Ethel: Chapter 3. The Opposite.
The main difficulty of the situation, Ethel decided, was that she did not feel lost.
Had she done so, she would have been fixed on a goal- compelled by desire to find out where she was, or find her way back to where she had been. As the situation stood, she had no particular inclination towards either of these things, and thus found herself drifting about quite happily in the land of colourless sand, which- now that some sort of dawn had lightened the horizons around her- was probably a sort of muddy tone of peach, but could have been something else entirely if looked at for long enough. It was a singular thing, to be in this wide open place that she most certainly had never been in before, and feel like she absolutely had, but there it was. All in all it amounted to the sort of sensation of having been sat in a warm bath for just long enough to be aware that you might need to get out of it soon: a comfortable acceptance that she oughtn't really stay where she was, and yet a distinct disinclination to go anywhere else.
“And what does anybody care? If I feel that way about it?” Ethel found herself saying aloud. She had always liked talking to herself, but had always been too aware of the frowns it summoned from the people who she wasn't talking to to give it much practice. Consequently she spoke in starts and stops, with long gaps between, but as there wasn't anybody there to take away points for poor delivery it didn't much affect her activity. Perhaps five minutes later, she continued.
“However I choose to look at it, there isn't anyone to care about my feelings at present, and- well, my not feeling lost isn't going to cause anyone any problems, surely... Not anyone other than myself, at least.” Indeed, it seemed to Ethel that it would prevent problems for other people. Confessing to others that she was in the wrong place, and suggesting that they might be so kind as to help her find the right one, had always provoked reactions of annoyance or frustration from the teachers in the classrooms she had thought her class was in but wasn't, or policemen who had better things to do than to direct lost children back home.
“-but, of course, that is the problem, you see.” She explained, plucking an errant grain of sand from the nylon stuck between her toes. “-For if I don't feel lost, I won't want to become found, nor wish to find a place which is someplace other than this!” She gestured broadly with both arms, wheeling about to look at her surroundings like a buzzard locked in a thermal. Ethel was still at a loss as to what 'this' place was, and while it was true that she was quite content she had to admit that it did not hold much interest. In fact, it was a little hard to be sure that she had moved very far at all from the green-slate fireplace, for while that feature was no longer in sight the sand was all much the same as it had been . It seemed quite possible to Ethel that it was, in fact, the sand which had been moving, and not her at all.
What had she been told? Halfway...? No, 'Half the way that way and then back again twice.' That was what the bullfrog had said.
“But such advice will be very little use to me, without knowing what it means.”
For the first time since the conversation at the fireside, Ethel became discouraged, and sat cross-legged on a dune for want of a better thing to do. Walking in the direction of her shadow was all very well, but who was to say that hadn't moved, and was pointing her somewhere else? Shadows were notorious for doing that, or so she thought. Someone had told her something like that once, anyway, and she had been quite suspicious of them ever since.
“And so would you be-” she remarked, fairly, to her shadow, “if you were talking to a thing which couldn't be, without something else to create it.”
“You think yourself otherwise?”
Most people would have started, or at least raised an eyebrow, at the thought of a shadow talking back to them, but as has been much discussed already Ethel was not most people, and merely tilted her head to the left. She always tilted her head to the left, when thinking over something new.
“I suppose... or I did suppose. Am I not?”
“Certainly not!” The shadow peeled itself off the pastel sand, sitting up in much the same fashion as she. Its edges still held the texture of the sand, giving it a somewhat pixellated look against the world behind. “Why, if I wasn't here beneath you, that would mean that you weren't above me! You agree a shadow can't be cast without an object, so it stands to reason if the shadow was not there, the thing that cast it was not either! I suppose you never thought of that?”
This was certainly a valid argument, and it gave Ethel some pause for thought. The shadow decided this was enough reason to lie back down again, and, as it did so with its arms crossed behind its head, Ethel was forced to ponder in an identical fashion. Tilting her head was difficult with her own hands clasped behind her neck, but she managed all the same.
“But, one can't always see one's shadow- say, if I were in a very dark room, for example, without any light to cast you...”
“Ha! The only reason you could not see me then would be the same reason that one flame is impossible to see amidst an inferno.” The shadow scoffed, triumphant at her ignorance; “I would be entirely present, merely in good company. Now, how present you would be, without being visible, ah well- that's a different matter.”
