I did not see her at first, standing against the wall. I sensed her, or at least I think that I did. I wasn’t conscious of her as a being or having a gender, I just knew I felt something.
My grandmother had always spoken about her belief that some places have a soul, so the idea wasn’t foreign to me. Every time I was near this particular corner, striking with its red brick covered with green foliage, I recognized this feeling as similar to what my grandmother must have meant. It felt alive–it was a palpable feeling–not simply as if someone was watching me, we’re all familiar with that feeling. It felt as if the entire corner was living, aware of me, thinking.
I was fascinated. I began to think about that spot night and day. How did it work? Had it always been alive? Was it the bricks that had a soul? They were sturdy timeworn bricks with character and probably had many generations of stories to tell. Or, surely, it must be the overgrown foliage. Plants are living, after all. Perhaps this plant was more alive than most? Had it thoughts, feelings, emotions of some sort? I soon rejected these theories. After visiting day after day, I was convinced that somehow it was the combination of the two –that the two separate entities had somehow merged into one beautiful space and created something new: this magnificent and lonely corner. It became my spot, my refuge. I had long craved solitude and here I had found it.
Slowly I began to see her. It was a glimpse at first and so fleeting that for days I questioned what, if anything, I had seen. It was transparent and shadowy. Every day I would sit on that hard stone bench facing the corner hoping that I would glimpse it again.
After several days I began to develop a sense of when I was about to see the apparition. By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes, so says one of the witches in Macbeth. Only it wasn’t wicked. It was glorious. Glorious and, sadly, too brief. As soon as it would appear, I would blink and it would vanish. I grew obsessed with discovering what it was. I practiced unfocusing my eyes and keeping my blurred gaze in the area of one brick in particular. After a week, I could go several minutes without blinking.
Then I saw that the apparition was not an it, but a she.
I visited her daily. She did not look at me and I could only see her for a few precious minutes. I don’t know why, but I had the impression that she was humming, although I could not hear anything. These brief glimpses were not enough. Like an addict, my need was growing. I was stalking a specter.
People began to question me. It was easy to shrug them off, saying that I sat in this spot every day because I found it relaxing. A few family members had said that they had seen me talking to myself while I sat staring into the corner. This surprised me. I have no memory of ever saying anything while I was there. Still, this caused no problems for me or my reputation — I had always been regarded as a bit odd by most people. To tell the truth, I had always felt awkward in social situations and visiting this corner became a daily retreat for me.
After several months, I no longer had to unfocus my gaze in order to see her. She no longer disappeared when I blinked. Eventually she acknowledged my presence, making brief eye contact and nodding hello as I sat down. It was a simple greeting and I was grateful for it. She, however, was not as curious about me as I was about her. After our daily salutation her gaze would always return to the wall and never falter. She did not appear to be uncomfortable with me sitting there staring at her, although I momentarily wondered if it was proper for me to do this. But, by this time, I could not stop.
I had so many questions. Who was she? Why did she stay in the corner? Could she move to other areas? Or did she choose to stay in the shadowy veil betwixt the wall and the foliage? I knew that there was little chance of my answering these things. There was no one I could ask. And either there was a barrier that prohibited us from communicating or she had no desire to do so.
I decided that my questions were of no consequence. I chose just to grateful that I alone could see her. She was my beautiful haunting secret. Gradually I began to realize that my life had undergone subtle changes. I was no longer as insecure and did not dwell on worrisome thoughts or avoid dealing with people. I had my secret phantom and I knew that she would never go anywhere. Although she stayed in her corner, she was my constant companion. I carried her quiet image with me and it was a source of comfort.
I do not doubt my sanity. I know that she is not a figment of my imagination. My obsession with her is not as compulsive as it once was; I can function and live my life without interruption. But I still visit her every day. She nods her quiet greeting to me and makes eye contact for that one electrifying moment. I think that we have reached a point where we both know, without question, that when my time comes I will occupy the corner with her. It is my inevitable truth. Although I do wonder if there will be a day when someone else will sense our presence and devote their time to discovering us. Will they have the patience? The dedication? Will they give up after the first glimpse of us disappears in a rapid blink? Or will they too receive a nod and a glance of hello? Hello, here we are–bothering no one, enjoying our sense of otherness in the space we occupy. In a quiet sepia world of our own, requiring nothing but solitude. If you find us, you must not expect any more than that.
This post features a photograph by Julia Margaret Cameron