I posted the opening paragraph of the third draft not long ago and had a request for more, so I thought I'd post the rest of the first scene. Tomorrow I will be busy all day with the dayjob and unable to do any bloghopping, so everyone have a safe and happy weekend.
I don’t think “How I came to be a Witch” would be considered the typical title, or subject for the average essay applying to the ordinary grad school program. Nor do I imagine that most grad school applicants begin their essays by stating that if they don’t get accepted into the particular grad program to which they are applying that they most likely will be dead before the year is out. But the wounds are too new and I now have hostages to fate, innocent souls who are more dear to me than my own life, and for them I will say this, if you do not help me I will die and they who depend on me will be at the mercy of those who brought about my ruin. I’ve been told that you need to know this, and as I trust implicitly the one who told me this, I will tell you my story.
It all started on January second, three weeks after I graduated from college with a double major in English and Religious Studies. The day I landed at Gatwick Airport. I had come to London at the invitation of friends, former professors who had asked me to housesit for them when they were out of town. Their invitation very likely saved my sanity and I flew to London convinced I’d never be able to repay that debt. The surprising thing was not that I was wrong, but how quickly it all happened.
I’d dreamt about London my entire life, beginning with my first favorite books, Make Way for Ducklings and of course Paddington, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be living just blocks from the British Museum. Yet here I was: I had flown across the entire Atlantic Ocean alone, alone I had faced the gauntlet that is British Immigration, and alone I had found my way from Gatwick into London to the townhouse that would be my home in this fair city.
Facing my first afternoon alone in the city I’d dreamt of my entire life, I decided to explore the city and take the walking tour my hostess, Dr. Laura Watson had left for me. Shrugging into the LL Bean Storm Coat I’d borrowed from Cormac, my mother’s twin, and grabbing my Day Pack and the copied pages that Laura had left for me, I took to the streets of London that cold January afternoon as if I belonged there: as if I’d returned to some long forgotten home. I discovered that Knightsbridge was the answer to a different dream as I took a brief detour to cash a traveler’s check and drool over the possibilities inside that wonder of wonders, Harrods.
Once that was done, I was off.
Following directions for the walking tour that Laura had copied for me, I made my way down to the Strand and Covent Garden. Walking its bustling streets and watching the people around me, London was alive for me in ways that I’ve only felt in two other places in my life. I don’t know if I can quite describe it, but I felt different merely being there: more alive, more present, more engaged with the world.
The sense of History as a living for was palpable that day: around every corner I found reminders of the centuries and the events that this great city had witnessed. And nothing exemplified this quite as much, or as well, as the River Thames. Once again a living ecosystem, the Thames was now home to a thriving variety of water plants, migrating birds, and other assorted sea life.
The first stop on my walking tour was the Savoy Hotel. My English thesis had been on the Thames in Art and Literature, and in my research I had found out that Monet’s paintings of the Thames had actually been done from the window of his suite at the Savoy. Next to the Hotel stands the Theatre, home of Gilbert and Sullivan’s wonderful operettas. Laura and I had already agreed to see a matinee when we both had an afternoon free. I was hoping for the Mikado, but seeing any of their plays in their original home would be a dream come true.
Sitting in front of the Savoy, I indulged in my favorite guilty pleasure: people watching. I sat for quite a while and watched as the posh people entered and left the hotel, but eventually left without going in myself. I was definitely not dressed well enough to feel comfortable in such an elegant place.
On the Embankment, I stood at the water’s edge and for the first time looked down at the Thames with my own eyes, at the Tower Bridge in the distance downriver and the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben behind me. I had studied this river and its city for most of my life and it had left a profound impression on my heart.
And that is the only excuse I can offer for it taking me so long to realize that I was being followed.
Sitting down on one of the benches that lined the walkways, I turned to face my shadow, now sitting beside me on the bench looking up at me as if I’d disappointed her somehow. Looking into those startlingly intelligent eyes, I had the overwhelming urge to apologize, which I did. “Did you at least enjoy the tour, or is this old hat to you?” She was sitting daintily, with her tail wrapped around her paws, looking so ladylike that I pulled out my notebook and drew a quick sketch of her, pleased with how well it turned out.
“So, Miss Shadow, what do you think?” I asked, showing the dainty black cat my sketch of her. In the bright sunlight, I could see that she was not actually a solid black, but black with very dark gray stripes.
Miss Shadow, for her part, looked at the sketch before rubbing her head against the notebook’s wire binding. I guess she approved.
“Shall we finish our walking tour?” I invited her, and leaving the bench, we made our way along the Strand onto Portugal Street to Portsmouth Street, to the Old Curiosity Shop: an old cramped little building where Dickens had once stood, a necessary stop for any former English major, even if the only Dickens’ book I’d ever read was Oliver Twist.
From there we went to Lincoln’s Inn, one of four of London’s Inns of Court, where lawyers still wear gowns and wigs as they walk through medieval buildings that still bear the coat of arms of Henry the VIII. St. Paul’s Covent Garden and St. Martin-in-the-Field had both been on my must-see list long before I arrived here: St. Paul’s (built like a barn and known as ‘the actor’s church’) because in front of St. Paul’s is where Eliza was supposed to have first met Henry Higgins, and St. Martin-in-the-Field for its history and its music (Handel and Mozart both performed there- and in addition to free concerts at lunchtime, they still perform choral evensong daily- something else Laura and I planned to do).
We ended our walking tout in Trafalgar Square, where my shadow was briefly distracted by the pigeons. We parted amicably when I told her I was taking the tube home. Entering the tube station, I turned back for one last look at the small, sleek body poised ladylike in the entrance, watching me.
That meeting was to change my life.
2 days ago