And as the wind moved softly across the earth she thought she saw a shadow. Her mind saw the shadow, but she… she saw nothing. Not really. This was life; seeing things and clinging to them, like pleasant dreams. And just like a dream you can wake up and realise that what you thought you saw, thought you had hold of, was not really true. It was never yours to see, or yours to hold.
Sometimes people wake and are convinced that what they saw belonged to them, confident in the certain belief that it was real. There is even, on occasion, when the mists of sleep have faded from the eyes and mind of the dreamer, the feeling that what had been dreamt really did happen, when it could not conceivably have done so, and these feelings are impossible to dilute with a cup of morning coffee. And so it was with her – the shadows moved, but when she turned to see them, they were gone.
Evie was tired. Her legs ached and her back was sore. She had been walking for hours, going nowhere.
Early that morning, when the first slivers of light were trying to slip unnoticed through the miniscule gap in her bedroom curtains, Evie had turned to her husband and, shaking him tenderly awake, had told him that she was going for a walk. His response was to stare at her blankly and silently. He then painfully turned his head, his neck stiff with old age, and tried to focus on the small alarm clock with its luminous hands that sat on the bedside table next to his wife. “But it’s five o’clock!” he managed, swallowing a yawn. “I know,” Evie had murmured, slipping out from the sheets and padding across to the window. She held back one side of the curtain and peered through. “Look at it out there,” she said, not turning, keeping her eyes locked on the view, “Everything is awake, and we’re in bed. I want to be part of the world outside.” Evie stopped what she was saying, sensing the room was too quiet, and turned. Her husband was asleep.
As soon as she stepped outside of her front door, she felt different. Less frail, less fragile, less old. The crisp air that only existed in the first few hours of morning, before the day had had a chance to pollute it, flowed into her lungs and she felt purified. She was reminded of childhood holidays with her parents when the days stretched out forever and the fear of old age didn’t yet exist. She momentarily felt the sharp tang of grief for people and years long gone and then she had set off with a strident, purposeful air, humming to herself some nondescript but tuneful song of her own composing.
She found herself on top of a small hillock in the middle of a park that she had played in when she was a little girl, her feet joining forces with her nostalgia to take her there. From there she looked at the sky, seeing how the newborn sun painted the clouds pink. It didn’t last long. She had felt so alive that morning, just standing there, watching, drinking in all the sights, sounds and smells around her, but now her legs were slowing in their stride and she reluctantly felt it was time to return home again. She looked at her watch and was shocked to discover that it was ten o’clock. She had been awake for five hours, out walking for almost four and a half. No wonder her legs were beginning to ache. But the idea of going back home was no longer appealing; breakfast sounded a lot better.
Evie cut through the park and strolled towards a little café she knew. It had been there since before World War Two, and it had been a ritual to quickly pop in there on the way home from school; the owners would always have a piece of bread and jam ready for Evie when she stopped by. Since then, of course, many owners had come and gone, but the friendly atmosphere still remained and the food was good enough even if she did now have to pay for it. They would even do a slice of bread and jam if she asked for it. This morning she asked for three.
There was a payphone at the back of the café. It was hardly used now in the age of the mobile, but Evie wandered over to it and quickly dialled her own number after fumbling in her purse for some coins. “Hello? Jim? It’s me, it’s Evie.”
“Where are you?” asked Jim, concern on the edge of his voice. “You’ve been gone hours.”
“Oh, I’m just walking around. I’m having breakfast, actually. What are you doing?”
“Me? Not much, just getting things ready for this evening. What time are you getting back?”
Evie ignored his last question and asked one of her own; “This evening?”
Sighing, Jim explained. “It’s this barbecue thing we’re doing, remember? The family’s all coming over.”
“Oh!” Evie exclaimed, “I forgot! I’ll be home in a bit, I promise, then I’ll help you.”
Jim paused and then grumbled something in answer (probably to do with her not worrying, but Evie didn’t quite catch it) and the couple said their goodbyes. Evie wondered how she could have forgotten something that had been arranged for at least a week; she supposed it was the excitement of this spontaneous bit of exercise, something so out of the ordinary that the usual run of things went by the wayside.
Not wanting to think too much about forgetting and full of nostalgia after eating in one of her childhood haunts, Evie decided to walk home past her old school. She would have dearly loved to go inside, but couldn’t see how that was possible, she didn’t want to be thought of as a weirdo sneaking around the little ones. Instead she paused by the gate, wrapped in a cloud of memories; rather than the children of today, she could see her own small companions running and skipping about the playground.
Immersed as she was in her own warm thoughts, Evie did not respond immediately to the authoritative voice in front of her. It took a firm hand on her shoulder and an even firmer voice, to snap her back to the here and now. Evie turned to see a young woman, vaguely familiar, standing by her side, wearing a beautiful blue summer dress. “Can I help you?” she asked.