The Mystical Beasts of Westminster

The Marvelous Misfits of Westminster Beats Figuren Outline Rohfassung Erstfassung Endfassung

Erstfassung

Diese Erzählung ist meine Erstfassung für das Abschlussprojekt der Coursera-Spezialisierung “Kreatives Schreiben” und wurde im Oktober 2020 zur Bewertung eingereicht.

I sat at the kitchen table in a three-piece suit wearing my favorite bow tie and my best leather shoes. In an attempt to avoid switching on Fox Sports, I’d challenged myself to the New York Times crossword puzzle. After having racked my brain over it for the better part of the morning, I still hadn’t nearly solved half of it. The cup of coffee in front of me had turned stale some time ago, when the shrill ring of my landline phone yanked me out of this miserable morning routine. I was glad for the distraction.

“Clement, I need you!”

The voice on the other end of the line sounded stressed and was so familiar to me that I knew immediately who had called me.

“Cynthia!”

Out of an old habit I had kept the day free and was ready to step in. But actually, I didn’t really expect to be asked for help. So Cynthia’s call was a surprise. Everyone else must have already cancelled. I was dead sure I was at the bottom of her list — if I made it.

“Would you fill in today?”

I was at a loss of words. A thousand thoughts raced through my head, most of them doubts. But the tingling sensation in my stomach betrayed my true feelings: I was excited.

Cynthia seemed to be unsettled by my silence.

“I know our last encounter wasn’t exactly…”

“Don’t worry about it. It wasn’t your decision,” I interrupted her. “I never blamed you for what happened.”

She exhaled.

“So? Will you do it?”

Thirty minutes later, I went up the stairs of 34 Street/Penn Station and pushed my umbrella against the cold wind. The collar of my woolen coat was turned up, wrapped with a scarf multiple times. Nevertheless, icy snowflakes found their way onto my naked skin. I pulled my shoulders up and hastened my step. Despite the uncomfortable February weather, 8th Avenue was full of people. They all rushed in the same direction I was heading. Most of them were dragging carefully covered dog boxes.

When I entered The Garden through entrance C, I took a deep breath. The air was heavy with the scents of wet dog, canned food and ammonia. I could already hear the excited barks of the participants and the hectic voices of their owners. It felt like coming home. Five years had past since my last show. I hadn’t expected to be a judge at Westminster ever again. At the thought of the task ahead, I straightened my bow tie, smoothed my hair and walked through the hall with my head held high. Obviously, I had not yet fallen into oblivion. Some of the more experienced participants seemed to recognize me and stepped respectfully aside. Behind me, people began to whisper. Suddenly, my bow tie seemed much too tight. I pushed a finger between the tie and the collar of my shirt in an effort I to get some air, wondering—not the first time since I left—if the true circumstances of my early retirement were common knowledge.

“Clement, you are our salvation!” Cynthia rushed towards me, clipboard in hand, and greeted me with a kiss on the cheek. She was wearing a grey, loosely cut costume, flat shoes of the obviously comfortable kind and had her hair up in a messy bun. It was as if no time had passed since our last meeting. Back then she told me that I was to leave my position. The board thought me too strict. It was a joke, though not of the funny kind. All those years it was my sense of perfection that kept up the standards of the show. After all, Westminster was an institution. I took a deep breath to push those ancient feelings of anger down. Cynthia wasn’t responsible, we were friends once and I appreciated that she still treated me as one. After all, I was considered a persona non grata by most of my former colleagues. With unease, I noticed a couple standing close to us. The woman was watching me but looked away when she saw that I noticed her. She rushed her companion along, whispering something into his ear. I had been promised that the details of my resignation would be kept confidential. But someone must have talked. Cynthia followed my gaze.

“That,” Cynthia said, nodding her head in the general direction of the couple, “has nothing to do with you. Just in case you were wondering. Your secret’s still safe.“

I felt relieved even though it had never been my fault that I got canned.

“But something’s up!”

“Darn right something’s up. There has been an unusual decision.”

