The unrestrained sound of a violin carried through the gardens and when Sophie heard it she followed the sound. She walked past the crooked branches of the oak tree, the faint fragrance of the dianthus, and arrived at a small crowd, enchanted by what was before them. Sophie made her way to the front of the crowd while the old gypsy tune rose to her ears.
She gazed at a dancer’s dark-brown curls that soared through the air with the toss of her head. As the dancer turned her head upright her curls settled on her shoulders and Sophie took a better look at her face. Her black eyes were framed by somewhat thick brows, her lips were full and she had a light olive complexion. Her bare feet pushed into the dirt with each of her dance steps and her full skirt swayed as the old man’s bow flew over his violin. A woman with long lithe hands played haunting tunes on the cello and a man with a long beard played the accordion. The rhythm grew faster, triggering a frenzy in the dancer’s feet.
Sophie wondered who they were. She hadn’t seen them before, they looked like gypsies. Sophie watched with envy; they seemed so much freer than her. Gypsies could go wherever they wanted and do as they please.
A cool breeze swept through the gardens, caressing Sophie’s skin, cooling the beads of perspiration that ran down her neck. The dancer’s face glowed; with a forward stomp of her foot and an upward swerve of her arm, the music ceased. She turned to Sophie and their gazes locked; Sophie’s nervous stare was met with the dancer’s half-smile.
The crowd broke into loud applause; Sophie raised her hands to applaud but she was distracted by her vibrating mobile phone. She frowned when she looked at the time on the screen, realizing she had taken too long on her lunch break. She glanced once more at the dancer’s untamed curls, then rushed back to work, her high heels pinching her feet with every step.
Sophie hastily returned to the department store. She glanced at the picture of a model with immaculate teeth but a fake smile. She rushed past the perfectly aligned rows of face powder and shelves filled with perfumes: the strong scent of perfume made Sophie sneeze.
Her boss, Annette: an impeccably groomed, middle-aged woman with silver hair, styled in a short bob, stood waiting for her.
“Sophie, lunch is one hour long,” she said in an irritated tone. “Not two!”
Sophie bit her lip as Annette examined her face. “You need to re-apply your lipstick,” said Annette, she turned to a pile of big boxes on the floor. “All the new stock in these boxes needs to be placed in this section,” Annette pointed to the empty area of the display unit. “Is that clear?”
“Yes, Annette.” Sophie watched her boss walk away, hoping she would not return.
Sophie took out her lipstick from her bag. She noticed her lips were dry. While staring into the mirror she drifted into a daydream; an oval mirror on the counter reflected her face. Her foundation was evenly applied on her pale skin, the lip pencil made her lips look unnaturally full, mascara was applied to her lashes making them look curled but fake, her eyebrows were carefully shaped and a brown hair extension weighed on her head. She grabbed a handkerchief from her pocket and fiercely smudged the lipstick across her face and rubbed the mascara from her eyes. She took off her high-heeled shoes that hurt her feet and banged them against the counter until the heels broke. Then she ran to all the large posters of the perfect images of women, starlets advertising shoes or perfume, and violently tore them all down. She lit a match and watched them as they were consumed in flames. Sophie’s daydream ended with the hourly chime of the big golden clock in the center of the department store. She put away her lipstick and watched the clock’s hands until her shift ended.
An elderly woman in a wheelchair gave Sophie a warm smile as she walked into a nursing home. “Good afternoon,” said Sophie, feeling the cool air-conditioning on her skin. She glanced at the dining area where a woman laid out plates on the tables; she walked past a tiny kitchen and a long hallway to room nineteen. Sophie opened the door; her grandma was lying in bed, staring into space, with a sad look in her eyes. As soon as she noticed Sophie, her lined face lit up and she climbed out of bed.
“Sophie!” she said with joy.
Sophie hugged her. “How have you been?”
“I bought you some chocolates.”
“I need new socks.”
