Sun hats, broad-brimmed and languorous, dip their tips into the sensual redness of the late-evening Sun; another day’s meretricious acts forgiven; as they return to the comfort of homey racks, and anticipate another garrulous litany of tomorrows. The loftiest clock, with one ponderous clack, has casted a penumbra over the eighteenth hour, and yet, a certain young lady remains entrapped within the nook of a lanky street, half-heartedly engaged in tiffin, and small talk.
Resting an arm on the coffee table, Shura props her thoughts up with a graceless effort, attempting attention, but perpetually succumbing to a macédoine of irreverent subjects——the old trees, with their trunks of swelled auguries, the trivial lull of the table, whose mismatched legs take their turns to graze the floor, and the soft gargle of the drain just metres from her feet, frothing with ghostly whispers, and palsied dreams, and——
A flinch catches her, and her eyes rise to see the man seated before her, the past hour deeply etched into the lines of his face; and as soon as she realises his emptied teacup and patience, she lets out a nervous laugh.
“Sorry, Mr. Clay. I just heard the sound of water from the drains, and wanted to listen in. It’s actually quite haunting if you listen long enough, especially when…” she trails off at the sight of a rather unimpressed Mr. Clay, and becomes considerably more stifled, “I apologise. You were saying?”
The man, finally possessing her serious attention, begins, “Miss Eto, if I were to put this in all politeness, I’m not offended, but it’s quite upsetting to speak to a complete wall of a person with such demeaning efforts to engage her partner, and one whom you would not even be having tea this late with, if your mother hadn’t requested for it.”
He rises from his seat, and Shura shifts in slight discomfort.
“And a word of advice, if you aren’t even able to come up with a proper excuse, at least save the next person from wasting their time on you, ” he walks away, but it is what follows that exhausts her completely. “Listening in on the drains… What does she take me for?” he mutters, and then is gone.
At this, Shura relaxes almost instantly that it is comical how stiff she was before. She rests her head on one arm, sighing a little, waning a little, deliberating about things unknown. Then, she begins.
“And he didn’t even pay the bill. For goodness sake, what a gentleman!” Shura stands abruptly with an exclaim, and a slap collides with her wrist so forcefully that she retracts herself with a small shriek. A coat of full-length sepia bends himself towards the ground, hand to face, somewhat groaning at the pain of the unintentional attack.
“Ah! Sir, I’m so, so sorry. Are you alright? Did I hit your eye? Oh, dear…” Flustered, she bends down to try and help the man, but then catches herself, for what sounded like painful grunts before, now resembles a boyish laughter. Confused, she asks, “Sir, are you… laughing?”
The man, still in peals of chuckles, straightens himself slowly, and lowers his hand to place it in his pocket, “You sure are a free spirit, Miss Eto. To think I pitied you for a moment, and wished to provide some comfort, but this attack, it seems to put my former impressions to shame.”
With his face now unobstructed, Shura witnesses at once the jocose splatter of ginger freckles, against equally ginger hair, accompanying his flourish, and traces his somewhat winsome smile, hands slackening in relief. But as she collects herself, she hears him again more clearly——Miss Eto——and colours, “So, you saw everything, Sir.”
The man, sensing a faint embarrassment from his new-found acquaintance, lets his laughter taper off, venturing for some encouragement instead, “Dailon, Miss Eto. My name is Dailon, and given my teasing, I should hardly be a ‘Sir’ at all.” He pauses, and then continues only when the lady has gratified him with the daintiest of chuckles at his poor attempt at humour. “What I mean to say is that your actions were well-measured, and that it provided me with the comfort of knowing that there are still ¹theatrical womenin this town.”
And as predicted, Shura begins to meet his eyes again, but beneath the brief stillness of their stares, it is very safe to declare that he predicted none of what was to come, for his lady begins to laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Dailon, intriguingly electrified by her paroxysm of delight, begins to bet on a hopeful potential, “Miss Eto, did I say something quite amusing?”
Between her liberal gasps for breath, Shura continues to laugh, “No, Sir——I mean, Dailon. Of course not, it was the amused shout——the theatrical comeback——a miracle! That knocked me out…” Tickled, she perseveres in her wild display, completely unravelling before her new-found acquaintance.
Dailon, feeling his excitement more strongly now, cannot help but grin foolishly, “Is that so? I’m not quite sure I get what you mean——”
“But you do! I know you do! Nobody says ‘theatrical’ like that, and expects to get away with——you’re smiling! You’re laughing! You’re just testing me!”
Both fall into the heartiest laughter, feeling completely at ease with each other, and by no means willing to rest themselves just yet; and so, the lady proposes a walk, and the man, refreshed by the switch in roles, accepts it.
“You mean to tell me that you recite poems whenever it suits the situation? You mean to tell me that when you accidentally cut your finger, you begin spouting lines of ²onions and pink fizz and——”
“Stop teasing me already! And yes, I do it to remember them. You know why, ” Shura lightly slaps Dailon’s shoulder, still tickled even after thirty minutes into the walk.
Dailon chuckles, “Exactly, which is why you should join us, Shura. There is no meaning without poetry, but there’s no life if you have no one to share it with. This town is already set; Literature is never going on the shelves anymore, but if you come, we won’t need bookstores to remember who we are. Not anymore.” He breathes, eager for her reply, but she becomes limpidly quiet.
Shura hesitates, not looking at Dailon, “I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m quite content with musing by myself.”
“Shura, we’re both dreamers, and we both read Plath once. I think we both know that that isn’t why you’re declining my offer, ” he pushes for an answer. The lamppost-yellow hue hangs over them like an uncomfortable silence.
Expectedly, Shura turns away, quietly informing him that they have reached her house; a small block huddled in between two others, illuminated yellow, but glimmering red with a humble garden of ³rich poppies; and this is how Dailon knows that she will be swayed.
He says, “I can’t convince you, Shura, if you don’t want me to. But you’ll convince yourself. I know you will. And once you do, you’ll know where to find me.”
Shura does not move even as he watches her, retreating gradually, “⁴Not you, nor him, nor him, nor him. ” And further and further, “My selves dissolving. ” Then, he breathes just at the brim of audibility, “Old whore petticoats.”
Without turning back, Shura knows that he has gone, and whispers only so that she may hear what he intentionally left out.
¹ A reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem, Lady Lazarus.
² A reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem, Cut.
³ A reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem, Poppies in October.
⁴ A reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem, Fever 103°.