Hello, beloved readers. After a toss and turny kind of night, a short story wafted out of my coffee cup this morning. I decided to share.
A Mere shadow
Eva De’ Cocao had always thought of herself as a rather superfluous person. She tended towards the fringes, the by waters and tide pools of life. She dressed in an altogether non-committal way, preferring the edges of the wall to the center of the room.
She always chose a seat in the center of the bus. Not at the front in order to swap inanities with the driver or at the very back where eccentric outspoken people tend to congregate and talk in an agitated and unseemly manner. She cringed hearing them voice their opinions out loud in front of complete strangers.
Eva did not voice her opinions out loud or even in the privacy of her head, for that matter. Voicing one’s opinion, even to ones self, was the road to perdition. Of this she was absolutely sure. It may well be the only opinion Eva had.
She spent her days working in a flower shop on Whitethistle Lane. She excelled at creating sedate, middle of the road, ubiquitous arrangements suitable for funerals or baptisms. It discomfited her a little that customers preferred her arrangements to the shop owner’s, but she gave no brook to the passing feeling. She spoke to customers only when spoken to.
The shop owner did not come on Saturdays so Eva had the shop to herself. She generally closed the shop at 4pm and headed directly home with a small arrangement of flowers for her table. Only on rare days did she stop at a tiny bookstore on the corner of the lane. The old proprietress always seemed happy to see her, patted her on the arm and called her “my dear” whether or not she made a purchase.
Her arrangements were never ostentatious or extravagant, and rarely more than 6 or 7 flowers. She read somewhere that flower arrangements should be asymmetrical so she tended to stick to either 5, 7, or 9 flowers. 11 flowers was too much for her humble abode. She tried it once and after only an hour she whittled the arrangement back down to 9 flowers because 11 was too jarring on the senses.
Eva lived in a small modest flat on Wittsington lane. A 10 minute walk from the shop. Her 4th floor walk up was practically in the rafters. It suited her, not quite drab, bordering on ordinary. A 2 seat table by the window, a small settee that opened into a bed for sleeping. “A sufficient kitchenette in what used to be a large closet,” would be the most accurate description of her lodgings.
One particularly blustery Saturday Eva arrived home at her flat, the usual small bouquet of flowers in hand, to find a chain and a padlock on the front door of her building. A small notice on the front door read “scheduled for renovation, permits at courthouse.” She stared agape in a most unlady like manner. An old man standing next to her suddenly declared to no one in particular, “it’s about time someone did something with this claptrap! No one has lived here for years.”
Eva turned to him and blurted, “but I live here.” “Are you sure?” “Well of course, I’m sure. I’ve lived here for years.” Her face reddened at making such a declarative statement to a complete stranger. She felt a bit faint. His eyes narrowed and he said nothing for a long moment. Then stood straighter and put his hand on her arm. “I think a visit to Mrs. Laudingham may be in order.”
Not knowing what else to do, Eva allowed the unintroduced old man to lead her out of the lane, down a few blocks and into another narrow lane. She was in rather a stupor and neglected to take notice of the name of the lane. At the end of the lane the old man tapped gently on the small brass knocker in the shape of a rose.
A rather flamboyantly dressed women of undetermined middle age, her white hair in wisps about her head, peeked through the crack of the door. The old man said “I’ve got another one for you, Mrs. Laudingham. Her building is being renovated.” The woman looked shocked and concerned and a flurry of activity ensued. They whisked her into a cozy sitting room. The man put a small ottoman under her feet and began fanning her vigorously with a fan he snatched from the table next to her.
Mrs. Laudingham returned shortly with a tea-tray. she put the tray down, turned to the man and said “thank you so much Mr. Conner, I will take it from here.” He bowed low and said “always a pleasure Mrs. Laudingham, I’ll show myself out.”
Mrs. Laudingham busied herself with pouring tea and placed a biscuit in Eva’s hand. She stared at the tea and the biscuit. She should be at home in her flat eating a modest dinner and listening to the radio. Not taking tea with a woman she did not know. Especially after being escorted here by a man she did not know either. Somewhere between the flower shop and home she had somehow taken leave of her senses. Of this she was sure. It was the only thing she was sure of.
Not knowing what else to do for the moment and not wanting to seem rude. Eva sipped her tea and took a tentative nibble of the biscuit in her hand. It was quite good, smooth, buttery, not too sweet. The rich aroma of the tea was almost hypnotic. She relaxed and sighed. Maybe it was alright to let herself go for a few minutes after such a trying afternoon.
