At the top of her journey, Johanna cracked a lager. She was thirteen and thinking of the beautiful sea. The smothering western sea. The concrete stoop leading down to it from her old house, in the coastal town where she used to live. Don’t let me be lonely, she said to her memory. After all, I am nobody coming. She hummed a little to stave off the sadness then took a step towards away from home. The beer made her mouth dry and sour-tasting. It was somebody else’s, anyways. In the outdoors, the winter brewed its long and dark. Above Johanna, the stars handed out wonderment, but didn’t share. She heard beasts in the sidelong woods, and pictured black fangs and mermaid tails, long talons and Kraken masks. She wasn’t scared, though. She pretended they were protecting her from something that looked like the absence of them. It might just be best to leave me behind me, Johanna considered. She was known for holding herself back from things, and nothing very bad had happened to her lately. Life can be a doily in your grandmother’s home, if you let it be, she believed. If you’re lucky, you’ll be pretty, but unanimous, with a prettier thing either above or below you to soak up all the attention like dry bread in instant gravy. There was always too much gravy for a person like Johanna. She harboured with her the type of sadness that comes from looking at a lake or a mountain too long. The kind found in smallness and beauty, lost monograms–nostalgia for people you’ve never met. She didn’t feel sad here though, on a road through the woods full of monster-protectors and ogling stars. Each step of her boots sent echoes of power against everything she was blind to. She thought of her grandmother, back at home, conked under layers of Swedish blankets. Johanna would be back before morning. An hour passed before she reached the mud lake. It looked beautiful from afar, like a regular lake. Johanna had discovered it was the only body of water in this little, dried-up town. It was dark and still nobody was coming, so Johanna went down to the water’s edge. It was lined with stones. She pulled out a can of paint from her pack, and a wide brush, and started painting each rock belly white. She was an eighth of the way around the small lake when it turned time to stop. Light was rising like steam off the pines and her grandmother would be awake within the hour. Nobody watched her scratch the paint off her palms in the mud lake, hammer the lid back on the can, and draw her body up from the water’s edge to the dewy road bound for home. She didn’t hear the beasts this time and the stars had all but perished. Life in the light is boring, she said. No one heard her. Her heart was full of the valley. When she climbed the stoop, she saw that her grandmother’s shoulders were cloaked pink and hunched at the table over a bowl of mush. She didn’t ask Johanna where she had been. She didn’t turn to face her. She said the wolves had come last night, howling as though the moon had multiplied right above their home, which was also everybody’s home, which was what it meant to be welcoming. She said their song was slow and infinite, the way bones feel. The old lady moved towards the window. She looked up to where the moons were fading. Johanna’s heart was busy with silence. “Oh come on down. Oh come on down,” said her grandmother, as Johanna went up the stairs to sleep.
SARAH BURGOYNE lives and writes in Montreal. Her first book Saint Twin was published with Mansfield Press in the spring of 2016.