When I very humbly requested Lizzi of Considerings to guest post for me, and she immediately said, “Yes,” I jumped up and down, clapping my hands. I may have even performed a cartwheel. Excitement? No. Elation.
Lizzi has a way with words, to completely understate her talent. As my eyes travel through her stories, her fingers reach out from my screen and wrap themselves around my heart, yanking it, tugging it, and turning it to putty in her palm. She makes me laugh. She makes me think. She more often than not makes me cry, and I never cry. She is brilliant. A Writer. A wordsmith, and she’s here today with Part Deux to Shadows and Stardust. Make sure and click the link to read Part One, a beautiful story inspired by yours truly. To be called a muse by one of the most beautiful writers I’ve ever laid my eyes on, both humbled me and made my heart grow at least three sizes. So, please welcome my dear friend, Lizzi, whose words will sink into your soul. Then get ready to want more. She’s good like that.
The town’s main street was thronged with people, huddled like penguins inside their winter coats; braced against the cold but determined in their quest to purchase. They were bedecked in bags, like peculiar woolly bumblebees, each surrounded by an ethereal cloud of their own steam – breath puffing words into visible clouds as they hurried past.
I was honeybagged myself, straining against the weight of New Things. The once-straight handles twisted and turned, cutting the circulation off in my fingers and combining with the chill air to freeze them into reddened claws – travesties of the hands that once were.
I navigated my way out of the main streams of people, cutting across others, ducking behind groups of chattering teenagers, taking big steps and little ones, my feet mindfully stepping the complex dance of Saturday At The Shops – avoiding dreamy couples, Stormtrooper mothers and cantankerous old women wielding their roll-along shopping trollies like tartan-coated weapons.
Seeking shelter in an eddy by a side-route off the main street, I found space to pause, down bags and rub some life back into my twisted hands. Leaning back against the building, I watched the crowds as they flowed past, marveling at their individuality and simultaneous mass-anonymity, wondering what their stories might be.
Hands warmer, I turned to gather up my bags once more when an alcove doorway caught my eye – fifty yards back from the river of humanity, it wasn’t so much the door which caught my attention as it was the small movement of a fabric-coated lump stuffed into the bottom of it – someone was there.
Like I’d been run through with a trident of guilt, compassion and the urge to DO something, a great pain welled up in me and I stood, transfixed, before moving towards the bundled person. I could see a pair of battered, tough boots poking out from under one end of what turned out to be a filthy camping blanket. A fluffy hat at the top end gave no clue as to what sort of person lay beneath.
Drawing by Lizzi Rogers
I crouched down and hoped that none of the expensive-shop shopping bags were on display as I reached out and gently patted the crusted edge of the blanket “Hey – are you alright? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yeah”, came back an obstinate, female voice “You can fuck the hell off.”
The blanket shook and the hat bobbled upwards as the owner’s face came into view in a fury of movement “Who even asked you to…”
Her voice trailed off, and the retort I had been about to utter froze on my lips and disappeared as though dropped off a cliff.
Our eyes locked, and the thrall of horror at seeing a homeless person trying to survive the inclement weather turned to raging, devastating pain as I realised that this homeless person was known to me. I recoiled, my hand flying to my mouth in dismay and her name bursting out with the same lack of control as the time I’d first spoken to her:
“Bravo!”- it had exploded, unbidden from my lips as the echoes of her last crescendo faded and the bar seemed to shimmer in delighted silence in recognition that a masterpiece had just been played within its walls. She had sworn at me then, too, and our eyes had met, sparkling with delight at the soul-thrilling music she’d been able to coax from the old piano. We’d talked and worked together, and later she had played again.
I had returned to that bar many times to hear her play – turning up near closing time as she volunteered to stay behind again and wipe the place down once the drunks and revelers had all been kicked out. We spent several glorious months in this way – her playing and me clearing the glasses and sweeping the floors, our souls dancing with the notes as she gave them life with her magical, talented hands.
