Little Amanda, in special white stockings, lived lightly with her grandmother, an old curmudgeon, overbearing and humourless.
Grandma had her own daughter once, a beauty with bright green eyes and hazel, switchback hair running in careless shiny ropes down her back. Beauty went off with a beast, who took her downhill into the town, underground into the dungeon city at the base of the hill, the hideout of the poor, desperate and cold citizens with nothing to do, except gaze with gauzy eyes into the middle distance, the dark walls enclosing them, the weight of a whole city above.
From there, a baby was pleadingly brought to the old woman, wrapped in newspaper to keep it warm. Baby child Amanda was quiet. Occasionally she would sing, self-consciously curling her lips, as if to mute the sound. She wasn’t supposed to be happy. Grandma, with her bent back and stern gaze, was unhappy.
But the sun shone, so Amanda found escape from their flat into the back green, below the gaunt height of the tenement. Lying on the grass at the base of the hill, she would gaze dreamily up at the trees, admire their swishing branches and hope flowers would sail down, land on her face and arms. Fragrances blew around her. Beneath the branches, she breathed deeply and her heart lifted.
Not so far away, Simon held a yellow duster. Motes swam in the air, then settled again a little way off: on the mantelpiece, on the round-headed clock, the dust and grime kept the corners of his living-room warm. It annoyed him, a little, when the sun shone. Then he could see streaks and marks from dearly departed toby jugs.
Habit tugged him over to the window. The sash and case rattled faintly as he adjusted the blind. Without really seeing, since he looked so often at the same shorn hills, he watched…adjusted and looked again.
Her dark brown eyes, almost black, found the flicker. She looked too, smiling quietly and easily, careless that caught, she should behave differently. No-one else noticed that light brown face, saw those window eyes catch the sun. No-one else was there to watch the shape of her cheeks, the way her hair swept back. That blue dress, hidden under the bright, waxy green of trees fully awake.
Amanda grinned. Simon smiled.
The old man turned away, shaking with regret. Where was Ellen, to share this? He had long ago looked at beauty like that, in that way. In the business of passing his days, he had lost the urge to look outside. Outside!
The duster lay on the floorboards where it was dropped.
He saw her again when he left, the front door slamming shut behind him. Deeply busy, dreaming. Such a beautiful child. Such wondrous sunlight. See those flowers…red flowers.