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Concrete Wall
2019 Creative Writing / Visual Art Contest Winners

Emily Granville, Academy for Information Technology

Divya Moore, Magnet High School

Falling, Melting Snow

by Emliy Granville

     Snow fell slowly on the dirt roads and settled down for the night on delicate forest branches. Edith watched snowflakes descend from the thick gray clouds, enveloping the world in their cold embraces. Even the birds seemed to be sleeping bitter twilight away. There was nothing in the world other than the soft dance of the snow. Edith smiled into her cup of tea. Her thin, bony hands wrapped around the tea, soaking up the warmth as it traveled through her arms and into her soul. The world, along with Edith, was at peace for the moment.

     However, this peace could not last. Edith knew she was not done for the evening. She still had work to do both today and in the near future. Preparing herself, Edith took a long, slow sip from her cup, finishing the dregs of her tea. She set down the cup with a gentle sound and pushed herself off her chair with the help of her cane. Edith hobbled to the front door, put on her animal fur boots and grabbed her warmest shawl. Though the shawl was thin, it was all Edith had to protect her old bones from the winter chill.

     The snow seeped into Edith: her boots, her shawl, her hair, her skin. Soon, Edith was soaked with the wet of the winter chill, but she had important matters to attend to. So, on Edith went, unhindered by the weather.

     Edith heard muffled scraping and small voices over the soft silence of the snow beyond the hill. The snow could quiet the world, but could never render it soundless. People would always continue to make sounds, always demand to be heard, even if the world did not want to hear.

Edith made it up over the hill and had a clear view of the center of the village. People wandered about, bundled from ears to toes in furs and fabrics of various worths. There were the rich, in layers of the warmest furs, and the poor, in layers of the thinnest fabrics, not quite thick enough to be considered clothing.

     All were busy seeing what they could buy or beg from merchants selling their wares. Tables were strewn haphazardly about the village center, merchants peddling goods at each one. Due to the weather, most were packing up their tables before closing, ready to end the day with profit in their pockets. Edith tried not to come at this time of the day, as many merchants were already gone or had sold the best of their products. Today, Edith had no choice but to stay inside and mind her cooking pot. The delicate recipe required constant attention, demanding a piece of Edith’s soul.

     Edith arrived at a merchant’s table as he and his fellow vendors packed, stowing their wares away from the world until the next market day. “Hello dear,” she greeted him, her drawl thick, sweet molasses. Edith went to the market most Wednesday mornings, and she preferred this merchant. Mark never minded Edith’s somewhat unconventional requests. Acquiring even the strangest items without question, he never let Edith down. Besides, he never overcharged Edith the way other merchants appeared obliged to do. The other merchants did not tend to remain in business, though, so Edith did not worry about them.

     “Edith! Glad to see you!” Edith was one of Mark’s best customers, and her tardiness had begun to worry him. Mark thought of the old woman as somewhat of a mother to him, a mother to the village. She had helped everyone at one point or another, including his daughter when she fell ill and would have otherwise died of the plague. It was strange how only Mark seemed to remember, or even see, how many lives she bettered. A stray cat, Edith had let herself in and out of the sick houses without anyone but Mark noticing. While the town’s respect for her plummeted through the years, insisting she was a “drain” on society, Mark found himself admiring her more and more. In truth, Mark did not know what he or the village would do if something happened to Edith, so he tried not to think about it. “I have the materials you requested. Five gold pieces, please.”

     Edith smiled at Mark. She liked his eyes, especially when they smiled back at her. The dark brown eyes flecked with gray, matching his hair, were full of life, though she could tell they were getting tired. One day, sooner than he knew, Mark would retire. With any luck, Edith would not need him anymore by the time that day came. Edith reached down to her little purse. Edith smiled at Mark one last time, made the exchange, and wished him a good night.

Edith began the journey back down the hill towards home and warmth. The sun had set behind the clouds, sharpening the chill in the air. Anyone who was still out scurried home. Edith would make another cup of tea she decided. It would warm her up, and besides, she liked tea. Maybe she would have some after her guest arrived.

     Upon arriving at her cottage, Edith inspected her purchase, her clothes still plastered to her body. There were a few large flowers in the bag, each orange with small black spots. Edith bent down to see the flowers better. She ran her fingers over the smooth petals. Edith decided the tiger lilies were fresh. This was fortunate, because if the flowers were already starting to wilt, they would be worthless. Edith could make seeds from them, which would create a lovely addition to her now dead garden, but she would rather not have to at all. Once each flower passed Edith’s test, she dumped them into the pot simmering on the fireplace.

     Edith uncloaked her shawl to hang on the drying rack. Placing her boots near the fireplace, she sighed as warmth burrowed back into her bones. Edith put the tea kettle on, making sure there was enough for a guest. Satisfied, Edith sat down at her table to wait.

Minutes later, a firm knock came from the door. “Come in, dear. No need to make me stand up, just open the door,” Edith called from her chair. The door slammed open with a swift motion. A young woman stepped into the cottage, giving a sheepish smile as the door hit the wall. Despite her apprehension, her dark brown eyes were full of dreams and plans waiting to be brought to life.

     “Ah, dear, there you are,” Edith said to the girl with a smile. “Ella is your name, yes?” Edith looked at the girl as she nodded, her face half hidden under the hood of her cloak. “Why don’t you dry your cloak on the rack, there’s no hurry. Sit down, right here by the fire, and make yourself comfortable. You must be tired from your walk here, the trip always exhausts my old legs, after all.” Edith chuckled, though Ella did not seem to find it so amusing. Edith continued, “Let me pour you some tea, it will warm you up.”

