By Miranda Caravalho -
The ghosts cross over on the first morning of Spring.
Like birds flying South for Winter, once the weather warms all the spirits leave their haunts and journey back to wherever you’re meant to be when you’re dead. It looks a little different depending on where you live. I’ve heard that if you’re by water you can see them wade in and disappear into the depths, while if you’re more inland they may fade into the tall grass or climb the biggest tree and manifest into a passing cloud. But for me, living in one of the many scattered pseudo-towns in the Santa Cruz mountains, they crawl up with the fog. Countless spirits climb the rocks and flora and - I don’t know, exactly. I guess they just keep on climbing.
I used to set an alarm to watch them from my deck. I stopped doing that a long time ago, but work has me on a rigid biological clock, so even without my phone chirping at me I’m still up by 7AM. And with nothing to keep me in bed but excuses, it isn’t long before I’m forced to get up and try to start my day as if everything’s normal.
Toast. Coffee. Juice, maybe. Toast burns. Make new toast.
“What blend are you using?” Janie calls out from the deck. I didn’t realize the door was open.
I check the bag, squinting to read the handwritten words on the brown paper packaging.
“I don’t know,” I say. “Your mom brought it went she visited over Christmas.”
“Christmas?” Janie double-dips the word in equal parts derision and disbelief. “You’re using coffee grounds you got from Christmas?”
I don’t understand the issue. It smells fine. Comes out brown. What’s the difference, right?
I abandon all thoughts of breakfast and pour a cup of sacrilegiously-old coffee using a mug I picked from random. Still, it ends up being one of Janie’s. It’s a pale blue ceramic piece with a marble finish and a slightly crooked handle. It’ll have to do.
Outside Spring is new, and the air is cold and tinged with moisture. There’s that forest smell, the dance between wood and petrichor, and a dozen other intangible scents that are felt in the heart rather than the senses. I swear to god, you can almost smell the sky when you live up in places like this.
Janie is cross-legged on her old egg chair. Her hair is tendriled in box braids with her baby curls meticulously gelled to her scalp. She did that on mine once, a long time ago, using argan oil and an old toothbrush. It looked great then, but I still can’t get them right when I do them myself.
“Doesn’t this creep you out?”
She says that to me, but she’s looking out at the crowd in the fog. I sit across from her, but since she only has the one chair I end up perched on the upturned milk carton that usually holds plants when there’s someone around that knows how to take care of them.
“It’s what happens,” I sip from my coffee and shrug. “They need go somewhere, don’t they?”
Janie purses her lips.
“Sure, maybe,” she says, already exasperated. “But you don’t have to watch like this. It’s creepy.”
“But - I’m not watching them.”
“It’s this, Rae,” Janie motions grandly. “It’s this house. Why are you still here?”
I blink a few times, confused by her question. Then a thought occurs to me.
“Why are you?” I say.
Janie’s face falls, and she turns away. She picks at the sunflower-yellow cardigan she’s wearing - my cardigan, actually. I don’t know how she ended up with it.
“It’s my house,” she mutters. “You’re hanging out with my mom and keeping all of my things exactly where they are like you’re the curator of the saddest, most specific museum -“
“Then go,” I say. “Go with the others. Walk into the white until there’s nowhere else to walk. Give me a reason to leave.”
It’s hard to look at her when I get like this, so instead I’m staring at the undulating sea of faces and limbs rising over the mountains ahead of us. When I finally turn back to her, I expect there to be more fight, but instead of that there are tears in her eyes.
“Janie…” I begin.
“Are you cold?” She asks me.
“Uh - yeah. A little,” I pause, eyeing her hesitantly. “Are you?”
“No,” Janie laughs breathlessly and wipes at her eyes. “No, I’m not anything.”
She falls silent again, but it doesn’t take me long to understand what she wants. It’s the thing she needs more than anything, but is too ashamed to admit even after all this time. So I put aside my coffee and stand up. I make a point to turn away from the fog and its inhabitants, and I offer a hand to her.
Janie's face twists in both pain and relief.
“You sure?” She whispers.
“Yeah,” I tell her. “C’mon. Feel my cold.”
Janie smiles. She stands from her chair and touches her fingertips against my own, touching further and deeper until she’s elbow-deep in the palm of my hand. I close my eyes and feel the pressure of two becoming one, the brief tension before you pull the cork on a bottle of champagne.
And then the pop. The snap. I open my eyes and the world looks folded over itself. This doesn’t last long, though, and as my vision settles I relax and sink into the nearby chair.
The sun is starting to break out through the clouds. The fog is dissipating, along with the travelers inside it, and all will soon fade into water vapor and the faint sparkle of old life.
I am alone, and I am not alone. I am myself, but I am more than that.
And yet, despite all that, I still feel empty.
Miranda Seaver Caravalho is a writer and theatrical artist operating on the West Coast. Her work has been featured in Fiction Pool and the Last Frontier Theater Festival. You can follow her cat on Twitter @TheKafka.