5.A Chapter by Alice
An instinctive animal part of my mind was telling me that I was in danger, that I should get out of the shop and as far away from this woman that looked like a child as I could possibly get. The reasonable human part told me to stay where I was, that I was under no threat of any kind, and that I had a job to do. Looking back on this, I know that the more animal part was right, but I am glad that I played it no attention. I asked again, in a quiet voice.
The woman - girl - person - whatever she was - she looked up at me with an expression that was almost shy. Her eyes swivelled round to the stand.
'Yes,' she said. 'Yes - I was wondering if you could tell me about this picture.'
She picked out a post card and offered it to me. Despite any fear, I stepped forward and took it from her. It was a picture of a castle in a town nearby - it had a name that I couldn't remember.
'I think that's quite a new one,' I said. 'We only got it in last month.'
I handed it back to her. Her expression was strange, almost sad.
'Yes but - ' she continued. 'You don't happen to know anything about the castle itself?'
Her way of speaking was different - one that I had not heard in a long time. It reminded me of my home, back on the south coast of England, back in the house that I still thought of as home even though the image of it was fading and I had tried to forget it, as it was so tied up with my sister, who was gone. I was suddenly aware of an urge to get her to talk more, just so that I could hear the sound of her voice. I noticed that her clothes were plain but well made. She was fairly pretty, though her face unnerved me.
'That castle?' I replied. 'Well - that's not too far away. They sell maps next door if you'd like a map. Are you thinking of paying it a visit?'
'Yes - I suppose so,' she replied, with a strange expression playing across her face.
'Just a short visit. Do you know anything about the history of the place? I've heard that it is quite interesting.'
I stood with my hands behind my back and looked nervously down at my shoes. Dianne had asked me a couple of times to read up on local history, in case any customers asked. Dianne herself knew quite a lot about the history of our town and the larger towns that surrounded it. She would have loved this opportunity to show off her knowledge. I realised now how much I missed her and I hoped that she would come back to the shop soon. I looked up at the customer.
'It's a folly - I think,' I said, hoping that I was talking about the right castle. 'It was started in the nineteenth century, but never finished. Something happened to the man who was building it - I can't remember what. It's falling down but nobody wants to touch it. There's some sort of law - '
'Do you enjoy that sort of thing?' the girl cut in. 'You know - old castles and ruins?'
'Yes,' I half-lied. 'History interests me a lot.' I added with a hint of pride: 'I'm going away next year to study history at university. This is my gap year.'
In reality I was terrible with local history. My mother delighted on bringing me up on this point - she was sure that I was some sort of snob. Our history not good enough for you, or, is it not interesting unless it's happened somewhere else, or, I suppose important things only happen to important people. I liked modern history best of all, the sort that had happened within the last hundred years, the sort that you didn't have to look far to see how it had shaped our lives today, the sort where you could speak to living people and they could tell you what they remembered about what had happened. Most of all I liked wars. I didn't want to admit this to my mother, because she would accuse me of heartlessness. I would be going away next year to study modern history, though, so I would have to let her know at some point. I would try to pacify her by saying things like I enjoyed the sort of history that had an influence on modern day life, or that I liked studying societies that were not too dissimilar to our own. I could tell she didn't believe me though, and especially when I came home with second hand war books. I tried to tell myself that whatever I did she would be disapproving and my father would not care, and with this in mind I excused myself from every thinkable quirk of personality. My father and I actually shared historical interests - it was one of the things that my father and I could talk about for hours without becoming quiet and awkward. Not with my mother in earshot though, as she would interject and my father would invariably agree with her on anything. That was how things went in my house, and I could not do anything to change them.
'So,' she gestured to the post cards, 'are there any in particular that you would recommend? Places - I mean. I want to make a few visits.'
'Well ...' I stepped forward to have a look. 'This one here was a Napoleonic Fort, and it was used again in the World Wars. That can be interesting - it's in the middle of a river but you can get a boat over. I mean - if military history is your sort of thing. The castles are always nice as well. There're a few of them about the place. In the way of local history in the town - ' I gestured outside the window, though unimpressively the street outside was completely empty ' - the cycle path down the road used to be part of a railway line, and some of the churches are pretty old as well.'
'Do you like to visit these places?' she asked. For a moment I felt sad.
'Yes,' I replied. 'When I have the time that is. There are some lovely places dotted about.'
'Well, I think I'll take these...'
She turned her back on me to choose the postcards that she wanted and I began to walk towards the counter, ready for her to pay. For a moment I felt desperate, almost, to make her stay in the shop, to talk to her more. I felt the need to speak, to say something, anything...
'Do you have family down here?' I asked. She turned around abruptly and stared at me. I apologised. 'Sorry - '
She apologised in turn: 'No - it's alright. I suppose I do have family in this part of the world. I have family all over the place, you see. I'm down here with a friend. He's ... an academic.'
'Are you staying locally?'
She had chosen her cards and had walked over to the desk to pay. I took the cards from her and scanned them through, having to be patient with the old till, because - like most things in the shop - it was in need of replacing. Dianne could never find the money for a new computerised till. This was something that Barrie complained to me about frequently. This place needs renovating. I smiled as she looked for her change.
'I'm not quite sure what the place itself is called - ' but she gave the name of a large port town in the north of the county. I nodded and smiled, as I knew the place, and also knew that it was very pretty. Before we had moved to the county we had visited often; it had been one of our favourite holiday destinations. I loved that part still, and wished that I could find a way to visit without having to be chauffeured by my parents.
But then a thought stuck me. Our town was not exactly a tourist attraction. It was well known by most people for being one of the least desirable parts of the county. Nobody visited without friends or relatives and nobody ever came here on their holidays. I took her money and handed over her change, and before I said goodbye I asked another question.
'I'm sorry - I'm asking so many questions,' I began, 'but I have to know: why have you come to this town? Do you have friends here? I just thought I'd ask. It's not the sort of place that people visit out of choice.'
I gave a small, nervous laugh. The girl - the woman - was looking up smiling now. I did not like that smile. For the second time, I wanted to get up and run away out of the shop door, but my reason held me firmly in my place and I would not budge. She was ignorant of my unease, or if she was aware of it, it did not change her behaviour in any way. She lent forward.
'I travel from place to place. I see people - lots and lots of people. But not many people see me.'
And then she was gone. I felt cold all over, as though I had been dipped in cold water.
She knew. She had seen me and I had seen her. She had been outside on that day and she had known that I had seen her and that I had been afraid. I was afraid now, shaking. I knew somehow things for me had changed. But she was gone and I could no ask her anything.
What did she mean when she said that not many people saw her? What was she? I had always been a logical person, but I was suddenly stuck with a nameless fear. I also knew, inexplicably, that this would not be the last time I would see her. She was coming back, and the next time I would see her - I was not sure what I would do then. I would have to wait and find out. I was not going to enjoy the anticipation.
© 2010 Alice
Added on February 9, 2010
Last Updated on February 9, 2010
AboutI’m a prose writer, mainly one that works on novels and doesn’t finish them. I want to use this place like an online notebook. I’ll be posting as I write, which means a lot of this .. more..
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