Gabrielle leaned on her mop and propped herself against the shiny yellow wall. A shiver ran down her as her hand caressed her aching back. The pale light filtered through the cloudy window, but it was not nearly enough to warm the thin girl with the mop.
She tilted her head upwards and an image came to mind of the face of a tall man bending over her own, grey eyes full of emotion. She blinked back the image and saw the roof far ahead. The nursery was in the old hall of a parish church whose cold walls had been washed with cheap yellow paint after the war and had never had central heating.
She shivered again and the broom bent under her weight. It was like her, shivering, weak, thin, breaking.
She had been living in poverty for just under a week, and she was cold and hungry just about all the time. Her lodgings were dirty and unheated, and she shared a draughty bathroom with not lock with three other people, all of whom were middle-aged single men she felt more than a little afraid of. She wasn't eating enough, scoffing a few pieces of toast in the mornings when the landlady held breakfast for all her lodgers, of whom there were twelve or so. Gabrielle worked all morning in the pet shop, and all afternoon cleaning toilets at the nursery, and cleaning the houses of a couple of sympathetic housewives who lived next door to the converted church. In the evenings she bought a sandwich and an apple from the corner shop and trudged in the dark back to her lodgings where she huddled in her blankets and stared at the blank pages of her diary, willing herself to write but her numb fingers and numb mind not often succeeding.
She couldn't stop thinking of poor Liljana Cardington, the girl who had been raised in cold and crowding and hunger and loneliness. Gabrielle had never known what it was to live in poverty. Now she knew. But she was brave. She had a plan, and she was determined to carry it out. She would see Dominick again. She had to. But for now, she had to block him from her mind.
So she had lived her days in silence and slowness. She was building up her mind. She needed to begin again in order to bring herself back to life, and so she had to start slowly. She often had conversations as she had had with Grannie's gravestone. But Grannie's gravestone wasn't there. So Gabrielle had conversations with herself.
"What is love?" Gabrielle asked herself, and her words echoed off the forbidding yellow walls and back down her throat, choking her. "They say love has no boundaries, no secrets, no separations. So why am I separated from love?"
"Maybe it isn't love," her voice replied to herself. "Maybe you were mistaken. You felt sympathy. Not love."
"That's not true!" she retorted. "I know what love feels like. I loved Grannie as I loved nobody else. She was my sole friend."
"Friendship and romance are different," said her voice in response. Her voice was cold and discouraging.
Gabrielle felt indignation welling up in her breast, and it gave her new spirit. "Don't you say that to me!" she threatened. "How dare I reply to myself in that way? Such cheek has never been heard before."
"That's not very nice," her voice sounded subdued.
"It's true if ever anything was true. You are a figment of my imagination!" accused Gabrielle heatedly.
"Nothing is true. And if I'm your imagination, how come you don't expire on the spot? You aren't a ghost, are you? Or are you a ghost?"
"I am not a ghost, but this is simply ridiculous. You're trying to win me with your evil little talking skills," said Gabrielle. "Well that fish won't bite. I have no taste for eloquence. I read in a book that eloquence is the worst sin of a politician. Anyone who speaks, for that."
"Eloquence a sin to a talker? And in a book? Aren't you a clever one?" her voice was smooth and sinister.
Gabrielle gave in. She was tired of arguing with herself. "I don't have the energy for this," she said, and the voice evaporated immediately.
But the loneliness returned. And it was even worse than when Grannie had first died. Because Grannie wasn't here anymore. Grannie was far away in a graveyard in a city. But she had died over nine years ago. Her body had rotted into the earth, and fed the plants, and that energy had passed into the food chain and was being passed on forever. Grannie was no longer Grannie. Grannie was a pile of mush left over after the plants had taken all they needed.
Gabrielle took up the mop and continued on her floor.