Pulling back the curtain of canvas and hanging Wisteria, Ella considered the day ahead. There was a certain predictability in the routine of others that let her know roughly what time it was, and whether it was a weekday or weekend, if she lost track.
The jogger, a slim woman always dressed in black that made her look slimmer still, stood out with her swatch of red hair that she neatly tied back in a ponytail with a single braid, a metronome keeping time to her pace. She slowed to a stop in front of the kiosk, stretching her arms up toward the sky- grey in its non-committal stance, leaving her guessing whether the forecast from yesterday’s paper should be trusted. Picking up her pace after grabbing two bananas and a coffee, the jogger approached with her usual gait, prompting Ella to once again imagine what she’d say if someone asked, rather than surmising her story and leaving her to translate their misinterpretation in looks of pity, charity or just plain indifference. The best she’d come up with was an enigmatic
I like to live in the space between each breath.
As much as she tried to sound less aloof in the imagined exchanges with passing strangers, she felt more certain in the truth in that line each time she re-enacted it. It had occurred to her that maybe she’d just convinced herself that it was what she truly felt after having repeated it in her ruminations for so long.
Ever since the funeral, she’d released a little of the tight constraints that bound her. Finally saying goodbye to the faith she questioned, leaving work and never returning without so much as a resignation letter or an explanation. Remaining in the layers of mourning black, she’d left it all behind, taking only the red kettle, and one each of a knife, fork, spoon, cup and plate. A pragmatic escape into freedom.
Letting go of the canvas and allowing it to drop back into position with a swoosh, jostling the purple petals, Ella took a breath, bracing for a waft of ripe bananas as the jogger walked through in 5 4 3 2…
Earlier than predicted
‘Hiya! Beautiful day isn’t it?” she always said that, regardless of the weather.
Nobody else had dared to enter and so Ella didn’t really know how to react, except to maintain her silence and pretend to be unperturbed. It was, after all, a public place, even if she’d set up home there. The whistling kettle on the propane burner in the makeshift kitchen of her pergola offered an excuse to look at something, anything but the jogger’s eyes as she recited her usual lines. No, that wasn’t fair Ella thought, there was sincerity in her words every time. It was just that the life she had was what she’d chosen, and it seemed the jogger didn’t know when to quit, though in her defense, she hadn’t tried to preach or change anything about Ella’s life, at least aside from adding some conversation to it.
‘I’ve got two bananas. Would you like one?” she’d try this a couple more times before making her exit and always, no fail, leaving one of the bananas at the doorway, which Ella would duly always, no fail, pick up and place on a bench outside. The food chain normally closed with a pigeon or a magpie swooping and pecking at the fruit, leaving a trail on which smaller critters would then converge.
Each time this happened, Ella felt there was something familiar about the jogger that she couldn’t place, but spending so much time in thought, she second guessed herself and wondered whether the jogger had started to look familiar only because she’d actually now become familiar.
Surprising herself, she began to think about the jogger when she wasn’t there, and wondered what she got up to when the weekend rolled round and the park was filled with different joggers, more children and, after dusk, teenagers who’d loudly, with the false bravado of alcohol and the company of their peers, shout obscenities and careless insults about the crazy lady in the pergola, although rumours and Chinese whispers about the lady having killed some kid years ago always made them stop short of entering her space. The weekends were tough, and only made her strengthen her resolve to maintain her silence and keep herself removed from the world, safe in the space between each breath, as she kept reminding herself. In between being alive and the potential of not drawing the next breath. The in-between.
Something in the jogger changed one day, perhaps she became bolder with the growing yet unspoken of ease in their weekday morning encounters. She started to stay longer, and tried all sorts of lines of conversation to get something, anything out of Ella. Weeks wore on and she asked questions which were only replied to in Ella’s mind, with her vow of silence not betraying those thoughts.
“Do you have everything you need here?’
Not needing to take stock, knowing every inch of the place, Ella thought well, yes, it’s all here. It’s what is outside of here that I don’t need. She had never been one to get sentimental about things, she didn’t feel anything was amiss and besides, she’d lost a lot more in life than she’ll ever own again.
“Why won’t you speak with me?”
Why wont you stop speaking?
“You know you inspired me”
Ha. In what way? To run circles and get nowhere?
Okay, grasping for straws here…but full marks on perseverance. We are all dying, after all, so why come to me with your existential angst?
And then the very last time she saw the jogger
“I want to read something to you.”
Getting close, hands trembling, she read from a crinkled note.
Arielle is the kind of student I have seen only once before in my career. Her ability to grasps complex themes-seamlessly connecting them in her essays, demonstrates an intelligence and true love of learning. It was an honour to teach her and I am confident she will succeed in senior school and beyond. My door will always…
The jogger started to cry and Ella was surprised by the croaky words that completed the sentence she’d written so many years before
“…be open for her”
The jogger, just as surprised, smiled through her tears.
Finally! She got her to speak!
Ella felt the old sores of guilt and inadequacy flare up how could I forget her?
What a disappointment I must be now.
And then the sense of sadness for what may happen sooner than eventually.
Is she really dying?
She had chosen to close off from the world but it had crept up on her, reminding her that the past had its moments of light. Overwhelmed with emotions and wanting her space, she used the voice she’d now found, raised it to a gruff reproach.
“Take your bananas and GO! Don’t ever, ever come back here.”
The point of departure for this piece was the character Ella, who first appeared in To Catch a Butterfly, which I’d written some years back and recently posted on this blog. This was a challenge as I tried to stay true to the tone and style of the original which really felt like it had been written by someone else when I revisited it after so long. There you go Marissa- challenge complete!