Chapter 3

Hands sore from the cold, she carefully places the carry-basket on the counter and murmurs quietly, soothing her old friend inside. A paw reaches out through the bars, and she reassures with soft strokes of the dark fur. She feels suddenly sad and old, but knows that it was always going to come to this moment. Life always does.

The soft face of the young girl behind the counter tries to reassure her, but she is beyond that, has been beyond that for a long time. She knows death, understands it better than most and knows too that she must go. She says one final goodbye, turns away and walks to the door, her eyes brimming with silent tears. She pauses there, catches herself and corrals her emotions with a long deep and purposeful breath.

She remembers her past, remembers how she once was and feels the swagger of times gone by return as she steps out into white flurries of cold, the surge of adrenalin pumping through her body, completely alive, completely now. Determined to be strong, knowing she has been stronger, she hopes her courage will return once more and bring with it the headstrong and foolish girl she was once. She pauses once more and leans on her cane as passersby swerve to avoid her, invisible as she is, an old woman in her long grey winter coat.

She stands there on the pavement for the longest time and slowly realises that she unsure of what to do next, the building realisation that what she was has long since passed and all that there is now are some more steps along this path. She turns slightly, looking this way and that and before long the cold wind pushes her to a decision. She decides to walk a block or two and see what comes of that.

She takes her time, feet less certain than they were despite the help of her cane, hindered by the cold and patches of ice hidden under snow. Concentrating hard she slowly makes her way across the road, happy to be outside for now, happy to have something else to concentrate on, something else to fill her mind.

She passes steep stairs leading to old apartment buildings, shop fronts loudly declaring the latest offers and garish new products, an old laundrette purrs gently as she passes and the homily smells of apple pie and fresh baked bread creep across the street, catching her as she inhales. She stops and turns, and in looking across the street her mind shifts suddenly, history and reality flood her senses.

The familiarity is overwhelming, she has been here once before. She lifts her head and gazes around as passersby hurry past, huddled against the wind, shrouded in speckles of snow. An old woman is all they see, possibly lost, possibly senile, standing in their way.

Her eyes cast over the buildings, the shopkeepers and bank tellers glimpsed through windows, the patrons of the cafe across the road with their steaming mugs of coffee, wholesome slices of fresh apple pie, the regulars repeating their repartee, the waitresses laughing and flirting on cue, all wide hips and generous smiles.

She hears a sound further ahead and through the biting wind spots a recess, no, a doorway dark in the murky daylight. The stark lines of the door frame picked out by the blaze of neon in the street, the deep recess broken only by a glimpse of a face. Startled, her cane falls from her grasp, clattering and cracking on frozen stone. Around her heads turn to the sharp noise, and the face in the doorway doesn’t move.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, are you ok?” says a distant voice, fading as the world tilts once more, murky daylight replaced by blooming black.

Moments later she blinks her eyes open. Lying on the pavement, the cold seeping through her bones she stares through the legs of her samaritans, she watches as the face emerges from the doorway and starts across the street. Every muscle in her wants to scream out, every instinct is fight, every moment crawls as the face is slowly revealed, burned blue and orange by streetlight and shop sign. She knows she must do something but all she can manage is her last breathe.