“She reminds me of her Auntie Eileen,” Eleanor’s Grandmother said, visiting her first grandchild only a few hours after she had been born, and wondering, as humanity has wondered for millennia, at a belly bump emerging into the world in a cocoon of slime and a chorus of screams, and transforming, with incredible alacrity, into a pink, crinkly, perfectly formed little person with starfish fingers and the slightest coating of soft downy hair. Her eyes were blue, and it was all very well people talking about every baby’s eyes being blue, but her Grandmother knew perfectly well that these large, slightly oval, violet blue eyes would be with Eleanor a whole life long, just like her Auntie Eileen’s. The name had been chosen long before she made her debut in the world – Eleanor Mary for a girl, Ethan George for a boy, but the fact it had an echo of the sound of “Eileen” in it was a very pleasing coincidence. “You always did prefer her to me,” Eleanor’s mother Christine said, but with no malice or sadness in her voice. In some ways, though she loved both her daughters more dearly than life itself, Patty had a not so secret soft spot for Eileen with her bright chatter and happy go lucky attitude. But Eileen had not given her her first grandchild, and such a winning and lovely one, too. At that precise point, little Eleanor gave a smile (and no, it wasn’t wind) and you could almost have sworn that she was well aware she was the centre of attention and very much enjoying it.

    “She reminds me of her Auntie Eileen,” Eleanor’s kindergarten teacher, Samantha Mc Bride, known to the children as Miss Sammy said. And she should know. When she was young and first qualified, Eileen had been one of her charges. Miss Sammy was always going to retire “next year”. But she was as energetic as ever, and had endless wells of patience. “Not much in appearance – apart from those eyes of hers – she’s small and dark, and Eileen was always tall and fair. But the way she can take things so seriously one minute and be having fits of the giggles the next.” And she had a lot of her Auntie Eileen’s “little ways” as Miss Sammy called them. She had a habit of putting a clenched fist to her head when she was thinking something over, and of initially wrinkling her nose up when offered some new or strange food item, but often developing an enthusiasm for it long before any of the other children. She had a game of her own of hopping from tile to tile and trying not to touch the spaces between, but didn’t seem to have any superstitions about dire things happening if she did touch a space; being merely annoyed and not spooked. Auntie Eileen had done the same. Now of course, as Miss Sammy knew, children are like little sponges and pick things up from the adults around them (though presumably Eileen had now abandoned that particular game) but Auntie Eileen now lived more than 200 miles away from Eleanor’s family, and the two rarely met. Miss Sammy was pretty sure Christine hadn’t shared those particular quirks, though she had plenty of her own. Come to think of it, Eleanor also had Eileen’s habit of pushing the limits – but knowing just when to stop! 

    “She reminds me of her Auntie Eileen,” Christine said, when Eleanor was eleven, and happiest of all with her nose in a book – though Eleanor had pointed out, entirely logically, that she didn’t read with her nose, she read with her eyes. Christine loved to read, when she got the chance (and now Eleanor had a little brother, two year old Ethan – they had remained loyal to their original first choice of name, though his middle name was Patrick, in honour of his grandpa, Patty’s husband, who had passed a month before he was born) but Eileen had always been the real bookworm of the family. And just like her Auntie Eileen, Eleanor was a literary omnivore. She had read Jane Eyre before she was ten, but was entirely unselfconscious and not remotely defensive about continuing to enjoy the Goosebumps series and even certain picture books and a great many fairytales, though she much preferred the original versions. They’d been worried about her being jealous of Ethan – they hadn’t intended to leave such a large gap between the children, but Christine had had a miscarriage in the interim – but though she wasn’t the kind of big sister who thought pushing Ethan’s pram, let alone changing his nappy made her whole life worthwhile, she didn’t seem to resent him, and had even been heard to say he was quite sweet, in his way. Wisely, Christine and her husband Frank didn’t push their luck. They had never even thought of telling Eleanor any stories about storks and gooseberry bushes. By the time Ethan was born she knew the facts of life perfectly well and with a command of the correct names for anatomical parts that they entirely approved of in theory but could still find a tad unnerving in practice. Nor did they go through any charade of pretending that Ethan came into the world with a present for Eleanor. But they wouldn’t have denied that after his birth they indulged her in the matter of books even more than previously, and were quite happy and positively smug to do so. They supposed (as the more churlish of their friends had pointed out to them) that they would not have shown a similar largesse had her desired object of choice been video games or franchised merchandise from the latest movie or even (and yes, children her age were wearing it, rather to Frank and Christine’s horror) make-up. But there was (they told themselves) no equivalence and it was just inverted snobbishness to pretend otherwise. So they smiled on in whole-hearted approval, as Eleanor lay on the couch with her nose (or her eyes, or both) in a book. And yes, they supposed that got her out of her chores more than it should. 

