The woman led her along in silence. The
roar of the waves beneath the cliff grew louder, and Jan clutched her
yarn-haired doll tightly as the wind grew colder and stronger. The woman’s
dress waved drastically behind her. Her hair was as gray streamers, wildly
flying as the oncoming wind grew fiercer. With every step she took it grew
colder, and more dark, or at least it seemed so to Jan.
little girl plodded along behind her, approaching the cliff’s edge. “Are we
going to see the water? My dad says I shouldn’t go too close to the water
without him or the mermaids will come and take me away.”
“Yes… the sea is there. The sea takes away sadness.”
looked down at her feet as they walked along. She noticed how white and clean
the woman’s feet looked, walking across the stone. When she lifted her eyes she
saw that they were close to the edge now, and could almost see the waves
directly below the cliff. She thought about what the woman said.
dad says that,” she began, “when I’m sad, I should remember that there people who
love me, and everything will be okay.” She looked up at the woman. “Don’t you
have anyone else who loved you?”
woman stopped, erect and standing utterly still. The cessation of movement
caused Jan to drop her doll in front of her onto the layers of shale stone. The
doll’s feet folded down along the cliff’s edge, towards the water, and would
have fallen right over if they had been just slightly further ahead.
looked up at her and winced, partly due to the wind and the hair in her eyes,
and partly to try and figure out why the woman stopped. “Hey, we’re almost
going to see the water. Why’d we stop?” The irritation in her voice was not
obvious to the woman, though Jan thinks she made it clear enough. “The water’s
just there over the edge. Let’s see if the mermaids are there!”
man’s voice called from far away, behind them. Jan turned and grinned, then
reached forward to pick up her doll. She pulled her hand away from the woman,
which took more effort than she thought was required. “I have to go. My dad’s
calling me.” As she walked away she paused, and looked back at the woman in the
blue dress, who remained still, facing the sea and the gray mountains. She
waited to see the woman’s face.
could not wait when her dad was calling her, so she said “Bye!” and disappeared
into the grove of trees.
When she returned for her scarf (your mother's mind, her dad told her) she and her dad found the violet-flecked gray scarf on the rounded
log bench, clinging to the splinters. Jan’s dad picked up the scarf and wrapped
it around her neck, then kissed her on the forehead. He
said Jan should never go here again
because she might fall into the ocean and get eaten up by sharks, but
that she is
as clever as a fox for making up such a story. He took her hand and
turned and disappeared into the grove of trees. Behind them, hidden next to the bench, there remained a yellowed envelope, caught between the thick blades of a tuft of grass growing in the stone. As the wind from the sea blew furiously it took hold of the envelope and pulled it away, away from the bench, away from the jagged tufts of grass scattered along the stone terrain, and down and away from the seaside cliff. The envelope and letter inside fell to the violent foam below and were sucked into the frenzy, disappearing into nothing.