Chapter 4: Morning 1
Lexie burrowed deeper under the comforting weight of the covers, pulling them up over her cold nose. It was warm and smells of grass and sun had seeped into the cloth the day before. The scratchy, shabby blankets she’d heaped on top of the worn duvet were wool, and there were a few more still folded in the trunk. She probably wouldn’t freeze this winter, at any rate.
It was morning, she could tell by the birdsong, though the interior of the cabin was dark. The boarded windows blocked the weak dawn light, though the ocean mist still managed to creep in and permeate everything with a damp chill.
It was tempting to wait for the sun to fully rise and the day to warm. But there was a ton of work waiting. Today the cabin would get a good scrub. And then there were the seeds she’d bought. Once she finished cleaning, the garden was next.
Nerving herself to face the chilly floor, Lexie hopped out of bed. Her duffel bag was still sitting on the trunk at the end of the bed where she’d left it the night before. Lexie pulled out an over-sized hoodie and shrugged it on and dug through her clothes until she came up with a pair of thick socks.
She grabbed the old copper bucket and kettle, and pulled on Martha’s old boots by the door. They were a bit loose, but with an extra layer of socks, they’d fit just right.
The brisk sea air stung Lexie’s bare legs. She crossed the short distance, what she’d begun to think of as the “side yard” to the pump, and filled the bucket full of crisp, cold water, and dunked her hands in and splashed her face.
“Oh! Oh oh cold!” She tucked her chilled hands under her arms. Once her fingers weren’t freezing anymore, she removed the lid from the cast iron kettle.
Inside was a tidy web and a small spider.
“Sorry, little dude, but you can’t live there.”
Lexie picked up a dead leaf from the ground and, with one finger, gently prodded the spider until it moved. Arachnid on board, she set the leaf a safe distance from the pump. No point in saving the little guy from drowning now just to accidentally drown him later.
She cleaned out the web and rinsed the kettle a few times before filling it with fresh water and returning to the cabin.
“First thing. Coffee.”
Kneeling by the hearth, she lit the wood she’d arranged the night before with a match from a box she’d found next to the lamp.
It only took two matches for the tinder to catch. Lexie blew gently on the flame, and watched the edges of the leaves curl in delicately. Bark began to smoke as the fire grew larger. The wood was bone dry after sitting in the cabin for several years, and soon there was a roaring blaze in the fireplace.
Which was when Lexie realized she didn’t actually know anything about using a fireplace. Once the fire was lit and the flames were going, that was it.
Except it was definitely not the case here.
For one thing, smoke was supposed to go up the chimney. Which it wasn’t.
Instead, it was billowing out into the room.
“Oh crap!” Lexie grabbed the kettle, just filled with water, and poured it over the fire. The flames died out, but thick black smoke roiled from the now wet wood.
She hopped up and ran to open the door, then, still barefoot, dashed to the pump and grabbed the bucket. It still was half full and Lexie hurried back to the cabin as fast as she could without spilling.
She was mostly successful. A few splashes of cold water hit her bare legs.
Inside, the damp wood was still smoking, and the room filled with a layer of wood smoke that leaked out the open door. The morning was calm and the sea mist hovered on the horizon. Without unboarding the windows, there was no chance of a cross breeze to blow fresh air into the cabin.
Lexie lugged the bucket in, and poured it slowly and carefully on the logs. She didn’t want to make any more of a mess than she already had.
Now the fire was out, she stood up and put her hands on her hips, surveying the mess in the fireplace. “Just great, now I have to clean that up too.” The ash had formed a slimy black paste with the water, and the sodden logs sat in it.
“First I’ve gotta get the smoke out though.”
Lexie grabbed the hammer she’d bought yesterday. She didn’t have a ladder, so she took the wooden chair from the table and carted it outside. Under the window, she got the chair in position on the uneven ground and, standing on it, began trying to pry the boards loose.
Whoever nailed them up had done a good job. There was no danger of these boards blowing off, probably not even in a hurricane. Lexie managed to work the flat end of the hammer under the edge of one of the boards and levered it until she could work it in further. It was a slow process, but the end of the board, and the nails holding it in place, came free, centimeter by centimeter. She pushed harder on the handle of the hammer.
“Come on! Almost!”
Metal squealed against wood. Suddenly the end of the board was free, and the force with which she’d been pushing caused Lexie to overbalance.
She toppled sideways off the chair. Instinctively she put out her hands to catch herself.
As Lexie hit the ground, something popped in her hand. She looked down. Her thumb was bent much further back than it normally extended. For a moment, there was no pain. Just the rush of adrenaline that comes with an injury that’s going to hurt a lot in a few minutes.
Shifting to sit up, she lifted her hand off the ground. The thumb flopped uselessly. There was still no pain, just a strange numbness. Lexie began to stand. Her head swam, and sank she back to the grass. Nauseous, she pulled up her knees, and pressing her injured hand against her chest, leaned forward, resting her forehead against them. Waiting for it to pass. She was cold, and sweating at the same time.
“It’s okay. Just a sprain. Maybe dislocated—”
Then the pain hit. Lexie whimpered into her knees.
After a few minutes, the adrenaline subsided, and the nausea passed. Her hand still throbbed, but Lexie thought she should be able to stand alright, as long as she was careful.
She used her good hand to steady herself as she rose to her feet and walked to the front of the cabin.
The single room was still full of smoke that stung her eyes. Lexie pulled one of the scratchy wool blankets from the bed and dragged it out to the porch, where she wrapped it around herself and sat.
The clearing around the cabin was overgrown after several years of neglect. Saplings needed to be cut down. Coarse dune grasses and tough weeds were taking over. Her hand throbbed. The paint was peeling from the wooden siding of the cabin. The mossy boards of the porch were worm eaten and rotten in places.