“I think I should be there, still.” Ethel declared, though in by no means a certain manner. “For being seen isn't everything there is to being, you know.”
“You clearly appear to think that is the case when it comes to me.” The shadow sulked.
“Well, I suppose that's true.” Ethel frowned, then, after a pause, added; “I am sorry. I never thought about it from your point of view.”
The apology, though late, appeared to mollify her partner, who finally let her arms loose and crossed them over their chest with a nod.
They sat in this arrangement for some time, before the shadow offered; “I could show you, you know.”
“Show me what?”
“My point of view.”
This was such a novel concept that Ethel did not quite know what to make of it, for she couldn't quite imagine what the shadow meant. Still, besides continuing her lonely venture across the desert, it was the only thing to do besides eventually dying from lack of food and water, which Ethel did not much care to experience.
“I think I should like that very much. How is it to be done?”
The shadow smiled, and said that it would tell her (it is worth noting that it can be very difficult to see a shadow smile, but one can tell when they do all the same; if you would like to experience it yourself one day, smile, sincerely, at your own shadow, and they will likely return the compliment for the attention).
It instructed her to stand back up, the pair of them brushing the sand off of their skirts before taking up a pose somewhat like the 'third' position in ballet. Ethel had not taken ballet lessons, as she was entirely clumsy at even the most basic dance moves that her school had attempted to coax out of her, but with her feet so and arms aloft she did feel as though she might have. In fact, for a moment she was quite sure she did know ballet, and was rather good at it, for she swept about and bent and twirled just as finely as any Prima Ballerina on the stage. It occurred to her, just towards the end, that it was of course her shadow that knew ballet, and was just wondering how many other things that they had learned without her knowing when, SWOOP- the leap (or grand jeté, as the shadow could have told you) that had seemed to hang in the air for so long took her shooting down, not to land upon the sand, but through; swoosh! Carrying her right through, and onto the other side. Afterwards she tried to remember what it had felt like, and was mostly convinced that it didn't feel of anything, but that perhaps it had tickled and scratched a little; like passing through coarsely woven veil, or a bubble made of sand.
Landing, this time for certain, Ethel was astonished to find that the desert she was in was quite the same as the other, except that the colours were all back to front.
“Inverted, I think.” She said. The word had been said by her father, once, when trying to fix the television. It had been very odd, with all the people's faces blue and their eyes as black as soot. She wondered if she were the same, for a moment, but looking down she saw that it was just as the shadow had promised; for here she was, quite the same, and there they were, beneath her feet, right side up in the world she had been in before. She did not feel squashed or flattened out in the slightest, and so supposed that, as flat as they appeared to her, she must have seemed that way to them.
“So! I am in your world, shadow?”
“That you are!” The shadow laughed, “And there you will stay, for I've been there for long enough. I think I will escape. Goodbye!”
And off it went, leaping and skimming away from her feet like a shard of light from a wristwatch.
At first Ethel was alarmed, and wondered that she didn't shoot off along with it; they had been so closely matched before for every move and shape.
“But perhaps that has changed, now; with my being where it ought to be, and it where I ought... or perhaps-” She looked about, “this is where I am supposed to be! Of course! This is how I can 'go back again', or as near as it is possible to do so.”
Certainly, no matter where she went now, it was sure to be the opposite of where she had been before. Content, and for the first time feeling inclined to explore, she set off at a merry gait, swinging her arms in wide arcs (for there was nobody here to tell her not to do that in case she struck someone, or looked silly for doing it).
“Well,” Ethel mused; “for all my shadow felt they tricked me, I've come out just as well!"
"Besides, perhaps it was only fair, for my shadow to do such a thing,” she wondered, as she skirted a small rivulet winding through the sand. “It has had to do my bidding for, oh, ever such a lot of years, and not said a word of complaint the whole time! And I've had such a lot of miserable experiences for it to mimic. Why, it's only right it should play some mischief on me, and to think I never said a word of thanks, or asked it if it knew ballet, or...”
But here she left off chastising herself, for something caught her foot, and she fell- thump! Onto a bed of moss with small blue flowers in it. It was damp.
“Now, miss,” A new voice chuckled down at her, roundly. “Falling like that won't do anyone a piece of good unless you're a drop of rain. Are you one of those?”
“I... do not think I am,” Ethel said, not very sure that this counted for much, but was grateful for the pair of hands that were helping her off the floor.
“Well then, let's get you up, and find out what you are.”