Laura Grace Woodland
Laura is a regular feature writer for SNACK mag – a culture magazine in Scotland. Over the past year she has been taking creative writing courses and is working on her first novel – Two Ragazze.
The tale is a duel perspective, YA novel in the style of magical realism. It tells the story of two girls, Kate and Vale, whose souls are linked. One in Italy, one in England, swapping at night. Just as they decide to finally meet in real life, one of them goes missing, leaving the other one stuck. Torn from half her life Kate must travel to Italy to find out what the hell has happened.
Two Ragazze (extract)
My skin prickled, this was everything I had imagined and yet an implosion of déjà vu’s that seemed to grip my stomach like an angry ghost. I leaned back into my seat. My sandaled feet crushing against my luggage – not wanting to put it underneath the coach, needing it close, I’d already lost so much. How much do you bring with you on a trip like this? Looking out of the window as the bus slowed down into the city, everything felt at once familiar and strange. My mind jarring at the graffiti it struggled to read. Could I still speak Sicilian or even Italian? ‘Posso, sono ancora io’ I whispered. The phrase clunky across my tongue, but it was there, everything was there. As usual, it was like a cloud, out of reach and yet I could grasp at it when I needed. The sounds changing with my English tongue, the muscles unable to perform the task my mind asked for. I loathed how much of an idiot I could sound as I pathetically attempted to roll rrrr’s. As much as my mind could remember, my muscles had no interest. The language hadn’t disappeared even though that life seemed to have. I had been here a thousand times and yet I have never stepped foot here.
The rooftops blurred as we approached the train station. Migrants sat all about, a boy’s eyes meeting mine, both of us outsiders, searching for a life here.
Seeing everything new and yet old stirred a kernel of anxiety up within my chest. I guess that wasn’t unusual, I always have been the more anxious of us, but it was perhaps unexpected. It wasn’t as we had planned, as I had planned. I like order. I was meant to step off the plane and she/we/us? Would be there, waiting. The first time we had ever met in person. We had joked that there was sure to be some cosmic implosion, ‘us’ being in the same place. That it should never happen, we feared it anyway, but we still booked the tickets. We had been planning this day for years. Both working any little job we could and syphoning away the money so that when the time came we could meet wherever we wanted. It helped that our English parents, the Emps as we referred to them were rich and somewhat careless. Preferring to give us money rather than actually spend time with us. It had made it a lot easier to hide our dual personalities from the Emps then from Ima (our Italian mama). But we had always agreed that whatever happened we needed to meet.
That time had finally come. She would have driven me into the city, making up some story about an exchange partnership. I would stay with her. We’d laughed about sharing our tiny bedroom, we had shared so much, all our lives, we didn’t think it would be a problem to share it at the same time. But now… now I had booked a hostel, in the centre of town. The creeping realisation that the plan wasn’t going to happen as we had imagined had begun a few weeks ago. Everything had changed. Everything was different and there was no one I could tell, no one who would believe me. The only thing I could think to do was to still come here and find out what the hell was going on.
I wasn’t aware that anything had altered at first. I mean it wasn’t uncommon for us not to swap every night. Sometimes one of us would be out partying – well Vale – and miss whatever moment we needed to be in, in order for whatever happens to us to happen. It’s not an exact science. We have also had periods of stress, around exams and things where we wouldn’t sleep well, or if we were ill. Anything out of the ordinary could mess up the schedule, and so that’s what I assumed. Maybe she has the flu, I thought, I didn’t think it would stick. I still can’t quite accept that it has and what this might mean for me, my life, at least half of it. You can’t imagine what it is like for half of your life to just disappear without warning. If it was all just gone, I don’t know what I would do. A tiny prickle had itched at my neck since that first day, causing me to shiver, even in this warmth of Italy it was still there, a warmth I no longer seemed to be used to.
I’d thought, well that’s it, maybe this is the way it was always meant to be. Whatever had happened that had caused our strange union had unhappened and we were just no longer linked. But I texted, emailed, phoned and I got zero response. Had she found out a way to do this somehow? Block me out? Vale as I called her, wherever she woke up, in Italy or back in England had just disappeared completely. On-line there were no updates, and the only ones there tended to be were from me when I was her, before all this. She always had a drive for privacy that I struggled to understand. It was sometimes annoying and sometimes even upsetting. So of course when social media was a blank it didn’t shock me in the slightest but there had been absolutely nothing since.
