A blanket of gray clouds was always draped over the sky at that time of the afternoon, and the sun was nowhere to be seen when the woman emerged from the grove of trees. The wisps of her pallid blue dress trailed behind her. Her feet, what little of them was visible beneath the dress, were bare. The curls of her eerily shimmery locks cascaded down past her shoulders and likewise trailed along behind her as she stepped forward along the tufted ground. The blank expression on her face did little to convey her purpose as she neared the edge of the seaside cliff.

In her hands she held an open envelope. It was that envelope which caught the girl's attention.

“Hi," said the girl.

As she neared the edge of the cliff the woman slowed and turned her head to the left. There was a little girl sitting on a log, or rather a bench carved out of a fallen log, a short distance from the edge. Her back was bent over. She wore a gray scarf flecked with strands of violet, and a simple purple coat coupled with a pair of denim jeans. Her feet, unlike the woman's, were protected from the cold ground by a pair of yellow and white polyester shoes. In her hands she held a doll adorned in yellow yarn and a blue skirt. The girl's tussled black hair gently waved about as the breeze from the late afternoon blew past her.

She had watched the woman approach with the envelope in her hands and turned to look at her, and she seemed nice so the girl thought it best to say, "Hi.” The little girl continued to look at the woman even when she did not respond. Her blank stare made her seem despondent, or as the girl might have said she looked “real sad.”

The woman looked back at the little girl, blue gaze locked on her. She said nothing. The little girl could only look back for so long before averting her gaze to mountains across the sea in front of her, nearly hidden by the afternoon’s gray haze, then to her doll. She held the doll’s yarn hair in her fingers, intertwining the strings as she sat in silence. Her brows rose as she smiled and looked back at the woman, who was still gazing at her.

“Do you want to sit down?” The woman did not move, or even respond. “It’s made out of a tree, see?” The little girl knocked on the wood of the bench.

Blank blue eyes fell to the bench. Pale fingers tightened on the yellowed envelope as she turned her body away from the direction of the cliff. The little girl patted the space beside her, silently asking the woman once again if she wished to sit. The woman in the blue dress regarded the little girl and the bench with her blank eyes, and still she said nothing. As the little girl turned away and continued to play with her doll the woman’s feet began to take her to the bench, the rest of her body rigid and unwavering. Her hair and dress now billowed silently towards the trees she had emerged from. She walked to the bench and sat beside the little girl, placing the envelope on the bench beside her, bringing her knees up as far as she could and wrapping her arms around them. She held her two bare feet together beneath her, and stared out across the sea.

Why do you look sad?” said the little girl. The woman kept her gaze on the waves below. She parted her lips as if to speak, but said nothing. The little girl thought she heard a noise, but it was no more than an inaudible whisper.

Huh?” she said. She leaned over, bringing the side of her head closer to the woman’s lips. The woman was also slightly louder the second time, or so the girl thought. Narrow lips shaped and stretched as each word was slowly uttered.

I… lost… someone. Someone… very close, that I loved.

Lost in the woods?” The little girl gestured to the grove of trees behind them with her empty hand. “My dad says if I get lost I should scream to high heaven and someone will come to find me.”

Not lost.

“Oh.” The little girl turned to look at her hands, fingers intertwined in front of her knees. “Are you lost?”

The woman closed her eyes and turned her head once to the left, once to the right, and stopped when she was facing the sea again.

Not lost.

“Oh, okay.” The little girl’s eyes drifted along the woman from her head to her feet. “Are you cold?” The woman opened her eyes and nodded.

“My dad says I should never go out without a jacket because the food in my stomach will freeze into ice cubes. Didn’t your dad ever tell you that?” The woman remained still, and the little girl did not press the question. She sat next to the woman for another few moments in silence, and then began to unwrap the scarf around her neck. The woman turned her head to watch when she noticed the movement near her. When the scarf was removed the little girl turned to the woman and held it up.

“Here, you can use it. My dad says I should be helpful or I won’t get any Butterfingers after dinner.” The woman inched her hand towards the scarf and touched her fingers to it. Her eyes widened, just slightly, as she moved her hand closer to the material, placing her hand flat against the woven garment. Eventually she coiled her fingers around it, and brought it to her knees. The little girl watched and giggled as she observed the woman’s ineptitude with a scarf.

“No, no, that’s not where it goes. Watch.” She stood and pulled the scarf from the woman’s hand, then walked around behind her. The woman turned slightly as if to watch what she was doing, but not enough to actually see. The little girl stood behind her and wrapped the scarf around the woman’s neck, leaving both ends dangling across her chest. She then pulled the woman’s hair out from beneath the fabric before returning to her seat, smiling all the way.

“See, that’s how. It will warm you up, watch.” The woman brought one hand to the scarf and felt its rough edges, tracing strands of fabric from top to bottom. As she did this the little girl picked up her doll again and resumed running her fingers through the yarn.

“Have you ever had Butterfingers?” she then said. “They’re really good. They’re the best candy ever.” The little girl smiled widely as she pondered Butterfingers. “I bet my dad brought some Butterfingers today, too. They’re going to be so good!” The woman remained silent. Obviously, she was not interested in Butterfingers. The little girl smirked and pursed her lips as she thought. Then, she said, “Who did you lose?”

What?” said the woman. The little girl was glad that the woman was speaking loudly.

