Paige Crandall was frequently to be found standing on the docks, her short hair ruffling up a little in the breeze, a cigarette grasped loosely between the finger and thumb of her right hand. Her hair had gone grey early in life; she couldn’t be much older than forty, but with a head of steely bristles. Her clothing was an almost daily uniform of overalls over a white men’s t-shirt. In the winter, she’d wear a thick black coat over that, but it was usually unbuttoned, and the overalls and t-shirt could be seen underneath.
Nobody knew what to make of her. The residents of the dockside neighborhood knew her both by sight and by name, but none could quite recall how or when they’d ever met her, even though she knew all of them perfectly, and on her way home from the docks would often call out to them, asking this one how his wife fared and that one whether her son was coming home from boarding-school soon. She was friendly, you see. Positively charming, in her own way, although her smile was always tired and her eyes were careworn.
She lived in a small apartment above what used to be stables, but, of course, there were no horses there anymore. The stables were converted into a garage, and that was where Paige worked, mending old engines and changing tires. Everyone said she was the best mechanic in town. Some wondered why, in a dockside city like theirs, she mended cars and not boats. She liked the docks so much, they said, so why didn’t she want to work there?
There used to be rumors about her. People said that she took lovers often. They said she was a feminist. Some said she’d had a family once but that they’d been in an accident – whether they drowned or were killed in a car crash was greatly disputed. Someone said that she’d never had a family of her own but had been single for a long time. Nobody knew the truth, and eventually, they grew tired of talking about it. She was so nice, never hurt a fly, that there didn’t seem to be much point in speculating anymore. It would only lead to circular, pointless arguments, and besides, there were more interesting people moving in all the time for the neighborhood bar-frequenters to talk about.
Paige knew that it wouldn’t last, though. Her past was coming, she knew, and it would come from the ocean. When it did, when it caught up with her, the rumors would start flying around again. She only hoped that people would remember her kindness and interest in them when that happened.