Fugitive Spirit
by Rosanne Rabinowitz

She is with me as I cross the border, this woman called Annemarie who I'm supposed to be. Her name is on the document, but it’s my picture there showing such a bright smile and smooth light hair. As the official turns the page, I look out at the dimly lit platform full of uniforms and passengers waiting to be let on. It’s 5:00 AM, dawn just showing their hunched shapes bearing unwieldy bundles and suitcases held together with ropes and old belts.

He stamps it with a thunk and hands it back. "We've done it again, Annemarie!" I say to her. I’d like to squeeze her hand but I can’t.

Lianne goes to the cemetery at least once a week. It’s handy after work because it’s over the road from the train station. The cemetery is the only green spot in a village of cracked pavement and small red brick houses. Only in the cemetery do the trees grow lush and rustling. The cemetery flowers grow and bloom much better than those in front of her house. No dust from the pit gets blown over now. But her mother’s roses behave as if the dust is still there, retreating faded and stunted among their thorns.

She sits down on the bench opposite the family plot. Benjamin Cairns... Beloved Husband and Father she can read on the biggest stone. She used to like following those twisty curlicues in the script with her fingers, back when they were small enough to sink into the grooves.

Lianne lights a fag and sighs, takes her heels off and substitutes trainers out of her bag. She empties her mind of the day’s details. Headlines for a spread on barbecues, all about Savemart Sizzling Sausages, Savemart Super-Hunky Steaks and a noxious punch called Savemart Summer Sparkler. The delights of Pineapple Monster Mousse. She shakes her head to get rid of them all. When the sun comes out she leans back and closes her eyes, letting it flicker onto her upturned face.


When she wakes the sun has gone, and though it isn’t dark yet the light is fading. Has she been asleep so long? Again, she thinks about getting her own place in Leeds, how commuting tires her and she’s beginning to wonder if she’ll be stuck here for the rest of her life. You’re all I’ve got now, Mum said after her father died. But that was a long time ago. Lianne stretches, and goes to the tiny grave next to his.

She reaches over to touch the daisies growing next to the stone, and sees other flowers were left there. Freshly-cut, lilacs from the front of the church. Where did they come from? Mum would only bring ‘proper’ bouquets from the stall at the train station. Almost covered by the lilacs is a small booklet. Why didn’t she notice all this before? She must’ve been half-asleep before she even sat down. She opens it and sees it’s a passport.

Annemarie. Dead before one year, whoever she was, some bit of life finished before she could understand what living was. But she's given me a chance to freedom. I thank her, this Annemarie, poor little dead baby whose name I found in a government building. Thank you for helping me stay free and I wonder who she would've been, what she would've done if she had lived.

Maybe I’m doing the living for her. Would she like what I’m doing, be pleased I chose her?

Perhaps it was this wondering that brought her to life. Imagine a baby crying over a great distance, but I didn’t really hear it. I felt a stirring, a shout for attention without words or voice. I put it down to seasickness and too much Guinness on the ferry that first night.


The stamps of the different countries are beautiful, she’s never seen so many in one place. There are strange ones: "Magyar Nepokoztarsasag", all in pink with designs lightly traced in graduated shadings of orange, blue and brown. Magyar? Oh, that’s Hungary. 20 July 1990.

Lianne flips through other pages. Something in Russian-looking writing. Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia. Many renewals. And the final one: Waterloo June 1998. Must’ve come in on the Eurostar.

Ought to give it to the police. Someone lost this, and an odd place to lose it too. Lianne fans the pages back and forth against her hand. Or see if it’s someone from around here, but who’d come back after being away to all those places?

Cairns, Annemarie. It says next to the picture. Cairns. Common enough. Annemarie. Annemarie Cairns. Same as the name in simple blocky letters on that stone. Her sister’s name. Her twin sister, the sister that hardly was. It goes round in her head, echoing... the name repeated so many times over the years. Annemarie, Annemarie come play with me. Annemarie such a cheerful baby. If only Annemarie was here.

Everything outside gets still, she’s down to the sound of her own breathing in her ears, her heart going fast like she’s running but she’s doing nothing except gawping at that picture and that name. The fluff dancing in the waning light stops drifting, the last birds silent. Only the passport pages move and shake between her fingers.

Then she hears another train come into the station. The bird songs again, now scattered and sporadic. And Lianne looks again. The face near her sister’s name is smiling, but that smile is much too big. Like she’s sitting on a stool in the supermarket photobooth making herself do it. She’s got dark eyes, but blonde hair.

Annemarie Cairns. The twin sister who hardly was. The dead sister who’ll always be a baby. But she’s no baby in that picture. She went away. She’s living. Somewhere.