    “She reminds me of her Auntie Eileen,” said Roger Travis, Eleanor’s headmaster, when she was sixteen, and Mr Travis should know, because he had dated Eileen when he wasn’t that much older than Eleanor was now, and the two of them were at university together.  It had all ended entirely amicably and he had been happily married for twenty years to his wife Connie. But of course he couldn’t help thinking about Eileen when her niece was at his school, and especially now (because Mr Travis only taught in the upper school) she was in his classes. She was the kind of pupil described with some actual truth in her reports as “a pleasure to teach” – she had a bright and enquiring mind, and though her gift and bent lay with English and Modern Languages, there was no subject she was bad at. Her assignments were always handed in on time and done with care, and though she was by no means averse to a touch of originality and lateral thinking – and Mr Travis thought none the worse of her for that! – she hardly ever waffled or, though she did have a broad vocabulary, try to mask a lack of appliance with fancy words. Her behaviour, too, gave little cause for complaint. Even when she’d been much younger she had distanced herself from childish disruption and her minor infringements of the dress code were far more tasteful than those of her peers. Yet despite her excellent academic record and good behaviour, she was not the kind of pupil who would ever be considered as head girl, in a couple of years time – and nor would she wish to have been. “I didn’t know her aunt at school,” Mr Travis said to his wife over breakfast (they were entirely easy talking about such matters) “but she had a way of making it plain she regarded – the establishment, I suppose – with some contempt. Eleanor is the same. If it were another pupil I might accuse her of dumb insolence, but that wouldn’t be fair. It’s more as if she’s an adult who still has to go to school, but is already beyond it all.”

    “Or do you mean she thinks she’s above it all, Roger?” Connie asked, gently. 

    “Maybe sometimes,” he admitted. 

    “Does she get on the others’ nerves at times?”

    It was a legitimate question and he thought it over. You might have expected it to be so, and he was certainly not going to say it never happened, but it genuinely didn’t seem to be the case. There was something contradictory about Eleanor. She was self-possessed, studious, and could come over as a tad aloof at times, but there was another side to her, just as there had been with Eileen. She didn’t care for team sports, though when they were compulsory in the lower school she had endured them without any apparent trauma, but she was a very good tennis player, and though like most players who are on the small side, she relied more on strategy and guile, she could still hit some surprisingly aggressive shots and there was a satisfied gleam in her unusual violet blue eyes as much in her opponent being caught off guard and misjudging her as in winning the point. But she hardly ever watched others play, whether at school or on TV. Her retentive memory made her a natural for the school’s team in the inter-school quiz league that was very popular at the time, and she appeared to enjoy it, but always at one remove. When her team-mates fist-bumped at clinching a contest she looked on with an air of detached amusement, as if finding the whole thing somewhat ironic. Yet every so often, Mr Travis had noticed, she could suddenly act apparently out of character and over-react either positively or negatively. When she struggled to find an answer on one of her “pet” subjects her face darkened and there was a look in those beautiful eyes that made him worry if she were going to embarrass herself or the school. She never actually did. He was once worried when he overheard her, for once not guarding her tongue, and making her opinion of a member of the opposition whom she considered to have used unfair delaying tactics very clear. But he decided not to interfere. If she’d said it to his face, he’d have had to scold her but accidentally overhearing was another matter.  And everyone said things they didn’t really mean in anger. He was sure (he told himself) that nobody would have been more devastated than Eleanor if her opponent (whom he was sure she didn’t really think was more of a snake than a human) had “fallen under a train or preferably got some long and painful and humiliating illness.” He had to admit that the word “humiliating” did perturb him. – especially as Eleanor herself tended to be squeamish on bodily matters.  You could excuse the rest as just a rather more eloquent reworking of the childish wish that someone would “drop dead” when of course they didn’t mean a word of it. Eleanor herself, after a couple of seconds, had tossed her head rather like a mettlesome horse, and said, “Oh, take that look off your face. Anyway, it’s over and done with now!”

