Snow had slipped from our skies at dusk. The town warped with it, stone pavement flashing through white. Her numbing breath ran down my neck, cold teeth behind my ear. The wind’s voice was filled with sorrow, though it whispered in a language I could not comprehend.
The sallowed moon hung from a thread, its sticky light tumbling through the thickest of glass windows. Those past few weeks it seemed to have sickened, shrinking as it sank back into the shadow’s embrace. Winter had morphed the air to sweet sedatives, life plunging into slumber.
Ma’s letters had stopped coming in. It’d been weeks since the last one. I ached for her familiar scrawl, parchment which lingered with her orange blossom-bergamot perfume. Past letters fanned between my fingers; reliving them, I heard her words and their silky vibrato, pictured the light slipping from the soft angles of her face. Candlelight illuminated the room, its light faint but ever alive, ebbing out from the wick. Its wax crawled off the plate, leaking onto the table, hissing as its heat met wood.
I cursed, hiding the letters under my bed as a knock sounded from the window. My pulse hammered as my grandmother’s snoring stilled, later looming on.
A girl grinned from behind the windows, thick glass morphing her face. Eva. Her cheeks were flushed from the cold, skin blanketed in a mixture of moon and candlelight. But strangely, there was warmth pooled within her eyes, though everything else had fallen to chaos.
I pried the window open, holding my breath as its ridges squeaked.
“Hurry up,” she beckoned her hand to me, moving closer to the glass. Her words were barely there, treading below a whisper, but I understood them the same.
Shooting her a thumbs-up, I scurried to grab my best coat, a berry blue that brought me back to countless jam-filled autumns. We would stay huddled around the stove and its heat, switching turns stirring when the other got tired. I could almost smell the caramelized sugar and lemon as I slipped it on.
I clung to the edge of my window as I dropped myself down. The snow crunched under my feet, my boots sinking into the pavement. Crisp air prickled my face, the only area I left uncovered, nose numbed.
Eva let out a muffled laugh as she raced towards the trail leading through the forest. The trail was bedded with stones, lined with frosted bushes and barren, desolate trees whose arms furled upwards, as if trying to climb to warmth that would never come.
“Try and catch me,” she says, her voice riding the wind.
I didn’t run to win, rather keep her in my vision and the light she seemed to emit like a beacon.
We’d planted crocuses along the path years ago to trace the way there, their lilac, bell-shaped blossoms would emerge from even the thickest layers of snow. Perfume poured from their centers, reminiscent of honey and cinnamon as it seeped outward.
My lungs burned, legs aching by the time we reached the looming gate. Vines of blue starflowers climbed the stone, coating the exterior, clambering from the inside like starlight, unable to be contained.
She was composed as ever, chestnut hair tied in a cream-colored ribbon, red gloves dug through her pockets. A gold-gilded key slid from her fingers into the gate, clicking into place as her wrist rotated.
Pale pink petals rained from branches, blossoms glided on currents of air, plummeting as they brushed the beds of grass—light green and still threaded with dew—beneath us.
Fruit trees outstretched, plums and cherries in their blossomed palms. The air tangled with sugar and toasted almond, sweet violets hugging moss-flooded oak trunks.
Chiming laughter almost hung from the trees, their blossoms molded like bells, necks craning down. We would lay beneath the trees, gaze up from the gaps of their fanning blossoms, backs pressed against the damp soil, count the stars as they slipped farther and farther from our fingertips.
Her hands would grow sticky from slicing open pomegranates with her blade, red staining her fingers, lips.
I asked her time and time again how on Earth she found it. This spot. She would always dodge the question or laugh. Except for that time a small smile enveloped her face, almost sad, telling me I’d understand someday.
We’d come here every week, lock ourselves away from the unmovable forces of time and reality. A haven where I could rest my head near hers, feel her velvet hair tickle my cheeks, my heart drum against my chest.
But eventually, she stopped coming.
The purple flowers we’d planted, the ones that had flourished for over five years, started withering. Gone were their sugary scent, leaving only trails of ants in their wake.
Months passed, as curiosity harbored and nested deeper within me, eventually I caved in. I grew tired of the ache in my heart, knives in my gut.
Now I stand before her door, a bamboo-woven basket in hand, brimming with blossoms and fruit. Knocking twice, my heart stills as I hold my breath.
An old man opens the door instead, face weathered with wrinkles.
“Look, whatever you’ve got to sell, I don’t want it.” His voice is gruff, coarse as he talks.
His hand clasps the doorknob between his fingers, but before he gets the chance to close it I blurt, “Is Eva still here?”
The silence that follows is deafening.
He coughs, guilt swarming his eyes, eyes so expressive and full of light. Rimmed in hard edges, shielding its core which lay soft and tawny. Amber ran its hearth, jeweled and mottled with grey specks. I know those eyes. I would count the stars in them, the light bottled within her skin would illuminate freckles into stretching cosmos. “I don’t know what to tell you, kid. She’s dead. Passed away years ago.”
The basket slips from my hands, bruised petals tumbling into stone steps.
I’m sure I saw her two months ago. I still remember her red gloves, white ribboned hair like yesterday.