The lady emerges from the Christmas crowds and sits down heavily beside me, rubbing a hand across her eyes. I’m not one to ignore a pretty lady in distress, even one showing an indecent length of calf such as she, so I pipe up.
“Are you all right Miss?”
She looks back at me with direct eyes, appraising me. Her gaze flickers over me from top to bottom, like a recording machine. Her eyes seem to pause a second longer on my book. Somehow I know if someone asks her years from now what I look like, she will recall me with perfect accuracy.
Despite the intensity of her stare, I repeat my question. “Miss…I asked –“
“Yes, yes, you did. I am fine, thank you. As fine as I can be, in the circumstances.” Her voice belies the intensity of her gaze: It is soft and mellow.
There doesn’t seem much answer to that, so I relax back against the Promenade bench and continue with my book.
“Do you have-,“ she coughs and starts again. “Do you have a newspaper?”
I give her a glance. “I’m afraid I don’t. There’s a vendor down that way about a hundred yards.”
She looks where my finger points and notices my ring. “Oh, you’re married.”
I play with my ring with my right hand. “I…I was. Two years ago this week it would have been.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.”
I wave away her concern. “Don’t mention it.” I study her left hand and notice a paler patch of skin. “You’ve taken yours off.”
She lifts her hand and examines her fingers. “You have good eyes. Yes..I…yes.”
“Widowed by the Great War?”
She smiles weakly at that. “Not exactly.”
I turn on my bench towards her. “Have you been in Whitby long?”
She looks at me and then quickly away. “Oh…oh, I’m not stopping here. I came from Harrogate for the day.”
Our conversation drifts to a stop.
I try again after a few more minutes. “So what did you mean when you said you weren’t widowed?”
“I…I ran away from him.”
That rocks me back on my heels. “Goodness me, you are a one. Whatever for?”
A shake of her head. “Please don’t ask.”
Shame makes me blush and I blurt: “Oh, I do apologise. Please forgive me.”
She opens her mouth to say something, then closes it again.
“He. He’s been with another woman, you see.”
“Oh, my dear lady…what can one say?”
She stares out at the crowds milling past us. Again there is that sharp look in her eyes, recording details, heights, the way people walk and talk.
She finally looks back at me. “So I ran away. Only…only now it’s gotten out of hand.” She lowers her voice and leans closer. “They’re looking for me, you see.”
It occurs to me then that the lady may be from the sanatorium along the coast. “Um, yes, of course they are. Why don’t you simply go back?”
“I don’t know if it’s too late. I need to start again. All over again.”
“If I may, Miss, you can’t do that by running away. It catches up with one eventually.”
She stares at me as though this is a thought that has never occurred to her. “You may be right.”
Suddenly, she gathers herself, and in an instant lifts off from the bench.
I reach towards her. “Wait…I don’t. I don’t even know your name.”
She glances down at the book on my lap. “I hope you enjoy my book. One of my best.”
I flick my eyes down to the name on the spine, but when I lift my head again, Agatha Christie is already gone.