A Snowdrop for Spring

Calla+Sallow+and+Sage%2C+drawn+by+Victoria+Oliveira

Calla Sallow and Sage, drawn by Victoria Oliveira

Victoria Oliveira, Editor-in-Chief

I hope I live forever. And so far, so good. I mean, it has been only 17 years, but that’s still longer than a lot of people! Especially for people around me. I think I know more dead people than living ones, since I’m a harbinger of death and all. I can see ghosts, too, which is mildly interesting. So, if I live forever, I can stay with my ghost friends and not have to find out what lays beyond. I’m not scared of death or dying, only the unknown.

It was a bright morning in Cape Cod, the air crisp and heavy. Even though I was under a thick blanket, I couldn’t help but shiver. Why is it so cold? I thought, before the realization struck me. Probably because of Sage. I hadn’t even seen my translucent friend lying across me until she licked my face, her icy cold tongue leaving behind a faint streak of luminescent ectoplasm.

“Ugh, get off me, you gongoozler!” I grumbled, trying in vain to push her off. My hands just phased right through her. I don’t know why I even try sometimes. She licked me again and I let myself tumble out of bed and onto the floor. I just lay there for a moment, Sage standing over me. From on my stomach, I glared up at her spotted face and lolling tongue. Dalmatians supposedly have above average intelligence, so I contemplated that she was doing this to mock me, and not because she is an idiot. I decided on the later as a thick drop of ghost juice dribbled onto the floor from her maw, her tail still wagging.

I hauled myself up off the ground and dragged my feet to the built-in cedar closet in my little attic space, swinging it open and accidentally hitting the writing desk in the corner with a thump. I flinched, waiting to hear reprimands from my landlords, but there was nothing. The Delaneys must still be asleep, I concluded, cautiously rifling through my worn clothing.

I fastened my holey corset over a yellowing chemise, topped with a couple threadbare petticoats and my mother’s old button-up dress, with the grey pinstripes. I slipped on my stockings and laced up my heavy leather boots. Those had been my brother’s, so I had to stuff an extra pair of stockings in the toes to make them fit.

My brother and father had been fishermen, and, when I was about seven years old, there was a big storm. That night I had felt instinctively drawn to the harbor, and my mother had to tie me down to stop me from running there and being swallowed up by the voracious waves. A few days later we learned that the fishing boat my father and brother had been on had sunk not a mile out of the bay. That was the first time my “gift,” as Mother had always called it, became impossible to ignore.

My mother died after she got sick. It was only a few years ago, not long after my 14th birthday. I felt it coming, you know, just this deep-rooted ache that would not let me leave her side for days. Not until she left this world. She did not stay though. My mother went off to wherever the dead go, leaving me here, all alone.

She had been working as a maid for the Delaney family, who let me have her job after she was gone. The Delaneys seemed to want as little to do with me as possible, though. They were always wary of me as a young child, as I had a tendency to talk to the deer head Mr. Delaney mounted on the wall. Nobody wanted to be near the poor orphan girl who could speak to the dead. I think the only reason they kept me on was because they could get away with only paying me room and board, as well as the fact that I could keep a secret. They definitely didn’t seem to mind when I disappeared for days at a time.

It comes with the whole being a “harbinger of death” thing, disappearing for so long. Sometimes I just have this inexplicable feeling that I need to be at this place at this time, like when my father’s ship went down or my mother got sick. Sometimes I arrived days before the end, sometimes only minutes. I don’t bring death, but I do signal it. I like to think of myself like a snowdrop, signaling the coming of spring. It makes me feel better to think of it like that. A delicate, unassuming flower, popping through the snow in preparation for something beautiful.

For once, I didn’t have that feeling in my chest. Today I was determined to only run some errands. I slipped out the front door after grabbing my tattered wool coat, closing the few remaining buttons to protect me from the icy nip in the wind. I put the money Mrs. Delaney had left for groceries in my pocket. Spring may be right around the corner, but the cloud of breath rolling off my lips begged to differ.