Suddenly, one day, she was gone. No explanation. Just gone. It had been five years, and I still missed our evenings of splendour; never since had I experienced such exquisite playing as that which she had wrought for me…
Her blonde hair, now freed from its cover in her thrashing, was lank and dull. Her skin was grey and marked with sores and scars, as though the moon had been stretched over her sharp cheekbones. Her eyes were still a gorgeous, clear hazel, though they looked like deep wells of pain, waiting to pour out in anger and shame at the slightest provocation.
The moment lengthened, eyes still holding, hundreds of unspoken, frantic conversations passing between us as my throat choked-up, and the weight of emotion made it hard to breathe.
Finally, sotto voce, I whispered, her name imbued with the hurt of every lost evening and all the unheard notes, mantled with grief at finding her this way: “Oh, Anitra…”
We crumbled together, oblivious to the slowly-gathering audience in the shadows. I pulled her stinking, bird-light frame into my arms and held tight, even as she clung to me, mumbling into my shoulder that it was so, SO good to see a friendly face.
We clambered to our feet and hugged properly then, smiles and tears mingling, when suddenly I felt her stiffen, and heard her intake of breath as she pulled back, her face a mask of revulsion.
A gravelly male voice from across the road struck at us through the air “Ohhhh Annie – look what you’ve pulled in. Good girl! She looks like a rich one. Make sure you give that posh bitch your best licking – she’s gotta be worth a few quid. Don’t take less than £50, will you? I’ll be back for mine later.”
Transformed once more into a hard-faced street-walker, Anitra’s chin jutted and her eyes blazed as she snaked an arm around my waist and pulled me around to face the man, whose oiled hair and dark, greedy eyes raked over us both. The two louts who stood behind him were nudging one another and grinning, one making lewd gestures at us, poking his lapping tongue between the V of his fingers, and rubbing together the fingertips of the other hand in the universal sign for money.
“Oh Dominic”, she trilled, her voice light and dripping with false honey “sweetheart, I’m going up in the world, and with that, my prices. If you want this” – she grabbed her crotch and tilted her hips towards him aggressively – “you gotta pay me more. As of now.”
The oily man’s face registered a sneer of disgust as he turned, motioning for his cat-calling henchmen to follow him. By my side, the bravado gone, Anitra sagged against me and then pulled away roughly, her face burning red, unwilling to meet my gaze.
Hair curtained again around her, reminding me of our first meeting, her voice was equal parts ashamed and horrified as she blundered through an incoherent string of apologies, ending with a declaration to make herself scarce and never bother me again, and that she was sorry for everything, and for running away without telling me, and that life had been so harsh to her, and that she couldn’t, she just couldn’t…
I cut across her, mid-sentence “Can we just go for coffee or something? Somewhere warm? I’m freezing. And confused. So my treat, okay, but please let’s not stay here any more.”
She glanced at me then, and the wells of her eyes had been covered over – shuttered with a closed look she wore like armour.
“No. I don’t think so.”
Her voice shimmered down from frantic to automaton. Her joints tightened and the corners of her eyes looked pinched. She stared into the mid-distance for a moment before stooping to gather up her blankets from the floor, rolling them into a grimy ball, which she stuffed into a giant, tattered backpack.
“It’s been good to see you again, babe. Sorry I turned out like this. I wish things were different. In another world, we’d go for coffee and everything would be made better and the music might come back into my life. But seeing you was like a symphony, and it’s just reminded me how much I miss it. So no, we can’t go.”
She twisted away from me, striding towards the end of the street, pausing as I cried her name out, anguished this time, and ran to her, emptying my purse of all its paper money and stuffing it into her hand, arguing that she didn’t need to leave; promising her things could be better, if only she’d let me help her – please, please let me help her…
She stuffed the notes into her pocket, but didn’t turn. And without further word or look, strode off, rapidly disappearing into the still-teeming currents of the main street.
As fresh tears fell, tracking warm runnels down my freezing face, I vowed to myself on that desolate street that I would find a way to somehow bring the music back to her.