    “She reminds me of her Auntie Eileen,” Dr Katherine Bachmann said. Of course this was technically a breech of protocol, but inside the clinic they all needed some kind of safety valve. It wasn’t as if Eileen Harrison was in their care (and they made a great point of saying “in their care” rather than “in their detention”) any longer – she had been moved to another “establishment” several years back.

    Like teachers, and there was something reassuring about comparing themselves to teachers, though they were never really deluded, they weren’t supposed to have favourites, but they were only human, and there was no denying that for the most part Eleanor was polite and good company, and appeared almost too cooperative. She also, and rather off-puttingly, had far more than the usual layperson’s grasp of the subject, and made it quite plain she understood perfectly well some of the terms they used, and some of the ones they didn’t, or not generally in front of their charges (which was another of those handy bland catch-all words). She was by no means the first to whom that applied, and she wouldn’t be the last, but in a curious way, the fact that she could meet them on their own territory made them inclined, depending on the person and their mood to be both on and off their guard. 

    “Sometimes I swear she’s making a case study of us,” Katherine’s colleague Dr Marvin Ireson said.

    “Eileen was like that,” Katherine remembered. “But you know – I sometimes thing it’s more like making case studies of themselves.

    Connie Travis had never quite known how lucky she was. Everyone thought that terrible incident on the railway platform was a madwoman (and if that word wasn’t used officially it was used unofficially) hunting out an unfortunate victim entirely at random. But the woman who was pushed under the train (her name was Molly – how soon we forget people’s names!) was wearing a pink and white houndstooth check coat, just like one that Connie owned. From the back view it would have been very hard to tell the difference.

    Eleanor was more careful and accurate. She had not actually made a point of studying at the same university as her erstwhile quiz opponent Olga Simpson, but had admitted to Katherine that she felt a certain satisfaction when she found out she was, though they were studying different subjects. She never went out of her way to befriend her, “I wouldn’t be such a hypocrite as that,” Eleanor had said, with a certain quiet pride, but had given every impression that the business at the inter-schools quiz was entirely forgotten and she had put aside such childish things. There was even talk of both of them being on the university’s team for University Challenge and they were on the short list. So they found themselves in each others’ company more and more and even quizzed each other on such diverse matters as national flags and FA Cup Winners. 

    “She shows no sign of having any regrets whatsoever,” Katherine said, and though she knew she should be well used to such things by now, there was a part of her that could never quite process s it at times. “Just like her Auntie Eileen,”

    “No, you’re wrong on that, Kate,” Marvin said, “Only this morning ……”

    Only that morning, Eleanor, looking as neat and talking as cooperatively and eloquently as ever, had said, “I just wish I could have got hold of a gun instead of having to use a knife. I always was squeamish.”

October 18, 2019 07:11

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Hamadryad 77
19:00 Oct 28, 2019

How interesting! You developed Eleanor's character really well in such a short time, it surprised me. There are definitely some problems with the grammar, though. The sentences were too complex and some of them ran together, so I got confused. When it started talking about the doctors, I was having a hard time following what was happening. It moved quickly into a new environment and a shocking reveal without enough explanation. The reveal upset me, it was so disgusting and sad, but as far as the story line and Eleanor's character, as I said,...


Deborah Mercer
13:43 Nov 04, 2019

Hi and thanks for the review. I know my sentences tend to meander; I'll have to do something about it. I actually thought of the ending before the rest of the story and knew it was quite a shocking one, but decided to go with it.


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