A Cure for Spring by Larina Warnock

Spring came on like a shot of Hallelujah and Go to Hell. One day frost salted the grass; the next, pollen peppered the air. Katarina remembered when allergies made her sinus cavity bulge behind her eyes and no amount of Albuterol could calm her asthmatic wheezing. Today she felt blissfully hollow. She even smiled as she stretched one hand toward a brilliant orange daffodil and waved her fingers lightly above the bloom, not quite touching it.

Budding leaves dotted branches that struck through the rising sun despite its best effort to hide behind the trees. Katarina, still smiling, walked toward the main gate to meet her sister, Carmyne. White spots on the wings of a towhee caught Katarina’s attention from under a juniper shrub along the walkway. Katarina watched it scrabbling for food for a few minutes. She loved everything about towhees: their sharp song, their rigid tail feathers, their tiny red eyes. She was glad they were out, but being outside with them cheered her the most. Katarina remembered when she could only view the outdoors from behind glass, before she’d found the cure. Back then, spring tortured her as her airways caved and histamine crushed her brain. Only a wisp of memory remained of those days.

She turned back toward the gates and started walking again. A brown squirrel ran halfway down the trunk of an old oak and chittered, then ran in quick circles to the bottom and back up again, finally settling on a thick branch. Katarina laughed at the squirrel and marveled at the way the tree’s limbs stretched and stretched like arms to comfort the world. There was a time when Katarina could see the squirrel, but not hear its playful barks because dust and dander and pollen were poison to her. She blew the squirrel a kiss and continued on her way.

Katarina paused twenty or so feet from the delicately carved wrought iron gates. Carmyne stood just on the other side, her long, dishwater blonde hair pulled into a perfect bun. She wore a simple black dress—no frill, no fringe, no lace—and she carried a small bouquet of orange daffodils. Nothing in Carmyne’s appearance was out of place. Katarina sighed. Carmyne’s restraint masked a swarm of untidy emotions only a twin could see or understand. 

Carmyne took a step toward Katarina, paused to inhale deeply and exhale slowly, then moved through the gates. The twins walked side by side, back the way Katarina had come. The squirrel ran circles back down the oak tree and chattered angrily at Carmyne.

“Squirrels,” Carmyne said, shaking her head, her lips twitching into a wary half-grin. 

“Squirrels,” Katarina agreed, smiling openly.

The sun peeked over the tree line. “It’s going to be warm today,” Carmyne said.

Katarina nodded. “Warmer than usual for this time of year. It’s nice, though.”

They walked further up the path, Katarina looking at Carmyne, Carmyne looking straight ahead. Juniper shrubs gave way to simple lawn on either side. Carmyne paused to right a small flag that had blown over. Katarina waited until Carmyne rejoined her on the path.

“I wanted rain today,” Carmyne said as they walked. Flowers and photos mingled between the stones dotting the lawn. A marble angel pointed at the sisters, melancholy and true.

Katarina said nothing. She knew her sister wasn’t listening at that moment. Carmyne was playing a game of verbal hide and seek, words said aloud ducking behind words she wanted to say. Katarina watched Carmyne, though, and a tinge of worry edged against the lightness she’d felt all morning.

Carmyne turned sharply and walked onto the grass. “I wanted wind,” she said as she stepped respectfully between one grave and another and another. 

Katarina followed. 

Carmyne stopped in front of a simple headstone. A photograph of Katarina stared back at the young women, the only difference between them a small nose piercing Katarina had begged for. Carmyne had stood up for Katarina then, demanding understanding and compassion from their parents. So Mother paid handsomely to bring the piercer to the house so Katarina didn’t have to brave the outdoors. It was a happy memory, even if that same piercer brought bronchitis into their home, even if bronchitis triggered Katarina’s asthma and left her gasping, gasping, gasping. And then not anymore. That piercing had been the cure for spring.

Carmyne fiddled with the bouquet in her hand. “I wanted the world to feel like I do, all…all…” Carmyne’s legs gave way and she crumbled to the ground. “All pissed off and out of control.”

“But it doesn’t feel that way,” Katarina said softly, stretching one ghostly hand to rest on Carmyne’s shoulder. Carmyne didn’t respond. Katarina hadn’t expected her to.

“I wanted…” Carmyne gasped between every word. “I wanted it to feel like the end of everything, but it’s sunny and squirrels are playing and flowers are blooming and it’s not fucking fair!” She thrust the bouquet toward Katarina’s gravestone like a child throwing a toy she’d been told she could no longer play with. Carmyne doubled over, wrapped her arms across her stomach, and rocked herself with weeping.

Katarina sat cross-legged in the grass beside her. She remembered when she couldn’t sit in the grass, when she would cry and cry as she watched Carmyne walk to the school bus. “It’s okay now, Carmyne,” she whispered.

The sun slowly settled above them. Carmyne’s sobs slowed to tiny hiccoughs. She sat upright, reached out, and straightened the bouquet of daffodils. She brushed her fingers lightly over Katarina’s name. A spring breeze, swollen with the unfulfilled promise of poison, brushed through strands of Carmyne’s hair come loose in her weeping. 

“It feels like—” Carmyne began.“Gratitude,” Katarina finished. She wished she could tell Carmyne she didn’t have to feel guilty. Instead, she sat with her sister until the sun dipped below the hills, shooting a cascade of Thank You and I’m Sorry across the cemetery.

Larina Warnock, a one-time teen mother and high school dropout, is now a high school teacher in a high poverty, rural community. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Space & Time Magazine, Wheelhouse Magazine, Barren Magazine, and others. She tends toward a literary style with speculative plots and characters.