Black and White
Moira yanked the cloak off its hook and threw open the door. The ravens were already calling out, screeching at whatever had disturbed their resting hours. The wind chimes, her first warning sign, had gone unheard.
She drew the cloak around her shoulders and fastened the clasp. It was unique, this piece of cloth, passed down to her along with the burden of hope. A hope in short supply this night; once the ravens cried, it was often too late. With that thought, she started to run.
The branches slapped her face as she pushed through. Wind chimes of various sizes hung at eye level, ringing out at her passage. They had been there the first time she walked this path, along with the white stones lining the ground on each side of her feet. But that night she had barely noticed…
Moira drove her car to the Scenic Point trail head and turned off the engine. The apartment was clean and the bills paid. Only one thing left to do.
She got down and started walking uphill, not thinking about why she was here. It was impossible, anyway. The only thing she saw was a blur as he pushed her into the room. The only thing she heard was the sound of her screams echoing off the walls. The only thing she felt was his hands on her body. He was locked away now, but she was caged also.
She struggled each day to dress, to work, to eat. A month went by, then two. And always the recriminations, circling around her head like demons. Why did you drink so much? Why did you go upstairs? Why didn’t you fight back harder?
Lost in thought, she came to only when a harsh croak sounded in her ear. Ravens lined the branches overhead, annoyed she had disturbed their sleep. She looked down and the ground had vanished, leaving only water ahead.
Many took happy pictures here, but not her. She stared at the ocean churning far below. It had no memory, she was told. Would it take hers? Would it drown them in its depths, never to rise again?
She picked up her foot for the final steps, when a voice from behind said, “Nice night.” Moira screamed and turned around, falling to the ground in her surprise. On the path stood an old woman, wrapped in a strange, mottled cloak. She clutched a walking stick in one hand and a lantern in the other.
“If you’re going to fall, better here than over,” the old woman chuckled.
“I wasn’t…I mean,” Moira stammered. “I was just out walking.”
The old woman nodded. “I left the kettle on. Would you like to join me for some tea?”
“Oh, um, I don’t know,” Moria said. “I probably should be getting home.”
“As you like,” the old woman answered. “But it is excellent tea, if I say so myself.”
“Well…” Moria looked at the woman, then back at the ocean. It would be waiting for her. “I guess.”
“Good. I love when the young humor the old. Makes us feel useful again,” the old woman said. “By the way, I’m Elizabeth.”
“Well, come on, Moria.”
They made their way back down the path until Moria spied twinkling lights through the trees. A cabin sat beneath four old oaks, a tiny dirt walkway leading to the front door. She followed Elizabeth inside, where she found a table set for two and a kettle on the stove, steam rising to the ceiling. Two cups with tea bags sat next to the stove and a plate of cookies lay next to them.
“Were you expecting me?” Moira asked.
“Not exactly,” Elizabeth answered. “But I often have surprise company at night.” She laid her walking stick against the wall, took off her cloak and hung it on a hook near the door. In the light, Moira could see black and white fabric leaves covering the shoulders and trailing down the back. Looking closer, she saw names sewn on each leaf.
“That’s a beautiful cloak,” Moira told her.
“Thank you,” Elizabeth said. “They are all I speak to, out on the cliff. The white leaves, I still see sometimes. The black ones, I only meet once. But I’ll never forget them.” She walked to Moira and covered the smooth hand on the table with her wrinkled one. “I do hope you are a white leaf, child. I’m right here, if you’d like to talk.”
Something broke inside Moira and tears spilled down her cheeks. Elizabeth listened while she told her of that terrible night. When she finished, Moira sat back, exhausted and empty. The voices were finally silenced.
After that night, Moira returned to visit often and the two women grew from strangers to family. When Elizabeth passed away, she left Moira her cloak and the cabin. “No expectations,” the old woman’s will read.
Moira had accepted the charge, determined only the white leaves would multiply. But some nights those on the cliff could not hear her words, so lost were they in pain. She could only mourn them from above, her tears the first to be shed for the life snuffed out. And another black leaf would join the rest.
She approached the cliff’s edge and slowed to a walk. Silhouetted against the rising moon stood a dark figure, looking down. “Hello,” she said, voice soft. The figure whipped around and made a strangled gasp. Moira made one in return; it was the face from her own personal hell. “You!” they both said.
“I was drunk that night,” he stammered. “They say I served my time, as if your face and what I did would ever leave me. I’m so sorry.” He turned back to the ocean and raised his foot.
“Wait!” Moira cried. She looked down at the cloak, white spotted with black, and took a deep breath. “Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked.