Though it had been years since she had last seen it, her father’s old booth seemed simultaneously the same and completely different. The dark green paint – barely visible from underneath an array of different coloured graffiti paintings – was starting to chip and splinter off, leaving the wood bare and pale in some places. It also seemed a lot smaller, though Egg suspected this was mainly due to the fact that she herself had grown into an adult since she had last been here. Back in her childhood days, the little shop had seemed like an entire wonderland to her. She had spent hours browsing the shelfs and the many products her father had placed on them, pressing her nose to the glass vitrine behind which fresh cheese and ham had been stored and forcing an exasperated sigh from her father’s lips, as he had to wipe over the little stain her nose had left for the umpteenth time. Whenever it had happened, he had temporarily banned her to the back of the store, where Charlotte would usually sit down on one of the many wooden boxes the delicacies came shipped in, imagining stories about the far-away places the food had left behind. Knowing full well that his ‘punishment’ was like a journey into a world of fantasy and imagination to his little daughter, Oliver Eggleton used this time to put on an old Frank Sinatra vinyl and prepare an extravagant board of fruits and cheese and crackers to present Charlotte with, once she inevitably sneaked into the shop once again. Then – regardless of the time – he would switch the booth’s little sign to ‘closed’, turned the music louder and enjoyed a couple of uninterrupted moments with his daughter. Charlotte hadn’t thought about any of this in years and yet, standing in front of the wall of windows, the memories came back to her, making her contemplate whether she could even enter the shop without suffering another panic attack. She hesitated. From the outside, surprisingly, the shop’s interior seemed not to have changed much, even as a different name could now be seen printed on the glass door. It was then, while she was still standing in front of the shop undecided, tracing the new name with her eyes that the door opened and an older woman stepped out to meet her:
“Charlotte?“, moments passed during which both women starred at each other; the older lady’s brown eyes meeting Egg’s green ones, before either of them said anything more. Charlotte herself could not comprehend how the woman could possibly know her name, hadn’t even been able to understand her pronunciation for what seemed like an eternity before it finally dawned on her. Slowly, she started taking a single step back, trying – and failing – to analyse the situation to the best of her ability, tried to match the woman’s face to people she had met around here as a child.
“Du erinnerst dich nicht?“, the woman continued, repeating her words in strongly accented English when Charlotte didn’t react to the question: “You don’t remember me?”
“I …”, it wasn’t like Egg to stumble about her words in such a fashion and yet she still couldn’t link this woman’s face to that of anyone even remotely familiar to her. Then again, it had been close to two decades since she had last left Vienna, without stepping foot into Austria again until now. So even if she had indeed known this woman as a child, how could she be expected to remember and recognize her now?
“Come in”, the woman continued, having grown tired of waiting for an answer: “You will soon understand who I am. I shall close the shop so that we can have a chat. Can I offer you some wine? Cheese and crackers, maybe”, she shuffled away, leaving the booth’s door hanging open as an extension to her invitation. Yet still Charlotte hesitated, feeling uncharacteristically shy and reluctant; feeling – in fact – just like she had as the little girl as which she had last stepped into her father’s old store. Seconds passed until she finally decided to move inside the well-known building, closing her eyes tightly as her foot passed the door step. Egg stood like this, letting another second pass by, just breathing in the sweet scent of high quality food products and preparing herself for another wave of pain. Even with her eyes closed she could feel her father everywhere around her, could see him standing behind his counter with that characteristic smile of his that seemed genuine, no matter how many costumers had already pestered him with their questions. In fact, Charlotte had never known any man with more patience than her father. He had revelled even in the most basic question, living to answer every customer with the full force of his extensive knowledge and unlimited passion.
“Dear?”, the woman’s voice had startled her, had torn her from her thoughts and forced her into reality once more. Charlotte still hadn’t figured out who the woman was, as she sat down on a small wooden table, dropping her gaze down to the cheese plate she had prepared for the two of them: different cheeses huddled together on a round board, expertly laid out next to some grapes and apple slices, walnuts and crackers. There were aged discs of salami and long strips of prosciutto, whose scent alone brought tears to Charlotte’s eyes. More than the cheese and ham combination’s sweet and savoury aroma, however, it was once again the memory of her father and their shared lunches that put her in a gloomy state of mind.
“I’m sorry, I really don’t know who you are or what you want from me …?”, Egg didn’t mean to be rude and yet she couldn’t keep a certain annoyance from her voice. Who was this woman, to torment her with these kinds of memories? The older lady’s face reacted to her tone almost instantly, showing a mixture of pain and sadness, before she managed to regain countenance and looked Charlotte square in the eye.
“Eat! Drink!”; she urged, before finally settling in on the chair opposite her and started speaking in earnest: “I’m surprised you don’t seem to have expected to meet me here, let alone remember me. In fact, I thought you would be here specifically looking for me … you know, given your father’s will …”