Who did you lose? You said you lost someone.”

Someone I loved…” The woman furrowed her brows, as if to make certain before completing her response. a man.

“Ooh, like your boyfriend?” said the little girl mockingly. The woman nodded in her slow, deliberate manner.

Why did you love him?

I… loved him. He loved me.

“But why?” asked the little girl. The woman lowered her eyes to her hands, which she placed in her lap.

He loved me.

“Oh.” The little girl thought for a moment. “Was he a good man? My dad’s a good man,” she said. “My mom says so.”

Lucky, your mother,” she said. The woman looked away again, back to the mountains across the sea.

“What’s your name?” asked the little girl.

Name?” She looked down at her hands once more. “Don’t recall… my name?

The girl smiled and looked at the woman incredulously. “Everyone has a name.”

Don’t recall,” said the woman. “Your name?


Nice name… Jan.

“I don’t think it’s nice,” she said. “Everyone calls me Jan-In-A-Can. My dad says they don’t like their names either, so they make fun of mine.” She poked her doll, then said, “Did you know that Jan means ‘gracious’?”

The left side of the woman’s lips rose. It was not quite a smile, but it was more than the blank, thin line that she had worn since she appeared from the trees. “Your dad says?

“Nope,” she said solemnly, “my mom.”

Funny little girl,” said the woman. Jan scratched her dark head and stretched her legs out across the sandstone angled down towards the cliff. She stared at her feet for a moment, unsure of how to respond. Beyond her feet she noticed that the gray clouds were getting thicker, and darker. They filled the sky now and there were no light patches between the dark patches, like before. It was just dark everywhere.

The woman rose, then, and Jan did not even see her move to stand up, but she was. The envelope was once again in her hands.

I must go.” She looked to her left, down at Jan.

You have to leave?

Very sad,” said the woman.

“You have to leave ‘cause you’re sad?” asked Jan. The woman nodded.

I cannot stay here… without him. No life… without him.” Then she added, “you come, too?

Jan said her dad said not too wander too far.

Not far.

Jan squeezed her lips together as she considered the proposal. “Well, okay, but only if it’s not far away.” She approached the woman, who’s left arm was slightly raised towards Jan. Jan reached out and took her hand.

“Ouch, you’re still really cold! You should buy gloves at the store.”

The woman closed her grip on the little girl’s fingers and began to lead her forward, away from the grove of trees and bench, towards the sea and the gray mountains.

“Where are we going?” asked Jan.

A better place. Quiet place.

“Quiet place?” said Jan. “That sounds boring.” The woman led her along in silence. The roar of the waves beneath the cliff grew louder, and Jan clutched her yarn-haired doll tightly as the wind grew colder and stronger. The woman’s dress waved drastically behind her. Her hair was as gray streamers, wildly flying as the oncoming wind grew fiercer. With every step she took it grew colder, and more dark, or at least it seemed so to Jan.

The little girl plodded along behind her, approaching the cliff’s edge. “Are we going to see the water? My dad says I shouldn’t go too close to the water without him or the mermaids will come and take me away.”

Yes… the sea is there. The sea takes away sadness.

Jan looked down at her feet as they walked along. She noticed how white and clean the woman’s feet looked, walking across the stone. When she lifted her eyes she saw that they were close to the edge now, and could almost see the waves directly below the cliff. She thought about what the woman said.

“My dad says that,” she began, “when I’m sad, I should remember that there people who love me, and everything will be okay.” She looked up at the woman. “Don’t you have anyone else who loved you?”

The woman stopped, erect and standing utterly still. The cessation of movement caused Jan to drop her doll in front of her onto the layers of shale stone. The doll’s feet folded down along the cliff’s edge, towards the water, and would have fallen right over if they had been just slightly further ahead.

Jan looked up at her and winced, partly due to the wind and the hair in her eyes, and partly to try and figure out why the woman stopped. “Hey, we’re almost going to see the water. Why’d we stop?” The irritation in her voice was not obvious to the woman, though Jan thinks she made it clear enough. “The water’s just there over the edge. Let’s see if the mermaids are there!

A man’s voice called from far away, behind them. Jan turned and grinned, then reached forward to pick up her doll. She pulled her hand away from the woman, which took more effort than she thought was required. “I have to go. My dad’s calling me.” As she walked away she paused, and looked back at the woman in the blue dress, who remained still, facing the sea and the gray mountains. She waited to see the woman’s face.

Jan could not wait when her dad was calling her, so she said “Bye!” and disappeared into the grove of trees.

When she returned for her scarf (your mother's mind, her dad told her) she and her dad found the violet-flecked gray scarf on the rounded log bench, clinging to the splinters. Jan’s dad picked up the scarf and wrapped it around her neck, then kissed her on the forehead. He said Jan should never go here again because she might fall into the ocean and get eaten up by sharks, but that she is as clever as a fox for making up such a story. He took her hand and together they turned and disappeared into the grove of trees. Behind them, hidden next to the bench, there remained a yellowed envelope, caught between the thick blades of a tuft of grass growing in the stone. As the wind from the sea blew furiously it took hold of the envelope and pulled it away, away from the bench, away from the jagged tufts of grass scattered along the stone terrain, and down and away from the seaside cliff. The envelope and letter inside fell to the violent foam below and were sucked into the frenzy, disappearing into nothing.

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