     Ella glanced around the small cottage room, taking it in. Ella’s eyes settled on Edith. After a pause, she gave Edith a nod. Ella removed her cloak, hanging it on the rack in one motion. She turned, and in one step, sat down in the chair across from Edith.

     Ella observed Edith, considering the old woman. Edith had this quality, a stern kindness that the elderly had perfected. Though no one could take control of the room from Edith’s iron grip, it was a subtle quality, easily overlooked. Ella would have thought she was imagining it, had Edith not been carrying herself with so much confidence. Ella respected this, admired it, even. Ella wished she could command people with such ease, but she supposed she would have to wait until she was older.

     “Alright dear, are you certain?” It was now Edith’s turn to take in Ella. Edith could tell she was determined and ambitious. Ella’s canvas face painted each of her thoughts in fine detail, each image depicting scenes of Ella’s future triumphs. Ella had just decided she wanted to captain her own ship and follow a map she made herself. Edith knew Ella could follow it, as long as Ella navigated the dangerous waters of life with caution. Edith continued, “It is relatively safe, dear, but no magic is without its consequences.” Edith put her old hand on top of Ella’s.

     Ella hesitated and nodded her head. She wanted this. She needed this. She could never do half the things she wanted to do without this. Every time Ella opened her mouth, people would scoff and ignore her. It was forbidden for her to say anything more complicated than how beautiful she found a dress. One time, Ella attended a town meeting, discussing how to improve the security around the wall bordering the town. She had the gall to suggest that everyone pay the mayor each year. That way, the mayor could pay the guards enough money to motivate them to do their jobs. At this, the mayor laughed in her face. A month later, when a middle-aged man said the same thing, the policy was implemented within a few weeks. Ella hated everyone ignoring her, and she needed to do something about it. Ella needed to go through with this.

     Edith already knew this, and she knew this young woman, struggling to find her voice, needed people to listen to her. Edith had felt that way, too, many years ago. She knew what it felt like to have the townspeople laugh at her ideas. She had suggested the wall many years ago, and everyone had dismissed it as too expensive to maintain. People eventually listened to Edith. She showed them the benefit of a wall, and she may have had a hand in the collective nightmare showing the potential carnage without a wall. Regardless, she won their respect, and Edith could not fault Ella for wanting that same respect.

     The tea kettle started to whistle. With a sigh, Edith pushed herself out of her chair with her cane. She walked towards the fireplace. “Ella. What a lovely name, Ella. Powerful, too.” Edith bent down towards the simmering pot. She ladled the potion into an empty cup, which she then filled with tea. Into the cup, Edith said, “With your strength, fill Ella’s voice with equal strength.” Edith looked up from the cup to see Ella, who had followed Edith from the table. “Now drink this,” Edith instructed, “but be careful, it’s hot.” She reverently handed Ella the cup.

     Ella’s face brightened with excitement as she examined the cup and its contents. The cup was unremarkable, and the liquid it contained seemed no more special. Ella, however, knew nothing of magic, and as such, could not tell if the mixture was tea and dirt or if it truly had magical properties. She supposed there was only one way to find out. Ella took a careful sip. Wrinkling her nose at the earthy taste, she drank faster, draining the cup completely.

Ella’s surroundings shifted. Edith grew smaller as Ella drank, her hair grayer, facial lines deeper, arms more dependent on her cane. For the first time, Edith looked old. Ella wished she could somehow help Edith, wished she could take the years out of Edith’s body, but both of them knew that magic could not fix everything. 

     Despite the shift, Ella felt no different. She was the same young woman who walked in the door. “So, people will listen to me now?” Ella asked, disbelief pursing her lips. “Will people at least consider my ideas before deeming them useless and foolish?” Her voice bitter, Ella set down the empty cup with more force than intended. 

     The two stared at each other for a silent moment. Edith broke the stare with a slow nod. Edith was careful to not get Ella’s hopes up too high as she explained, her old voice brittle and rough, “When you have something worth saying, people will listen to you. The magic is not strong, but it doesn’t have to be.” Edith gently held Ella’s hands and looked into her eyes so Ella would understand Edith’s words. “You are already strong, Ella dear, and so are your words. This helps a bit, that’s all.”

     Ella’s face lit into the widest grin Edith had ever seen as Ella thanked Edith. Ella was ready to be in charge, ready for people to stop dismissing her ideas. Finally, Ella could do something, and she was eager to start. First, Ella would organize the market by product to make it easier to shop. This would increase sales for everyone, including her father. It would take some pressure off of the merchants, who pay the mayor the most each year. After that,     Ella would help the homeless, though she did not yet know how to help. By the time she finished, she would help everyone in town at one point or another. 

     Ella left in a hurry, grabbing her dried cloak. At the door, Ella paid Edith far more than Edith felt was deserved. Edith said nothing, unwilling to put a damper on Ella’s joyful mood. Ella was powerful. Passionate, fearless, empowering. Her power would only increase as she grew experienced, older. One day, her powers would wane, and she would have to bestow her power, her knowledge, upon someone younger, but Ella did not need to worry about that for a long time. 

     Ella left, leaving Edith with only her own company. Edith did not mind, as she had learned through her long life the importance of solitude. What other time could she get lost in her thoughts? Now, she was not going to do any thinking. She was tired. She was no longer young and ambitious, like Ella. No, Edith had been, once, but her time was over now, as Ella’s would one day be. Edith sat on the bed next to a window. She wondered when Ella would realize just how much power the potion had. In truth, the potion did not create power for Ella. Power could not be created from nothing. No, all magic had a price. Edith was willing to pay it. Besides, Edith had no use for it, and she was tired. Now, Edith was content to watch the snow fall, melting away only to fall again the next season.

Untitled (Mixed Media)

By Divya Moore, Magnet High School

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