We present “Cora Mcandora” a short story by Lorraine F Ellis from Paull:
Stumbling along the seafront dragging her old rusted shopping trolley behind her walked Cora. Her matted white hair covered the collar of her moth-eaten grey coat and the soles of her ancient black boots flapped softly on to the cold concrete with each step that she took. Cora would often sing and speak to her self as she wandered along in a voice that sounded more like that of an actress in an old Victorian play, her inflection clearly deceiving her impoverished appearance.
Cora Mcandora was a subject of intense amusement to some of the children in the small seaside village, but I was not one of them. I liked old Cora I liked her for her eccentricity and her kindness to cats. She had lot’s of cats did Cora and was a foster-mother to each and every stray in our small village. If you ever passed by her cottage you would see cats mewing and scratching outside her shabby front door. If you glanced in her window you would see fury bundles of different colours gracing her furniture.
Some of the younger kids said Cora was a witch and were somewhat in awe of her. But she wasn’t, she couldn’t have been, a little quaint perhaps but nevertheless harmless.
It was the summer of 1978 I was just turned fifteen years old and had just left school. The prospect of getting a job and starting work was a somewhat daunting thought. I wasn’t lazy just very apprehensive, as my school-leaving report left rather a lot to be desired.
My Father had been a true blood Romany and until his death two years previously we’d travelled the road a lot. This meant that by the time I’d reached my thirteenth year I had been a pupil in over thirty different schools. My mother and I settled at the village of Hummblethorpe about eighteen months ago. We lived in a house with a brass knocker on the door ‘our own little box.’
Through out the months I never did what you may call settle, I yearned for the freedom of the open road the only life the only culture I had ever known.
Eventually I found employment in our local grocer’s shop which had been newly turned into a mini market, pricing tins and stacking shelves until my back ached and my head throbbed, my once free spirit crushed and broken. Cora often shuffled up the isles of our supermarket always placing half a dozen cans of cat food in her wire basket along with a small uncut bread loaf and a meagre piece of cheese for herself.
“My God she stinks of cat muck!” my colleagues would bellow loud enough for Cora’s ears. Our supervisor would wrinkle her nose in distaste as she sprayed pine air freshener behind Cora’s back as she walked along. I would just lower my head and get on with the boring task of filling the shelves. Sometimes I would catch Cora’s eyes as she wandered along, I would smile at her and her eyes would always return that smile.
It was a Monday morning my half day, I walked slowly along the beach the tide was out, the sun warm on my back. The beach was deserted apart from a pile of rags in the distance. I kicked at the shingle and watched as the sea slowly covered the sand banks. I neared the pile of rags and discovered I had been mistaken, it was Cora, she just sat there gazing out wistfully towards the waters. I didn’t think that she had seen me and I felt it would be a sort of intrusion to speak to her so I just lowered my head and went on my way.
“Good morning young lady.”
I looked up surprised by her greeting she patted the rough sand by her side until it was smooth.
“Come dear, come sit by me a while.
I walked over to the place by her side and sat with my knees hunched up.
“Tell me child what ails thee?”
The tiny grains of sand flowed through my fingers, I shrugged my shoulders and tried to pretend I hadn’t quite heard her.
“I can feel your longing child tis easy to see that you are unhappy, tell me dear what ails thee?”
I sighed sadly and very soon found myself telling her the reasons behind my despondency. I stared at the small black mole on her face and the deep brown raised freckles on her forehead which had fused together resembling a tiny butterfly.
Cora looked into my eyes and gently patted my arm.
“You have got the gift.”
“No they say my grandmother had it but…”
“You have the gift child, I tell you, you have.”
I turned to face her perplexed, “Are you a Romany?” I asked.
“No my dear I’m not of gypsy blood I am a clairvoyant, it’s been a long time since I felt anything, the power it seems to fade over the years.
“Then you are a chovihani, a witch, a white witch.”
Holding my hand Cora slowly nodded her head and then looked towards the skies. “I will get another chance,” she murmured softly “a finer chance the next time.
The old lady then turned to face me. “Make a wish but..” she raised her hand, “wish for contentment rather than materialism. Wish hard child and think.”
“Hush child and wish concentrate on nothing else close your eyes tightly.”
I did as she bade me and when I opened my eyes Cora smiled at me.
“Twill be done,” the old lady stood up. “I will leave you for now… You may see me again by and by, another life beneath this same sky.”
Her parting words seemed a little vague, too strange for me to comprehend.
When I arrived home we had a visitor it was my uncle Mick the younger brother of my late father. He and my mother were deeply engaged in conversation and failed to hear me as I stood behind the sitting room door.
“I felt I had to let her discover for herself, Mick, and give her the chance between this life and the one we shared with her Father. Seemed the right thing to do, give her an option. But I’m saddened Mick I didn’t really want to return to this and our Bella she is so distant now,” finished my mother’s voice.
My uncle Mick cleared his throat.
“Give it up then Rosie, come back our people they have missed you too.”
And so it was arranged. We returned to our old life, my wish had come true.
Three years on, married and heavy with my first child, we set up camp just outside Hummblethorpe. I had never really forgotton Cora and decided too look her up. I found her little cottage but it wasn’t the same, I sighed sadly at the new PVC windows that replaced the old grimy ones. I knocked softly on the modern front door. It was answered abruptly by a middle age man.”
“Cora?” I inquired “Cora Mcandora does she still live here?”
“Cora Mcandora,” the man scratched the stubble on his chin. “Oh you must mean the old crone that lived here before I moved in, bloody hell you should have seen the state of this place! It had to be stoved you know, filthy it was! Cat shit every where! And the cats, well you just couldn’t move for them had all! Had to be destroyed in the end.” The man shook his head.
“Where is she now?” I asked tears prickling my eyes.
“Well last time I’d heard she was in the Riverside Residential Home.”
It took me two hours to reach the home only to be told when I arrived there that Cora had been admitted to the general hospital dangerously ill.
I walked away planning to ask my husband Jim to take me to see her. However not long after I felt the first pains of childbirth.
My Mam stayed with me during the birth as it is not the Romany way for a father to be present at the birth of his offspring.
Before the birth Jim assured me he would phone the hospital up for me and enquire about Cora. “Send her my love,” I muttered as he quickly retreated down the caravan steps.
At four o clock the next morning with the birds first morning call I pushed my daughter into the world. As I cradled her in my arms I looked into her face and for a split second her eyes locked mine with a look of recognition, so unlike that of a baby just minutes old, then it was gone, and her expression changed and became more like that of the unfocused look of an infant fresh from the womb. I then gazed into the face of my firstborn, slowly noticing the black mole on her cheek, the tiny raised butterfly on her forehead. Cora’s words of yesterday rang in my ears: ‘You may see me again by and by another life beneath this same sky.’
Some time later my man returned, I’m sorry love I have some bad news.” he said as he admired his daughter.
“Yes I know,” I replied “Cora’s gone……”
I named my daughter Cora and planned to ensure that she would have the finest chances possible.
♦♦♦♦ THE END ♦♦♦♦
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