“I can buy you socks next time.” She placed the chocolates on a little table and put her handbag down. “Have you made friends with anyone?”
“I don’t like anyone here.”
Sophie had heard it all before, her grandma was the least social person she had ever known. “They seem like nice people and they look very respectable,” said Sophie.
Her grandma screwed up her face. “You should come here more often.”
“I come here once a fortnight,” said Sophie taking the chocolates out of the plastic wrapper. “I can’t come any more than that, I have to work.” She broke a piece of chocolate and passed it to her grandma, Sophie smiled as Grandma ate it.
“Didn’t you want any chocolate?”
“No, I’m trying to lose some weight.”
“But you are already so thin.”
“Just a pound or two,” said Sophie. “I have a new dress I want to fit into.”
Sophie ignored the look of worry that flashed on Grandma’s face. Grandma shook her head and walked toward the wardrobe.
“I found some clothes that I would like you to have.” Grandma’s wardrobe was packed with sixties mini-skirts, platform shoes, vibrant colored hippy dresses, and long woolen coats with fur collars. They were all in good condition, a lifetime of memories in a wardrobe. She took out a cashmere scarf. “Red is your color,” Grandma said, handing it to her. Sophie felt the softness and warmth of the cashmere scarf.
“Try it on.”
“Thanks.” Sophie went to the mirror. She looped the scarf around her neck and added a twist.
“It suits you.”
“I will save it for next winter,” said Sophie, taking it off. “I can’t wear it during summer.”
Grandma’s eyelids looked heavy. “I might lie down a bit.”
“Didn’t you sleep well last night?”
“No, I only had a few hours of sleep.”
“Why couldn’t you sleep?”
“Last night, a male nurse came into my room, he looked like Sam.”
A wave of sadness engulfed Sophie as she thought of her brother Sam who had committed suicide six years ago.
“He was so handsome,” her grandma continued. “His brown hair and his big chestnut eyes, just like Sam.”
Grandma laid her head on the pillow and soon fell asleep. Sophie looked at the photo on the bedside table of her grandma when she was younger, wearing her red cashmere scarf. Grandma was holding a baby; the photo had been taken the day Sophie was born.
Sophie had spent all morning sitting near a fan, feeling a little lonely and a little bored. She opened the window; a cool breeze blew into her stifling hot flat; the weatherman had predicted a cool change in the late afternoon. The cool wind was too tempting, she grabbed her keys and left her flat.
She smiled as the cool air hit her face while she walked along the streets. Sophie thought about the group of gypsies she had seen in the gardens, the dancer with her bare feet and the beguiling gypsy tunes. She realised she wasn’t too far from the gardens and headed in that direction.
Sophie walked by the wilted petals of the dianthus to the willow tree. She was pleasurably surprised to hear the cello again. The melody was different this time; it had a solemn tone. The dancer slowly spun around, her arms stretched straight into the air and her eyes shut. The violinist sat under the tree staring at Sophie. The dancer opened her eyes; she stopped spinning and her hands dropped to her hips. The music became faster, the dancer moved rapidly toward Sophie. She extended her hand to Sophie, who felt the soft touch of the dancer’s fingers as she offered her perspiring palm. Sophie was led under the tree, where she nervously imitated the turn of the dancer’s torso. The music grew quicker once again, Sophie’s heart pounded, and their feet struck the ground back and forth with exhilaration. Sophie looked down at the dancer’s bare feet and in an impetuous moment, took off her shoes and threw them near the edge of the tree. She felt the grass and the warm dirt on the soles of her feet, her soul liberated. The music slowed and halted with a final strike of their feet.
The crowd applauded; their faces filled with delight. As the crowd dispersed, Sophie looked at the dancer who gave her a slight nod. Sophie picked up her shoes and put them on.
“Where did you take lessons for your dancing?” Sophie nervously asked.
“I’ve never taken lessons,” said the dancer placing her shawl in her bag. “I don’t like people giving me steps to follow.”
