A long time ago my name was Daisy Turner. Now my name is Prudence. Not that anyone in Hope Springs addresses me so informally. To them I am, without exception, Miss Butters. Miss Prudence Butters of Hope Springs. Neither the name nor the location were my choice.
My life here is one of routine. I don’t cope well without routine. Mondays I make my weekly trip to town, visiting the local general store and the library. Technically, I don’t need to make the stop at the general store. Any supplies I need I order online while I am at the library. A national supermarket chain then delivers on Tuesdays directly to my house. But everything I order online is monitored to make sure I am looking after myself properly. There are some things I don’t want anyone to know about.
Wednesdays a car arrives at my secluded cottage at ten o’clock and drives me the two hours it takes to get to Dr Faraday’s office. Thursdays I recover from the trip to Dr Faraday’s office. Fridays I run. For hours on end. You never know when you’re going to need to call on certain skills. But running saved my life once so I make sure I can still do it at length and speed. Saturdays I swim in the lake down the hill from my house. Swimming also saved my life once.
And Sundays are for church. Before he died, my father would always tell me I had so much to thank God for. I’m not so sure about that. But I don’t mind church. It’s the one place no one seems to mind me. Everywhere else, it bothers them that I am quiet and withdrawn and don’t have any interest in their company or their words or their mundane lives.
I have lived my life according to this routine for the last three years, ever since I moved to Hope Springs. Today is Monday.
“Miss Butters, I could set my watch by you. Nice to see you again.”
She always says stupid things like this. She can’t set her watch by me because while I might come into the general store every Monday, I don’t come in at the exact same time every Monday. I can’t because I don’t have a watch or any clocks in my cottage so I never know what time it is – except on Wednesdays when the car arrives. So unless her watch is actually a days of the week calendar – and it isn’t because I have surreptitiously checked her wrist every Monday for the past three years – she couldn’t set her watch by me. And she doesn’t truly take any pleasure in seeing me. She only says it because it’s rule number one in the handbook on how to greet shoppers you vaguely know.
Her name is Mildred. Mrs Mildred Roberts. The owner of the general store. Millie to her friends.
“Mrs Roberts,” I say. I pace the fourteen steps from the front door to the extremely limited stationery section and select a notebook full of lined pages. The cover is blue and the spine is coiled wire, the kind that hurts your fingers when you are trying to take it out before putting the pages into the recycling. I won’t be recycling the notebook, so I don’t mind the spine.
I take the notebook to the counter and place it in Mrs Roberts’s outstretched hand, being careful not to touch her. I wait patiently as she scans the barcode and puts the notebook into a paper bag with the logo of her general store on it. When I first started coming here, I would protest that I didn’t need a bag. I could just as easily carry a notebook as I could a paper bag containing a notebook. But the principles of reducing waste appear lost on Mrs Roberts. And I think she looks on me as some kind of free advertising as I walk through town with the evidence that I have made a purchase from her general store on obvious display.
“That will be three-fifty,” she informs me and I exchange the paper bag for a crisp five dollar note. But she doesn’t put the money in the till. Instead she looks at me with thoughtful eyes and says, “It must be wonderful to be so prolific.”
I know what she’s thinking and that she wants me to tell her all about it but I’m not going to feed the gossip. I stand there silently until she finally opens the till to retrieve my change.
“See you next Monday, Mrs Roberts.”
“See you then, Miss Butters.”
I turn and walk out of the store and head directly for the library. I know exactly what she was thinking because I’ve heard the townspeople speculating about me before. They all think I’m a writer and as Mrs Roberts is able to tell them that I purchase a new notebook every Monday, they think this confirms it. They assume I must be successful because I can afford to live without taking on a second job like most writers have to. And they amuse themselves by guessing what my pseudonym is because they can’t find any books written by Prudence Butters. Not that any of them know that my name used to be Daisy Turner, but they wouldn’t find any books written by her either.
The Hope Springs Library has an extremely limited selection. Like most small town libraries, it has a lot of books for children and young adults to encourage them to read widely. However, in tacit acknowledgement of the fact that most people in small towns don’t continue reading widely after they reach adulthood, the rest of the catalogue consists primarily of popular fiction, sporting biographies and a large collection of well-thumbed 1970s Mills & Boons.
I read a lot of crime fiction and these days it’s popular enough so I’m covered there. But the philosophy texts I supplement the crime fiction with have to be specially ordered from a library in a bigger town a half hour away. Or sometimes from the city.
At least with the self-service nature of libraries these days, I don’t have some nosy local matriarch pondering my reading selections and commenting on my choice of reading material. I get enough of that from Dr Faraday.
When I first arrived in Hope Springs, I used to come to the library on Fridays. As I explored the option of each day, I soon learned that Mondays were the only days there were no functions or primary school visits or book club meetings or unexpected busloads of tourists needing to use the bathroom. The librarian, Jillian Sugar, deliberately schedules it that way so that she can have a peaceful start to her working week. Jillian is almost as reclusive as I am without anywhere near as good an excuse as I have. She has lived in Hope Springs her whole life except for the years she spent at university learning to be a librarian. Her mother was the Hope Springs librarian before her and her grandmother was the Hope Springs librarian before that. She told me once it’s a Sugar family tradition to be a librarian. I made the mistake of asking when her daughter would be taking over. Given her advanced years, I thought it was a reasonable question. And given my general distrust of strangers, I thought it prudent to begin preparing myself for her replacement.
