The sun was getting low, and its height exactly matched my mood.
When things get bad, I have strategies.
Top of the list is walking.
It occurred to me that I had not walked this way in a long while and I wondered why. With the sun filtering golden light through the tall pine trees I was instantly transported back to a moment in my childhood — some sort of fete or carnival, pine trees, afternoon sun and a feeling that the world was a remarkable place.
The tennis courts were cut deeply into the side of the hill, and I wondered why the soft mountain soil had not washed away over the years. Hard timber benches lined the top of the cutting presumably so that people could sit and watch the games -- the games being played some twenty feet below.
This high vantage point gave the activity a surreal quality -- more like a movie than real-life.
All of the other players had left for the warmth of their homes and their loved ones. For some, it would be a quick shower and out again to enjoy the nightlife. For others, it would be a quiet night in front of the fire with good conversation or the comfort of a well-chosen book.
The following day meant a return to work with only memories of a long weekend to share with those who would stop and listen.
Work did not beckon me.
My life was on hold and only time would tell which way it would go.
I walked to the last of the three courts which also offered the highest vantage point.
A young couple were playing a listless game, and it seemed to me that the man was very patient with the two females on the opposite side of the net.
I supposed that he was playing both of them at once because he considered himself a superior player, but his demeanour did not support my supposition.
The two females were dressed in the same cute, short tennis clothes -- the kind that conveniently reveals frilly knickers whenever they bend over to retrieve a ball.
It was an odd convention that a man was allowed to watch a woman play tennis in a short skirt, but under different circumstances, he would be rebuked for staring.
What odd creatures we humans are.
One of the women seemed a little paler than the other, but apart from that, they could have passed for twin sisters, at least from my elevation.
The paler one appeared to be the superior player, but even so, she got distracted from time to time and often retrieved the ball in the slow dawdling manner of a child.
The male remained patient throughout, and I admired his calmness.
I could remember similar occasions when all I wanted was a decent workout, and all I got was a giggling opponent who couldn’t hit a ball to save herself. We had to abandon that game because my partner was afraid of disgracing herself.
“If we hadn’t stopped I was going to pee myself.”
I was mildly amused, but I hadn’t raised much of a sweat. Her tennis dress was driving me crazy, and I remember asking her to keep it on when we got back to her place. The knickers had to go, but I liked the dress, and I got my workout, but there was not a lot of tennis involved.
If I had behaved in an impatient manner my evening might have turned out quite differently, and I wondered if that was what was motivating the patient young man at the far end of the court, but somehow I doubted it — there was something else going on.
The late afternoon light can cause a person to see things that are not there, but in this case, I thought it was causing me to see something that shouldn’t be there.
From my hardwood perch, high above the ‘brick dust’ courts, it seemed to me that the paler of the two women was in fact slightly transparent.
It seemed that I could see her, but I could also see through her.
Not like a pane of glass, for she had form and substance, but more a sensation that I could see her and beyond her, all at the same time.
There wasn’t anyone nearby to ask, ‘Can you see what I can see?’ And in any case, I doubt that I would have asked the question. My world was strange enough as it was and I guess I didn’t want to believe that I might be ‘loosing it’ completely.
Tingles ran up my spine as I watched the three people gather up their belongings and leave the court.
I was left with my thoughts and the fading light.
A few moments later, after the three people had disappeared from view as they walked close to the cliff and past the courts, one of the women and the patient young man walked up the steep path and passed by my seat.
I’d assumed that they would continue down the hill to the carpark or back towards the town.
The young man walked on a few paces and stopped, but avoided my gaze.
The woman stopped next to me and while staring at her tennis shoes, as though she had not seen them before, said, “You were watching our game. Do you often watch strangers enjoying themselves?”
“I watch people all the time,” I heard myself say.
I answered partly because her presence made me feel light and free of concern. I know that sounds a bit strange, but that is how she made me feel. I’m long past the age where I become speechless around a pretty girl, but I was surprised at how quickly I responded.
“I didn’t mind you watching, but I think you made my friend a bit nervous.”
“Your friend looks a lot like you. So much so that I took her for your sister. A twin possibly?”
“I meant my boyfriend,” she said.
She didn’t say anything else for quite some time.
She seemed a little uneasy, and I was keen to know why her mood had changed so suddenly, but I was not going to break the silence.
“Did you see her?" she said, with a slight emphasis on the word ‘her’.
“Of course. It’s hard to miss two beautiful women who look so alike. She’s a better player than you are if you don’t mind me saying?”
