A Call to Arms
The fog was beautiful, and she took comfort in it. It reminded her of England- as frightening a place as England was, as feeble as it became before her eyes, she did like England, she missed it. They were allies, of course, but everyone always seemed to think England was the weaker, the smaller, the more feminine. Odd, she thought, considering that it had birthed America, the English had slaughtered their way into the land and eventually turned on themselves-- they were wild cannibals once, if you thought about it. But now it was small, and there was no denying that at least the States could take comfort in all that water between them and the Evil; England had to fear its neighbor. She thought, in the end, that England was in fact tougher than all of them put together. It was tortured relentlessly, staked out and smoked out in the most Biblical way, but it fought and it got up, and it was still itself, it was still concerned with tea and preoccupied with propriety. Even in the face of the apocalypse, England had its own business to attend to, and so did she, and thus she missed England and its fog (or debris, sadly, promoting the illusion of fog), and how it allowed her to have her own story, so different from here.
Now she followed the sidewalks and chased the back alleys, roaming. Everyone was so happy now in these post-war years, everyone had been so happy since everyone had come home. She hardly ever saw anyone out by themselves, searching for shadows like she. For that's what she was doing; looking for a shadow. Ever since the war she had become incapable of seeing her own, like the irreverent possession of Peter Pan it had deserted her. She found this ironic as she most needed the company, or at least the reminder that she, Evelyn, did exist. Sometimes she thought she had indeed died in one of the many raids or accidents; she had survived so many and outlasted all of her original fellow nurses that it seemed a bit outrageous that she continued to breathe. Maybe it was a little crazy that she had simply woken up one morning with a headache and the word that it was over, over, over-- she'd be going home soon.
They had called her Kitty. She was too coy to tell them her real name at first. She knew she was far too pretty to be working amongst them-- even on her most harrowing of nights when her hair curled from the humidity of death and her uniform smelt of boy's blood and sweat, she was lovelier than anything they could remember, aside from home, of course (though not many could recall what that was). They called her Kitty because they knew she would outlive all of them if it continued on as it was then; she, caught in the valley of the shadow of death, fearing no evil for she had nine lives. She held the hand of many a dead man before he passed, she crouched beneath rubble, felt buildings fall all around her, saw her best friend and fellow nurse, Lavinia, the sauciest and most cliché British woman she had ever met, drained of her spirit as her color left her face while a great lot of metal pierced her middle. The soldiers called her Kitty not out of affection, but fear that the gods and their favored daughter could turn against them at any moment.
Evelyn knew this, and yet it did not harden her heart. In fact, Evelyn was not sure why her heart remained not iced, but rather frozen, stopped in time. She thought of it-- for she did think of it, and what it looked like (she had seen many human hearts)-- as a still creature, a living one but also deep in hibernation. The last person to have woken it or at least allow it to peer into the world was gone, and therefore could not cut through the ice of the cave to thaw it or restore it's color. And now that the world was so dark that one could not even locate one's shadow it seemed unlikely that anything might change.
She did see him-- no, perhaps not him-- but someone who seemed like him one night, as she traversed the fog. She was breaking her habit of gazing at the walls as she passed and had begun to peak into windows. She knew it must be unseemly but she now had an empty sort of curiosity about the habits of normal people, especially as she used to be one, before she became Kitty, before she outlived them all. She liked also to test her theory that she was in fact a ghost, hoping that some child would notice her sad eye passing by his view, that he would take fright and call for his father, but there would be no one left standing in the window; the apparition of Kitty or Evelyn or whomever she was would be gone. Evelyn took some joy in this scenario, but all of the windows reached so high that all she could see were the warm, fuzzy silhouettes of fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, embracing, happy, listening to funny radio shows that came wafting out from the curtains.
As Evelyn strained her neck to peer into the corner of a pale yellow wallpapered room, she heard him. Strange, yes, that she heard him, for as she turned it was clear that he was some ways away; but no one is a scientist, no one can say how sound flies from one person to another. She heard him and she turned quickly from where she was to face the corner, up ahead. Up the street a few steps and across it, on the corner, was a fairly refined hotel. It was not the Ritz, but it was well enough, well-lit and colored, but quiet. It seemed almost as if it were aged royalty- again, a string pulling Evelyn's insides to England- it was surrounded by the slight fog. An American ghost castle, and in front of it, there he was. He was not tall nor short, and not strongly built- he had been- but neither was he slight. He had rounded shoulders, like a woman's, rather than fully squared and set apart, but he had a very strong and lazy way to him. His chest may have been called proud, and his fingers were comically long- all the better for him to smoke with, he said, all the better for him to smoke four cigarettes, he had said once. And that is what he appeared to be doing-- no, maybe not four cigarettes, but a very long and conspicuous one drooped from his now-worn digits- Evelyn could see it shake, slightly, in the cold.
Years. Years. It had been three years. He was fatter now- or was it thinner? She stared at him for a long time, tracing his figure and trying to make sure that she had not made a false identification, that she did not so much long for it to be true as she suspected it to be. He put the cigarette to his mouth three times and heaved out its waste before he turned, though he knew someone was there. He, in the light, she, only lit from behind, from the large window of the apartment with the yellow-papered room. She did not dare move or cry out to him or run across the slippery street or even wave until he made some sign of life. He gazed her figure, idly and disinterested and turned away- but only for a split second. Immediately he retraced his one step and turned his face towards Evelyn again.