“I don’t have a daughter,” she told me primly, pursing her lips and narrowing her eyes like I’d asked when the baby was due. I can’t help but think that if you’re going to tell people that it’s such an all-important family tradition, then maybe you should take care of that tiny detail that makes it possible for it to continue, rather than forming and then holding for three years a grudge against someone who asks a rather obvious question.
We haven’t spoken since. If I need a special order, I lodge it online, and every Monday, she makes sure it’s waiting on the counter for me to collect without having to ask. It’s an arrangement that suits us both.
This morning, as usual, Jillian is nowhere to be seen and as far as I can tell I’m the only patron. I deposit my books from last week in the return chute, collect my special order from the counter – a book on Nietzsche – and then select a volume from the new arrivals shelf. I don’t bother to read the back cover because I can tell from the dark grey background and red, blood-spattered tombstone that it’s the kind of book I’m looking for. I then spend half an hour on a library computer ordering the groceries that will be delivered tomorrow before scanning my books and leaving. I can tell it’s half an hour because of the little digital clock on the bottom of the screen. This is the only clock I see all week and my attention is always drawn to it. Something about seeing the tangible passage of time. I suspect I could pass hours, and even days, just watching the minutes tick over. I guess Dr Faraday knew what he was doing when he told me I couldn’t have any timepieces in my house.
It’s a seven kilometre walk back to the cottage. I don’t have a car of my own or a scooter or a bicycle or any kind of assisted transportation. If I have to go anywhere, I walk. Except to Dr Faraday’s office. He always sends a car for me.
The walk through Hope Springs takes up the first kilometre. After that I go up a hill for another two kilometres, following the winding asphalted road. At the top of the hill I cut through a paddock for a further three kilometres before following the dirt track that leads to my cottage. The paddock used to be part of a pine plantation and is thickly forested with trees that were never processed. My cottage sits on top of the hill surrounded by trees that protect it from view. The road to my cottage from town is about twenty kilometres long, which is why I always take the short cut. My cottage is the only house on the road. In all the time I’ve lived there, I’ve never seen any vehicles other than the car Dr Faraday sends for me, the delivery truck every Tuesday, a garbage collection compactor that comes every fortnight and the occasional lost tourist.
Down in the valley on the other side of the hill is the lake I swim in. It’s popular with sightseers in the summer months – those lost tourists have invariably taken the left turn at the fork in the road, even though there’s a clearly posted set of signs – but I swim there year round, no matter what the weather.
As soon as I get home, I sit down at the small wooden desk by the front window that allows me to monitor the road. It’s Monday, so I’m not expecting anyone, but in my experience when you’re not expecting anyone is when someone will turn up. I don’t like uninvited guests. So even if the only advance notice I have is seeing somebody through my front window, I need that time to prepare.
I pick up a pen. I haven’t quite finished the notebook I bought last week but it will be full in the next few hours. Mrs Roberts and her small town gossips are right about one thing: I am prolific. But nothing I write will ever be read by anyone else.
I started writing three years ago at Dr Faraday’s urging. I’d had yet another setback and in addition to relocating here, this was the other step he felt sure could be the key to my recovery. Dr Faraday is the best mind in his field and I follow each of his steps and instructions to the letter. But I’m not sure he believes my complete recovery is achievable anymore.
I’m thirty years old and I’ve never had a job or a boyfriend. It’s been fifteen years since I had a pet or anyone I could trust or call a true friend. And it’s been ten years since my father, the last of my family, died.
I’ve never paid a bill. Dr Faraday and my court appointed trustee, Mr Watson, oversee my inheritance and the compensation money I was given. They pay all the bills associated with the life I lead – buying this house, organising my weekly grocery delivery, making sure the electricity and water supplies are ongoing, sending new clothes at the start of each new season. I have more clothes than I could ever wear and most of them still have the tags attached.
I’ve never made an appointment to have my hair cut. Every three months or so, Dr Faraday will look at me critically and say, “I think it’s time for a trim.” He will make a call to a friend of his who will squeeze me in before I make the trip back home. The hairdresser talks about people I’ve never heard of and makes suggestions about styles and colours that might suit me, but I always say the same thing. “As long as I can pull it all back in a ponytail.” She made me blonde once. It didn’t make any difference to me – just like the clocks, I don’t have any mirrors in my cottage so the only time I ever saw myself looking like that was just that once at the salon – but when Dr Faraday saw it, I could tell he wasn’t pleased.
I’ve never finished high school, or learned to drive a car, or voted in an election, or smoked a cigarette, or tasted alcohol, or taken my clothes off in front of a man, or backpacked in Europe, or shared a house with people I’m not related to, or gone to a nightclub, or worn a floor-length evening gown, or any of the things I associated with being an adult when I was a teenager.
So I understand why Dr Faraday thinks I’m not going to get better. But I am determined. He dictates everything else in my life. Not this.
I select the notebook I bought last Monday from several lying on the desktop and turn to the dog-eared page marking where I left off. Dr Faraday recommends that I don’t reread what I’ve written too much as most of the problems I have stem from not being able to let go. The whole idea of the exercise is to write it down and move on. It hasn’t worked. I write about the same thing over and over, variations on a theme. But whereas I was once dominated by fear, obsessing over the event that changed everything, now I imagine scenarios in which I respond differently, act contrarily, alter how that day unfolded. Now I can control my fear. Mostly.