The Unraveling – Part I
There was nothing to indicate that this day was different from any other. Gusts of wind whistled outside and now and then yellowing leaves spun past the window to drift against the house. Branches from the elm brushed against the eaves and fragmented the light that pooled on the table. Sitting here, near the stove, it was warm and comfortable. In the distance the clock tower slowly rang three times. There was nothing that pointed to it being different at all. But it was different, and Correine knew it, and had known it from the moment she awoke that morning.
She pushed her chair back from the kitchen table and standing, she poured herself a glass of water. Correine wandered into the front room and sat in her reading chair next to the open window. The breeze was crisp and chilled; she suppressed a shiver. Expressionless, she sipped and gazed out at the narrow street. It was mostly in cool afternoon shadow, but Correine could see the sky above the houses, and it was clear and pale, and it was full of wheeling birds.
After some time, Correine made her way back into the kitchen and sighing, she cleared the dishes and did the washing up. Then, grabbing her coat, she walked out into the slanting autumn light.
* * *
The town of Brye was small and it sat on the top of a hill overlooking the sea. It was a warren of streets with shops and cottages huddled tightly together. Correine had lived there for three years.
She set out, walking down those streets, studying each building, trying to fix each one in her memory, even though, she supposed, that was pointless. Many were structures of cracked and grimy plaster supported by twisted timbers; some were sandstone, some slate. Their roofs were steep and at different angles, and they had chimneys of pale orange brick. Ivy grew in tangled masses on some of the walls. As she walked, Correine breathed deeply, inhaling the scents of basil and rosemary and other herbs that hung in boxes below the windows. Occasionally, she allowed her fingers to trail along the gritty walls or gently brush lampposts or mailboxes as she passed.
She found herself in the market and slowly made her way to the bench near the blue shadow of the clock tower. As she sat, pigeons scuttled away, pecking at the ground and warbling to one another. Correine watched the birds as they hopped and fluttered, until they were scattered by a boy who came caroming around the corner of the vegetable stand. He laughed, his legs churning as he flew across the paving stones, and close on his heels was another boy waving his arms and laughing too. They passed from view and her attention shifted to the townspeople as they browsed the stalls and chatted with the vendors. The smiling men and women gestured and made easy conversation. Their simplicity and sincerity were refreshing, and she found herself once again wanting to warn them.
A figure shuffled through the crowd and sat beside her on the bench.
“And how are we today, Correine? A more beautiful day one couldn’t wish for.”
“Hello, Mrs. Burdough. It is nice, isn’t it?” Correine couldn’t help smiling, though a bit sadly. Mrs. Burdough didn’t seem to notice.
“Frost tonight, though, dearie. Don’t forget to cover your chrysanthemums. You might get another week or two out of them if you do.”
“Of course,” said Correine, “I’ll put bags over them as soon as I get back.” This seemed to satisfy the old lady greatly.
“Are you getting on all right with Mr. Burdough gone? He should be back very soon, shouldn’t he?”
“Oh yes, today or tomorrow I should think. Thank you for asking.” They talked for a while until Mrs. Burdough looked up at the clock and said, “Oh my. It’s teatime already. Would you care to join me today?”
Shivering, Correine looked up. The sun had fallen behind the tops of the houses and the vendors had begun to pack away their stalls. “I would love to, really, but not today, Mrs. Burdough. Thank you, though.”
“Well, perhaps next time, dearie.” They said goodbye and Correine squeezed the old woman’s hand and then watched as Mrs. Burdough walked across the paving stones and disappeared into the crowd. Correine sat for a few more moments before she stood and made her way over to the fruit stand.
“Hello, Correine, I wasn’t sure you’d be coming today, but here you are. You look lovely. I’ve saved you the best.” The man’s white hair was slightly wild and his eyes sparkled as he pulled a peach from a box and offered it to her. She took it with a small smile. It was bruised and a bit worse for wear, but she didn’t say anything.
“Thank you, Fenn. And I’m sorry I haven’t been by lately. Things have been busy.” After a moment, she added, “Thank you for always being so nice.” Correine wanted to say more, but her throat was tight. Fenn beamed, nevertheless, and told her it was nothing. She tried to smile, and murmured something as she paid, before carefully putting the peach into her coat pocket and moving off into the thinning crowd.
She walked through the streets toward the west part of Brye. There was a cold salty wind blowing, picking up leaves and sending them in eddies across the pavement. She turned left down Marlough Street and after a while the sky opened up as she emerged from among the tightly packed buildings into the park. Correine used her scarf to wipe her eyes.
The park still clung to some green, even in October. Paths covered in crushed shells wended through oaks, clipped shrubs and grass. Benches were scattered along the walkways, but she did not sit. She simply walked the paths, passing through patches of sunlight and long shadows, hugging herself against the cold.
For three years Correine had known this day would come. It was her punishment to know. And in response, she had moved to Brye. She had tried to find a quiet life alone, to atone for what she had done and make the best of things while she could. But of course there was no atoning, and knowing that the hourglass would soon empty had eclipsed any possibility for peace. And now, too late, she realized her life had once again grown attached and tangled: despite her best efforts, she had become intertwined with the town and its people.
The sky was beginning to fill with clouds blowing in from the west. Leaves swirled through the air and rained down around her, as the gusts grew stronger. She wished there were someone else there who knew what she knew. Not to talk to, just to walk beside. But no one knew, and no one came. She realized her eyes were still wet and wiped them again, and then stopped and listened to the sighing of the wind, the groaning trees as they bent before it, and the hiss of the grass. The light slowly stretched out and softened.
“Well, I suppose I should be going” she murmured to herself. Correine turned and rewrapped her scarf and walked back up the path, her feet crunching on the shells.
Back on the street she turned west once again, toward the distant sounds of the sea. The Sickle was on the edge of town, and the inn was beginning to show signs of life in the fading light, but Correine passed by and squeezed through the gap in the low wall that ran alongside the road. She left the laughter and talk behind and walked across the fields and finally came to the path that ran along the top of the cliffs.
The surf pounded on the rocks below and the cries of gulls floated up on the chill breeze. The wind was steady here and it tugged her hair from under her scarf as she picked her way over the chalky stones. Her boulder was a good distance down the path, over the rise and hidden from view.
She arrived as the sun was nearing the horizon. It was large and spectacular and it cast everything in its vivid glow. The rocks and grass were splashed in red. Pebbles cast long shadows, and behind her, Correine’s shadow went on forever.
The sun went down, and still Correine sat motionless on her rock. Orange and red sky gave way to violet, then darkest blue. The clouds surrendered their color last.
She turned and in the east the moon had risen, a thin pale crescent. And looking up, Correine saw something far above, swirling and tumbling in the air. It rode the currents of the wind and its edge was sharp against the clouds. It spun as it fell and finally came to rest at her feet.
It could have been smoke it was so delicate. Correine stared at it, at its fragility, at its implication. What a small thing, like the tiniest thread tugged free from her scarf. Sighing, she looked above once more. There, between two clouds, she could see the rip in the sky, the hole that had begun the Unraveling. Behind was the darkest shade of black imaginable. Already, hair-thin cracks were spider-webbing out from the fissure, spreading across the sky.
The wind was stronger now and it wailed mournfully across the fields. Correine buttoned her collar and stood, bracing herself against the cold. She thrust her hands deep into her pockets and a moment later withdrew the peach. She gazed at it as she held it with her fingertips, and then put it carefully back into her pocket. Correine smoothed her coat and then she returned her attention to the sky, to watch the end of things.