“What’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” they’d ask when I was a young girl. (It is well they didn’t know). It struck me then as curious, given my head was neither particularly attractive, or undersized, but I supposed this phrase was intended affectionately…so I let it through, with a closed-lipped smile. (In hindsight, I let too much through as a girl child). Now, people rarely seem to care what is going on in my fairly plain, slightly larger than proportional, head. I’m not sure which it is I like least…Being looked over? or being overlooked? Regarded? or disregarded? At each juncture, I’ve craved the other. Such is the duality of being Human. I’ve convincingly immersed myself into this role…this ‘playing’ at being Human. It’s fair to say however, duality is innate to my true Self (if ‘Self’ I, and those like me, can be called).
Burdened, and blessed, with memories stretching back to time immemorial. Comprehending connections unseen by others. At times, I’ve wished my head to be empty of this heaviness…for it to indeed be ‘pretty’ and ‘little’. But it shall never be. It flows, and overflows, with a cacophony of echoes.
A fellow student unwittingly nearly guessed my true guise once, at College, writing beneath my image in our Yearbook – “A Force of Nature!”. She was right to say ‘A’…Singular. There are countless of us, walking throughout the districts we oversee.
Friends for an inordinate stretch of time (in confidence they now teasingly call me ‘Lady’ Mornington), I’m flanked by Martha and Eliza. We await our meals in companionable silence at a trendy Vietnamese cafe on Main Street. I realise they’re picking up the same cues and signs I am, as the world passes by our window table. We know everyone and everything that’s ever been in our own respective districts and, thanks to our regular trialogues, each other’s. The ‘Old Girls’ Network’.
As I watch my dear friends, I consider how our appearances have come to reflect our realms. Martha is all curves, the earthiest of us; Eliza is without doubt the most refined and well-manicured. Naturally, my own aspects are mid-point between the two. Our hair is coiffed in waves…sea crests. Martha’s a dirty yellow blond – wild, sand-churned waves; Eliza’s with distinctly silver highlights in neat ripples close to her head; while mine has generous curls of white, unruly on a windy day. All three of us with tanned countenances and décolletages – stretches of tawny cliffs, stoically facing the elements. We blend easily with the other mature females of the Peninsula set, yet we are completely apart. Or rather…I think ironically…we are the Peninsula set. The True Originals.
I can never anticipate it. I never know when it’s coming. But it visited when our meals arrived. On occasion, unsettling thoughts or images, hitherto lost, are vividly recalled from a cache of memories stored within. Local events, some predating the timespan of my current form, reveal themselves in my mind as a montage. The trigger today was Eliza’s soup. A seemingly innocent amber Pho broth.
…It was the paleness of those flat, wide, rice noodles glistening beneath the surface of the dark liquid…
“It’s him! I can make out an arm under the water!”
“Please, Sir!” beseeched Mrs Kirk, the barkeeper’s wife, from the shore. “Go to him!” Her first boy, eight years old, was recovered, drowned, from the water yesterday, the twentieth day of November, 1875. Her six-year-old, still missing.
Swimming closer, the arm appeared to Mr Davis as though it were waving beneath the surface…the exaggerated, wide-spanning metronomic wave of someone greeting (or departing) another at great distance. “Hello Mother!”…“Farewell!”.
Only a few remaining men were still out looking, when Dan Davis thought he’d found the missing young ‘un. Dan was older than most of the men on the search, but with an eye on the grief-stricken beauty of Mrs Kirk, the gulf between their age and class evident, he imagined he might lift in her esteem should he find her son. What he’d give for a smile! It pained him to see youthful beauty in such despair.
He had almost reached it now. The white swollen flesh he’d spotted from afar, lolling beneath the gentle rippling dark.
…Then at once, he sadly realised his error.
The long swim back tugged at his muscles, and his heart. He cried…salty tears, mixing with the sea…for himself; for Mrs Kirk; for Master Kirk, aged six.
The last thing he recalled was seeing Mrs Kirk, waving to him from the shore.
“He was a good man, Ma’am”. “He was here from morn’ til late, searching for your boy”. “Anyone could have made the mistake. Swathes of light coloured seaweed can bear resemblance to…”. The remaining searchers gathered around Dan’s lifeless body on the beach.
“Poor, dear Mr Davis. You shall be remembered always for your valiant effort”. Mrs Kirk smiled benignly, bending to smooth a strand of sea-slicked hair from his forehead.
“Lady! Are you OK?” the friendly, young Vietnamese waiter pleads, nervously brushing his fringe from his face as he watches me with concern. “Fine, thank you. It’s passed now”. I smile into his warm, brown eyes. My lunch companions nod, almost imperceptibly…knowing.
She blows over her own dish, still hot though her mind has seemed away for hours. Simultaneously, a gentle, warm wind – unseasonable for an otherwise crisp Winter’s Day – drifts across the small group of boys playing on the sands at Mothers Beach, tousling the curls on their pretty, little heads.