As I said this, it occurred to me that I should not have. I was enjoying talking to this person, and I was in no hurry for it to end.
The boyfriend was staring at his shoes as well, but I don’t think he was wondering about them. He was quite keen on his tennis shoes propelling him and his girlfriend away from this conversation, but I also had the feeling that he had seen all of this before -- maybe even a number of times.
I didn’t feel threatened by either of these people, and although this may sound strange to you, everyone had made me feel uneasy in recent times, but not these two.
Her reply took me by surprise, “You can see her?”
“Not right now,” I said, and I wasn’t trying to be funny, “but down on the court, I could see her clearly. She’s just as beautiful as you, but she has a more confident gait.”
“She’s more confident than me in most things. You might say that she’s the best of me.”
“Now you’ve got me really intrigued. Is she related to you? If not, why do you dress the same? I know enough about women to know that they don’t enjoy it if another woman is wearing the same outfit.”
“We are very closely related, but I’m more interested in why you can see her clearly.”
“Joan, this conversation is starting to bore me, and I think you should leave it alone. It is time for us to be going. We’re going out, remember?”
Until he spoke these words, I thought that I was not going to hear from him at all, but now that he had I sensed a tiredness in his words as well as the resignation that I had seen down on the court.
“My devilishly handsome boyfriend has a point, but I must say that you are the first person to tell me that you can see her clearly, and I want to know why assuming that you have the time to talk?”
“I do have the time, but I’m worried about you catching a cold.”
It’s true that I was looking at her legs and feeling just a tiny bit cheeky. Her long-suffering boyfriend gave me a look that said he was more than capable of being less than patient if the occasion required and I acknowledged his annoyance by looking away as he placed his white tennis jacket around her shoulders. He then retreated back to his original position on the pathway and continued his visual examination of his tennis shoes.
Her boyfriend’s jacket was way too big for her, but she looked cosy with it wrapped around her.
“She’s been with me for as long as I can remember. She ‘comes out’ whenever I have a specialist job to do. I guess she is that part of me which is good at whatever I’m attempting. When the job is done she becomes a part of me again, and that is why she is not with us now -- the game is over. When I was little, I thought that everyone had an ‘other’. I called her ‘other Joan’, and I’m ashamed to say that I blamed her whenever things went wrong. Especially if something got broken — ‘other Joan did it, not me.’ Strangely, my ‘other’ never seemed to care -- never seemed upset. She always understood. She was ‘the best of me’. I found her presence comforting, especially on those dark days when I doubted my usefulness to the world. In a funny kind of way, I was my own best example,” she said with a smile.
I found myself smiling as well.
Her situation seemed like a very good one, and I found myself wondering ‘why her and not me?’ Then I remembered I was the only person she had come across who could see her ‘better self’. Maybe that meant I had something special in me -- because I could see the ‘special’ in her.
This was all starting to sound like I should rush out and hug a tree, but besides that unlikely image, I was feeling good for the first time in a long time.
As you would expect, our conversation continued for some time.
I half expected her to make an excuse and pull away, but she didn't. She seemed almost as interested in our conversation as I was. I asked her how long she had lived with this ‘extra person’ in her life. Was it something that came on suddenly or had it always been that way?
“I cannot remember a time when it wasn't so. I thought that everyone experienced an extra self and I reasoned that most people were shy, so the subject didn't come up — the same way that best friends don't talk about all their adventures.
I was amazed at how quickly I became comfortable with the idea.
In the end, her boyfriend became impatient again.
“Joan, we have dinner with Trevor and Jackie tonight. We need to get going?”
Despite his growing impatience, he had an easy-going good humour that told me he'd come to terms with his girlfriend’s friendly nature very early in the relationship.
They both looked quite young, but their demeanour said otherwise.
My best guess was early 20s. He was about 6 feet tall, and she was about 6 inches shorter. They were athletically built and attractive.
It was the woman's smile that you noticed first.
I was quite sure she could defuse any volatile situation by simply flashing that smile.
When they finally moved away, bags over their shoulders, I watched them go without any feelings of self-consciousness.
I wanted to see if the young woman would turn and look in my direction one more time.
She did, and I saw her lips move before the words registered.
“Your inquisitive self is showing.”
I thought she was just being cute until I caught a glimpse of the second shadow on the ground very close to mine.
“You ask very good questions.”
“Thank you,” was my startled reply.
It's a strange thing to be complemented by a slightly transparent version of yourself.
It had been a surreal day and the evening was looking decidedly bizarre as well.
“Where are we going for dinner tonight?” said my slightly transparent self.
“Excellent question,” was my reply.