Sage came barreling through the closed door, phasing through it with a wild look in her eyes. Her faint glow was almost blinding in the dim light. As I walked, my heels clicked on the flagstone walkway. I looked back as the sun was just rising, painting the sky a warm pink and silhouetting the Delaneys’ house. It looked almost black against the sky, like a monster lying in wait. The shingles were redone on the front side of the house, but I knew the ones in the back were still rotting away. The Delaneys weren’t the wealthy family they used to be. It was all just a façade now. I promised to keep their secrets years ago, so I won’t divulge them now. I don’t like thinking about what they did, anyway.

Sage suddenly sprung up, putting her paws up on my back and breathing down the back of my neck, making me shudder. She must have been heavy in life, standing almost as tall as me on her hind legs, but now all I felt from her was a lingering cold.

“What do you want now, you goop?” I whispered as she got down and nudged a fence post. “You’re right! I almost forgot!” I pushed aside the thick swathe of English ivy that had taken over the flower bed, revealing a rusted old hammer. I grabbed it and nodded to Sage. She wagged her tail and fell into step as I quickened my pace. I had a detour to make.

 

Old Man Allen’s house had been vacant for years now. The house technically belonged to his daughter now, but she went off to New York City ages ago and had not returned since. One night in January, a few years ago, he had gone after one of the neighbor’s horses that had broken through the ice of his big fish pond. The horse lived to tell the tale, but Old Man Allen could only tell me. It was a frigid night, well below zero. I couldn’t do anything to help, since by the time I got there he had turned blue and stopped struggling. His spirit stayed.

Old Man Allen had been a great wood carver, though as a young man he had lost a few fingers while making a chair. He was also generous and lent out his tools pretty often. So when he died, he refused to move on until all of his tools were returned to him. Pretty ridiculous, if you ask me, but they were gifts from his late wife and were important to him. I had set out on my side quest of retrieving them early last year. This hammer was the last piece.

After a brisk walk through town, I arrived at his front stoop, which sagged under my weight. I opened the heavy wood door, which squeaked on its hinges. Nobody really locked their doors around here anyway.
“Mr. Allen?” I called, tottering through the doorway. Sage ran in ahead, towards the parlor. I turned into the room and spotted Old Man Allen rubbing his hands together and holding them out to the unlit hearth. He was always dripping wet, and his breath was a thick glowing cloud. His blue skin emitting the same eerie glow as Sage’s.

“Why, if it isn’t Miss Calla Sallow.” he said in a shaky voice. I nodded. He had known me since I was a child, having been friends with my father. Like everyone else, he had avoided me after the rumors of my “gift” spread. But now I was the only person there was to talk to. I pulled the hammer from my coat pocket and presented it to him.

“Hah.” he said, his eyes welling with tears. “You really did find them all.” He paused for a moment. I shifted from foot to foot, my hands clasped tightly behind my back.

“I was hoping my daughter would come visit before I went,” he continued, “but I guess it can’t be helped.” He let out a long sigh. Sage walked up to him and sniffed his face. He gave her a pat on the head. “My tool box is out back in the shed, if you could put it away for me.” He gave me one last smile as he glowed brighter, and then he disappeared all together. Gone, like so many others.

 

I walked solemnly to the marketplace, avoiding people’s eyes. I have always been shy, and never had the chance to overcome it. Not since people avoid me like the plague. As I wandered the stalls, picking through frostbitten produce, I couldn’t help but think I should go back for Old Man Allen’s tool box. That old shed was falling apart, and it just felt wrong to let those tools get buried out there.

Distracted, I almost forgot to stop by the Fire Department. Sage reminded me with a bark. Stopping by the Fire Department was her highlight of any walk. She has been my companion since early in 1905, only a few months after I had lost my mother.

I don’t get called for every death, and very rarely for animals, but Sage was an exception. She was the fire dog at the time, only a year or so old. There was a big fire in town, and she was too eager. I thought I was called to the fire, but the family had gone out for a picnic, so no one was hurt. As my gut feeling pulled me along at full stride behind the horse drawn engine, I heard a sickening thump. The carriage bounced up once and then continued on, a few of the firemen turning their heads in dismay.

This beautiful Dalmatian lay in the cobbled street, a dirty wheel mark pressed into the white fur of her flank. And then a faintly glowing apparition arose and continued running after the fire engine. I think she died too suddenly to realize what had happened. I waited until after they buried her body to go up to her. She was begging for attention that no one would give her, not knowing that they didn’t even know she was there. That’s why she stays with me, I think. Even though I can’t physically touch her, I can give her the love and attention she craves.

