They see it, too, they must.
But to them, it is only proof of devilry.
Her mother crosses herself, and her father’s hands close around her, and she wants to sink into the strength of his embrace, but there is not warmth in it as he drags her to the door.
“No,” she begs.
Her mother is crying now, one hand to her mouth and the other clutching the wooden cross around her neck, as she calls her own daughter a demon, a monster, a demented thing, and her father says nothing, only grips her arm tighter as he pulls her from the house.
“Be gone,” he says, the words half-pleading.
Sadness sweeps across his face, but not the kind that comes with knowing. No, it is the sadness reserved for lost things, a storm-torn tree, a horse made lame, a carving split one stroke before it’s done.
“Please,” she begs. “Papa—”
His face hardens as he forces her out into the dark and slams the door. The bolt scrapes home. Adeline stumbles back, shaking with shock and horror. And then she turns and runs.
* * *
The name begins as a prayer, soft and private, and grows to a shout as Adeline nears the woman’s cottage.
A lamp is lit within, and by the time she reaches the edge of the light, the old woman stands in the open doorway, waiting for her caller.
“Are you a stranger or a spirit?” Estele asks warily.
“I am neither,” says Adeline, though she knows how she must look. Her dress tattered, her hair wild, streaming words like witchcraft on the step. “I am flesh and blood and human, and I have known you all my life. You make charms in the shape of children to keep them well in winter. You think peaches are the sweetest fruit, and that church walls are too thick for prayers to get through, and you want to be buried not beneath a stone, but in a patch of shade under a large tree.”
Something flashes across the old woman’s face, and Adeline holds her breath, hoping it is recognition. But it is too brief.
“You are a clever spirit,” says Estele, “but you will not cross this hearth.”
“I am not a spirit!” shouts Adeline, storming into the light of the old woman’s door. “You taught me about the old gods, and all the ways to summon them, but I made a mistake. They wouldn’t answer, and the sun was going down so fast.” She wraps her arms tight around her ribs, unable to stop shaking. “I prayed too late, and something answered, and now everything is wrong.”
“Foolish girl,” chides Estele, sounding like herself. Sounding as if she knows her.
“What do I do? How do I fix it?”
But the old woman only shakes her head. “The darkness plays its own game,” she says. “It makes its own rules,” she says. “And you have lost.”
And with that, Estele draws back into her house.
“Wait!” calls Adeline as the old woman shuts the door.
The bolt drives home.
Adeline hurls herself against the wood, sobbing until her legs give way, and she sinks to her knees on the cold stone step, one fist still pounding against the wood.
And then, suddenly, the bolt draws back.
The door swings open, and Estele stands over her.
“What is this?” she asks, surveying the girl folded on her steps.
The old woman looks at her as if they’ve never met. The moments before erased by an instant and a closed door.
Her wrinkled gaze flicks over the stained wedding dress, the wild hair, the dirt under her nails, but there’s no knowing in her face, only a guarded curiosity.
“Are you a spirit? Or a stranger?”
Adeline squeezes her eyes shut. What is happening? Her name is still a rock lodged deep, and when she was a spirit, she was banished, so she swallows hard and answers, “A stranger.” Tears begin to slide down Adeline’s face. “Please,” she manages. “I have nowhere to go.”
The old woman looks at her for a long moment, and then nods.
“Wait here,” she says, slipping back into the house, and Adeline will never know what Estele was going to do then, because the door swings shut, and stays shut, and she is left kneeling on the ground, trembling more from shock than cold.
She doesn’t know how long she sits there, but her legs are stiff when she forces them to bear her weight. She rises, and walks past the old woman’s house to the line of trees beyond, past their sentinels’ edge into the crowded dark.
“Show yourself!” she calls out.
But there is only the ruffle of feathers, the crackle of leaves, the ripple of a forest disturbed in sleep. She conjures his face, those green eyes, those black curls, tries to will the darkness into shape again, but moments pass, and she is still alone.
I do not want to belong to anyone.
Adeline walks deeper into the forest. This is a wilder stretch of wood, the floor a nest of bramble and brush. It claws at her bare legs, but she doesn’t stop, not until the trees have closed around her, their branches blotting out the moon overhead.
“I call on you!” she screams.
I am not some genie, bound to your whim.
A low limb, half buried by the forest floor, rises just enough to catch her feet, and she goes down hard, knees hitting ragged earth and hands tearing through weedy soil.
Please, I will give anything.
The tears come, then, sudden and heaving. Fool. Fool. Fool. She pounds her fists against the ground.
This is a vile trick, she thinks, a horrid dream, but it will pass.
That is the nature of dreams. They do not last.
“Wake up,” she whispers into the dark.
Adeline curls into the forest floor, closes her eyes, and sees her mother’s tearstained cheeks, her father’s hollow sadness, Estele’s weary gaze. She sees the darkness, smiling. Hears his voice as he whispers that single, binding word.
New York City
March 10, 2014
A Frisbee lands in the grass nearby.
Addie hears the rumble of running feet, and opens her eyes in time to see a giant black nose rushing at her face before the dog covers her in wet kisses. She laughs and sits up, runs her fingers through thick fur, catching the dog by his collar before he can get ahold of the paper bag with the second muffin.
“Hello, you,” she says as, across the park, someone calls out an apology.
She flings the Frisbee back in their direction, and the dog is off again. Addie shivers, suddenly wide awake, and cold.
That’s the trouble with March—the warmth never lasts. There’s that narrow stretch when it parades as spring, just enough for you to thaw if you’re sitting in the sun, but then it’s gone. The sun has moved on. The shadows have swept in. Addie shivers again, and pushes up from the grass, brushing off her leggings.
She should have stolen warmer pants.
Shoving the paper bag in her pocket, Addie tucks Fred’s book under her arm and abandons the park, heading east down Union and up toward the waterfront.
Halfway there, she stops at the sound of a violin, the notes picked out like ripened fruit.
On the sidewalk, a woman perches on a stool, the instrument tucked beneath her chin. The melody is sweet and slow, drawing Addie back to Marseilles, to Budapest, to Dublin.