“They’ll be wondering where I’ve got to” said the old lady.
I knew she must be talking to me as we were quite alone, standing in the doorway of Angel Antiques sheltering from the sudden downpour. It had been raining heavily now for the last five minutes. I did not perceive her as threatening in any way nor particularly odd. I was one of those people who usually for some reason always attracted strangers as well as strange people of this world. Listening to the old dear, I assumed ‘they’ were her family and responded, “The rain will stop soon enough and we can be on our way”. The old woman smiled and as she did the street lights came on. I could see her quite clearly now. Her hair shone silver beneath the neon glow, glimmering like finely spun gossamer giving the effect of a haloed aura. Her smile was warm and somehow comforting. Her eyes set wide apart were a glorious glinting green not unlike those of a cat. I thought of my cat which just now was most likely curled up snugly on the rug by the open fire indoors. I could n’t wait to get home out of this wretched weather.
I smiled back at the old dear hoping that any fear or anxiety she may be feeling from being stuck here with a stranger would be laid to rest. In truth, I was not really sure which one of us was more anxious. I hated being out in the dark on this dank and dreary November evening. I’d always been scared of the dark. The street was deserted but for us two. Most of the shops along here had been shut down and boarded up and had been for some time as a result of the recent recession. This stretch of road had once been a thriving and bustling business community. How Angel Antiques had managed to keep going was beyond me. Being a luxury trade one would have thought that it would have likely been the first to close its doors. Just at that moment when I was pondering on this point, the door to the shop opened and their stood a wizened and wiry old man with pince-nez perched upon and pinching the bridge of his nose. Peering over the rims he beckoned us into the shop with a wave of his hand to enter in out of the rain, “You’ll catch your deaths of cold out there in this, duckies. Come in and keep warm for a bit. You can look around if you like while I make a nice pot of tea”.
“Please don’t go to any trouble”. I politely responded but he was already gone somewhere behind the counter, to the kitchen I assumed. In reality, I was glad to be in the warm where I could dry off a bit and would happily welcome a hot cup of tea; there was nothing like it to warm you up, with the exception perhaps of a small shot of brandy.
In the shop the light was brighter than that afforded by the lamp posts outside so now I was able to take a good look at my elderly companion. The old lady wore a beautiful grey full length fur coat. I was unable to identify the animal but was convinced that this was a real fur rather than faux: not something you often see these days mostly because the animal rights people would be up in arms, which for the most part I agree with them but when the coat is practically an antique, I’m not sure it counts . Looking at the old lady, I could not have imagined her wearing anything different. The coat could have been a second skin it fitted so well.
The old guy, who I guessed must be the shop owner rattled back into the room with a tea laden tray. I took the tea offered, wrapping and warming my hands around the cup. The old lady declined to drink any tea but was pleased to accept a cup of warm milk. Mr Angel for that was the man’s name passed her the milk. “Perfect” she said, stretching out each syllable with precise pronunciation.
Opening the door and holding his hand up towards the night sky, the old man stated
“It’s stopped raining”.
“Ah, yes…time to go home”. The old lady announced.
I enquired as to whether she would like me to escort her home but she would have none of it announcing that she knew her way well around these parts. With a brief thank you to Mr Angel and a smile and a nod of the head in my direction she left. I finished drinking my tea which had by now cooled down a little. As I was about to leave, a small black leather bound book on a shelf close by to the door caught my eye. I picked the book up and held it, turning it over, in my now warm hands. There was something rather intriguing and inviting about a well bound book that I found appealing. I thought what a shame it was that books were no longer put together by the loving and dextrous hands of a traditional bookbinder. Even worse was that they were now being digitised and turned into ebooks to be read on kindles and iPads. As I handled the book appreciating and admiring the skilled craftsmanship that had lovingly laboured over the encasement of an authors treasured text, I caught sight of the time. Placing the book neatly back on the shelf, I turned to thank Mr Angel for his kindness and hospitality. To my surprise he said that I could take the book if I liked. It had been there for ages and no-one else had ever shown the slightest bit of interest in it. It was mine for the taking. I offered to pay but he would have none of it. I took the book and took my leave but not without thanking him first.
© Liola Lee 2013
This was a writing competition titled ‘What happens next?’ set in Writing Magazine a few years back. That said, I never actually entered it as did not really think it would get anywhere but it’s good to do writing exercises to get the imagination working. It has just lain dormant in my files ever since. Anyway, posting it here just because I can.