Friday, 26 October 2012

Moving Shadows Part 3

Evie followed the headmistress to a chamber she had known as the sewing room (and even as a girl she had considered it too grand), and sat down on a comfortable old chair. The big oaken desk in front of her looked familiar. “This desk was here when I was,” she told Mrs. Warren. “Look, here’s where Tommy Waghorn carved his initials one day. You should have seen the trouble he got into!”

Mrs. Warren smiled excitedly. “I wondered what that stood for! All the years I’ve been touching it, thinking about it, and now I know... This is exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. The children are in the process of finding out about the history of this school. I was wondering whether you might like to come in, maybe once, maybe more, just to tell them some stories of the time you were here. I think they’d like that.”

A thrill rose up in Evie. She would love to do it, and told the headmistress so immediately. “And now,” she said, “Perhaps you can help me. I came here looking for a teacher I met yesterday. She was really kind to me and I wanted to thank her for a present she gave me.”

“Certainly,” agreed Mrs. Warren, pleased to help. “What’s her name?”

“I only know her first name; Ivy.”

“Ivy?” asked Mrs Warren, her brow wrinkling, “Are you sure?”

“Yes, absolutely.”
Mrs. Warren shook her head. “I think there must be some mistake. There’s no Ivy working here. Could you describe her?”

Evie did so, all the time wondering more and more if Ivy had been lying; why was she outside the gate anyway?

“The only thing I can do to help you is to show you some photos of the staff. Perhaps you can point out the woman there.” Mrs Warren rose from her desk and picked a large photograph album from a high shelf. “There are photos in here dating back to before your time. Every year a photo of the entire staff is taken and added to this. You should find your Ivy in here.”

Evie leafed through the pictures, starting with the most recent. No Ivy. No one who even looked faintly like her. She shook her head sadly. Mrs. Warren poured out a cup of coffee as Evie looked even further back through the album, just out of curiosity now, having given up her search for Ivy. She went back to her final year of schooling. She picked out faces she recognised and told Mrs. Warren a few facts, although her heart wasn’t really in it now, not after such a disappointment.

“Look at this one,” commented the headmistress, sipping her coffee. “That dress; very similar to yours.” Evie looked closer at the picture. She froze. In the front row of the group of smiling staff members was a young woman wearing a beautiful dress. The photo was in black and white, but Evie knew the dress was blue. Because now she remembered.

“That’s Miss Shaw,” Evie told Mrs. Warren. “The other children called me teacher’s pet, but I didn’t care. She looked after me. I had forgotten.”

“Forgotten what?” asked the teacher, concerned about Evie’s ever-paling appearance.

“Do you have any information about this woman?” asked Evie desperately.

“Of course.” Rising, Mrs. Warren pulled open a drawer in a large metal filing cabinet. “Shaw you say? Here you go.” She flipped the small file open and handed it to Evie.

“Ivy Shaw,” the older woman read out in a whisper. “I remember now. She died. A bomb. She was coming to my house. I invited her to my birthday party. She was bringing me a present, a dress she had made herself, and the siren went. There was nowhere for her to hide. I suppose I blocked it out of my mind; I blamed myself so much.” Tears were running down Evie’s face now. “But she came back and gave me this dress.”

Mrs. Warren was pale. Normally such things didn’t faze her; she was used to dealing with hysterical children saying they had seen a ghost somewhere around the school; the ghost of a young women in a blue dress. But something in Evie’s face and voice made her believe it. From now on, although she would still tell the child there was no such thing, she would no longer be so convinced that what she was saying was true.

Evie stood. “I’m sorry for taking up so much of your time. Give me a ring and we’ll arrange a date for me to talk to the children.” The women silently shook hands.

As Evie reached the door to the office, Mrs. Warren spoke; “I’m glad Ivy still cares.”

Evie smiled, silently left the room, and left the school. She walked home, hoping to see some sign of the woman she had so looked up to.

Later that evening, as the sun turned into a fiery ball of pure gold, she watched the shadows moving, and knew that one of them was Ivy’s, finally saying goodbye.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Moving Shadows Part 2

Evie shook her head. “Oh no, I was just watching the children.”

The woman, a teacher, Evie guessed, frowned. “You really shouldn’t do that, you know. Not that I think you’re a danger, but we have to be so careful these days, I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” said Evie, “But I wasn’t doing anything-” she paused, then continued after finding the right word, “Strange. I used to go to school here, during the war. I was just having a look, to see how it had changed. I don’t live far but I haven’t been here for decades. I’m Evie, by the way.” She held her hand out.

The younger woman smiled. “I’m Ivy. I get so used to using my last name around here I almost forget I have a first.” She laughed lightly, shaking Evie’s hand.

Definitely a teacher then, thought Evie. “I’d better be going anyway,” she told Ivy. “It’s about time I got back home.”

Ivy thought for a moment. “Where are you going to?”

Evie told her and Ivy smiled once again. “If you like, I can walk with you for a little of the way. I live in that direction too and I was only on until break today.” Evie nodded gratefully. She enjoyed walking, but walking with a companion was so much more entertaining. On the journey the two women discussed many things; Ivy seemed to have a store of knowledge about World War Two, and Evie felt as though she was talking to an old friend rather than someone she had met only a few bright minutes before. Evie could not help but admire the lovely dress that Ivy was wearing. “Where did you get it from?” she asked, half tempted to get one for herself although not sure it would really suit her.

