Now Zella saw things. She saw ghosts everywhere. She saw visions of her husband from the window of her room, out in the mist and snow – or sometimes, in the pitch dark of her bedroom she’d swear to have seen the outline of a man standing over her bed.
She had long abandoned caring for herself; her hair was a tangled mess now and she rarely bathed. She couldn’t stand to look at herself in the mirror. She looked tired and sickly. She felt she was repulsive and guilty. She began to blame herself for the disappearance of the ship. If only she’d prayed more often, if only she had asked him to stay. She wasn’t sure of anything anymore Most of all she felt so empty. And the nervous anxious feeling multiplied every day that Andrew did not return.
At night she would lie awake in her head, tracing her hand along the back of her spine - the way Andrew used to do to comfort her - but each night she could feel the outline of her bones growing more prominent. She was malnourished and needed help. She began to miss her support meetings altogether, sometimes spending days at a time in bed. She’d forget to eat. She’d forget how long she’d been in her room.
“Are you okay? Zella, honey, are you alright?” The words were thick, gelatinous, run through the mud.
Zella opened her eyes to the rosy cheeked face of Anna Redgrave above her. A man, dressed in black, with a leather briefcase against his side stood next to her.
“I’m fine. I’m okay,” said Zella. “You can go now.”
“Zella honey, you’re sick. This man is a doctor, he’s going to take a look at you.” The man opened his bag, removed a stethoscope.
“If it’s okay of course,” he said.
“I’m fine!” she said, rolling over away from them. “Leave me alone!” She closed her eyes, and clenched her fists. The man put his hand on her shoulder and she began to thrash and shriek. Anna leaned over, putting her arms around her, whispering into her ear. “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
When she finally opened her eyes again, the room was empty. It was dark. Zella was confused. How long had they been standing there? Had she been sleeping? Everything was fuzzy, mismatched, and out of place. Her sense of time was distorted, and all wrong.
One morning she woke. It was a morning like any other; indistinguishable, and most ordinary. Her room was cold. She couldn’t tell how long she’d been in bed, or how long she’d slept. The window was frosted over. She couldn’t see out.
She dressed and hobbled down the stairs. There was a strange buzzing from somewhere in the house. She made her way into the kitchen, to a cloud of flies encircling the bag of groceries on the kitchen table. The buzzing was unbearable. She gagged at the sight and moved in, feebly, swatting away the flies. She carefully tipped the bag to look inside, and wretched at the contents. Rotten fruits, and vegetables, spoiled and rancid meats.
And then a thought struck her.
She ran out into the cold, her nightgown flowing. It was snowing. Thick, wet, flakes fell from the sky landing in her hair, on her shoulders. Her bare feet crunched across the grass as she moved.
The doors of the stable burst open, and Zella pushed inside, panting. It was dark and quiet. A horrifying stench sat heavy in the stale air. She put her hand over her face, and slid across the straw on the ground. She rounded the corner. She lost her balance and fell to her knees.
All four of her horses lay in a motionless heap in the corner of the stable. They were quiet, almost serene. No muttering, or neighing. They were dead.
Zella swiftly vomited onto the cold dirt floor. It was a grayish yellow color, mostly bile. Her breath was heavy, and stifled. She felt as though someone were pressing down hard on her lungs with a boot. She couldn’t pick herself up. She closed her eyes. She screamed. She vomited once more, traces of blood this time. She sobbed and pulled her knees into her chest trying hard not to vomit a third time.
Then something began building in her stomach, it worked its way up through her chest and out her mouth. A scream. She released it up at the ceiling, letting it echo through the stables, out the door, and disappear into the snowfall outside.
It was getting dark by the time she was able and strong enough to pick herself up and leave.
She walked out into the dark snow. She felt strangely calmer now, and the cold didn’t seem to bother her. She felt impervious to pain, to physical suffering. She felt vacant and hollow, but with a newfound feeling of purpose.
She moved beyond the house, and pushed off into the woods.
Clint clutched a glass of rum at the bar across from the factory that night. It was late, and he sat with other several other sailors, debating and sharing stories.
The room was packed, and hot. A fireplace spit flames out across the floor. The windows had fogged, and were beading with condensation. It smelled of sweat and booze-tinged breath. Several inebriated men kicked out rhythms on the floor with their boots, to the guitar and accordion songs from the corner of the place.
At one point, Clint and his men finished their drinks and flung their coats around their shoulders and bid each other farewell. They stepped out into the cold, lighting cigarettes and readjusting their hats and scarves. Clint was feeling good and drunk. His mind swirled, stimulated from the friendly debates with the other men. It was late, but he wasn’t tired. Even though it was cold, he decided to get started on some work down at the docks. He had the energy and loved the quiet of the town at night, in the winter. He loved the way the snow danced in waves around him, and everything glistened with ice.
Clint cleared through the alley, and tossed his cigarette into a mound of snow. He took sight of the docks and pushed forward.
As he got closer, he saw something, something not right; Zella. Clint picked up his step. She was in her a nightgown. Something wasn’t right. Snow had piled up around her, and her head was leaned against a tree.
Clint ran now, his boots slipping along the wet cobblestones. He saw her seated peacefully on the bench, her chin pointed out toward the docks, the river, beyond. Clint gasped at the sight of her. He swallowed hard, and coughed. He didn’t know what to do. He looked around for help, but everything was quiet and still. He placed his fingers against her frozen neck, but he already knew.
She was gone. Her skin was blue-ish gray, and there was a layer of frost frozen into her hair, her eyebrows. Her lips were purple. She looked alien and sad. Her hands were placed in her lap, as if she’d been waiting patiently.
When he gained his composure, Clint took off back into town, shouting for help. He slipped, and slid, across the cold ground, until he’d disappeared behind a building.
After that, everything was still again. Everything was still, and quiet, and longing.
Postcard: Found at Stagecoach Antiques in Akron, OH in November 2011.