Cynthia sounded upset.

“Very unusual indeed. Unacceptable, actually. That’s why you’ll judge the last show of the day. One can count on your principles!”

I frowned. My principles were the very thing that got me fired.

“Me? I haven’t been in that ring for years. Anyway, who would make such a misjudgement?”

Cynthia pressed her lips together and stared intently at her clipboard as if she was searching for the answer to my question there. A moment later, I knew that I’d better stayed home.

“Spit it out, what haven’t you told me?”

“It was Edith.”

The name roused a storm within me. The world suddenly swayed and I grabbed the wall for support. When I felt save enough to walk without stumbling, I hurried to the washroom. Cynthia was calling after me, but I didn’t react. What had she been thinking? A gust of contradictory emotions burst inside me. Of course I could just leave. But with a fluttering heart I had to admit to myself that I wanted to meet Edith. I splashed cold water on my face and stared into the mirror. We had not seen each other for years. Was it ten already? It seemed an eternity and our time apart was now longer than our time together. Since our separation she had avoided running into me. From every dog show I judged, she excused herself. I wondered if Cynthia had told Edith about my filling in as a substitute. But I had a feeling that she was going to throw her into the deep end, too.

I re-tied my bow, just to give my trembling hands a task. What would she think of me after all those years? I studied with concern the wrinkles on my face. When we had been a couple, they had been mainly laughter lines. But that wasn’t so anymore. My face had become a web of worry and pain since she left. Fact was, I looked bitter and old. It could not be helped. With a deep breath I straightened my shoulders. Besides, why was I concerned what she might think of me? After all it was she, who owed me an explanation. If I had become a bitter old man, it was only because she had turned me into one.

With determination in my step, I left the washroom. It was time to see for myself which animal my dear ex-wife had named Best of Breed. The grooming tables were crowded with people who were busy preparing their dogs for the show. There was an industrious bustle at every table. All, but one. Curiosity drew me to the abandoned workstation. Preparation should be in full swing everywhere, the show was to start in less than two hours. Was one owner late? An olfactory wall surrounded the empty station which made me wrinkle up my nose. It was an earthy scent with something threatening mixed in. Suddenly, I couldn’t shake the feeling of having ventured too deep into a dark forest and having flushed out a dangerous animal.

The very next moment, a black monster jumped at me out of nowhere, teeth bared. The claws of its plate-sized paws dug into my chest and its deep growl made me freeze. I didn’t dare to move and avoided to look at it in order not to provoke the animal any further.

“Lucky, that’s is no way to greet a guest!” A fine voice rebuked the dog in a good-natured manner and a wrinkled hand pulled him back on a delicate leather band that was way to thin to hold back a hound like this. Before the monster let go of me, it ran its slobbery tongue across my face. The voice giggled.

“That’s better, Lucky. A kiss reconciles everyone.”

With the body of the beast out of my view, I saw who was talking. The lady seemed tiny in relation to the dog. She was wearing a brown felt hat with a wide brim and a costume in two shades of green that did not match. Boiling with rage, I wiped the drool off my cheek with the back of my hand.

“You do know, Ma’m, that it is against the rules to bring a dog to the event that does not compete?”

Indignantly, I stared at the black beast who was now sitting meekly next to its owner, pressing its huge calf-like head against her hand. Its eyes, though, never left me for a second. They were the color of syrupy resin running slowly down a tree trunk. The amber was dotted with dark spots in odd shapes and sizes. One was tempted to have a closer look and find out what unlucky creatures gotten caught inside. But I didn’t dare it for I had the uncanny feeling, the one of the unlucky creatures would turn out to be myself. I tore my gaze away.

“I don’t understand…“

The old woman’s dull eyes were directed at me. Although she looked only in my general direction and seemed to wait to hear my voice again to figure out where exactly I was located.

Only then did I realize that the woman was blind. Lucky had to be her companion dog. I noticed by the burning sensation that my ears must have turned red like a little boy’s.

“I am so sorry! I didn’t know…,” I stammered.

The woman laughed good-naturedly.