Sophie was amazed how well she could dance without having had any lessons.
“What’s your name?” asked the dancer.
“Sophie,” she said. “And yours?”
There was a short silence. “You were here yesterday,” said Eva.
“You look different today.”
Sophie’s hand brushed against her hair. “The heat has melted away my makeup,” she blushed. “I look plainer today, I-I…” Sophie’s voice wavered.
“You look freer,” Eva interrupted.
Sophie’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “They expect me to look pretty at work. I wear a little less makeup when I’m not working.” Sophie noticed Eva looking at her high-heeled shoes and the red blister on the edge of one foot where the shoe dug into Sophie’s skin.
“Aren’t you tired of having to look pretty all the time?” said Eva.
Eva did not wear a drop of makeup, had no shoes on her feet, and her off-the-shoulder top revealed that she wore no undergarments. Sophie smiled.
“When will you next perform?”
“Tomorrow afternoon,” replied Eva.
Sophie gazed into Eva’s large dark eyes. There is something unusual about Eva, she thought. Sophie had a sense that Eva wanted to tell her something, but she said nothing.
That night, while Sophie lay in bed, her mind was filled with thoughts of Eva. She drifted to sleep and dreamed of Eva sitting on the edge of her bed. Sophie’s gaze lingered on Eva’s bare shoulders. Her eyes closed and her mouth slightly opened as Eva’s hand wandered underneath Sophie’s nightdress and between her legs where there was no undergarment to halt her exploration. Sophie opened her eyes. She watched Eva remove her dress, it fell to the ground and she was naked. Sophie explored her light-olive skin, the slight turn of her hip, the curve of her breasts, and the hair between her legs was dark, wild curls. Eva moved closer, her mouth met with Sophie’s moist lips underneath her nightdress. But with a sudden jolt, Sophie woke to the beeping alarm on her mobile, waking her for her Sunday shift. As she dressed for work, she smiled when she thought of her dream.
Sophie stared at the mannequins in the shop window, their thin waists and their long legs with not a bump in sight. A man wearing a gray suit walked into the window holding a collection of petite black dresses; he began to dress the perfect dolls.
Sophie looked at her reflection in the window. She checked the back of her hair, it was tightly pinned into a neat bun, giving her a headache. When the man with the gray suit turned around, she recognized him as a man she had briefly dated years ago. But as their eyes met, he turned away rudely; Sophie frowned.
The aroma of coffee drifted outside the department store; she turned to look at the coffee stand behind her, filled with donuts. Her eyes fixated on the chocolate donuts with coconut sprinkles—she hadn’t eaten chocolate for years. She’d already eaten two hundred calories for breakfast and this would put her way over the planned calorie count—she quickly turned away. She hurried into the department store where her boss waited with her usual frosty stare.
“Sophie, remember the sale starts today, ten percent off the stilettos with eight-inch heels. Tell all the customers about the sale, even the customers who don’t ask for stilettos.”
Sophie looked at the shoes, even with the ten percent off, the stilettos with eight-inch heels were the most expensive item in the entire store.
“Make sure you sell as many as possible. Is that clear?” ordered Annette.
“Yes, Annette.” She watched her boss hurry away to buy her morning latte.
Sophie looked at the shelf; the heels were twice as high as last season’s shoes. She wondered how anyone was able to walk in them.
After a while, a tiny blonde woman walked to the counter.
“Can I help you?” Sophie smiled.
“I need some dressy shoes. My cousin is getting married in a month.”
“What sort of clothes do you plan to wear with the shoes?” asked Sophie.
“A long, burgundy dress,” said the blonde.
“We have a range of evening shoes,” said Sophie, pointing to the row of shoes on sale. “Perhaps some black stilettos?”
The customer examined the display. “Yes, the black stilettos look good.”
“What size do you take?”
“I’ll get a pair for you to try on.” Sophie walked to the storeroom behind the counter, took a size seven and a size seven-and-a-half just in case, and returned with two boxes.
