The sky was growing dark, cloaked with a garment of night and thunder. The dark clouds knitted together so the sun’s weak golden threads couldn’t pierce through them fully.
She watched all this from a chair by the window. She had been sitting in the chair for so long. It was a chair she was increasingly familiar with, having previously spent a good portion of her time running her fingers along its edges and observing the woodwork, appreciating it, cursing it, before finally managing to sit in it.
A grumble of thunder sounded in the heavens, and she leaned forward, nearly tumbling down from her seat. There had been signs of rain nearly every day, and the signs had lasted for almost a week. The sky always darkened, the clouds always thick, the rain always promising to fall, but it never did.
Thunder was something new. Perhaps it would bring along lightning and wind, something to liven up this house a little bit.
The house in question was an old being. It had been given life a long time ago when families filled it up. It laughed and sang, and the times it wept and stayed silent were little. It was a time of light, colour, and a joy that permeated the walls and seeped into the floors. Those times of good cheer remained, even long after these families left or passed on.
When she had arrived at the house, she had implored the old and weary house to tell her these stories. Tell her these stories it did, and as she listened she had seen the echoes left behind. Children running through the house, dogs that raced to the door and leapt around in excitement when they heard their owners return from some journey, the very same dogs laying their head down for their final rest and the tears that had followed. She saw parents embracing their grandchildren, planting kisses on their heads and smiling at their children before they bid farewell and followed after their faithful pets of the years before. She listened to how the house spoke of them fondly and how they mourned their reason for being.
Day after day had passed, and she had told the house her stories in return. What she had seen, what she had heard, what she wished she could do and all the things that were close and dear to her. The house had listened with the patience that those who matured with bygone years possessed. They had smiled and been the best listener she had in a very long while.
It had been a long time since then, and the house had been left empty and alone on this isolated cliff where the waves of the vast sea lapped not far off. Perhaps the reason lay in the description. Isolated cliffs were rather inconvenient for the modern person, but she particularly enjoyed them. That was why she had taken up residence here in the first place, but her lone presence wasn’t enough to bring light into the house and so the house had remained empty, clinging onto her as its last bearer of memories. And though she had gotten bored of the way time ticked by slowly in the silent house, she had stayed for them, keeping them company as they inched towards its final days. In a way, she couldn’t bear leaving a friend that had become most dear to her.
Perhaps in an unspoken agreement, both of them were leaving it to time’s clutches to see who would outlast the other.
And now back to where we began. She leaned out of the window, nearly falling right out of it, though it wouldn’t have mattered if she had. No one would have cared, least of all herself. She gazed at the grumbling mass of clouds in the sky. Why was there only noise and no action? She hopped on one foot and switched to the other, hands clenching and kneading one another. Why was it so difficult for the rain to break free from its thick turbulent mass?
Just as she was about to retreat back into the room and fall back into the chair behind her, a drop of rain fell onto her nose, or rather had some slight resistance against her nose before passing through. She held her hand to where the raindrop had touched it, feeling the spot before the coolness rapidly faded away.
Stretching out her palm to the sky while bracing herself against the windowsill, the falling raindrops that were initially gentle taps on her palm quickly intensified, becoming sharp stings that made her snatch her hand back to the safe confines of the house.
All this while, an unnamed pressure was steadily growing in her chest. She pressed down on it in an attempt to suppress it. But this pressure was not so mere that physical force could stop it, it continued to bloom and she found herself sinking to the ground. It was becoming difficult to breathe, and every breath she took felt caged in her chest, as if her rigid rib cage was preventing a bird from flight.
What was this? It was almost too much for her to handle. She had been waiting for this, but besides joy she felt her heart pulling in ways she had not felt before or that she had long forgotten.
As the rain grew heavier and the thunder boomed, she curled up with her face on the ground. The rainfall and wind that fell upon this humble yet lonely abode was gratifying but muffled through peeling walls, creaking floors, and the ever brave but leaking roof where part of the tiles had slipped and fallen to pieces in the sea miles below. She had never gotten around to replacing them, she wouldn’t have been able to anyway. It was when the pressure subsided somewhat that she heard her dear friend creak a weary but warm, “It’s time to go.”
She sat up.
“What do you mean?”
“Go before the storm slows and stops. It’s what you’ve been waiting for.”
She stayed silent, and the house continued.
“Go. Adventure and seek all that you have dreamed of. All I ask is that you remember me.”
She stayed silent once more. Would it be selfish of her if she chose to leave?
“The end is near for me, so do not weep. It would make me happy to see my dear friend go.”
Now the building pressure returned abruptly, but not only in her chest but in her nose too. She wanted to laugh it away and sit back in the chair she had spent so much time with. She wasn’t leaving, why would she?
“Please go. See all that you can see while you can. I would like to imagine myself along with you all the while.”
The house could be stubborn when it wanted to. She knew that it would nag to no end if she chose to stay, and she knew she didn’t want to be here to witness the day when it would not nag, when it would remain silent and devoid of life, a shell where memories once prevailed.
It was then that she made up her mind, and she had to act fast before the pressure in her chest, in her nose and behind her eyes overwhelmed her completely.
“Goodbye, my friend,” she said.
“Goodbye,” the house echoed.
She ran. With feather light feet she ran, or glided, out of the room, down the hallway where framed portraits once hung, down the stairs and past the round, ornate mirror that returned no reflection when she went by. She went on without stopping, without thinking, past rooms stripped of carpeting and thick with dust, past floors that had loose boards and that would creak with any slight movement, except she had never made them creak. As she exited the place that had been her home for decades, she saw all those who lived there before her, laughing and crying and loving each other in this place that she was now leaving.
She wondered if she would leave her own memories, her own ghosts behind, though that did beg the question: Could ghosts leave behind ghosts of their own?
She supposed she would never know.
She ran past the doors that had long rotted and fallen off their hinges, though it would have made no difference even if they had been standing. Leaping into the rain, she did not stop there, running all the way down to the small strip of beach she had first arrived upon.
There was her boat, tied to a tree by a rope that had nearly frayed completely. It was an unspectacular boat, one that was well-built to bring her here all those years ago but unsuspecting enough to not draw attention from any of the living. She untied the rope with some difficulty, her hands shaking too much to be of good use. She was drenched through, as drenched through as a ghost could be in the rain. She knew she was soaked, she had to be. And she wondered when the rain that was streaming down her face, down her cheeks, had become laden with brine that was almost as salty as the sea and the wild sea breeze.
And so our ghost pushed the boat out to sea, the waves howling and screaming as they crashed into one another, and if she had been mortal, it would be undeniable for her to crash and suffer a gruesome death among the unforgiving rocks lining the steep fall of the cliff. But she was not mortal, and who was to say that her boat wasn’t as well?
With thunder roaring and the wind tearing through all that was in the world, she boarded the boat and looked up at her old friend. She laughed and cried a “thank you” that was immediately snatched away by the wind, and she hoped the wind would bring her sincerity to her friend, who admittedly had been getting hard of hearing lately. The blooming pressure in her chest burst at this moment, and now she knew what unrestrained joy and sorrow felt like, both unlikely contrasts blending together for her to experience at once. It was something she had never known, but now she did. Lightning struck, and she saw the house perched atop the cliff hidden away from human civilisation, their outline falling apart against the stark brightness of the lightning bolt. It was with this final look and with all the unspoken love between them that they parted.
She sailed away to a horizon she could not see the end of. To the unknown, to discovery. There was so much to dream of, so much to see.
Written by: Jia Xuan