“You are not the only one. Lucky may not look like a typical show dog. But believe me, he is a true Eppinger.” She lovingly plucked the dog’s left ear which hung limply down while the right one stood straight up.

Confused by the unknown breed name, it took me a while to understand what she was saying.

“You mean Lucky’s a show dog?” My eyes were wide in disbelief.

“And a successful one, too. He won Best of Breed, yesterday.”

With her right hand she pulled a blue ribbon out of her pocket and handed it to me. I accepted the ribbon and stared uncomprehding at the imprint.

“He won in the category Toy Dog?”

How had a dog the size of a full-grown Shetland pony even been allowed to compete in a category reserved for lap dogs? Not to mention win in this category? So that was Edith’s infamous decision.

“We’d rather had him compete in his own category because he is quite unique. But we were told that it was entirely impossible to create a new category for a single animal“, she explained. “Eppingers are bred to keep humans company. You surely do agree that only social dogs compete in the category ‘Toy’?”

“Of course,” I mumbled while my brain was processing what I saw. What had Edith been thinking? I looked at the mongrel in front of me. His coat was matted, dirty and parts of it were so short one could see the skin beneath was crusted. It was hard to tell how old the dog was, but its prime years were definitely over. If one saw a dog like this roaming the streets, one would have pitied it enough to throw it a bone. However, I doubted anyone in their right minds would have taken it home with them. What had happened to the dog between yesterday and today that made him look so ragged? I doubted that he looked much nicer when he was cleaned up—but I doubted even more that Edith would let a dog in this condition compete. We had quite similar ideas about what winners looked like. When we still judged shows together, Edith and I used to play a little game. No matter who of us judged an event, the other one would write wrote his own verdict on a piece of paper. After the show, we would compare results. In twelve years of marriage there hadn’t been a single occasion where the names on those notes differed.

“I don’t want to bother you any further. I’m sure you have a lot to do before the show starts.”

“Not at all. We are ready.”

Once again a frown crept onto my forehead. Maybe the lady didn’t know how ragged her dog looked, maybe she had never touched the fluffy fur of a freshly brushed poodle or the silky coat of a well-kempt Yorkshire.

She interpreted my silence correctly.

“Don’t think for a minute, I don’t know what my Lucky looks like just because I’m blind.” She kneaded the dog’s limp ear. I followed the movement of her hand and saw only then that the ear was missing a big piece.

“Looks don’t matter with Eppingers. They are special…”

“Obviously,” I said dryly.

Then I remembered my judicial neutrality. Every breed deserved to be taken seriously.

“What exactly distinguishes an Eppinger?”

“They have the hearts of heroes,” the woman said, “and abilities that make them exceptional.”

I made an indeterminate sound which might have been interpreted as approval. But of course I did not believe a word the lady was saying. Lucky still pierced me with his amber eyes and in spite of myself, I found myself wondering what exceptional ability Lucky might have.

“Telepathy,” said a panting voice behind me, followed by a hotter bark that sounded like the cough of someone with severe lung disease.

“Excuse me?”

I turned and a sharp yelp slipped out of my mouth when I saw the speaker. The person in front of me had no lips. Bared teeth stretched out towards me and a thin thread of saliva dripped from the open mouth. I did not know whether the person was a man or a woman though the clothing and the depth of the voice rather suggested a man. The man was wearing a baseball cap that he had pulled deep into his face. Where the ears should be, there was only a shriveled piece of skin that reminded me remotely of dried plums. A tuft of hair grew out of his skin halfway up the neck. It seemed as if the hairline had melted, coagulated and solidified in the new place. The rest of the head was bald, which even the baseball cap could not conceal, and like every other patch of visible skin, red and scarred. I stared wordlessly at the burned man. Never before had I met such a disfigured person. I felt confronted with a great tragedy that made all my own misfortunes in life seem small and insignificant. For the second time that day, my ears were burning with shame at my behavior.