I think she knows by now that she died. She still likes to go by the fire station, though, tongue lolling and tail wagging, seeing all the men who were once her best friends. They haven’t gotten another dog since. Sometimes they ask me about her, to which I smile and point at the apparition. They can not see her though, and they have yet to decide if they really believe me or not. Sometimes they will run their hands over the air I point at, which thrills Sage to no bounds.

“Should I go pick up his tool box?” I asked her after we finally ducked out of the marketplace. She just stared at me with her lively eyes. I puffed up my cheeks. “I think I should.”

Sage licked my hand and I affectionately ran my hand through her head, which was the closest I could actually get to petting her. Some boy from town stared at me, probably thinking me a mad woman, petting an invisible dog. I voided his eyes and continued on my way.

 

I picked my way through the overgrown brambles in Old Man Allen’s back yard. I envied Sage’s ability to easily saunter through them, while they tugged at my long skirts and scratched my boots.
Suddenly, a voice cried from across the yard: “I hate you! I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that!”
I looked over and saw a tall woman standing there, clenching her fists and shaking. I must have jumped or something, since she whipped around and stared right at me, tears welling in her eyes. She had the same grey eyes that Old Man Allen had, like heavy storm clouds gathering. She came back too late, I noted, realizing that she must be his daughter.

“He’s not here anymore,” I blurted out, the words tumbling out of my mouth.

“I know,” the woman announced, narrowing her eyes. “He has been dead for years.” I paused.

“Yes,” I met her nor’easter eyes, “but he left this morning.” I took a deep breath and walked the rest of the way to the property’s dilapidated shed. I went in and pulled the tool box off the floor, heavy and made of wood and leather. “I found all his tools for him, so he finally left.”

She looked bewildered, wandering towards me. “He was sad that he didn’t get to see you before he went,” I continued, instinctively backing away. “He really loved you, you know.” She reached out and gripped the handle of the tool box. I lingered just a moment before handing it over to her. Her hands felt like fire, a feeling both burning and alluring. I had almost forgotten how warm the living were, without real human contact for almost three years now.

“My mother gave him these,” she said in a whisper. “I was so mad when he lent them out, since they were one of the only things we had left from her.” A single tear rolled down her cheek.

“He would want you to have them,” I concluded. Maybe that was why he wanted them back. A last gift from his wife, and a rift between him and his daughter. “He wanted to make things right.”

She nodded solemnly, her face drawn. “Thank you.” She turned her back to me and walked back to the house. I stood there for another moment. I hadn’t noticed it before, but blue snowdrops were blooming in the brambles.

Delicate little things, fighting against the thorns.

 

It’s little moments like that that make it all worth it.

After pulling off my heavy boots, I crashed onto my bed. I still had to help Mrs. Delaney with supper and start cleaning out the cellar, but for now I just needed a minute. I sighed, glancing over to Sage, with her paws up on my bed. She ran her spectral tongue up my cheek, leaving an icy trail.

“Eew!” I grumbled, chuckling as I whipped my face with my sleeve.

Miss Allen hadn’t asked my name. She hadn’t been scared, or called me crazy. Whether she believed me about her father asking me to find his tools or not didn’t matter. They belonged to her, not left in that shed, and not at the bottom of my closet.

I knew what it was like to lose both parents. Maybe she knew that I understood her pain. Sometimes I feel like screaming at the sea, asking why my father and brother had never come home. Sometimes I looked at my dark, deep-set eyes in the mirror, trying to pretend it was my mother who looked back at me.

Miss Allen did not hate her father. She probably missed him as much as he had missed her. He had waited every day for her to walk through that front door. I know he moved on. I saw it with my own eyes, but I still believe he saw her return home. He knew she would come back, and he wanted the tool box to be there for her.

“Calla!” A cry from downstairs interrupted my thoughts.

“Coming!” I shouted, rising from my bed like a zombie from the grave. “C’mon, Sage. Let’s go pick some of those snowdrops when I finish.”

 

Victoria Oliveira, Class of 2021