The blonde put them on; she waddled while she walked. Sophie could no longer bite her tongue. “We have a shorter heel that is more comfortable and easier to walk in,” said Sophie. “Would you like to try—”
“But the higher heel will make the line of your dress look longer,” interrupted Annette, she had just walked in holding her latte. “You will get ten percent off those stilettos.” She pointed to the shoes the blonde was wearing.
The blonde nodded. “Thank you. I’ll take them.”
Sophie wrapped the shoes, put them in a box, and smiled at the customer before she left.
“I don’t want you to do that again. This is a business, we are selling fashion,” Annette pursed her lips.
“She looked like she was in pain, I just made a suggestion,” said Sophie nervously.
“People don’t mind pain, as long as they look good,” said Annette, angrily. “Don’t tell them what’s best for them, they are too stupid to care.” Annette walked off with a huff.
Sophie heard her mobile ring tone and knelt down to her bag under the counter, she took out her mobile; it was her grandma’s nursing home.
“Hello,” Sophie answered the phone.
“Is this Sophie Wilson?” a soft voice asked.
“I’m calling about your grandmother. She’s in an emergency at St Anthony’s Hospital in East Melbourne.”
Sophie’s heart began to pound violently. “What happened?”
“She had a fall and she’s having trouble moving the left side of her body.”
Sophie’s breath deepened. “I’ll go to the hospital straight away.” Her eyes searched the store for Annette who was deep in conversation with the lady in the perfume department on the other side of the escalators.
“Annette,” called Sophie. “Annette!” She waved and finally got her attention.
Annette rolled her eyes, said something briefly to the lady at perfumes, and strode to Sophie.
“Why are you shouting?” Annette said in an irritated tone. “This is an upmarket store!”
“I just received a phone call, my grandma is in an emergency. I need to leave.” Sophie’s voice quivered.
“Who will do your shift?” muttered Annette.
“I need to go!” Sophie grabbed her bag and left Annette frowning.
Sophie stormed through the hospital’s glass doors. She rushed to the Emergency front desk and approached the receptionist. “My grandma, Vera Caskoff, was admitted today. Can you tell me where she is?” she asked anxiously.
The receptionist did a search on the computer. “She’s in cubicle six—through the doors.”
“Thanks.” Sophie’s mind pushed against intruding thoughts. The sliding doors opened to a rush of patients with broken limbs, bruises, and scrapes. Stretchers hurried past, and the dash of nurses and doctors followed. The smell of spirits hit Sophie’s nose; it made her feel slightly nauseous. She found cubicle six in the far-end corner.
“Grandma.” Sophie’s eyes dampened as she glanced at the heart monitor machine attached to her grandma. She reached for her hand. “What happened?”
“I can talk, but I can’t move the left side of my body.” Grandma’s face was gaunt.
Sophie squeezed her hand, there was no gentle squeeze in return.
Grandma shook her head. “I couldn’t sleep. I got up to go to the bathroom and I fell, I landed on my head,” she said with a slight slur.
“Does your head hurt?”
“A little.” The fluorescent lights seemed to wash away her grandma’s vitality. Grandma reached over with her good hand and patted Sophie’s hand.
Sophie’s face grew tenser. “Let me talk to the nurse.” Sophie went outside.
Without delay, Sophie approached the nurse in the hallway.
“My grandma, Vera Caskoff, is in cubicle six,” said Sophie. Her voice shook. “Do you know what is happening with her?”
“She has had a blood test. She’ll have a CT scan soon.”
“Will she recover?”
“We’ll keep her here for observation. Once the results are back, we will let you know.”
Sophie felt dizzy. She began to cry. “I don’t know what to do!”
“What’s your name?”
“Sophie,” she sobbed loudly. “Last time I saw my grandma she was well.”
“Does she have any other family?”
“No, I’m her only family.”
“She’ll be glad you’re here,” she said. “Don’t worry, Sophie, your grandma is in good hands.”
