Threshold

Kelsey Pursel

The glass vases set on the windowsill glittered in the few shafts of light barely breaking through the bleak, gray clouds. The tea kettle on the old wood burning stove shrieked, and was soon followed by the shuffling of hurried footsteps. Mindful of the heat, Deirdre carefully wrapped a thick cloth around the kettle’s handle, silencing its cry as she carried it over to the kitchen’s wooden countertops which were scratched and worn from decades of use. The quiet tick of the clock in the hall, the faint bleating of her goats, and the distant crash of waves where the only sounds that continued to permeate the small cottage.

Tea in hand, Deirdre left the warmth of her kitchen, stepping out onto the small stone patio just outside the glass doors.

A wooden rocking chair and side table furnished the small space, both had to be moved into the house every night to avoid damage from the rainy climate. Deirdre wiped the seat of the rocker with her sleeve. The salty air dampened everything not tucked inside of her little home.

Auburn waves with hints of salt and pepper at the hairline blew roughly in the sea’s harsh breeze; what had been a muted sound of the ocean was now a pleasant, comforting roar. Her gaze drifted along the coast. She looked toward the distant and proud stone stand of O’Brien’s Tower, a regal fortress amidst the fog covered plains.

That direction, a woman in a bright yellow jumper clashed against the lush green of the grass and the deep grays of the cliffs. She wavered upon a slick jut of the cliff edge. Deirdre looked on in interest, cradling her steaming cup of tea with slender fingers. She noticed the shake of the woman’s shoulders, her head downturned, facing the ocean seven hundred feet below. Deirdre sipped her tea and the yellow clad woman vanished—her body was rushing to dash the crags below, to be swallowed by sea.

The ever prominent frown lines on Deirdre’s face, aging her far beyond her years, rested tiredly as she looked to the now vacant cliff edge. With a steady hand she rested her teacup on the rickety side table before pulling herself to her feet with a strained huff. It was short walk from the cottage to the cliff, only about fifteen feet from her garden. The thick woolen cardigan she wore did little to combat the creeping chill of winter, no matter how tightly it wrapped her slim frame. She stopped at the cliff edge, narrow shoulders hunched toward her neck to fight off the frigid wind. Deirdre was unsurprised, as usual, when she looked down to the water below and saw no sign of the woman. She had been the fourth one that month.

 

***

He was a tall young man with lanky arms and shallow cheeks. Deirdre watched from her kitchen window, her hands stilled in the soapy, water filled basin. He paced along the edge of the cliff, repeatedly glancing the terrifying drop before stumbling back onto safer footing. His curly hair was plastered to his skin by the daily bout of afternoon rain. Unlike the others, he chose a spot not far from Deirdre’s cottage. His gaze wandered back to it every few minutes as he paced.

Deirdre sighed, shaking her hands over the soaking dishes before wiping them on her apron. She tossed two new logs into the wood stove, stoking the fire until there was a steady blaze. The kettle was filled and set on the burner, two teacups placed on the knotty, red birch dining table, alongside a small pitcher of cream and a dish of sugar. She paused on her way to the door, taking time to adjust a slightly askew placemat on the table. Once satisfied, Deirdre left through the back, grabbing her umbrella before stepping out into the rain. Upon her approach, the young man shoved his hands deep into his pockets and averted his gaze.

“What’s your name, son?”

Deirdre stopped several feet away from him, resting one hand on her hip while the other held the umbrella high enough that it could shield the both of them if he chose to come closer. The young man hesitated, smearing the back of his hand as he wiped his nose.

“Well, you don’t have to tell me your name if you don’t want to. Still, you should come in out of the rain, you’ll catch your death.”

The young man scoffed, but otherwise remained silent. After a long pause he nodded, stepping under the umbrella with his shoulders hunched and his head lowered. Deirdre gave an approving nod and led the way back to the cottage, which, like O’Brien’s lonely tower, sat as tiny beacon mounted above the raging sea. The heavy door banged shut behind them, sheltering them from the slowly subsiding storm. From the kitchen, the cry of the tea kettle could be heard once again, filling the otherwise cozy space with tension. Deirdre hurried past the young man into the kitchen, quickly silencing it before moving it to the table. She stood in the entryway once again and ushered her visitor toward one of the seats with an empty cup in front of it. He sat down heavily, clothes dripping onto the stone floor. Deirdre poured the freshly brewed tea, gesturing to the sugar and cream. The young man shook his head. With her cup made up how she liked it, she settled into the seat at the head of the table, facing both the man, and the glass rear doors leading to the cliffs.

“I’m Nolan.”

His voice strained with anguish, but it still had the softness of a boy. He picked up the teacup for warmth.

“It’s a pleasure, Nolan, you may call me Deirdre,” she paused to sip. “I suppose you came here to jump.”

Nolan blinked. His large eyes appeared more fish-like than boyish. He stuttered out a few broken sounds before giving up, resigning himself back to nodding. Deirdre sighed, not needing to look at him to know his response.

“So what stopped you? I think it’s quite a fitting end.”

She stared past Nolan, through the glass doors, out to the sea. The chair she sat in creaked as she relaxed further into it, her gaze now distant.

“To fall into the quiet depths of the ocean seems to me a comforting exit. There’s a balance to it that’s enticing. A return to the wet dark.”

Nolan stared at her, brows furrowed and lips parted in surprise.

“I suppose you were frightened is all,” she said.

Nolan nodded again, setting his full teacup back on the table.

“Would it make you feel better not to go alone?”

His eyes widened, his fear now mixed with reverence. He swallowed roughly and tears overflowed onto his cheeks. Deirdre met his gaze over her tea, her eyes filled with understanding. The cup was placed back onto its matching saucer with a soft clink.

The short walk from the back door to the drop was done in silence. They stood at the cliff edge, the warm glow coming from the cottage begging them to return to its quiet safety. Deirdre tilted her head back, letting the cold night air weave through her hair and chill her weary bones. She smiled, just barely, and stared upward, gazing at faint stars just beginning to make an appearance overhead. Nolan shook beside her, overwhelmed by his sobs. Tears and snot streamed down his swollen face, but were left to run off the end of his nose and the tip of his chin. His fists were clenched at his side, knuckles white from the strain. The crashing waves far, far below them held his fatigued, bloodshot gaze.

“Why are you doing this for me?” Nolan choked, unable to bare looking at the older woman next to him.

Deirdre placed a hand on his shoulder, grasping his damp sweatshirt. With a push he went over the edge.

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