Woman- from the Unintentional Hermits Short Story Series

She was a quiet virgin whom no one saw or thought to see, she passed by on the streets a mere shadow flitting across the paving stones. A woman no one saw, a woman who went to her three jobs without effort, a woman who appeared at a cafe at 8.30am, a theatre at 7.30pm, and a pub for lock up somewhere else at 12pm spotless, not a piece of clothing out-of-place, fodder, exchangeable with the next girl, just a body, a face with hair-  there were 1,000s like her in the city.

Emptiness resided in the woman. She had no time to search herself, no time to hide from the gaze of the public except at bedtime and then she didn’t notice, she was fast asleep as soon as she hit the pillow.  Yes emptiness was in her and it was not the type acquired through meditation, through prolonged spiritual development.  She never asked herself the question I did for instance- the eternal question which is never answered, not even by a silent echo- Am I a monster? And how can I know whether I am a monster? And if I am one will I forever remain one?

She did not think to ask these questions. Like others she woke at 6am, sang or hummed as she splashed water on her face, breakfasted sitting in the sun on the broken step of the house she shared with 7 others and began her day. She ran with the city from morn til night and thought, like millions of others, she knew it, she owned it. So was her life.

Yet fate intervened as fate should and did with those who were unable to affect change for themselves. She had an Aunt in the far regions of Cornwall who, perhaps because she was psychic and suddenly remembered she had a niece in London, wrote to her and invited her to stay for a couple of days, and, glad for a chance of smoothing out the tram lines buried deep in her cheeks, of the prospect of long warm luxurious baths, naps in bed in the morning and may be even sea walks, she accepted. There was the prison of her life she had to get out of- where she was tossing even the smallest sense of identity remaining into the gaping jaws of Capitalism and her timid mind thought may be, may be the Cornish light dancing in the Hawthorn trees might give her something to go on,  it might help apply the brakes- not sassy she had long ago handed the remote control to someone else- and went along with the mechanics of everything.

So she went to Cornwall. She got out of the stinking rattling singing throbbing vulva like teeth of the city and escaped to a world of visceralness- where even the sound of the wind was different, whistling its way between the Hawthornes blasted by its prevailing and dotted along the lane tops. She even fancied, if she found a quiet spot, she’d swim naked and wash away the dark circles, the grit from her skin. She knew she had to behave authentically, she must know how to use her freedom and she must not be frightened by the sudden awareness that she existed. 

But, as is often the case, hardly anything in life turns out how we imagine.

There she goes now, her tiny pitter pattering footsteps along the road. The sun is high, though not that warm, a mere 9 degrees, her shadow nonetheless is long and flimsy, she carries a ruc sac on her shoulders, a stick in her hand and fancies herself a wanderer. But she has brought with her the poverty of herself- she is unable to rise to the challenge thrown down by the white clouds, the blasted trees, the buzzards perched high on telegraph poles. As she gazes at two lambs rutting and play acting whilst above her a microlight dips and dives and she realises there is space, huge undulating waving sea salt space, she understands that somewhere inside herself she lacks the appropriate reaction. The fog of an emotionless state and gormlessness are still strung in front of her eyes like cataracts. Neither so far, has she managed to swim naked in the sea, not knowing her body she is too embarrassed for it to be kissed in intimate places by the stinging elements.

On this lane which leads from her Aunt’s cottage which has neither a bath nor possesses the talent for long breakfasts, this woman inhales, exhales, inhales, exhales- it’s about as much as she can do.  Her existence here, without any job to go to, is even more sparse than it was in the city.

Here- a vague thought flitting around on the train journey down- she had hoped she might confront herself.  But there was nothing to confront. The fact was, she seemed rather inept. Inept and pitiful, not pretty, not ugly, she thought she was so characterless she required neither definition.