“I’ve been visiting her every fortnight in the nursing home for years. I don’t know what else to do.” Sophie bowed her head and cried until her sobs turned to silence. Sophie wiped her tears and walked back to her grandma’s room, standing outside for a minute waiting for the redness of her face to go away.
Sophie walked into the room. Her grandma noticed Sophie’s red eyes.
“I spoke to the nurse and she said they are waiting for test results.”
“Whatever happens,” said Grandma, “don’t cry.”
Sophie held back her tears.
As darkness fell, Sophie’s head bowed with sorrow. She looked at the ground as she walked through the gardens on her way home.
“Sophie,” a familiar voice called.
Sophie slowly lifted her heavy eyelids and was greeted by Eva.
“I didn’t see you today when I was dancing.”
Sophie stood in silence. Eva was perturbed by Sophie’s sad face. “What’s wrong?”
“Something terrible has happened.”
“What is it? What’s happened?”
“My grandma,” said Sophie. “I think she’s had a stroke.”
“She’s the only one I have left. I have no one else,” her voice trembled.
Eva pursed her lips. “Come with me.”
Sophie followed Eva to the end of the gardens where a crimson wagon with a bow-top roof was hidden behind a big gum tree.
“Do you live here?”
“Yes,” said Eva.
Sophie followed Eva up a tiny ladder into the wagon, to a candle-lit room with hand-carved seats and bunks at the far end.
“Do the others live here too?”
“Yes, but they are sitting by the lake,” said Eva. “Where do you live?”
“In the Manchester building, next to Jolimont station.”
“Is that a high-rise?”
“No, there are only three floors. I’m on the ground floor.”
Eva glanced at a pot on a wooden bench. “Have you eaten, Sophie?”
Eva served some food in a bowl; she gave it to Sophie.
“Thanks,” said Sophie. She grew slightly nervous when Eva’s gaze remained on her face.
“Do you have parents?”
“No, they died years ago.” Sophie ate a mouthful of stew. “Is that older man your dad?”
“Who? Edgar?” she said. “No, my dad left when I was a child, I never knew him. I am like you. I don’t have any family.”
“Does that make you feel alone?” asked Sophie.
“No, I have Edgar, Stephen, and Carlene. They have become my family.”
Sophie put her bowl down. “Sometimes I feel so disconnected from the world. It’s like my roots are gone.”
Eva gave her a solemn look.
Sophie looked around at the violin and accordion that lay by a small bookshelf.
“How long have you been performing?”
“For five years now, since I was twenty-seven.”
Sophie looked at Eva’s wild hair and the golden florins that hung on her long skirt that jangled every time she moved. Her eyes wandered to Eva’s red lips, but she turned away before her gaze turned into a stare. On the way home, Sophie marveled at the freedom of Eva’s spirit and became aware of how tamed her own spirit had become.
Sophie was devastated when the tests confirmed her grandma had a stroke. It had been a week and she had not seen any improvement in her grandma’s condition. She visited her every day. But one day after work, when she arrived late, her grandma’s room was empty. Sophie’s heart began to pound. She wasted no time finding the head nurse.
“Where is Vera Caskoff? I’m her granddaughter.”
“She’s been moved to the stroke care unit, it’s on the ground floor.”
“Thanks.” Sophie’s heartbeat returned to normal.
In the new room, her grandma sat in a wheelchair watching Olympic ice-skating on TV with no sound; an elderly Asian lady sat on the other side of the room.
“Hi, Grandma.” Sophie kissed her forehead.
“I had a bad dream. I dreamed I was in an unfamiliar place with your mother and Sam, and they said to me, ‘What are you doing here?’”
“Maybe you’re thinking about them too much,” said Sophie. “Do you want me to put some volume on the TV?”
Her grandma shook her head, a sad look crossing her eyes. “Things didn’t work out for me. I did too much of what I was told to do and not enough of what I wanted.”