“This might have been a mistake,” she said to no one.
Tears began to well up in her eyes, and pressure built in her chest. Lexie swallowed hard. “I’m not going to cry. Crying won’t help.”
She was cold, her hand hurt, and nothing on Starfish Island was how she’d imagined. The cabin was barely more than a shed and the village was a ghost town that didn’t know yet that it was dead. Lexie had given up everything to come here. Okay her life in Tanooki City wasn’t great, but at least it had electricity and indoor plumbing.
What a great start to her new life.
The tears she’d been holding back spilled over. Warm wet tracks cut through the film the smoke left on her face.
Might as well get it over with. There wasn’t anyone to see her cry, no one she could turn to for comfort or help. That person had always been Aunt Martha. And now Lexie sat here, on the porch of the last gift her Aunt Martha had left her.
She pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapping her good arm around them, and cradling her injured hand, and sobbed into her legs.
Eventually Lexie stopped crying. Her nose was stuffy and she was probably going to have a headache. But at least it was out of the way. Now she could think about what to do next.
Catch the ferry to the mainland. If she hadn’t already missed it for the day. Get to the hospital and have someone fix up her hand. She knew she should hurry to the harbor to try and catch the boat, but Lexie was still sitting on the porch, her face pressed against her knees, listening to the birds and the crash of the waves, when she heard a polite cough.
A woman stood in front of her with a basket covered by a red and white checkered cloth. She was dressed for the chilly spring morning in a bulky sweater and tall green boots, identical to the pair Lexie was wearing, to keep the wet grass at bay. She had a red knit cap pulled down over her ears.
“I heard you moved in out here, and I thought I’d drop by with some breakfast, figured you hadn’t had a chance to pick up much in the way of supplies. And introduce myself. I’m Louise.” She shifted the basket and stuck out her hand. “The [Mayor] of Albatross Bay.”
Lexie straightened up and pushed her hair back. It stuck to her face where the tears had dried. I bet my eyes are all red and I’m pretty sure there’s snot.
“I’m Lexie Archer. Or Alexis.” She raised her injured hand. She could see bruising on her thumb and it was beginning to swell at the joint. “I’d shake, but–“
“Oh dear,” said the [Mayor]. “What happened?”
“I landed on it, and it bent back. Way back.” Lexie’s stomach twisted a little as she remembered the unnatural angle.
“Let me see.” Louise set the basket down on the weathered porch beside Lexie.
The [Mayor] examined Lexie’s hand gently. “Do you have any potions?”
“No,” said Lexie. “I wouldn’t be sitting here crying if I did.”
“Fair enough. Looks like it’ll keep ‘til you’ve got some food in you. I guess you haven’t eaten yet either?”
“I was just starting the fire to boil water. But the smoke wasn’t going up the chimney. I thought if I could get one of the windows open, a breeze would help clear it out faster. The board came off all of a sudden and I fell.”
“Well, once we’ve got breakfast into you, you get dressed and we’ll get you over to the [Doctor]. Potion or one of the the doc’s ointments, it’ll be right in no time.”
“It was just so dumb. If I’m working out here by myself, I should probably have a potion on hand.”
“Not the worst idea.”
While the [Mayor] talked, she took the checkered cloth from the basket and spread it on the porch.
“No point in eating inside, if it’s full of smoke,” she said. “And the view out here is pretty good too. Even if it’s a bit chilly.”
The cabin had been built so the front faced the sea, about fifty meters from the cliff face. Lexie knew from the map of the property there were rail tracks on the other side, back some way, that ran up to an old mine. There was a thready trail, mostly overgrown, leading that direction.
Louise pulled out a steel thermos and two enameled mugs from the basket, and poured steaming coffee into them. Next came a small jar of milk and another of sugar cubes, and pots of red jam, orange marmalade, and clotted cream. Another basket, nestled in the first, contained scones and warm rolls. Finally there were two plates and an assortment of cutlery.
“Wow, you came prepared! Thank you so much!”
“Just the neighborly thing to do. Martha was never much for cookery. Took her meals at the diner. And the place has been a couple years empty. We’ve kept an eye on it from the outside, but I thought, ‘Even the staples would’ve gone off. If Martha had any in the first place. If that girl hasn’t had a chance to do her shopping, she’d appreciate a breakfast.’ Can’t start a new day on an empty stomach.”
“It’s definitely appreciated. I picked up some things at the store yesterday but, with the fireplace and the smoke....”
“Check the flue,” advised Louise, as she efficiently sliced a scone and piled it with jam and clotted cream before handing the plate, along with a fork, to Lexie. “Or have Moses do it. Martha had it done every spring. Probably a nest blocking it.”
Louise set about fixing a plate for herself, still talking about fireplaces, as Lexie took a deep sip of her coffee. Real coffee.
The sun sparkled on the sea, the mist nearly burned off.
“Eat up.” Louise took a bite of her own scone and Lexie followed suit.
The pastry was soft and buttery and the crumbs melted in her mouth. “Ermhgrd,” mumbled Lexie with her mouth full. She swallowed. “It’s so good.”
“Thanks,” said Louise. “I’m not much good in the kitchen, but I’ve learned to make a few things. Scones is one of them.”
Lexie took another and sliced it awkwardly with one hand, before piling on butter and marmalade.
Louise continued to talk while they ate, and when they were finished, Lexie went inside and quickly threw on the same clothes as yesterday. No point in putting on something fresh until she’d washed off the soot and smoke. She shuddered at the thought of a cold bath at the pump. But that was a problem for future Lexie. First she needed to get her hand taken care of.