1. Chapter One
The old woman sits hunched over in her high backed beech chair. I cough, but she doesn't seem to hear me, her eyes fixed on the holes that swarm the tattered wood walls. Taking a deep breath, I get to my feet, hoping she sees me at last.
This is getting boring.
"Um... Excuse me?" I try, waving a hand in front of her glassed over blue eyes. They might once have been considered beautiful, ravishing even, but now they seem unresponsive, made of glass, and I can't say that it doesn't irritate me. "I'm Elaine... I've been assigned to work with you... For my school project?"
I say it like a question, but it's true. Every year ten student at Merrytree Comp has to, in order to get a grade. They told us that it would be easy. They said not to worry about it, all we have to do is take one little story from an OAP's life.
Maybe for some.
Not for me, not with this woman.
I swivel the needle round in my numb fingers. It looks like I'm not going to be able to take anyone's story anytime soon.
I cough, rather annoyingly, and the lady swivels round on her seat. My heart leaps, hopelessly relieved, but it's only to reach for her box of tissues.
She blows her nose.
"He was called Barnaby."
I gasp, hardly daring to believe that I've found some luck. She speaks! "What do you mean?"
Her voice is frail, wasted away with age and regret. "He was called Barnaby... The one who blinded me..."
The horror in my voice is obviously apparent, as I forget momentarily about my assignment, to lead the adult on to give me one of her most precious memories so we could analyse it in the lab room. Most of the time, we forget to mention the part that the memory is stolen from them forever. It's kinder that way. They live in the past, my father says, these strange old souls who refused the youth serum and cling to their Before Time memories like a child to a favourite doll. "He blinded you?"
She blinks, stunned. "What else could he do? I'd seen things I should never have seen, and needed to pay for what I'd done."
"What? Who? Who was Barnaby?"
Her voice becomes distant, faraway. "I loved him," she says slowly, as if brushing the dust off the words and trying them out after years and years. "I really loved him."
"Love?" I say tentatively, truly cautious for the first time. "How could you love someone who did," I gesture to her eyes, then feel remarkably foolish, realising that of course she can't see, "Did this to you?"
She shakes her head.
"I don't know. I really don't. I loved him... "
I grow impatient and rap my nails on the desk, making her jump. I should feel guilty, but I don't, I just want to finish the assignment and get the hell out of here. "So is there a story about it?"
"Barnaby. How did you meet him? Why did you love him -"
She cuts me off, emotion suddenly roaring into action in her usually monotone face. "I still love him!"
"- Okay okay, why do you love him then?" I hesitate then add another word. A word no one seems to say anymore in my life of structure and order. "Please?"
She shakes her head, not in denial just deliberating, then obviously wilts. "It will take a long time though..."
I jerk to my feet, slamming them on the ground with a thud. "Please just tell me the story madam!"
She bites her lip. "Edith. My name is Edith..."
"It was the Summer of 2046..."