Nora the Obscure

The thing about being old is the invisibility, grey hair, glasses, a bit dumpy, hearing aids and occasionally a stick hide the elderly in plain sight. Nora leaves her house every day and sets off regardless of the weather, the neighbours don’t notice and as her only living relative is a nephew who lives on the coast she has nobody to answer to. Her sister-in-law Birdie hasn’t been in touch since Tom passed away many years ago so Nora is on her own and she likes it that way.

Elderly women are all around but are rarely if ever really seen, they wear their years like a disguise and Nora’s habit of donning old fashioned lace up shoes, a shabby cover all cardigan and carrying a shopping bag that’s seen better days adds to the illusion of obscurity. She likes to vary her routine, sometimes walking to town and sometimes taking the bus into the city. Unpredictability is her mantra. Today she’s in the city and the main street is busy, it’s a hot summer’s day and girls are walking around half naked and lads are showing off, middle aged women crowd the pavement cafés , men of all ages hang around the pub doorway smoking and older people fill the benches by the flower beds provided by the council. The street is pedestrianised so there’s no danger from moving traffic although the fast food delivery people on bikes and scooters ignore the signs and sometimes catch Nora unawares but not often as she’s always on alert.

She walks into the large department store that has been a stalwart of the city’s landscape for years, automatic doors swoosh as she enters, the air conditioning refreshing after the hot air of the street. Bright lights, glamourous displays and the scent of money permeate the space. The store presents a challenge to some people as it consists of many departments arranged on several floors and mezzanines, small steps, larger stairs, escalators and lifts confuse the casual shopper but Nora knows where everything is. She’s not phased by the constant up and down between the many departments and today she’s already wandered through ladies hats, children’s clothing, gentleman’s accessories and then ladies wear before riding the escalator to the next floor. On the way up she becomes aware of a familiar face and checks her watch, it’s 10.30 so she gets off the escalator and heads to the café keeping one eye on Effie Gordon. Satisfied Effie hasn’t spotted her she sits by the table nearest cosmetics and waits for the waitress to take her order, the plus side of an upmarket department store is table service.

‘A pot of tea and a slice of chocolate gateaux please,’ she says briefly acknowledging the waitress while keeping tabs on Effie Gordon. Effie is wearing a huge coat which seems incongruous to Nora on such a hot day. Her shopping trolley is cheap and already bulging. Nora licks the remnants of the gâteaux from her fork and sips her tea as Effie roams around the high end perfumes and cosmetics. If Effie Gordon has ever worn make-up Nora would be surprised. She tests the perfumes and chats to the elegant blonde, Nora can’t hear them but it looks like a conversation about foundation and as the assistant turns to rifle through the various colours Effie slips two tubes into her pocket. The assistant is none the wiser and looks resigned as Effie declines her offerings. A few minutes later Nora follows her through lingerie, another department Nora struggles to see is of any interest to Effie. ‘What will she look at here?’ she wonders as the model-like assistant offers to measure Effie’s not insignificant bust. Effie waves her away but then points to the pure silk pyjamas. Displayed on a stick thin mannequin, Nora nearly chokes with laughter, the peach  silk and lace trimmed outfit is petite to say the least, a gift perhaps? They’re discussing sizes, Nora hears snatches of the conversation as she moves past the panties and suspenders. The assistant walks away and opens deep drawers in the antique mahogany cabinet and while she’s got her back turned Effie drops a silk nightdress into her shopping trolley and flips the lid shut.

Nora taps her ear and blows her nose and within 20 seconds the store detective is standing next to Effie before escorting her to the managers office.

Nora steps onto the down escalator as a ‘Thanks Nora, another good catch. See you next week,’ filters through her ‘hearing aid’. Another successful morning’s work that will cover her little extras this week. She goes into the ladies loo changes her lace-ups for sparkly sandals, puts her long dowdy cardigan in her bag and applies a bit of lippy, she’s meeting Dennis for lunch at ‘Chez Nous’ and the treat is on her.

©Nita Lewsey 2023

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By Nita Lewsey

I'm a writer of short stories, flash fiction and am currently working on a novel. I've had stories published in anthologies and self-published a collection on stories on Amazon. I have long dreamt of writing full time & this dream is now a reality.

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