I scanned our friends feeds, but nothing there either. I couldn’t message them, they would have no idea who I was. For most of them, all I could see was their profile pictures, a smiling face of someone I used to know. They know me as Valentina, when I wake up through those almond eyes. As Kate I’m no one, to them, an English stranger. I don’t even really know how different I am as Kate than as Valentina, the language it changes you. As Valentina I’m a bit bolder, funnier. As Katherine I’ve always felt that I was just here resting, waiting, I’d never really accepted this half of my life as much. I think we both preferred our other life. Although I had always felt in a part of me I kept most hidden away that maybe Katherine was my real life, it was certainly the more boring one, a position between us I always held.
In my English life I had more things, but all less important. I miss waking up in the simple cotton sheets as Valentina, hearing the whirrs of Italian ambulances hustle by and the constant discussions of neighbours drifting through the windows on warm sultry breezes. Staccato voices jarring a rhythm of life I no longer had. The mocha bubbling away. As Katherine I wake up in silence, a cold light, sometimes rain would pelt the windows. My life in the British countryside was a watercolour, compared to the vivid brightness of colours here.
I closed my eyes to hear the voices around me now, but it doesn’t give the same comfort I hoped for. Hearing life here through Katherine’s ears would never be the same. The sounds were sharper, the smells somehow less pleasant. I’d thought coming here as Katherine my two lives might converge in a way that made sense. But tears marched along my lower lids, I was further away from my life then I had been when I was back in England. Sometimes longing for something far away is more real than it can ever be in reality. At least there I had the comforting idea that once I got to Italy, once I sorted it out, everything would be ok. I would find Vale. Whatever was broken would be fixed and then it would all be sorted. I would have my life back, our strange mixed up existence that we shared. But setting foot here it all seemed harder than I had imagined. The challenge suddenly bigger. I know no one here, only as Valentina. Who I no longer was.
It’s very peculiar to know someone Intimately, to share your life and yet to have a personality and existence completely distinct from each other. What we want to share, somehow we always have. But she was always much better at putting up walls in her mind. Blocking off memories from me. Keeping parts of herself private so that only a certain smell or touch might trigger a memory I wouldn’t expect. When that happened it would be overwhelming, like a vision, almost as if the walls she built around it made the memory stronger, more distinct. Gut punching. What was stranger still was when it happened when I was in one country and I could get the memory of another. I, Kate would bite into an almond croissant, as the smell of espresso drifted past and the whirl of beans grinded. Suddenly, I wouldn’t be in the big chain coffee shop in a grey British town but in a tiny café in the back streets near our Italian home – standing at a bar as a boys hands drifted around my waist. I’d laugh and knock back the espresso looking deep into his eyes, feeling like I could fall into the warmth of his gaze. But that would be it. I would have no idea who the boy was. Nothing. Every memory surrounding that memory would be blank. She would have built up so many bricks around the memory that I wouldn’t be able to access anything else. How she did it, I don’t know. I’d never wanted to.
My life, my memories, for her were always a published diary. If anything I felt she tired of the mundaneness of me. My overthinking ruminations about trivial things. She often laughed at how naïve I was, wondering how we could have the exact same life and yet I was still a coward. Well, she hadn’t used those words but I sensed it. I worried constantly that somehow If she didn’t know everything, even what I ate for breakfast, somehow we would be caught, someone would guess and then something terrible would happen. I had to protect us. Whilst I spent my time worrying about what could be, she never seemed to care. She was always carefree. Her smile brighter, her eyes smarter than me. How that works, considering we are to an extent the same person, I don’t know. But there’s definitely a distinct me and a distinct her and she knew how to keep ‘the her’ private in a way I never did, never wanted to. So my life had become the shadow to her light.
The bus pulled to a stop, gathering my things I peeled my sweaty back from the seat. I stepped down into the city which had been such a part of myself. I felt completely alone. I was finally here but without Valentina who even was I? Was this even my city anymore? The memories of it don’t belong to this body. They crawled across my skin. I felt as if the city itself might reject me ‘stranger’ its winding passageways whispered.