“Don’t you worry, young man. I am quite used to it. At least you didn’t run away screaming. That has to count for something,“ the man winked at me and the strange hoarse sound came out of his throat again. It took me a while before I realized it was a laugh.

“I’m Harvey Hunt. I see you’ve already met my wife Haimi, and our furry hero,” he said and tousled through the shaggy hair on Lucky’s head.

“It’s him I have to thank for this.” he said with a gesture including his whole body.

I stared at the burnt man with horror.

“The dog did that to you?”

Harvey Hunt nodded.

“He dragged me out of a fire when I was a lad.”

“But, Sir, you are at least 60 years old!”

“I wish! I am 73 already.”

The man twisted his lipless mouth into something that probably counted for a smile. Since I did not know how to react to his obvious joke, I laughed nervously.

“Do you believe in immortality?” Haimi Hunt asked abruptly.

“Of the soul?” I asked.

She did not answer but stepped very close towards me.

“May I?” she asked and took my hand without waiting for my consent. She slipped it under Harveys shirt and pressed it onto the disfigured skin. I flinched, but Haimi held me back with amazing strength.

“Close your eyes, so you can see!“ she urged.

I’d rather kept my eyes open, but I was afraid that if I didn’t obey, she would never let go of my hand. Blindly, I groped my way over the scar tissue. Harvey’s skin felt unexpectedly tender and soft, as if it might break under my touch. The scarred lines and elevations were arranged in a fascinating pattern. Almost with a sense of their own, my fingertips explored the structure, trying to decipher like a foreign language. A foreign power seemed to guide my hand as glided over the burnt man’s naked skin. It was a strangely intimate moment and I felt as if I was doing something forbidden.

“The fire,” Haimi whispered into my ear with a rough voice as if she wanted to share a secret with me. “it burned something into his skin. Do you feel it?”

She guided my hand to a scarred area near his nipple and lowered her voice to a hypnotic mumble.

“Shall I tell you what it says?”

Perhaps Mrs. Hunt interpreted my silence as approval. More likely she didn’t even care if I wanted to know.

“I need you, Hal.”

Horrified, I tore my hand back and glared at both of them.

“You are Hal?” Harvey asked, while pushing his shirt back into his trousers. The questions sounded more like a statement. Also, he wasn’t even looking at me, when he said it. He looked at the dog who blinked twice.

“You are quite mistaken, sir. My name is Truman. Clement Truman,” I said coldly.

I wanted to add something else, but I was distracted by voices behind me. More precisely, by one voice. With a stumbling heart I turned around and saw her, in the midst of a group of other judges: Edith.

“He’s something very special.”

She had said it to a colleague walking next to her. But right when she said it, she turned her head in my direction, our eyes met and I felt as if her words were directed at me. I almost had forgotten how mesmerizing her eyes were. They had this dark shade of green that reminded me of a forbidden forest where mystical beasts were roaming free daring you to find them. How often had I gone after them? I had always gotten lost, and I had never cared. They were familiar eyes, yet a strange darkness had crept into them. The shadows under Edith’s eyes betrayed sleepless nights, and many of them. I wondered if she ever thought of me in those nights. I averted my gaze with the unpleasant feeling that I had already held hers for too long. She was now wearing her brown hair short, brushed back behind her ears, which gave her a boyish look. She looked painfully young. The difference in age between us, which had never bothered me before, suddenly seemed irreconcilable. For her, time seemed to have gone in the opposite direction. I felt older than ever before. When she realized whom she was facing, her radiant smile faded. She looked confused and had a feeling that she was considering running away. I felt no different but all I was able to do was stand there as the last memory of her washed over me.

I had just taken a shower, Edith was preparing dinner in the kitchen. When I came down the stairs, I noticed the smell of burnt food. The pots were still on the stove, but Edith was nowhere to be found. I searched the house. When I couldn’t find her, I got worried. Did she go out? It was unusual that she hadn’t left me a message. All night I roamed the streets looking for her, calling friends and neighbors. Nothing. No one had seen her. She had simply disappeared. Forty-eight hours later, I called the police.