Sophie thought deeply for a moment. “Things did work out for you. You’ve had people who love you.”
Her grandma’s gaze wandered, deep in thought. Sophie wondered if she had succeeded in making her see that her life had been filled with some blessings.
“Let me take you outside,” said Sophie. “The weather is beautiful.”
Her grandma nodded. “Okay.”
Sophie’s eyebrows rose in surprise; her grandma never liked leaving her room, but now she was willingly going outside. Sophie took her grandma to the small garden at the back of the hospital. A few pot plants and pink carnations were scattered along the lawn and a tiny water fountain trickled in a pond.
Grandma craned her neck and her eyes widened; she looked at the blue sky as if she hadn’t seen it for so long. There was an unusual look in her grandma’s eyes, as if she was looking at the sky for the last time —a final glance at life. It scared Sophie, and she nervously bit her lip; she wondered what her grandma was thinking.
“I wish you a good husband and everything you want,” said Grandma as she took Sophie’s hand.
A deep sorrow engulfed Sophie. “I want you to know that you are loved,” Sophie refrained from crying.
“I love you too.”
They sat in the garden for a while. She held her grandma’s good hand as they took in the natural beauty. As night approached, Sophie felt her grandma’s hand go limp.
Tears ran down Sophie’s face. She lay quietly in her bedroom looking out the window at the sky. With every death she had faced, the world always looked the same but somehow felt emptier. She always felt the sky ought to change its appearance, but the world just went about its normal doings. Sophie had spent years calling her grandma to see how she was, before that she had called her mother; she realized after her grandma’s funeral there was now no one left to call.
Sophie got out of bed and went looking for Eva. She ran to the gardens. Dark clouds blackened the sky and a summer rain ensued. She trod on the puddles to the wagon at the far end of the gardens. Sophie knocked on the wagon’s door; water was dripping from her fringe. She looked down at the mud around the large wheels of the wagon, then looked up as the door opened and Edgar poked his head outside.
“Is Eva here?”
“No,” said Edgar.
“Oh.” Sophie was disappointed.
“Would you like to come inside? Eva will be here shortly.”
Sophie walked inside; the accordion and cello were laid on the seats. She stood by the door. Edgar removed the instruments. “Would you like to sit down?”
She sat and began to fidget with her bracelet. “My grandma died,” she said after a while.
“Eva told me you were very close to your grandma,” said Edgar, sitting beside her.
Sophie sniffed, her eyes became damp; she took a handkerchief out from her pocket.
“Do you have any other people in your life?”
Sophie wiped her nose. “No one that I feel as deeply for. I guess my life will be lonelier.”
They both sat in silence, Edgar deep in thought. He finally said, “We came here for you.”
Sophie was taken aback; her brows knitted in confusion. “I don’t understand.”
“We travel to different places,” he said. “There are so many people who feel lost.”
Sophie’s eyes widened. “Are you a healer?”
“No, I am not,” he said.
“Eva,” he said. “She is different from all of us.”
Eva walked into the caravan. “I will leave you alone to talk.” Edgar nodded at Eva and gave Sophie a slight smile as he left, the door banging closed behind him.
“I am sorry for your loss,” said Eva, sadly. “I know of your grandma’s death.” Eva took off her wet shawl and laid it down on a seat.
Sophie wondered if Eva had overheard the conversation with Edgar.
“Edgar has told me some odd things.” Sophie’s voice wavered. “Is it true that—”
“Yes, it’s true,” interrupted Eva. “I am different, Sophie.”
Sophie felt anxious.
“When I was a baby, I stopped breathing and they gave me a panacea that made me breathe again. Perhaps it gave me a gift,” said Eva, sitting beside her. “I can heal people’s spirits when they have lost someone they love.”
Sophie’s eyes filled with hope. “Is that what you have come to do for me?”
“Yes. A few times a year, through dreams, a person who has recently passed away speaks to me.” Eva was momentarily silent, then spoke gently. “Your grandma has a message for you.”
