The faces seemed familiar...
|The city seemed different to Jane as she left the coffee shop where she had lingered until dusk. The streets, which had been so familiar to her while Milton was alive, seemed to have changed in the last year, but she couldn't say how. The people were dressed in different colours of clothing, some shops had changed in appearance, but there was more to it than that. She shoved her hands further into her pockets as she walked, trying to look like she belonged, but feeling very much out of it.
A group waiting to cross the road caught her attention. Not one of them could have been over twelve, she thought, did their mothers know they were out? The boys wore their jeans almost falling off their hips and the girls wore skimpy tops and lots of cheap jewelry. They all seemed confident, as if the city, with its lights, the music blaring from the doorways, and the hotted-up cars revving at the lights, belonged to them.
Jane wondered if it had been a mistake, coming into the city as she and Milton used to do after the children had left home. She couldn't put the clock back, neither could she enjoy just walking through town, window shopping and watching the people go by. It would never be the same by herself.
As the signal to cross came on, she turned away and pushed back among the people hurrying forward to cross the road. Glancing up, she saw a familiar face, and turned to follow the figure striding towards the crossing. Wasn't that Zachary, who had made a nuisance of himself in the English class? She almost called out to him, then realised that she was looking at a young man, too young to ever have been her schoolmate! Feeling foolish, she began walking again, only wanting to get in her car and reach the familiarity of her home.
She tried to avoid looking at faces as she walked, so she kept her eyes as low as she could without bumping into anyone. A group of young adults were standing outside the door of a nightclub, chatting and smoking, and she had to wait for the people walking the other way to pass. Hearing the cheerful conversation, she glanced up at the group, and met the eyes of one of the young women. Laughing and cynical, the eyes held Jane's glance for a moment and then looked away.
Jane stayed immobile, staring at the face of the woman, who looked so much like her school friend Lucy. Those were Lucy's eyes looking out of that face! But Lucy had been dead for years, it couldn't be her! With a huge effort, Jane forced herself to move, to walk away, to stumble along to where she had left the car.
"Who was that old dame?" she heard behind her as she retreated. Jane didn't hear any reply, but a moment later there was a peal of laughter. Humiliated, she tried to see her way through a blur of tears. After what seemed like hours, she came to her car and got in the passenger side and slammed the door. She gave way to tears for a while, then found the tissues and blew her nose. Leaning back against the headrest, she breathed deeply.
"Milton, aren't you going to take me home?" she murmered. She sat with her eyes closed, and could almost smell the scent of his skin. He had to be there, in the driver's seat, fiddling with the radio knobs! Slowly she reached out her hand, and felt only empty space. I've got to get myself home she told herself, got to pull myself together. Feeling like it was someone else moving for her, she reached over, unlocked the driver's door, got out of the car, walked around it and got in again on the driver's side.
I'm not losing it she told herself firmly. I've just got to get home and it will all be ok. Somehow, she managed to drive home, and pulled carefully into the driveway. She went around the corner of the house to the door, and a child skipped along the path towards her, lit by the glow from the open door.
"Frannie!" she called, her voice cracking, and reached out to the girl. But the child backed away, startled at a bowed figure coming out of the shadows at her. Jane was horrified, and turned and stumbled away. Of course it wasn't Frannie, she was grown and had children of her own! What was happening to her? Who were all these people she kept seeing?
Jane stumbled down the path, away, anywhere, but tripped on the uneven paving and fell. Feeling totally helpless, she lay face down, with slow tears creeping between her hot eyelids.
A young woman came out of the house, pulled by the small girl, and found the middle-aged woman lying on the path.
"Oh Carol, it's Granny!" She bent down beside Jane and heard the slow sobs. "Are you ok? Come on, Mum, lets get you inside. Did Carol startle you? I think you gave her a fright too!"
Bewildered, Jane sat up. "Frannie! I thought it was you, but it was Carol!"
"Yes, she looks more like me everyday" said Frannie proudly, as she put a strong hand under her mother's elbow "Come on Mum, we could all do with a cup of tea. I didn't want you to be on your own tonight, a year after Dad died, so I came around. What've you been up to this evening?"