by Gavin DuBois
On a breezy Sunday morning in April, after weeks of listlessly gathering in the heavens, the clouds burst. Rain fell in clustered torrents about the county; so much so that many began to fear for their ramshackle homes by the riverside. Mr. and Mrs. Darling, however, did not worry. They had their warm fire in their old stone house, built by Mr. Darling’s great-great grandfather, tucked in the arms of a hill far above the flood line. The children were saturated with momentum; the pitter-patter of rain on the cloistering roof and walls a reminder of their entrapment.
Little Rosey was the first to ask, yet unafraid, or perhaps unaware of the venom lurking behind an idle question. She wanted to dance, to parade about, to stretch her growing limbs further and test what she knew her body, unmarred by age, could do. She did not heed the hushed, frantic tones of her brother Peter, or the cool disaffected gaze of her sister Riley, urging refrain. She obeyed her body, which told her with the utmost urgency: escape, flee, and take the longest of leaps away, away, away.
Mr. and Mrs. Darling sat huddled near the mantle, the occasional snaps of the fire spitting hot flecks onto the aging carpet. Rosey, head cast downward, saw dozens of little black spots on the carpet, artifacts from years of wandering embers. Her father always called the blackened sections of the rug No-Man’s Land. When Rosey asked her older sister what that was, she just said that it was a bad place from the War.
“Look at me when I speak, young lady,” Mrs. Darling commanded. Her mother’s smile was taught, eyes pools of brilliant green, like a pond strangled with algae. A face of living marble, she was Andromeda writhing just beneath airs of duty and tact.
“We want to play outside in the rain, Mother,” Rosey said. Mrs. Darling blinked several times, as if her daughter had uttered a blasphemous language.
“I think not. You wouldn’t want to spoil your good school clothes.”
“But it’s Sunday, Mother! We won’t ruin our clothes, I promise.” Peter and Riley recognized the fire building behind their mother’s eyes and had already begun to make their retreat up the stairs when Mr. Darling spoke, eyes still planted to a dusty old tome.
“Let the children go, dear,” he exhaled as he spoke, a minor sound like the creaking eaves of their old stone house. Mrs. Darling gave her husband not so much as a glance. She glared at each of her children in turn, mumbling with inaudible tones then finally said, “Not in your good clothes,” and settled back into her seat.
The rain greeted them with cool open arms and its song begat their dance. Rosey galloped out into the field adjacent to their home, the soaked grass squelching between her little toes. Peter followed close behind, cartwheeling jovially, smashing inadvertently into his little sister. The two fell laughing, and were set upon by Riley, whose grim visage had been washed away.
There were explorers, marooned in an alien world of everlasting rain. They were pirates, pillaging a new world, ripe with exotic peoples and their priceless treasures. They were heroes, prying the land free from the grasp of a tyrannical matriarch. Their play drew them ever closer to the tree line, winding up an imposing hill at the edge of the field. The edge of the field was the edge of the children’s domain, an intractable border over which they were never to cross. As the rain fell, and Rosey felt the water washing over her—felt the thousands of droplets cake her hair to her face and clothes to her skin—she was emboldened.
“Where are you going?” Riley called out, as her sister sprinted into the woods.
“Follow me!” came her reply, a powerful bellow that she had previously thought herself incapable of. The rain fell intermittently, less intense with thick cover of foliage. Rosey ran on, laughing, and heard the damp footfalls of her siblings in pursuit. She drank in the pleasant humours rain had dredged from the forest; pine and earthen scents flirted with her senses and beguiled her pace.
It was then, Rosey noticed, that the rain had stopped. The torrent had split open the hill before her, the face of a mossy cliff having been shortened several feet by a landslide, revealing a distinctly metal canister situated amongst the spongy earth. Riley and Peter, catching up, startled their sister’s eyes away from the object.
“What do you think you’re doing? Hurry, before someone sees us,” Riley made to grasp her sister’s arm, but Rosey shied away.
“Look at that,” she said, pointing towards the eviscerated landscape before them.
“Don’t—” But before Riley’s protest could be made, Rosey approached the canister, and began to strip clumps of mud away from its surface, revealing a forgotten luster beneath. Seeing this, Rosey’s siblings approached her, breath coming in soft gasps, looking on at the object.
Peter looked as if he were standing at the edge of the world, vibrating with anticipation. His hand twitched instinctively, but remained at his side. He knew this was Rosey’s prize alone. Riley stared wordlessly at her little sister for a time, eyes affixed to the canister and the clasp on its side emerging from the mud. Rosey could not appraise the looks on her siblings’ faces; she could only obey the visceral urge that sparked awake in her fingers. Upon opening, Rosey was greeted with the lonely must of yellowed letters and faded ink. The top of the canister popped up with such force, that its contents shot into the air and cascaded down into the mud below.
“Oh!” Rosey gasped, dropping the canister and she began to pick the old letters out of the mud. Peter moved to join her, and Riley followed, edging past her brother to snatch up a letter. As Rosey and Peter giggled, trying to shake mud from the crinkled papers, Riley knelt and began to sift through the remaining contents of the canister. She rose abruptly, holding between her thumb and forefinger, a photograph.
“Look…” Riley’s hand trembled, as though her very touch would dissolve the photo. Rosey and Peter inched towards their sister to examine the find. Between two figures adorned in black—each wearing a similarly dire expression—stood a young girl. Age had faded the features of her face, yet Rosey could still make out clusters of freckles beneath the girl’s eyes. They gleamed with fiery sepia, staring imperiously out of the aging photograph. Rosey remained affixed to the young girl’s gaze until, suddenly, Riley drew away the photo.
“What is that?” Rosey asked.
“A secret,” Riley replied, replacing the contents of the canister. She stumbled through the muck underfoot, towards the eviscerated opening of the hill before them, and plunged their discovery back into the spongy earth.
They arrived home as the sun hung low in the sky, drifting sleepily towards the cradle of the horizon. The children snuck in through the back entrance, peeling away layers of dirtied clothes, tiptoeing past the orange flicker emerging from the room nearby. The trio nestled themselves into their respective beds, and drifted into a deep fog of silence. The quiet seemed to perpetuate itself within the very walls, and Rosey found herself huddling close to their cool brick surface. It was then that she saw her mother’s figure imposed in the moonlight. Mrs. Darling drifted to Peter’s bed and laid a single, delicate kiss on her son’s forehead. He rustled under the sheets, and Mrs. Darling turn away, passing by Riley wordlessly. She hovered at Rosey’s side for a time, and gently reached down and used a forefinger to guide her daughter’s eyes to hers. Rosey looked into the pair of quiet amber pools, shimmering in the moonlight, and felt her breathing slow.
When her mother left, Rosey did not know. She floated in and out of consciousness, drifting through the warm folds of sleep. She sneezed involuntarily, and wandered back to the musty smell of yellowed paper and faded ink.