A whole month went by. Then somebody ran the door bell. I opened the door and saw a blue uniform. My heart stopped. Petrified I stood there, trapped in a film without a happy ending. It took a while before I realized that Edith’s body not in some garbage dump.

“Mr. Truman, did you hear what I just said?”

The officer looked worried.

“Your wife’s fine, sir”, she repeated.

I shook my head. None of it made any sense.

“Where is she?”

“I’m sorry. I am not at liberty to disclose this information. Your wife… she doesn’t want to have any contact with you.”

“I don’t understand. We were happy.” I said it more to myself than to the lady in uniform. She pressed her lips together, her eyes had a compassionate look but she did not give any further explanation. Instead, she handed me a business card.

“Call this number if you need help, Mr. Truman.”

Confused, with tear-blind eyes, I stared at the business card in my hands. It was the number of a psychologist.

A week later, I was served with the divorce papers. I had hoped to see Edith in court. But she did not come. Though she was alive somewhere, I lost her as abruptly as if she had died. She was gone from my life, until today.

“Isn’t it a remarkable effort to breed extraordinary souls?”

Edith knelt beside Lucky and patted his unshapely head. The gleam in her eyes betrayed that she was truly fascinated. My colleagues on the other hand looked embarrassed. Edith didn’t seem to notice that they did not share her fascination nor her decision to name this mongrel best of breed. Her enthusiasm for the dog made me turn cold inside. As long as I had a say in the matter, this abomination would never win best of show!

Edith had gotten up and was about to move with the group to the next table, when Lucky shot after her. The dog dug his big teeth into the bare skin of her forearm and held her tight. Lucky did not bite hard, but it was clear that he did not intend to let go of her. Edith kept calm. She did not move betraying that she knew how to act around dogs. But her hand trembled slightly.

I hurried to Edith and wanted to tear Lucky away from her. But Harvey would not let me. He stood in front of Edith and the dog.

“I beg you, stay calm. It’s all right,” he said to everyone gathered around the scene, but in particular he seemed to be talking to Edith and me.

Then he bent down to Lucky and looked into his eyes. Almost a whole minute passed until Harvey finally stood up.

“Lucky will let you go if you promise to listen to what he has to tell you. Promise?”

Edith was very pale. Almost imperceptibly she had nodded. As if he had understood her agreement, Lucky let go of her immediately. He sat down in front of her and fixed her with his amber eyes. Edith rubbed her uninjured arm.

“I’m all right”, she said and held her arm up so that everyone could see that she was not hurt.

“I just got a fright. Please go on without me.”

Of course nobody listened to her. They stood in suspense, waiting for what would happen next. Would the dog actually start talking? In the silence one seemed to hear the murmur of a forest, but it was only a hairdryer running further away. Then Harvey’s rough voice broke the silence.

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Edith who loved a very special dog. She had found it half starved in the streets of London. Edith named the bitch Bjork and begged her parents to let her keep it. Her parents allowed it and the girl had a faithful companion—until England declared war on Germany. It was the end of September 1939 when her parents took Bjork.

“You stay”, her father said to Edith. “We’ll be back soon.” He put the dog on a lead. Edith’s mother looked as if someone had died. Edith did not understand.

“Where are you taking Bjork? Why can’t I come with you?”

The mother knelt down in front of her and hugged her tightly.

“We’re at war, dear. Dogs are not made for war. Bjork is going to a better place. Where it’s quiet and peaceful. Where nobody can hurt her.”

“Why don’t we all go?”

Her mother smiled sadly, as if Edith had said something very childish.

“We might. Perhaps earlier than we’d like to,” the father mumbled.

Edith cried. She understood that Bjork would not come back. The parents left the house and took the dog with them.

But the girl did not listen. She did not stay in the house. On bare feet she followed after her parents, through the dirty streets until they came to an animal shelter. Edith hid behind a corner and waited. Her parents went in with Bjork — and came out without her. Mother cried and father hugged her. They stood like this for a long time, leaning against each other for support.

