Double Cream

Lauren Bride

~

From the window in my kitchen, I like to look at the outline of the city. I do this at least twice in a day; once when I am eating breakfast and again in the evening when I have my supper. Looking at the city like this from such a private place makes me feel so hopeful most of the time. I see people moving individually, most of them are really on their own, through their day. As I eat my meal, I wonder, does that woman below with the red hat eat a meal like mine? Does she prefer soup? Is she disagreeable? Will she look up to see me?

When I was young and the prince of the ocean, my hair was made of sand and honey. My teeth were seashells and my eyes were like jellyfish from the deepest part of the sea, glowing with their own secret light that would pour out like that of faraway stars in the deep.

These were the days when the water was so eager to rush up to my feet to greet me, and even as it rolled away I could hear it calling out to me that it would be back again in just a moment, just a moment.

 

I could look out onto the water and see the sharp and thin line where the air and the water met, I could tell a sailor how to find it and what to do when he arrived there.

I would skip on my toes along the coast and name every bird that swooped by. I could walk out onto the water for miles, until it was a deep dark blue under me, and whales eased past in song. I never sank then. I had a friend under every stone. What glorious times those were!

I think of them often from my window. I imagine that I can see the water from where I live.

There is a woman. She lives nearby, I know it must be very close to where I live because when I step outdoors in the evening to buy a few things for my supper, I usually run into her. She is medium height and has hair that is brown and soft. She wears it tied up in the traditional way. Her eyes look tired always, but they are still shining; it is not the colour that is so impressive to me, but the look behind them. Her look is endlessly bright. She is not glamorous the way a woman men look forward to seeing might be. She is expecting a baby, I am quite certain of it. Her step is not quite strained as it will be in a month or two, but there is a meditative quiet look to her entire being that is unmistakable. For me, she is so beautiful. I never considered a woman such as her, nor in her condition before. Here, I cannot avoid it.

I should like to take her to see my beach and my ocean the way I know them.

I was happy as a prince, when I was small and light. I thought only of what I saw around me, and what moments I knew that were not completely happy were quickly remedied by something to eat or a nap or a wash and bandage. There was a completeness to everything. I was more alone then, in the wide expanse of the beach and water, with only a few visitors now and then, but I was never lonely.

But I was a boy, and boys are curious. I wandered away. I began again in the city. Once, a man with a great long beard and tall furry hat came on horseback, right onto the sand from the trees behind me. He shared his chocolates and fruits with me, and I shared with him a dream I had the night before. He held a small lead pencil ready and I told it to him.

"Slowly," he urged me, with his strange way of speaking. "I want to make sure I get it all.

"It is dark but lights are everywhere, some are flashing. There are other people everywhere, colourful ones, and angry ones. Everything is fast. There are many smells - delicious ones and bad ones. There were things I had never seen or imagined before. I have been thinking about it since I woke." The man had stopped writing. He pointed into the trees.

Even on days when I do not need to go to the shops for my meal, I go outside, and I pretend to be buying things. I have worked hard to look like this is exactly what I mean to be doing, I even make a list and am careful to consult it in the store. I include quantity, weight, and brand in my list. For produce, I have even taken to writing which countries the fruits and vegetables should come from. "Pears from France, preferably Anjou", is a good one. "Brazilian mango" is also nice. I want to ask for brussel sprouts from Turkey, for the comedy of it, only I fear the way the store clerk would look at me for being such an idiot. He seems to be a very stern man, and I doubt he would appreciate the joke. He is always shouting at the young students in their uniforms for taking too long to select their candy and drinks.

I see the woman I know turning a corner at a few minutes after 7 o'clock. Her steps are strong, and she holds herself so elegantly. Sometimes I imagine that she is a queen from long ago and she is carrying a crown prince, there is that much dignity to her steps through this rowdy part of the city. She walks as though she is entirely unafraid of anyone around her.

There have been days more recently when my heart ached so much from the sight of her and her gentle walk that I feared for her safety. She is always alone. I think of her going home to empty rooms and struggling just a bit with what she is carrying. I can almost smell the simple dinner she prepares for herself. How wonderful these thoughts are to me. The idea of her dinner is often nourishment enough for me.