On this lane at this moment in time she realised all of this. The hopelessness of going back to the Aunt’s, living the same day again tomorrow until the time came to return to London where her life would carry on exactly as before, but she was powerless to change it, she possessed neither the wit nor the will. Yet at this moment two small separate but in time, directly related, events occurred- the first was the woman stumbling upon a small frightened baby rabbit sitting quietly by the side of the road, and the second, the approach of a Land Rover, driven by a young farm hand on his way home from work. Just as the woman bent with concern towards the animal, the Land Rover turned the corner and the young man caught sight of her at the same moment as the ripples of her hair were set alight by the bold rays of the sun, banishing her black circles beneath her eyes, painting over the tramlines ingrained deep in her face- so that he thought her the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on. He roared past with a wave but then, seeing the opportunity, braked hard and jumping out, ran back up the lane towards the pair.

‘What have we here then?’ he said, addressing the rabbit but glancing at her, before throwing himself fully on his front- a little unnecessarily and jutting out at an angle in the middle of the road- to peer into the baby’s black expressionless eyes.

‘Perhaps it’s myxomatosis?’ ventured the woman, a little tremulously. Her Aunt she remembered, had said the disease had been recently introduced to minimize the rabbit population.

‘Nah, nothing around its eyes’, said the young man,’ They’d be crusted if it were.’

He kept himself splayed full length on the lane in front of the rabbit but looking up at the woman. He felt exhilarated, throwing himself down in front of her in this fashion.

‘I’ll take him back with me, I have a big field at mine..’

The man kept looking at her wanting a response but the woman did not realise. He jumped to his feet and stripped to his waist, flinging his T-Shirt quickly and expertly over the Cuniculus. The woman watched, she was unable to speak but she watched his rippling skin dappled and shivering slightly in the abrasive sun, his nipples pert, the start of hair just curling around his groin and disappearing in a trail into his jeans. If she had had some  gumption about her she might have realised that this little show was for her- the dramatic flinging of himself down into the road to be gentle with the rabbit, the heroic stripping off to keep the little one warm. But the woman only saw herself as a cog in the machine, she was unable to act and anyhow, puberty had come and gone and left its physical remark but she herself had hardly noticed, although she was 30. If she had but known it, the man could have changed things for her. He could have been the button she needed to press to light up her life, to give an answer to the raging Cornish wind, its blaring sun, the recurrent waves, the demand life was asking of her. But what could she do? She was just a woman with no thoughts, she was already certain- when it finally dawned on her that people had real relationships and that holding hands was not just for show- that such things would never happen to her. She felt that anything she wanted she could never have, so she didn’t want.  Therefore during this time looking at the man she didn’t think to ask him anything, to offer conversation, to prolong him so she could get to know him better- she didn’t even see his behaviour as absurd or realise it was for her. Instead she merely thought he might be cold and that he should cover up, she thought him silly to take the rabbit all the way home when there was a field right beside them, but she didn’t voice those opinions. Instead she said, ‘Well good luck with it then’, and turned her back and walked away. At each step she expected to hear the Land Rover zooming past, in fact she was aware she dreaded it, not knowing how she should behave, but nothing came until she rounded the bend and he passed, giving a final wave. She wondered what had taken him so long with it, had he been fighting with it, had it escaped in the car?  Had he after all, seeing her gone, returned it to the field, his enthusiasm fizzling out? His face gave nothing away.  Had he given up on it and wrung its neck perhaps? She was tempted to return and see but didn’t dare retrace her steps. She went back to her Aunt’s and fell instantly asleep and dreamt all night of that rippling Adonis body.  She awoke feeling guilty and yet calm and looked anxiously into the eyes of her Aunt. Being a virgin she could not know how it really felt yet she thought she must know something now.

That morning she felt she had clawed back some part of her identity. It was impossible to know how but she knew she could look at the clouds a bit more easily with something in her, she had something in her to answer them with. She wondered if she walked along the lane that afternoon at the same time whether she might see him again. She thought to herself- I go back to London in a few days. She thought to herself, I might as well try.

Inspired by Clarice Lispector and for Magda Blasinska 5th May 2013


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