It’s in my head. Bouncing around like a beach ball. Jade’s last words to me. “Shut it, Cate, and let me die in peace.” She’d smiled, squeezed my hand, and then she was gone.
I’m walking. Walking on a PEI beach in my sweatshirt and pajama pants and flip-flops with my dark hair tangled and down, with a very special something in my pocket. It sags down, far down, but no one else is here and, to be honest, I don’t care.
The sun is beginning to rise and I inhale through my nose sharply. It’s the same sunset, the same feeling as the first morning without my sister. It’s a sinking feeling, the way I felt when we lost our pet fish. But worse, much, much worse, than that.
Jade was always strong and no one ever, ever expected her to die. She was the star centre on her competitive soccer team, the second-best on her track team, and she went to the gym every Tuesday and Thursday. But the brain tumor came so quickly that it couldn’t be stopped.
I take out the tiny marble box from my pocket and finger it between gloved hands. Jade’s ashes, some at least. I’d stolen it from Mom’s dresser. Remembering the day that she had the tumor, I stiffen and put it back.
It started with a simple headache at school; her teacher said she was fine and her friends insisted she could stay. A migraine when she got home—Mom’s aspirin didn’t work. “It’ll be done by morning,” Dad had assured her. I could hear Jade crying from her room—then it turned to screaming and things went downhill from there.
She was throwing up, feeling dizzy, but her headache was the worst. Mom realized how bad it was and took her to the Montague hospital. I stayed home.
“Is Jade gonna be okay?” I had asked. Dad sighed and turned away from me. His phone rang and he answered it. “She’s being moved to Charlottetown,” he reported.
Souris to Montague, Montague to Charlottetown, Charlottetown to Halifax. In Halifax they determined she had a brain tumor, and Dad used some of the little money we had to fly us out there. The doctors assumed she would live two more weeks.
It was less than two weeks. Four days later she died.
“At least we know she’s safe now,” Mom had choked out.
I should have died instead of her. I was the one they were always protecting, shielding from diseases, the frail girl of the family. Jade—my strong, determined older sister—was different.
It’s been a month now.
February was always Jade’s favorite month. “The best time for track,” she’d joke with me. In truth, she did love running in it. Jade was never delicate and once she ran half a marathon in this weather. She came back with her fingers and toes frozen and frostbitten, and Mom wanted to take her to the doctor, but Jade just laughed and went to bed until noon the next morning.
The box is getting heavier in my pocket. I plant my feet into the wet sand and grope for something, anything, that will stop the tears. Like there’ll be a box of Kleenex somewhere on a beach. Now I’m crying, sobbing silently, as the orange-pink sun hovers just over the horizon and climbs the soft coral sky over me.
The water splashes quietly onto the shore and laps gently on my feet. I tear my flip-flops off and fling them away. “Why?” I scream.
I break down on a big piece of driftwood and stay silent for a moment. Then there’s a sound, a disturbance in my upset tranquility. Footsteps. It’s Mom.
“Hi, Cate,” she says softly, and sits down beside me. “What is it?”
“I miss Jade.” I’m still crying a bit, and Mom puts her arm around me, her silky blond hair brushing against my cheek.
“I know.” Mom looks out to the horizon. “I miss her, too.”
“Mom?” I lean against her shoulder. “Could—could she have lived?”
Mom bites her lip and takes her arm away from my shoulders. “I’ve been thinking about it, and…no. We found out too late. I’m sorry, Cate. It’s my fault. I should’ve noticed earlier.”
“It’s not your fault,” I say in a wobbly voice. “Not at all.”
She turns away. “No, Cate…Catelyn Fuller, you don’t know what I know. I’ve spoken with the doctors. I’ve made sure. They said…they confirmed… that Jade would have lived if I’d gotten her there on time.”
Two swift dark cormorants whoosh by, nimble as they swoop over the rocks, racing silently to the water. The wind whistles quietly. Mom’s words echo in my head.
I take out Jade’s ashes from my pocket and set them back on the log. Mom turns around. “Oh my goodness,” she whispers hoarsely.
“You kept this?” she continues, and a tear trickles down her cheek. “I thought I’d lost it. I’ve searched the house for this. Cate, I am so mad at you for stealing this but god, I’m happy to see it again!”
I ignore the fact that she’s never said that before and pick up the small box, cold in my hands, to press it into Mom’s ice-cold palms.
Her hands automatically curl protectively around it and she smiles sadly. “Jade,” she whispers, half to herself.
I stand up. “Mom?”
“Jade,” she says again. “I mean—yes, Cate?”
“You should head back,” I murmur, squeezing her wrist.
“I will.” She blinks back tears and squeezes back. “I will.”
And she heads down the beach towards the dirt road back home.
It’s quiet as she leaves. A crab scuttles towards my feet and buries itself in the sand.
I wipe my face on my sleeve. The waves ripple across the sand and I look up suddenly, startled as a slender white bird catches my eye.
Jade taught me well. We’d spent hours poring over her bird encyclopedia, memorizing each and every bird in the universe. “Chickadee,” I can hear her saying in my mind. “Scientific name: Poecile atricapillus. Natural habitat: mixed evergreen forests and forest edges. Family: tit…”
I squint. It’s a dove, it appears, but why is it here? Doves live in dense forests and woodlands, deserts and sometimes suburban areas in the southern U. S. But this is Souris, Prince Edward Island!
The dove starts arranging her feathers gracefully, preening its smooth white wings quietly. It rotates twice, looking for something I don’t know of, then spots me. It stands stock still.
I hold my breath so it doesn’t glide away, but finally exhale, my breath puffing out in the frosty air—I can see it—and the dove flutters the soft pink-white wings. To my surprise, it comes towards me on thin delicate legs, leaving a tiny imprint on the wet sand.
It emits a mournful, haunting noise like a loon, echoing in my ears. I shiver. “Hey,” I breathe to it, directing my voice towards the bird, about forty meters away.
That was stupid, I think a second later, regretting my decision to try and make a friend out of it. It won’t be able to hear me.
But apparently it can hear me. It doesn’t hesitate to keep going farther away from the water and towards me. It finally stops beside me—is it my imagination or not? —and starts scratching something in the sand with thin black claws.
A heart. But a heart with a little loop at the bottom, our family’s code for something. The one that means I’m safe.
I stare at it quizzically. How?
A train of thought runs through my head so quickly I can barely think. What? How? Am I hallucinating? I must be.
The dove calls again, the same mourning sound, and disappears with a faint popping noise.
“I’ll be back,” I whisper to the spot where the dove disappeared, rising from my seat on the smooth driftwood and starting the walk home.