A gentle hand on Eva’s arm woke her with a start. She shot up straight, mumbling apologies, fussing with her hair and buttons. The woman sitting across from her announced “I am Mrs. Olivia Laudingham, may I have the pleasure of knowing your name, Dear?” “I…oh…my name is Eva De’ Cocao, please call me Eva.” She thought that was the least she could do seeing as she tramped unannounced into this woman’s home and proceeded to fall asleep with her nose in a teacup.
“Mr. Conner said your building is scheduled for renovation?” “Yes” “He also said that no one has lived there for years?” “Yes, but he is mistaken, because I have lived there for years.” “Oh, and how many years have you lived there?” Eva pondered the impertinent question and paused before answering “well, I don’t remember exactly know, it’s been a long time.” “Do you remember moving there?”
Eva fidgeted in her seat and took another sip of her tea that somehow was back in her hand. What she did know was the she had not been asked so many personal questions in one day of her entire life, before now.
Mrs. Laudingham regarded Eva over her own teacup for a long moment and then set it down on the tray. Finally she said softly, “I would venture to guess that you do not actually remember moving into that flat, do you dear?” “Well, no I don’t. But really, must one catalog every unremarkable event in one’s life?” Mrs. Laudingham chuckled and then became serious again. “Eva, do you remember anything about your life before Wittsington Lane?”
With growing alarm she realized that, come to think of it, she did not remember anything before some undetermined amount of time before this moment. She did not remember telling Mrs. Laudingham where she lived, for that matter. It was as if she had always lived there. She never really gave it much thought. It was so unnessessary to ponder such things. She lived day-to-day, went about her business, and went home, all in an unremarkable manner. She answered simply, “No.”
Mrs. Laudingham regarded her for a long moment and then said, “Eva, I have something to say that may come as a bit of a shock to you. There have been no tenants of #11 Wittsington lane in over 5 years.” Instead of denying it, Eva asked, “how do you know this?” “Somehow It is my job to know. It’s rather difficult to explain. But, from time to time, I encounter women who seem to just exist on the edge of conciousness. Not really knowing who they are or where they come from or where they are going.” Eva thought ‘what an odd thing to say’ but said “What are you trying to tell me?”
Mrs. Laudingham stood up and paced the room for a few moments, smoothed her fly away wisps of hair to no avail, and sat back down. She reached over and took Eva’s hand in hers and said, “Eva De’ Cocao, what I am saying is that you are a shadow. A mere shadow of your former self.” A shadow? What does this mean? “Are you informing me that I am dead?”
“Dead? Oh my dear, no. Please pardon me. You are most assuredly not dead.” “Well that is nice to know.” Eva snapped. Then became shocked with herself for such an uncalled for burst of sarcasm. Mrs. Laudingham laughed out loud at this remark and said “there we are, a bit of spirit, I know you have it in you. I just wonder why you chose to lock it away.”
They sipped their tea in silence for a while. Eva finally asked, “what you mean by locked it away?” “Well, there seems to be a rash of women who lose track of who they are and just bumble about, living a shadow life. I have my theories, but what is important now, is to figure out why and where you wandered off track for so long. And who you really are.”
Eva began to feel angry, a most disconcerting feeling at best. “I know exactly who I am!” “Do you now?” “Yes! My name is Eva De’Cacao. I live at #11 Wittsington Lane, I work at a flower shop during the day and in the evenings I read books and listen to the radio.” “What is the name of the flower shop? What radio station do you listen to?” Eva said “I….” then it occurred to her that she did not have answers to those questions.” Actually, she knew very little about herself. What a strange feeling. Somehow, she had dropped herself in bits and pieces along the way until there was nothing much left. And it happened so gradually that she didn’t notice.
“Mrs. Laudingham?” “Yes, dear?” “I am frightened. How did this come about? Somehow I feel that I was better off not knowing.” “Eva, in some ways you were living a comfortable life, but not sustainable over the long haul. One can only live a dribble drabble of a life for so long before one begins to fade away completely. And you, my dear, are almost gone. This is somewhat of an emergency!”
She stood up and clapped her hands. “The first thing on the agenda is a brisk walk. We will walk to the park at the town square.” “A walk?” She expected a somewhat more drastic remedy. “Yes Eva, we need to get you out of the lanes and alleys, out in the sunshine, around other people.” She protested, “but I don’t have an umbrella..what if it rains?” Mrs. Laudingham giggled like someone only half her age and chucked Eva under the chin. “Then we’ll get wet! Come now dear, we need to get you out into the world, find you somewhere in it and not a moment too soon.”