Sophie’s face turned pale.
Eva said softly, “Choose true happiness over illusions.”
Sophie’s eyes filled with tears.
Sophie thought about her grandma’s message for several days. The discovery of Eva’s healing ability had given her a sense of peace and filled her with curiosity
“Sophie!” The irritated voice made her jump. “Are you off with the fairies again?”
Sophie woke from her daydream to the squinting eyes of Annette.
“Have you finished the order for mauve stilettos?”
“Yes,” said Sophie.
A hint of a smile appeared on Annette’s face; perhaps she was in a better mood than usual. A very skinny girl with thick winged eyeliner stood by Annette. “Sophie, this is Carmen. She’s just started work as a casual.”
“Hi,” said Sophie. Two dimples framed Carmen’s perfect smile. Sophie thought of her own less-than-perfect teeth and her fear of the dentist.
“Show Carmen where everything is,” ordered Annette. “I’ll be in a meeting ‘til three o’clock.”
Sophie nodded and Annette walked away.
Carmen looked at all the shoes with an enthusiasm in her eyes like a kid exploring a candy store.
“All the shoes are so pretty! What are you wearing?” Carmen looked down at Sophie’s shoes. “Wow, they are awesome.”
Sophie looked down at the shoes she was wearing with disgust. They were both distracted by a slight noise; a man was putting up a life-size photo of a new starlet advertising stilettos.
“Oh, I love her!” said Carmen, looking at the starlet on the poster. “I’ve seen all her films. I heard she had a rib removed so that her waist would be tinier.”
Sophie thought, I want to run out screaming. Once again, she watched the slow hand of the clock till her shift ended.
Sophie’s face had turned red and her hands hurt; she had a wild glint in her eyes. She gripped a hammer tightly, and with a quick swing of her arm, she broke the high heel off her shoe. A knock on the front door startled her; she answered the door with the hammer in her hand.
“Eva.” Sophie’s eyebrows rose in surprise; she had not seen Eva for a week.
“I remembered that you live in the Manchester building near Jolimont station.”
“Oh,” said Sophie, hiding the hammer behind her back. “Come in.”
Eva walked inside the apartment to a tiny lounge room. A pile of shoes and broken heels were strewn across the floor.
“What will you walk in?” said Eva with a cheeky look in her eyes.
“I will walk around barefoot like you,” said Sophie.
Eva smiled. She noticed a framed photo of an elderly woman on a round table.
“That’s a nice photo of your grandma.”
“She was a bit younger there.” Sophie placed the hammer on the table. “A few days before she died, she was talking about her life and how nothing went her way.”
“What did you say to her?”
“I told her that wasn’t true; I told her of the blessings she had.”
“People are never happy with what they have. They are always searching for romantic dreams.”
Sophie was momentarily silent. “I’m afraid I’ll one day come to the end of my life and say the same.”
“I don’t think you’ll be like that.” Eva gently smiled. “I think you will be grateful for all the blessings you had.”
Sophie shrugged her shoulders. “I love her so deeply. I always told her I loved her, but I didn’t quite know how much until she died.”
Eva looked at the couch.
“Oh! Please take a seat,” said Sophie. “Would you like a drink?”
“No,” said Eva sitting down. “You did well, to be there for your grandma.”
“It’s really odd, as anxious as I am,” said Sophie, taking a seat near her. “I’m always the only one that is around when people get sick, people who seem stronger disappear.”
“Perhaps you underestimate your strength.”
“I don’t know,” said Sophie. Her mind wandered to memories of taking her mother to the hospital.
“Sophie,” said Eva softly, breaking Sophie’s thoughts.
Eva paused for a moment. “I am leaving tonight.”
Sorrow washed over Sophie. “Why?”
“We never stay in one place for too long. It’s time to move on.”
“You have only been here for a short time.”
“Edgar wants to go to the country for a while,” she said.
Sophie bowed her head.
