Author:: Calla Smith
Calla Smith lives and writes in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She enjoys long walks, cooking, and keeping her eyes open for the bizarre in everyday life. She has published a collection of flash fiction “What Doesn’t Kill You”, and her work can also be found in several literary journals.
It was the farthest north they had ever been. Ellie had an aunt who lived in a large vacation home on the seaside somewhere where it was always warm, and they could escape the cold weather of the city that they had never left before, where the bare trees cracked under the wind and the glass of kitchen windows grew white with frost in the early mornings.
Ellie knew that Caroline needed to get away, the same way that Ellie always knew everything about her. It had been that way since Caroline had first tasted Ellie’s name on her tongue and felt the sharp edges getting stuck in her teeth all those years ago. Their friendship had long been merely a fact of life.
Caroline had driven up over the dark and dead land as the wind rushing through the crack in the back windows grew gradually warmer. The earth turned brown, then was painted with the fresh green of spring grass fighting its way to the sun. Darkness fell like the sharp bite of a knife, and the air grew heavy. Were they driving through the night or swimming effortlessly through the warm and welcoming water? But they found the house, and the car gently sighed as it stopped in the driveway perched on the edge of a cliff. Down below them, they could see the house illuminated by the pool of yellow light cast by the porch light.
Ellie’s aunt was waiting up for them but said that the rest of her family had already gone to bed. Framed by soft grey curls, her face betrayed a deep tiredness that could never be shaken. She showed them their room, and they fell into their beds, eyes closing as their bodies slowly unfroze in the warm air.
Early the next morning, as the sun was just starting to peek into their room from around the white lace curtains, they were awoken by the soft, padded steps of a young girl’s feet on the peeling wood floorboards. Small bird-like hands caressed their arms and faces, and a soft voice told them to wake up because Mama was making breakfast, and they had to hurry before there was no food left for them.
Violet was five, and her long dark hair covered her face, only revealing the soft button of her nose and the bright curiosity of her dark eyes. They clamored out of bed, still in their travel clothes, and made their way downstairs while the young nymph peppered them with questions about a city she had only heard about, full of things she could only imagine: traffic lights, buses, trains, shops, supermarkets, and people, so many people.
Ellie’s aunt Denise had two plates of scrambled eggs, toast, and bright splashes of cherry tomatoes in her hands. Her coffee was strong, and the black lines under her eyes only looked deeper than the night before. They could go to the beach later, she said, after they helped her tidy up the house. They nodded, too tired to pay much attention.
They washed the dishes and closed the kitchen with a heavy iron door turning green with water damage. Denise took them upstairs, where they stripped the beds down and shoved the bedding and clothes into the attic, just in case, she said.
As they went back downstairs, they found the dining room covered in a thin layer that lapped at their feet. Violet lifted up her skirts and danced over the worn wood floor. She said the water didn’t usually make it all the way to the second floor, but once it had, and so many pretty things had been lost. Her mother tried to call her to the door, but the water was pouring in, higher and higher, already up to their knees.
The smaller, lighter pieces of furniture began to gently lift off from the ground and softly float around through the large rooms. The fresh, salty smell that permeated their skin grew stronger, a scent the wood of the house would never be free of, a smell that consumed even the furniture.
They all piled in the car as the water rose and the creaks and groans filled the morning air. There was a beach just down the road, Denise told them. They could spend the day there with the seagulls flying above them and the sun warming our cold bones. The ocean wouldn’t be dark and threatening there, and Violet could build castles in the sand. By the time they returned, the tide would be down, and the water would have receded as it did every day, leaving behind only a dampness easily mistaken for humidity.
Ellie and Caroline just glanced at each other, thinking without saying that perhaps this was simply how lives were lived there. They weren’t in any position to believe any differently.