The same but different
Laura walked along the familiar streets and everything was the same as always – sights, sounds, smells. Outside the shops dusty vegetables jostled for space alongside cheap beer and exotic spices. Bookmakers advertised enticing odds to part the hopeful from their money, alongside dodgy loan shops that didn’t advertise the cost of lending it back. Pneumatic drills competed with aging buses to be the noisiest, and diesel fumes and fried chicken perfumed the hot air.
Everything was the same but different, as if she was seeing and hearing through a filter. It was like going for a walk on Christmas Day, except today she was the only one in a haze, feeling suddenly separate from everything she’d ever known. While her head tried to process it all, back in the real world by the time she made it home to Muswell Hill she’d stepped in something revolting, and been jostled by some very inept and depressingly young would be muggers. She found her way to the second hand bookshop and took down titles from the shelves, flicking through and replacing them with unseeing eyes. She bought a takeaway coffee and sat on the wall by the cinema for a while, and then eventually she walked slowly back to the house.
The front door felt reassuringly heavy as she shouldered it open. Inside she pushed it closed with her bottom as she always did, and then stood still, leaning against the wood, taking comfort in the familiar and trying to ignore the images dancing through her brain – the fall, the dark, the smell, the man, the people. Or rather the not people, allegedly.
This is ridiculous, she thought, and opening her eyes she shook her head as if to knock the nonsense out of it.
“Laura, is that you?” Mrs Patterson opened her door and smiled. “Did you have fun at the cemetery?” The old lady chuckled, “now that sounds rather odd doesn’t it, fun in a graveyard? Come in and tell me all about it,” she looked at Laura more closely, “if you’re not too tired that is?”
Laura went into the kitchen, took off her jacket and sank into her usual chair. It was getting towards dusk and Mrs Patterson turned on a lamp, shutting the garden door to keep the insects out.
“There’s tea in the pot, would you like one?”
Laura nodded and took the cup and saucer carefully. Mrs P always used proper china, she said it tasted better that way. The cup rattled against the saucer and Laura put it down on the floor, her hands were shaking.
“You look exhausted, and very dirty. What did they have you doing up there?”
Laura tried to sit up straighter and her eyes met Mrs Patterson’s, kind and curious. She’d always felt she could tell her dear landlady anything but this time when tears began to prick she blinked them back and looked away.
“It was clearing undergrowth mostly, you know, trying to open up pathways between the graves, that kind of thing. There were lots of brambles. ”
“It must have been very muddy, you’re absolutely filthy”
“I fell down a hole.”
Mrs Patterson was really watching her now, noticing not just the dirt and scratches but the dark circles that had appeared under Laura’s eyes, and the slightly haunted expression in them.
“It was nothing really, I just tripped and…” she tailed off under the old lady’s questioning gaze.
“And did you see anything interesting at the cemetery? I know you’d been longing to have the chance to really explore”
“No, nothing.” Laura’s head rested against the yellowed lace of the antimacassar that covered the back of the chair and she closed her eyes. “It was hard work and I’m tired. I should probably go up.”
“There’s no hurry my dear.” Mrs Patterson leaned forward and picked up Laura’s jacket which had slipped from the arm of her chair to the floor. She rubbed the dirty fabric and sniffed cautiously, then dropped it quickly.
“Sometimes, you see more than you think.” She spoke softly but Laura’s eyes stayed closed. “There’s a lot to see if you really look and most people won’t ever see anything. It’s good to be watchful, and to listen.”
Laura didn’t react to Mrs Patterson’s words. Instead she heaved herself out of the chair, picking up her jacket as she did so. “I’m sorry, I’m really tired and I need a shower. Thanks for the tea.” She put the untouched drink onto the table and headed for the door. “Goodnight Mrs P, I’m off to bed.”
Bed? frowned Mrs Patterson, it’s half past six. She stared after Laura for a moment, and then picked up the telephone.