Eva took out a little envelope. “If you want to see me again—” She handed it to Sophie. “—this will tell you where I am.”
In silence, their sad stares at one another lingered.
“Well.” Eva stood up. “I should be going.”
Sophie walked her to the door. “Goodbye then,” said Sophie with a solemn tone.
Eva was quiet; she stood looking at Sophie in the doorway. Eva stepped in closer, leaned forward and her lips met Sophie’s.
Sophie tore the wrapper with her teeth; when the chocolate became exposed, her mouth moistened. Her eyes fixated on its smooth texture. She broke a piece and put it in her mouth. Its sweet taste made her salivate; she wanted more. She broke another piece. She felt a freedom as its creamy center ran down her throat. She had not eaten chocolate for years; it did not fit in with her daily calorie count. With each piece that entered her mouth, she felt a huge smile emerge on her face.
“Sophie, what are you doing?” asked Annette. “We won’t want you to work for us if you get fat!”
Sophie’s jaw dropped; she had been caught with chocolate all over her mouth, near the coffee stand outside of work.
“Work starts at 9:00 AM sharp!” barked Annette.
Sophie nodded nervously. Annette hurried off. Sophie threw the wrapper in the bin and rushed inside the department store. Carmen was already there placing new stock on the side display unit.
“She’s only been here two days and she’s already doing a better job than you,” said Annette. She walked to the other end of the shelf.
Carmen grinned when she overheard Annette’s comment. Sadness covered Sophie’s face. She had hoped Annette would be a little less insensitive toward her, knowing that her grandma had recently died.
“Morning,” said Carmen.
“Good morning,” said Sophie.
“Annette said she wants all new stock in the top row, five centimeters apart.”
“Okay.” Sophie placed the shoes in a perfect row. She noticed the label on the shoe was ‘Gypsy’. “That’s an unusual label for this sort of shoe,” she said.
“You mean the ‘Gypsy’ label?” said Carmen.
“Yes. Gypsies would never wear shoes with a high heel; they walk around barefoot.”
Carmen looked confused. Sophie thought of the barefooted gypsy who passionately kissed her; she smiled.
“Sophie!” called Annette, her tone filled with fury.
Sophie looked up slightly frightened; she jumped up and rushed to her.
“Did you place this order for one hundred and twenty mauve stilettos?”
“Um.” Sophie looked at the order forms Annette was holding. “Yes.”
“But we only needed twelve!”
Sophie’s face flushed red and her mouth opened in horror. “I’m sorry, I must have made a mistake,” said Sophie. “I was going through a stressful time when I placed the order.” Sophie had placed the order a few days after her grandma’s funeral.
“Now we have one hundred and eight pairs more than we need.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“You never do anything right!” screamed Annette.
Sophie bowed her head.
“Carmen, come with me. Let me show you how to place an order.” Annette walked away with Carmen by her side.
Tears welled up in Sophie’s eyes. She looked around hoping no one could see how upset she was. She looked at the department store; it was filled with superficial illusions and everything appeared cold. Sophie stood still, thinking. She grabbed her bag from under the counter and ran out crying. The further away she ran, the freer she began to feel.
Sophie sat in silence, deep in thought. She looked around at her empty flat. Her eyes darted to the photo of her grandma and she picked it up. “I feel like I don’t belong anywhere,” said Sophie, talking to the photo. She placed it back on the table. She looked at her grandma’s scarf hung on a wooden chair.
The tiny envelope that Eva gave her was also on the table; she reached for it and opened it; Eva had written: Hopkins River, Wickliffe—Come with us.
The next day, Sophie ran to the gardens. She yearned for the alluring sound of the violin but only heard the black bird’s chirp. She walked to the willow tree where Eva had danced, but the gardens were empty. She thought of the swirl of Eva’s skirt, the passionate tap of her feet, her playful dance and her intoxicating expression of freedom. The train station was not too far from the gardens; she headed in its direction. She smiled at the thought of running away with the gypsies.