When they finally left, Edith came out of her hiding place. She went to the animal shelter. The door was closed. Inside, it was very quiet. She could not hear any dogs barking. The girl snuck around the house. She wanted to find a back door. Edith was determined to get Bjork back. In the back, she did not find a door. Instead, she found a backyard and in the backyard there was a horrible pile of dead bodies. At the top of the pile lay Bjork, staring at her with empty eyes. Edith froze and looked at her dead dog. She did not move until her parents found her.

On this day, a shadow was cast over Edith’s soul. It inhabited her like a living thing. Edith was never the same again. She did not speak. She did not cry. Not even when her parents died in an air raid. In the orphanage, they thought the horrors of war had made the child dumb. Years later, the memory finally had faded to something that might have been a dream, and the shadow retreated to a dark place in her soul. A place Edith never visited. She grew up to be a happy woman, at least she found what was considered to be happiness at that time. She got married to a decent man. A man she thought she might even be able to love some day. It was the day she got pregnant that her happiness ended. Under her heart not only her child came alive.

The shadow came alive also. It detached itself from her soul. And it stared at her with familiar eyes. Bjork’s eyes. Suddenly the repressed memory was back. Bjork had been pregnant when her parents took her away. Edith was standing in front of that horrible pile of dead dogs again. She suffered a nervous breakdown. With a lot of medicine the doctors managed to push the shadow back. A success, she was told. Edith said nothing. She took the pills she was given and tried to be a good mother to her daughter. Or at least a better one than she had had herself. But when the girl had become a woman and started a family herself, Edith stopped taking the pills. It was her daughter who found her in the bathtub, wrists slit.

Harvey fell silent. Lucky licked his hand as if to thank him for lending him his voice. All color had disappeared from Edith’s face, her lower lip was trembling and I saw that she was struggling to hold back the tears. Her arms were crossed around her body in a peculiar way. It seemed as if she was hugging herself.

“You’d better keep such horrible stories to yourself, Mr Hunt,” she said coldly.

Then her eyes fell on Lucky.

“Perhaps I was wrong after all. There is nothing special about this… mutt.”

She turned around and practically ran away. The other judges also shook their heads disapprovingly and turned away.

“What has Westminster become? A gypsy circus?” I heard one say.

I was left alone with the Hunts and their dog.

“She needed to hear it,” said Haimi and stroked her husband’s chest. Then she tapped on the spot she had shown me before and said “It’s burnt into his skin. Lucky will win. With your help, Mr. Truman.”

“Believe me, the fact that Lucky won best of breed is a miracle already. I wouldn’t count on another one happening.”

Then I had to know. “Why is it so important to you that Lucky wins?”

Haimi sighed.

“It’s Lady Winthrop’s condition. She only mates her Salvatora to Westminster winners.”

Of course, I knew Lady Winthrop’s dog. Everybody knew the bitch. Salvatora Rarebit had already won Westminster three times, and rightly so. She was a rare kind of perfection: a smooth-haired fox terrier, with hazel eyes, impeccable posture, and a winning temperament. She exceeded all breed standards and was in every aspect an undisputed ten. Some judges even considered Salvatora the best fox terrier ever bred. She was an exceptional beauty and would very likely become the first dog to ever win Westminster four times in a row.

“I thought you were breeding for character not looks”, I said.

It was a mystery to me why Lady Winthrop had even gotten involved in such a deal with the Hunts. Probably because the idea that Lucky could win Westminster seemed as absurd to her as it did to anyone else—and probably to get rid of the Hunts, who could be very persistent.

“Bjork did not die,” Harvey interjected.

“You mean the dog from that ridiculous story?”

“It wasn’t a story,” Harvey said. “It was a memory. Bjork had been given too low a dose of chloroform. She woke up a few hours later. The bitch took all the dogs that survived the London massacre to Epping Forest. She was the ancestor of a large pack that lived there until the 90s. All dogs in this pack were exceptional. All of them got shot. All but one.”

Harvey looked at Lady Winthrop, who was brushing her terrier.