He saw her coat and her shoulders, more square than his, her tiny feet stuffed into even tinier shoes, her blonde hair now showing rogues of white- not from age but from life- he saw Evelyn, and he gave a start. He wanted to run to her, she saw that, but she knew too, even if this were he, they had said goodbye once-- they were not ripped from each other's arms like lovers in books. But all the same, she walked the few paces down the street until she was just across from him, and the two gazed across the narrow pavement division at one another. He was still so very handsome, in his own way, light-haired just like her, now with somewhat of a darker beard which made him look more distinguished. He squinted across the way.
"Hello," he said, slyly.
"Hello," she said, slightly more affirmative but without promise. He told her she reminded him of someone. She said the same.
"Do you think maybe we used to know each other?" he asked, putting his cigarette to rest.
"I think maybe," she said, smiling, shocked at her own restraint. The two were quiet then, for some time.
"Would you like some coffee?" he asked. "There's a bar just inside. They know me fairly well, I do business here." She nodded, but he still could not see her very well in the casts from the petty street lights.
"I would like that very much, then," she made her verbal reply, and the two waited another minute, and then another, until he turned to enter the establishment, and she slowly followed by placing one smartly cared-for shoe- what an immaculate heel!- in front of the other, her eyes welling at the sound of his steps. The relief of being another's shadow was seeping in, the pain of it began to tickle at her the way nerves do once one's limbs return to life from sleep. He didn't look behind, he could hear her walking in-time.
The bar was desserted except for a single man and an older couple at a far away table, but they didn't matter. As he walked in he gave a wave, and before he had even reached his seat, two cups of coffee were placed delicately on the naked wooden table for two. The table faced a window and the window faced the street corner from where they had stood moments ago. In fact one of the only sources of light in the quiet bar was the strange streetlamp. It seemed appropriate.
As they sat down, he began to speak.
"This really is a great place. Fantastic steak during lunch hours, very nice wine."
"Yes, best I've had in a while. I do a lot of business here… I'm a writer, is that strange? I write for a magazine and I write interviews, so they send me here to do a lot of them. Tomorrow I have a really important one. It's with a politician, I can't tell you who."
"Oh, well, I wouldn't ask."
"Did you want something besides coffee?"
"Oh? Oh no, coffee is perfect."
"Yes, I like coffee too. I'm a real coffee drinker,"
"Yes," she said.
"Oh yes, I love it. I love the good hardy stuff, I don't like to put sugar in it and milk and all that stuff. I think good coffee is coffee-- not dressed-up coffee. When you put milk into it, it really becomes a whole new drink, doesn't it?" She said nothing, only admired his face.
"Well, that's what I think. Say," said he, "Do you believe in reincarnation?"
"Yes, I think so."
"Really? Not a lot of people do here in the states. It's kinda radical, know what I mean? Well. I think I believe in it, because it means that we've all been places and seen things before. That nothing is really new, and no one is really new, and that's why we feel as though we've done things before and met people before that maybe we haven't yet."
"Well, I kind of had that feeling about you."
"Yeah. Well. Have you ever been to England?"
Tears began to roll down her cheeks, but he did not notice them because he did not look at her.
"Have… I ever been to England?"
"Yeah. I was there for the war. For a long time, they sent me there, I did heroic things, I got all torn up and had to stay in a hospital for a while. I met a girl there, she… was really kind. We… forgive me, I don't know you or anything-- we may have had a baby. I didn't know. I left so quickly, I didn't have much say in it."
She struggled for speech. "Was she British?"
He shook his head. "No, American, like you."
She hung her head. "Was she frigid? I think many nurses can be frigid…"
He laughed to himself and admired his face in the window's reflection. "No, she was warm. Like you."
She hung her head. "Was she… plain?"
He shook his head. "No, very pretty." His voice trailed away.
"Do you think of her much?"
"On nights like tonight I do-- when it kind of reminds me of London outside," he sighed, letting his memory or fantasy slip from him again, "But it's been a long time. I presume her dead, I know the hospital itself underwent some fair damage."
"Yes," she said.
"Yes, yes. Also, I have a wife and two boys now. It's been a long time."
Idly, he placed the pictures on the table and she forced herself to stare at them. No woman, but two little boys- twins- gazed up at her with their father's face but foreign eyes. Their eyes must belong to her.
"Lovely," she said. It was a British thing to say.
He talked for a few minutes more, then excused himself for a phone call. She left the table as soon as he turned the corner. They had met in the fog, she should not have come.
Before she touched the handle on the great exit, she paused and turned for the first time in awhile to look at herself in one of the large, oval mirrors that flanked the doorway. She peered closely at the tiny shoes, large ankles, the shapely legs hidden beneath a nice dress beneath a nice coat. Blonde hair, lightened even further by the whiteness that waited take power. And then her face. She should not have come. Her face, that she so often forgot was not there anymore, was his reason for not seeing her. The rubble had sanded it away- the metal had cut it off. Half a nose, one eye, a gashed and folded cheek remained of the face that he had known. How often she forgot; this is why he chose to not recognize her. She was Kitty, the nine-lived cat and not Evelyn, the lovely woman.
She should not have come. But she did, and she had before. They did not know that they had been lovers in a past life when they had met, nor that they would be lovers again. As she left the hotel, vanishing into the fog to follow the sound of her own footprints, she knew she would be back, and he would return as well; it was just so. She couldn't touch him anymore and he would never hold her face in his hands, but she knew once the print had been made, it would always stick. This would happen time and time again, and they would not know each other, or they would, and perhaps they would talk of nothing, or everything, each confirming merely that the other lived. But it would never be as it was; she would never be beautiful again, and he would never choose to remember her.