“This?” Ivy said, looking down, smoothing out the material; “Oh, I made this at home. I make a lot of my own clothes, it’s cheaper that way, and at least you know they’ll be one offs.”

As they neared the corner of Evie’s road, Ivy slowed and stopped. “I’ll leave you here, if that’s all right. I’m in the other direction, really.”

Reluctant to say goodbye, Evie spoke; “Perhaps you’ll come over later? That’s my house, the red brick one with the magnolia tree outside. We’re having a barbecue, and I’d love you to meet my family. The way I’ve been rambling on, I expect you feel as though you know them already!”

Ivy smiled. “Well, perhaps I will pop round later. Thank you for the invite.” And, waving and smiling, Ivy trotted away.
At six o’clock that evening, the family get together was underway. Everyone was interested in Evie’s long walk, and were hoping that Ivy would arrive; she sounded lovely.

Going inside to bring out some more condiments, Evie heard a slight knock at the front door. When she opened it, there was no one there, and at first she thought it was some children playing a prank. But as she stepped back into the house, she looked down and saw a parcel on the ground by the step up into her front porch. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. Picking it up gingerly, she took it inside and placed it on the kitchen table.

“You all right in there?” called Jim from outside. “Where’ve you got to?”

“I’m just in the kitchen,” Evie answered. She poked at the parcel. “I’ve got a present.”

Jim popped his head around the door. “A present?”

Evie gestured to the brown package as though it were a dog threatening to bite. “One of your favourite things?” asked her husband. “A brown paper package tied up with string,” he explained when Evie looked blank. “Never mind. Are you going to open it then?”

Biting her tongue, Evie cut the string and the loose ends flopped sideways onto the table. As nothing dreadful had happened, she began to gain a little more confidence, and began to undo the rest of the parcel. As the folds of paper were carefully left to rest on the table, a scrap of blue could just be seen. Evie caught her breath. It looked so similar, but really, it couldn’t be, could it? The parcel was open and there, lying on the kitchen table, was Ivy’s beautiful blue dress. A copy? Perhaps, but hadn’t the teacher said she made her garments to be one of a kind? Evie was lost for words.

“Oh, that’s lovely, Eve,” Jim said, looking down. “Your colour, too. Who’s it from?”

There was no card, no note of any kind, but Evie knew. “Ivy.”

“Oh? That teacher?” Jim seemed pleased. “Maybe next time she’ll come in.” With that he left, going back into the garden to enjoy the sun and his family.

Evie could not be so dismissive of what had happened. She would have to go back to the school next week, Monday morning, and ask to see Ivy, to at least thank her. It was a beautiful present.
Monday morning rushed in with unstoppable force. The weekend was over and the usual routine would begin again. But Evie, wearing her new blue dress – a perfect fit for her, and flattering - was going to leave the housework this morning, and instead go for another walk. This time, however, she knew exactly where she was going.

The school was quiet now. The lessons had just started and Evie could imagine what the children were thinking; break time was a million long years away. She wanted to tell them not to wish time gone, but they wouldn’t understand, thinking themselves immortal. So she paused at the gates, wondering whether, in the twenty-first century when the human race was supposed to be civilised, the entrance to the school would be locked to prevent any strangers from intruding. She pushed tentatively, her fingers brushing the cold steel as though it were burning, and the left-hand gate moved. She pushed again, harder, and the gate opened all the way. Evie, making sure to close the gate behind her, walked purposefully towards the front door of her old school. If anybody saw her they said nothing.

She remembered exactly where the headmaster’s office had been, perhaps not surprising since she had spent many hours there being punished either with the slipper or the threat of letting her mother know what she had been up to, and made her way there. But when she got there she discovered that what had been an office, functional and feared, was now a cloakroom. She turned, looking for any recognisable landmarks but everything inside the familiar building had changed. Evie could have cried as her memories of how things had been were slowly and methodically replaced with the knowledge of what things were now. The only thing that was the same was the smell – disinfectant, poster paint, plimsolls, chalk… That at least hadn’t failed her. Tears pushed themselves into her eyes and she angrily wiped them away, telling herself not to be so sentimental. She was here for a reason.

Evie stared down the hollow corridor with its strip lighting and shiny floors dulled by the dirt of hundreds of small feet, black scuff marks on the skirting board still in evidence. She heard the unmistakable sound of high heels on school surfaces and rushed towards the woman heading in her direction. “Can you please tell me how to find the headmaster?” Evie asked, knowing she sounded desperate but not caring.

The woman raised one carefully plucked eyebrow, looking Evie up and down. “There is no headmaster, I’m afraid, madam. But I’m the headmistress, Mrs. Warren. Will I do?”

Evie blushed, embarrassed by her old-fashioned views and memories. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Warren,” she said, feeling exactly like a contrite schoolgirl which, she reflected, was most likely how she was supposed to be feeling. “When I was here we had a headmaster, and I suppose I just assumed.”

Mrs. Warren nodded, smiled, realising she had treated the woman like a wayward pupil; “You came here? When was that?”

“During the war.”

“Really? Would you mind following me to my office? I know you wanted to speak with the person in charge, and I have a favour to ask of you too, since you’re here.”

Friday, 12 October 2012

Moving Shadows Part 1

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.