by Katie Brossman
It was one of those rare days in the beginning of spring, a hint of winter still in the air but the sun shining brightly. The sun, kind on the faces of those that had wandered out of their small houses, was climbing into the sky and signaled the beginning of warm weather. Winters in these parts were hard, and the very minute warmth began to peek its way through the cold, the dark and lonely spell of the season was broken and the townspeople came together again. Many were gathered by the main fountain, children were playing and men and women who had seen little of each other over the past few months caught up on the steps of the church. Jubilant young boys ran around and around the fountain playing a game with pebbles from the ground, warmed from the sun and their fingers.
The townspeople were like any other you might find along the coast. The community was made up of families mostly, some large, some small. The town was small and more removed from their neighbors on the coast, but nobody seemed to mind. Everything necessary to live a small and pleasant life was here. Everyone had their niche; everyone was happy.
But in a house not far from the church, the gleam of sunlight that streamed into the window made the owner anxious. Elijah pulled at his curtains. The end of winter meant he would have to leave his small house and come out of his winter sleep. It was only in his home that the temptation did not beckon; the moment the sun came out, the moment he left his house, he had to go back. It was not the weather or general mood of happiness that Elijah disliked. Elijah was lonely over the long winter; he missed his walks under the sun. But the sun in the sky meant he would go to the quarry, whether he wanted to or not.
The heavy door creaked as he opened it, stiff after so many winter months, and the bright light blinded Elijah when he stepped out of his house. The town looked just as he remembered it, if not a little weather-beaten. The stone fountain was beginning to crack in certain places; the roof on the church needed new shingles. Everyone looked pretty much the same, some more plump with their winter weight, the children a little taller than before. The minute they saw his face, they all scampered away. The men and women turned their backs, slightly, in a way not meant to be rude, of course, but in a way that showed they were not interested in hearing about his long winter alone.
As if he were being pushed along, his stiff legs moved quickly, swifter than they had moved in months, taking him to where he knew he was destined to go. Past the bread man, past the pastor, acknowledging no one, just a quick glance of his eyes and a turn of the townspeoples’ backs. He did not care. He kept walking.
When he arrived at the quarry, she was not yet there. The sun was high in the sky, noon time now, and Elijah picked up several stones from the ground and tossed them into the water. Suddenly, Elijah glanced up to see the girl walk slowly out of the water. Beads of moisture coated her face and arms and she glowed in the sunlight. Awe washed over him, for this was the moment that he had waited for these last many months. He knew it would come, and here she was. Her face was as beautiful as he remembered it, her eyes just as brown, warm pools in which he could drown and be happy. He looked at her face, and did not glance at the red stain on her shirt, the gash at her neck. Those injuries had long ago healed, she always assured him, and did not bother her anymore.
Elijah always thought of it as a gift that he was the only one with the ability to see Mona and sense when she would be in the quarry. It was that thing that connected them in her lifetime. He could always sense when she was about to knock on his door; she knew what he was thinking before he even said it. It was also the reason that he knew, before anyone else, where her body could be found, dead in the quarry, blood pouring from her chest.
It had been eight years since her father had brought her down to that rocky place by the water and murdered her for the shame that she had brought on their family. Elijah and Mona’s liaison had brought anger to the townspeople and to her father, their judgment that Mona too young and innocent for the older, aloof Elijah. When her father found out she had become pregnant, the matter was considered closed. After they killed her, Mona’s family disappeared, but not for fear of punishment. No, the townspeople agreed with their decision and were ashamed of her sin as well.
It had now been eight years, eight springs and summers of visits with his ghostly Mona in the quarry. Eight winters alone, but here again, Elijah was back. Yet with each fleeting day he saw her each season, a little part of her seemed to be missing. The real Mona had died that day, but when her phantom first returned, she was complete, all parts of her were still there. In the beginning, she had remembered everything they did together; now he reminded her and she simply nodded, smiling a smile that was not really hers.
Embracing her, Elijah tried to ignore the cool, hard feeling of her skin, something he could never get used to. Eternally cold now, the Mona in life could warm Elijah just by holding his hand. He quickly began to ask Mona the regular questions, happy to see her after so long a winter.
Mona began to speak, and Elijah knew that something was different. After the visits had first begun, Mona warned Elijah that the time she could visit him was finite. Soon, her phantom would wither away to almost nothing at all. True, Elijah had seen this process occur over the past eight years, but he never realized how seriously she meant this; he never realized he might have to say goodbye.
A group of three men had gathered at the top of the quarry, watching Elijah apparently speaking to himself. They exclaimed together, “He’s mad! He is!” The men started to throw stones at him, and Elijah knew his time with Mona was almost over. Don’t leave, he whispered to her, come back, she said, reaching. Elijah wanted to stay with Mona. He wanted to stay in the quarry forever. He turned back to look at the men and the town that had shunned him, and then again at Mona, her familiar face, her comfortable presence. Mona, who sensed it was time for her to turn back in the water, began to rise.
The thought of waiting again to see his love and returning to his lonely house in town was too much for Elijah. Slowly, he got up behind her, and grabbed her hand. He was not yet sure what he was doing, but it was like he was being propelled forward somehow, a sensation that usually came over him when he was walking to the quarry. Mona simply took his hand, for she knew that this was what fate had designed for them.
The couple slipped into the water together. Elijah could feel pebbles, cold and sharp moving beneath his feet, and with every step he sank further into the soft sand. When at last they were up to their necks in the water, Elijah turned to Mona. In the water here with her, her cheeks looked rosy, just as they had when she was alive, just as they had when he had loved her so much and imagined their future together. Despite the frigid water, her hand in his felt warm.
Out of breath and sweaty when they finally reached the bottom of the quarry, the three townsmen were perplexed to see that Elijah had submerged but not yet come up for air. They waited, but became bored quickly, left and decided he had gone for a swim, probably too scared to face their anger.
The seasons passed once more in the little town, another spring and summer, the sun rising and falling with the calendar. The children played by the water until their parents called them in at dusk. The roof on the church was repaired, finally, and the stonemason got around to fixing the cracks in the town fountain where people continued to gather in the morning and after lunch. No one noticed the little house near the church growing more creaky and forlorn, or that Elijah no longer appeared at the town meeting every Friday. No one really cared at all.
Katie Brossman lives in Plainsboro and is a student at Johns Hopkins University. She is the daughter of Euna Kwon Brossman, a contributor to U.S. 1 and U.S. 1’s sister publication, the West Windsor-Plainsboro News.