“Do you know why she called the bitch called Salvatore Rarebit?” asked Haimi.

I shook my head. Although I had said nothing, the blind woman understood me even without words.

“She rescued her from a rabbit hole on a walk through Epping Forest.”

I kept silent.

“Salvatora can smell imminent peril. She hid in the rabbit hole because she knew the hunters were coming.”

Haimi took my hand and looked at me forcefully with her dull eyes.

“The connection between Salvatora and Lucky is the beginning of an important line. For some this line might even turn out to be vital.”

I shook her hand off.

“And what does all this have to do with Edith?” I asked angrily.

Harvey looked at me surprised.

“It’s her memory.”

I finally had enough of their antics.

“You’re out of your mind. Edith was born in 1970. Better keep your stories to yourself, Mr. Hunt. Nobody wants to hear them. And, don’t count on my help!”

I stormed away, looking for Edith. I had a feeling where she might be. She always had a special spot she went to when she wanted to be alone.

Edith was sitting on a staircase leading to the garbage cans. She had her arms wrapped tightly around her knees. When the door fell shut behind me, she looked up.

“Hal…”

She sniffed. The redness of her eyes betrayed that she had been crying. It touched my heart that she called me by the pet name she had once thought up for me. Hal, because of the science fiction author Clement Hal, whose books I used to devour. Nobody else called me by that name. Nobody until today, that is. All anger, all resentment fell away from me. I suddenly realized that I had forgiven her.

I sat down beside her. We were closer to each other than we had been in a long time. The warmth of her body made me shiver. I handed her my handkerchief, which I carried in my breast pocket—always freshly washed and neatly folded—for occasions just like this. Unfortunately, my chivalry wasn’t much needed these days.

She accepted it, dabbed her eyes, then sneezed into it vigorously. This made me smile. She had not changed. All of a sudden, the old intimacy between us was back again. I stroked back a strand of her short hair that had fallen into her face.

“You want to tell me now?” I asked.

Edith sobbed. It took a long time until she could speak.

“I’m sorry, Hal. I was just scared. I still am.”

“But why? Forget that stupid story. The Hunts are nutcases.”

Edith shook her head silently. She looked up at me. Her forest green eyes lured me deeper into it, along the winding paths that led into her soul.

“It was true. All of it.”

I frowned.

“The Edith from that story is you?”

She smiled sadly and shook her head.

“Of course not. My mother named me after my grandmother. It must have been her story. I am sure of it. Mom didn’t talk about grandmother much. In fact, I know almost nothing about her. Only that her name was Edith — and that she killed herself.”

I froze when I realized what this meant. Not only had Edith’s mother Margaret committed suicide, her grandmother had also taken her own life. An indefinite fear took hold of my heart. Edith stared into the void as if searching for a time long past.

“It all makes sense now. What happened to mom…,” she faltered, ”What happens to me.

“Margaret was an unhappy person. What happened to her was nobody’s fault. Yours least of all.”

Margaret had killed herself four years before I met Edith. She had been sixteen when it happened. Edith rarely spoke about it. But when she did, she reproached herself because she had not been able to help her mother—and because she believed that she was the reason for Margaret’s misery. Her mother had become pregnant unintentionally. The child had tied her to a man she did not love. Edith had never known her mother to be happy.

“I was me who found her, the day she did it.“

I did not know what to say, so I took her into my arms and just held her tight.

She cried for a long time while I stroked her hair. When I finally let go of her, I understood that she had never wanted to hurt me.

“There was a letter“, she continued. “I didn’t show it to anyone and burned it right after reading it. The shadow comes with the child, it said. At the time I thought she blamed me for everything wrong in her life.”

She hesitated and stared into a dark corner next to the trash cans.

“The night I left, I saw it for the first time. The shadow. My mother didn’t want to blame me. She wanted to warn me. Only when I saw it, I understood what her message meant. I thought I’d still had a chance to get away from it.”

Edith cried again. We sat there in silence and I tried to make sense of her words. Finally, I summoned up the courage to ask her.