It was yesterday that I followed her home for the first time. The terrible fear of some wretched person hurting her, taking her money, pushing her to the ground forced me to see her home safely. I followed from far away, so that if she turned around, I could duck or blend in with the other people weaving along the sidewalk.

She lives in a building, older and smaller than mine, with more charm. The bricks are a glamorous dark brown, and there are flower boxes on each balcony. I wonder if she has inherited it from someone; surely she cannot afford this place on her own. I saw her enter the building, and waited until the lights came on in one of the darkened apartments. Staring up from behind some bushes, I saw that it was her.

She has a cat. I saw it. The truth so far for me is that I do not like cats. I can appreciate their beauty, and their soft fur. I simply do not like having them around me. I know they watch me. I know that they judge me as well. I have tried to keep them before, attempting to cure this fault in my character. I fed them very well, with the best salmon from a can, and cream from my own bottle. Though even with this lavish treatment, I knew the cats were critical of me. Their disapproval reeked from them.

Perhaps her cat is not prejudiced to men like me. I do kind things all the time. Perhaps cats have selective vision against my kindness.

I decided yesterday to bring something for her, to leave at her door after seeing where she lives. Not to frighten her, I have taken every precaution not to frighten this lady. I am her secret escort. I protect her from far away. There was extra change in my pocket today, and something wrapped in newspaper. The change was to buy a jar of double cream for the lady. Expectant mothers need milk, they crave it, I have heard. It will be good for the growing bones of her little child. Of course, this will be clear to her. This is the very finest and most rich milk to be found. And so she will find it at her door.

As I came out of the store with the cream in a paper bag, a man asked me for change. He sat on the sidewalk. He is always there.

"No, I'm sorry," I said to him.

"Please. I'm starving. Just a little for a cup of coffee. Please." I thought of the cream in the bag. The man was very dirty, and missing most of his teeth. His cheeks were hollow. Dirt was ground into his skin and collected wherever there was a fold in it or his clothing. He had a booklet in his hand, folded open. There were many lines of crammed, tiny writing. "Please. Whatever you can spare."

I felt guilty for the cream, and began to reach into my pocket for the change. I stared into the swarm of people and saw, at a distance, my lady. She was disappearing. I looked at this hungry man on the street, but this time saw him not as someone pitiable, but as a person capable of acting desperately. I needed to be nearer to the woman. I began to feel a slight panic.

"Sorry, I'm sorry," I said to him and stepped away. I heard him curse at my back. The back of my heart felt awful for this man. I have been hungry before as well. I was moving swiftly, very afraid that something had happened to her already. This night is very cold. There are not enough beds or dollars for everyone who needs food and rest.

I caught the sight of her soft hair and coat, moving evenly with the people around her. She was safe! I continued behind her, allowing some more space between us now that I knew where she was. I felt very excited, and very nervous.

She entered her building, and I kept away. I looked up to where she lived, but I saw that a light was already on. My heart froze. Someone was inside.

I moved quickly to the doors and waited for a man to enter. He cast me a strange glance, which at any other time would have sent me turning on my heel. I took the two flights of stairs to her floor three at a time. Peering down the hallway, I saw her just stepping inside her door, pulling the key from its lock.

"Hello," her muffled voice called out. I ran down the hallway, I was going to be too late! I heard her voice continue though, not in any terrified tone, but gently, and informally. I slowed, creeping now, and heard a man's low voice reply to her before the door closed.

She was not alone. She was already safe. This was what I had wanted, her well-being and happiness. I felt my knight's armor rust and crumble away, knowing she had a companion. Still, I moved towards her door, using my lightest step. I heard some music from behind her door. There was laughter, and I felt a little glad for her laughing.

I placed the cream in front of her door. Beside it I placed the package from my pocket. Inside it was a tiny starfish, from my ocean. I would have liked to see her open it. I suppose I do not need to though. I can imagine the scene, how happy it will make her. I think of her finding a good spot for it.

I will make my shopping list again tomorrow. "Ricotta cheese, 500g, from Tuscany," or something like this. There is a place for me, when I see her each day, where I am important. It is everything to me. I keep her safe, though she does not know it. I look forward to the evening when I am a prince once more.

Text copyright Lauren Bride 2005

Illustrations copyright Joel Stewart 2005