A Woman Named Camilla
by Taylor Maguire ’24
I moved to Boston during a very epochal phase of my life. The studio I came upon by chance and moved into last November was nestled in between coffee shops and boutiques that sold jewelry more expensive than my rent; it was a complete hidden gem. It had the occasional mouse and squeaky pipes but it kept me warm during harsh New England storms. The building housed a group of eclective characters, but the biggest anomaly of the building was the woman who lived on the third floor. Maybe it was the many layers of snow keeping me locked in that New Year’s Eve that made my interest in her grow, but curiosity did end up killing the cat. I found myself standing in front of her door. What was known about the woman was that she was a fortune teller, or at least all the tenants believed so. My bald landlord Larry murmured a word of caution after he helped carry in my bookcase saying,
“Avoid the witch upstairs.”
When I knocked on her door that day, it flung open quickly as if she was expecting me. Her hair was feather gray and coiled around her waist. She had big turquoise earrings that mirrored your own reflection, and wore a deep violet turtleneck with lace along the sleeves. She gave me a quick glance before speaking.
“It’s always a pleasure to meet new tenants. Please come in,” she said.
Her apartment was flooded in winter sunlight that poured in through her stained glass window. She had a big table in the middle of the room and two big, emerald green sofa chairs surrounding it.
“Would you like some tea?” she had offered.
“Oh no, that’s all right—” I had begun but she was already pouring us each a cup. The mug she handed me was tall and had yellow chrysanthemums painted all around it.
“Remind me of your name,” she had said.
“Maeve,” I replied.
“I am Camilla. When did you move in again?” she had asked.
“Two months ago,” I replied.
“I’ve been here around 40 years now,” she said, leaning back in her chair as she spoke. “And in that time, I have seen a collection of faces that weave their way in and out of this building, similar to when one watches a deck of cards get shuffled. Much like the Kings and Queens of the deck, there are some faces that jump out of the bunch with more intensity, but others slip by briefly and with no remembrance.” She held my gaze for a while and only turned away as a giant cat suddenly jumped onto the table.
“That’s just Romeo. He’s an old soul, but eats pastries like nobody’s business,” she chuckled as he made himself comfortable beside a record player. Romeo’s fur was gray like the fog that lingers around the Golden Gate Bridge, and he had a peculiar dent in his right ear.
“Have you always lived on the third floor?” I asked.
She rubbed the rim of her tea cup with her arthritic fingers.
“Not quite. A while ago when I was in love, I lived on the ground floor in apartment A, beside the boiler room. I married a man when I was 17—the entire world looks so shiny and new at 17. In high school, he would dog-ear pages of poetry he thought I would like, and push my hair behind my ears when I would paint. I truly thought he was my person. But, eventually when we moved to Newbury Street, the world became progressively rotten. Our relationship no longer revolved around poetry books and the little acts of kindness. The love morphed into the stacks of bills that would sit on our coffee stand or whether or not I had cleaned the bathroom that day. And the resentment just continued to spiral. So I moved upstairs.”
“Why would you stay in the building? Why wouldn’t you leave?” I asked.
“Love is a funny thing. Every morning I make toast, feed Romeo a pastry from the bakery down the street, and I open the door expecting to see a poetry book with dog-tagged pages just waiting for me on my welcome mat. There’s always the hope of things working out that seem to tether you to a fantasy. But it’s just a fantasy. You can keep the mug. It’s riddled with bad memories for me. But maybe it’ll answer whatever you came to my door looking for,” she said.
I left shortly after that.
When I went back downstairs, I looked over the cup with more intensity. Inscribed on the handle was a vow of love with Camilla’s name, and the name Larry in script beside it.