Pulse Issue 2: 2023

Rosemary and Frog Legs

by: Ivy Sarker

I live in the aftermath of a footprint. The mountains around us slope down into a river carving out our north and south, houses are built up and around in spirals along the mountain side. Gran tells me a titan larger than our sun stepped on the earth while she was still soft and new. When Rhona, a tall girl with large teeth and a peanut allergy stuck her fingers into my acne scars — Gran told me my face was another Earth, the pit another village. She tells her stories quieter when my mother is around. Mother says Gran went crazy the week she stopped praying. As the only believer in our family my mother is often lonely. She’s given up conversion and has chosen to just pray for our safe passage into heaven. Gran’s denounced heaven. I might too.

When my father pulls out his box of cigarettes, he says, "There’s some missing."

Gran says, “A friendly fairy takes our lost things into a nowhere place."

We go on walks to the top of the mountain, Gran leaves lipstick stains on her stolen cigarette and points out mushrooms that could kill me. We collect bushels of primroses. She slips one behind my ear and tells me I am her favourite primrose.

Our walks lead to the top of the mountain. There sits an abandoned house, collapsing under the weight of wisteria vines, the purple blooms shine against the black rotting wood. When the wind blows through all its cracks, the house sounds like it’s whispering.

Gran says, “It sounds like a woman — young, barely out of her first heartbreak.”

I can see her in the windows, the long train of her white skirt vanishing past the threshold. The high school girls sneak out of their houses to climb through the forest after curfew, they leave jars filled with rosemary and frog legs on the front steps — they believe the ghost will curse their heartbreakers.

Safiya, the most beautiful girl in school, placed ten jars, she dragged them up through the dirt path over the ditches, fallen logs and fairy circles — all cramped in her little brother’s red wagon. Her cries were carried into the town square with the evening fog. I watched it wash over the brown scalloped roofs, then under the crumbling stone bridge, leaving through the big toe. I stood by the window and clasped my hands together, sweaty palm-to-palm wishing I had prayed enough before to know what I was meant to do then. My prayers were disjointed. I had no clue what I was asking for or what Safiya needed. I tried to imagine God and the way my mother describes him, tried to envision the stained glass geometry of our old church. My mind only conjured the large approaching shadow of a titan’s foot. I prayed then to the titan and the ghost living in the old house, I figured Safiya would appreciate that more. She stopped going to church when it stopped letting her in. Her dress was soft blue like wholesale hydrangeas spilling from buckets at the garden centre and her dark hair was piled on her head in spirals. The stone angels around us climbed off their pedestals, leaving their harps and lyres. They surrounded her and muttered their distaste. I watched her close her eyes and hang her head, shutting away their insults. They called her whore, impure, disgraced. I stood from my pew, safely tucked away between my Gran and a pillar and demanded they stop. The whole of our town turned to face me, their heads connected to the same string. The angels nor god helped Safiya.

I’ve seen her hold hands with a boy from my chemistry class. He kissed her on the forehead in the hallways and waited at the hospital when she broke her leg. His name was written first on the bright pink cast — bubble letters in orange sharpie, Evan. I snagged a spot behind her ankle, a thumb’s worth of space. Our school is a microcosm, we are nosy by nature. He and Safiya are held at the hip, opposite images of one another — we didn’t know them in independence. Until I noticed Evan spending time in the library behind the shelves of financial literacy. He leaned down in the same angle to kiss blonde hairlines and whisper similar words. You’re my everything, we’ll be together soon, you’re my favourite, he would say. I see him at the lookout — a cliff overlooking the western side of our town. On Wednesdays he’s there with Ashley, and on Fridays with Juno. Rarely on Saturdays, Safiya gets her turn.

Safiya’s family lives in a large house with a wrap-around porch and a marble bird feeder. I spent the morning drenching pound cake in honey and warm spices. Gran whispers poetry into the baking sheets, she tells me about love — if you pack your baking with enough of it the recipient will feel it down to their bone marrow. Evan sits alone on the front steps, wilted pink roses from the grocery store losing petals beside him. “Those are pretty,” I said. They looked sad, browning at the tips with broken stems. “If you hang them upside down, they’ll dry nicely,” I impart some of Gran’s wisdom. He agrees that dry flowers last longer. Safiya isn’t home, but I see the rustle of her bedroom curtain. Evan tries to reach for a slice of cake, I tug away before he can take the love I stored just for Safiya. I leave feeling that the roses were meant in apology.

After my mother tucks me in, Gran sneaks into my room with a warm piece of honey cake and I tell her about Safiya. I wonder what the ghost woman would do to Evan. Marie Lin cursed her boyfriend and he tumbled down the bleacher stairs, his clarinet split into pieces. Sarah cursed her boyfriend and he lost his thumb during wood shop. Gran says I should go ask. The ghost woman lacks companionship. She sends me off with a wrinkled red lipstick stain on my cheek and I climb through my bedroom window. The house is not the same at night; the purple wisteria glows ominous in the moonlight, moths make homes in the curling leaves. There’s a scattering of rat feet under the rotting foundation. I imagine them tangled together into a nightmare ball by their skinned tails. I take the front steps two at a time, gripping the wrought iron rail leaving rust stains on my palms. The house is no different from mine, the living room trailed into the kitchen and into the hallways, then into the bathroom up the stairs. Everything's just falling apart and forgotten. I wonder one day when everyone has moved out, when my family has died off and no one remembers our names if our home will look like this. Would Gran choose to stay around and haunt our walls to collect prayers in jars like the ghost woman does?

“Ghost woman.” I call out. My voice floats like ethereal mist and vanishes into the doorways. I call until I see her floating figure dressed in angel white. I’m beckoned into the kitchen with her long finger. Hundreds of jars filled with rosemary and frog legs are stacked against the walls. The roof is missing, and the moonlight lays over us like a blanket. Evan is served on the dinner table clad in his pyjamas; his limbs restrained behind him. His head hangs as he snores. Ghost woman has organized the room as if she’s invited us to a dinner party. She’s laid down place mats and silver utensils. Evan is the pig with the apple in its mouth.

“Ghosts don’t eat," I tell her. Although Evan and his cheating ways deserve a chopped thumb, I don’t believe he deserves to be eaten by a ghost. Ghost woman opens her mouth — her teeth black and her throat white, the mist of her body shudders in a form that could be laughter, but she makes no noise. A shadow covers the moon as she points up. A hand stretches down from the night sky. “God?” A rush of wind envelops the house — its whispers are chants of anticipation, a waiting stadium of bloodthirsty fans. The hand plucks Evan from his sacrificial seal and I watch the boy from my chemistry class vanish into the clouds.

Ivy Sarker (she/her) is a writer and editor living in Tkaronto. You can find her work in Potted Purple, Kiwi Collective and Room.