“What happened to our child?”

She stared at her hands, which she had folded as if in prayer. Her ankles were white because she pressed them so tightly together.

“I had an abortion.”

My heart stopped for a moment, but I gently stroked her back nevertheless.

“It’s okay,” I said.

Edith shook her head.

“Nothing’s okay,” she whispered. “It’s still there.”

“The child?”

She shook her head, lifted her finger and pointed to the dark corner she had been staring at the whole time.

“The shadow, it isn’t gone. It’s waiting for me. Waiting to eat my life.” she whispered.

I looked in the direction Edith was pointing, but I couldn’t see anything. There was only a dark corner, nothing unusual.

“How is that possible? If the shadow is tied to a child…”

“Don’t you understand?” She looked at me with wide eyes. “The child was merely a trigger.”

“What do you mean?”

She bent her head close to my ear. Her warm breath made me shiver.

“What if the shadow is in truth the embodiment of an original sin? What if it comes to punish me for what my great-grandparents did to the dog and the unborn life in it.”

Someone opened the door to take out garbage. The intimacy of the moment was gone. Edith withdrew, I felt the walls around her coming up again.

“Well, that’s not your problem. I’m not your problem. Not anymore.”

She stood up and gave me back my handkerchief.

“Thanks for listening, Hal. I hope one day you can forgive me. Even if I won’t be able to forgive myself.”

She wanted to leave, but I grabbed her arm and held her back.

“Edith, you do know I still love you, right? I’m here for you, if you let me.”

She smiled at me sadly. For a moment, I thought she would soften up, come back to me. But then she seemed to notice something behind me. Her eyes became dark with fear and she freed herself from my grip with determination. I knew she saw the shadow. When she noticed my worried look, she forced herself to smile. It was a sad smile.

“Don’t worry, I won’t let it eat my life. I haven’t lost hope… not yet.”

She went to the door, opened it and stopped before closing it behind her. More to herself than to me she said: “I don’t even know why I let that mutt win. It was like my heart was drumming its name and I had to dance to the beat.”

She walked away, the door fell shut behind her. When I met Cynthia later, she told me Edith had left. She hadn’t been feeling well. I would have liked to leave, too. But I had a job to do.

Seven months later the doorbell rang. When Edith opened the door, nobody was standing in front of it. There was only a large box someone had left on the doorstep. The box had a big bow and wiggled slightly. When Edith opened the lid, a wet nose touched her hand and two brown eyes speckled with amber dots looked at her curiously. The pup’s fur was silky smooth and had white-brown spots. Except on its head where the hair was black and wiry and stuck out in all directions imaginable. Also, the head was very large for a creature that tiny. The pup seemed to have trouble keeping it upright. Again and again its head sank down onto its chest. But maybe that was because it was tired. Edith fell in love immediately. She had never seen a cuter dog. She took the pup out of its box and pressed her nose into its fur. It smelled wonderful. Like a stroll in the woods on a golden autumn day. She noticed the collar around the dog’s neck. It had a name tag in the shape of a bone and a name was engraved on it: Hope. There also was a handwritten note attached. Two lines in neat miniscule letters. No name. But that wasn’t necessary. Edith knew who had written those lines. She still treasured the love letters in the same hand.

Now, you’ll always have Hope.

Keep her close. She’s special. I’ve made sure of that.

Anmerkung

Diese Erzählung ist im Rahmen der Coursera-Spezialisierung “Kreatives Schreiben” entstanden. Der Entwurf, den du gerade gelesen hast, stellt einen Zwischenschritt dar. Ich habe ihn absichtlich so gelassen, wie ich ihn zur Bewertung eingereicht habe: mit Tipp- und Rechtschreibfehlern und mit allen Schwächen, die ein erster Entwurf hat. In der Erzählung habe ich zum ersten Mal das Schreiben nach Blueprint angewendet. Die Endfassung der Erzählung weist starke Unterschiede zur Erstfassung auf. Sie trägt auch einen anderen Namen: The Marvelous Misfits of Westminster.

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