She waits. She watches the horizon. The sky was almost black when she left the cottage. Now it is a dark grey, where the low cloud meets the blanket of white. Her legs ache from the steep walk through the forest, and her face stings. It’s a bitter, biting cold. She inspects the mud that clings to her skirts.
She imagines him appearing over the horizon. His fair hair, his dark eyes, and then his smile, his perfect smile.
“Wait for me, I will come,” he said.
She doesn’t know how long she has waited, but her hands are numb, despite the thick socks and pockets she stuffed them into. The once toasty coals from the hearth are now just cold rocks. She pulls them out of her pocket and drops them into the snow. Maybe she should keep them; they might need them later. They are like black eyes staring up at her. She wonders if it’s bad luck to leave them like that.
“But, what if Father won’t let you go, what if you can’t get out again?”
“I’ll get out.”
He winked. She blushed. They kissed.
“Make sure you eat lots, and wrap up,” he said.
She is wearing every item of clothing that she owns, but she can still feel the chill creeping in. The layers of stockings don’t compensate for the hole in her boot. She rocks from foot to foot, the snow crunching under her feet. Her wet toes squelch. She would have to fix that before they set off on their journey.
She scans the skyline again.
“Listen now, don’ you be talkin’ to anyone else you might see.”
“And don’ even be thinkin’ ‘bout it. Keep them thoughts nice.”
“An’, if it creep in your ‘ed, push it reet out.”
She looks down at the black eyes, then closes her own and imagines him walking towards her, taking her hand. Escaping into their future. They have plans just over the horizon.
When she opens her eyes the whiteness blinds her.
“It’s just the sun. It be comin’ up.” Her words form a mist in front of her face.
The posts along the track seem to move. She can hear them creaking under the weight of the snow. They look blacker too. Her stepmom had told her they were the charred souls of all the bad people.
“There be a space for you, right there.” She would point. “Marching right to hell, and you be going wi’ um, dirty, evil girl!”
Maybe they are moving to make room for her right now.
She can feel it creeping in. The doubt.
She looks around at the patchwork of fields, boundaries marked by bare trees and stumps that jut out from the land. Billowing white as far as she can see. They played in these fields as children. Black clouds hang heavy, almost touching the ground, casting a creeping dark shadow on the white as they roll.
She can just make out the twirl of smoke in the distance. Father was up. She imagines him swinging his axe, chopping the wood. He had been a good man once, but now he was always angry. Most of the time he would take it out on the wood, but sometimes not. She shivers, pulls her layers tight around her and pushes her hands deep into her pockets. She prays he has made it out.
She turns to see the wind lifting the snow from the path, a small swirl at first, but growing, dancing and twirling, gathering speed. A spinning whirlwind moves towards her. It picks up speed and strength as it moves.
….Push it reet out
She closes her eyes. Warm fires, his eyes, his lips, holding hands, she’s laughing, he pinches her cheek. Laughing…laughing…his hands…warm fires…his face… where was he? Kissing…their hands… holding hands – not cold but warm, soon, but when…
She can feel the icy fingertips on her face. Her heart beats loud in her ears.
She closes her eyes tighter. Her heart pounds in her head. She feels sick and dizzy.
Push it out
But she can feel the chill down her right side where it brushes up against her. She can hear its breath freeze into crystals and fall to the ground. It sounds like the bone chime on their porch.
He aint comin’ they won’t let him out, stupid girl.
Come with me, I’ll keep you safe.
Warmth, fires, kissing his lips, sunshine, green fields, picking buttercups, laughing, always laughing, his eyes on her, his touch…there be a space for you right there, dirty girl…
Noooo. Shhhhhh, push it out.
You can’t make me go away. You need to look at me.
“I ain’t lookin.”
I won’t go till you see me.
Gleaming light bursts through as she slowly opens her eyes. She stares ahead then flicks a glance at the path, but he’s not there. She looks back at the house.
I told you, he aint comin’, he’s knows you a wicked girl.
Without moving, she glances to her right: she can see the swirl of white at her side. She can feel the chilling stare. Hear the wind whistling through it.
LOOK AT ME.
She turns, her eyes still closed.
“You can’t scare me.” She opens her eyes and sees the gaping holes staring back. The wide, blackened mouth smiles and swirls around its icy face. The shape shifts with the wind, and a long tendril extends outwards, it jabs at her belly.
That chile coming out all wrong and you goin’ straight to hell!
She places her hands over her stomach.
“Don’t you be saying that.”
You done wrong, but I can make it right.
“No, leave me alone. I ain’t bothered your kind, please go away.”
I can make it go away.
The icy tendrils wrap themselves around her. The wind whips around her face, howling at her, lifting her skirts, pulling at her hair, taking her breath as it tries to get inside her. The chill seeps deep into her bones. Her whole body begins to shiver.
She closes her eyes and screams into the storm.
“You’re NOT real!”
She opens her eyes. Stillness and silence. She looks down at the two lumps of coal in the snow and pushes them under the white with her boot.
She turns and he is there on the path. She straightens herself and resists the urge to wave. His face looks stern. She watches as he gets nearer. He’s got Father’s coat on and his gun hangs over his back. He walks right up to her and kisses her boldly on the lips, and gently strokes her blossoming belly. She welcomes the warmth.
“You good little sis?”
“How did you get Father’s gun?”
“Don’t you be worryin’ ‘bout that. You ready?”
“Then let’s go.”