There were two women sitting in the Byre Theatre cafe that day, and me. They didn’t see me, in one of the cafe’s dark corners, just another person sitting hunched over a laptop. A black and white cat wove its way between the chairs and disappeared towards the stage door.
The first woman was thin, and upright, with a carrying voice and firm opinions. The other one sat slightly slumped in her chair.
“It’s one of those cases where you just sit and make no comment,” said the thin woman.
“Well, I-” said the slumped woman, but the thin woman spoke over her.
“And we’ve got one of those neighbours,” she said. “Carol. That odd woman.”
“Oh dear,” said the other woman, tearing the top off her sugar sachet.
I started at this mention of my name, as I always do when my name is uttered. In these rare instances it is usually the case that a woman at least ten years older than me – solid, reliable – will materialise out of a crowd or from behind a shop counter to respond. I once asked my parents why I had this name. Well, said my mother, I named your sister after a film star. And me? I said. Oh, I left that to your father, she’d said. When pressed, my father said that he had no idea why. It is only now, after fifty years on this earth, that it occurs to me that it is a feminine form of his own father’s name: almost, but not quite, Cyril.
The thin woman in the Byre Theatre cafe glanced my way and our eyes locked. She stared at me for a moment, and then shivered and turned away.
“Really odd,” said the thin woman, stirring her coffee vigorously.
I look down again, listening. How is she odd, I think, this other me? And then I remember my friend’s teenage daughter, who had asked her mother why all of her friends were so weird. I’d laughed, and then there had been a pause. “Except for me,” I’d said. But my friend had just looked at me, much as the woman in the Byre did now, and then said, “how is it not weird to throw in your job to become an artist?” I had had to admit defeat.
“The dreaded Carol,” added the thin woman, for effect.
Dreaded? I thought. Well. That’s a bit harsh. Eccentric, perhaps. I picture the dreaded Carol, known to her closest friends as Cyrilla, smiling as she offers the thin woman some of the arsenic-laced cake she has just baked, while behind her, her pet armadillo flicks the earth out of the thin woman’s begonia bed onto her immaculate driveway.