She’s here. Those flowers are fresh, with drops of water trembling between light purple petals. They’ve just been washed. She must’ve have gone to the loo in the church to do that. Then put the flowers on the grave, just in front of Lianne while she slept.

Lianne slings her bag over her shoulder and runs, clutching the passport to her stomach. Maybe Annemarie’s still in the cemetery. Maybe she’s walking on the streets. Maybe she’s in the pub or the miners’ club. Or getting on a train. The world jars again and again with the fall of her feet on the pavement, her eyes tear with the smoky insides of places where she searches. Last she’s back at the station, gazing at a platform empty except for a guard strutting, waving his torch and whistling.

Jimmy, how can you be whistling when my sister’s come back and maybe she’s just gone on the last train? But it’s not Jimmy’s fault. He’d think her mad if she asked him that. Everyone knows she doesn’t have a sister. Maybe she is mad. But she’s got that passport in her hand. The passport with Annemarie’s name – and their birthday – typed in front. When Jimmy looks up she waves at him, then sets off home.


When Lianne opens the door she hears laughter. Mum’s at the kitchen table with Gertie from the next village over, they’ve got a small bottle of Bell’s out.

"Alright Lianne? Gertie’s here, she’s come to watch Buffy on video. Want some whisky, love?"

Mum’s cheeks are flushed pink, her smile broad. One look at her, Lianne decides she won’t tell mum about the passport, not now when she hasn’t a clue herself where it came from. What’s the point of troubling her with it? Mum’s happy now. Happy with the satellite telly, her best mate who shares her passion for the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Plus a good tipple at the Bell’s.

"No thanks, I’m knackered, I’ll just find something to eat and get an early night." Lianne rummages in the fridge and takes out some salad, puts a veggie burger on the grill. There’s no crap from Savemart to be found in that fridge, ever.


Upstairs in her room she lays the passport open, next to a photo of her and Annemarie. Not identical, the eyes are different and Annemarie was smaller. Sometimes she’s quick to spot that, others she has to remember that she wears the yellow, Annemarie’s in pink. On the back written in smudged old ink: Annemarie and Lianne, two for the price of one!

Back and forth Lianne looks, then spreads the photos out on the second bed. "For your friends stopping over." That never happened, but the extra bed got used for laying her clothes out for school.

Next to the pictures she arranges her clothes for work.

In Amsterdam I stayed with an old friend but didn't see her. She lived in a house where everyone was English and worked all the time. The Dutch people gave me money raised from a benefit, so I didn’t have to find work straight away. Instead, I spent the days sitting in the house with its many rooms and corridors, the sun coming in the huge kitchen windows warming the remains of many hurried breakfasts.

Or I'd walk through the streets, visit the markets, sit in cafes. I wrote letters that I couldn’t post and knocked back mugs of rich and strong coffee. There’s no coffee half that good in England, but then I didn’t find proper Guinness in Amsterdam either. I imagined my friends down the pub drinking it after defence campaign meetings. I’d take out my passport and think of Annemarie. Would she like Guinness too if she’d grown up?

I daydreamed of adventure, discovering places I never thought I’d see. In my sleep I found them too, but they weren’t what I expected. My unfocused wobbling gaze took in white white blurred faces pulsing in and out of view. There was a priest. A priest? My family are all atheistic Jews.

Lianne is eager to go to work for the first time in months. She puts the two pictures in her bag with her office shoes. Instead of reading the paper on the train, she looks at the passport. Annemarie, what’s it like being alive when people think you’re dead?

But of course she’s dead. Less than a year old, some fever going round. Everyone says, everyone knows. Lianne had that fever too. When did she realise she’d been there at that moment of death, lying beside her sister in the twin-sized cot? The heartbeat that echoed hers in the womb stopped, the breathing she always heard next to her – gone. She didn’t remember any of these things, but she also never forgot.

St Catherine’s House at the Aldwych housed huge dusty volumes, records of births and deaths. If I was a Catholic maybe I’d be giving thanks to St Catherine, who’s got to be the patron saint of fugitives and scammers.

The building was filled with the hush of a library – or a church. Anyone who coughed or cleared their throat looked around expecting to be scolded. Me, I was so nervous I farted. But then I found ‘Annemarie Cairns’ in the 1966 book of deaths with a nice fat zero next to her. Annemarie. Enough like my own name, Anna. Now find the date of birth and you’ll be sorted...

I held the heavy book full of so many lives. Could they be in there buzzing and bumping against those thick covers, trying to get out? Of course, they’re probably on microfilm or CD Rom now. With so many of them condensed, their buzz must be high and squeaky.

Kevin the designer nods at Lianne. He starts telling her about his new man, but Lianne goes immediately to the sheaf of papers in her tray. Her barbecue headline "I’m a fire-starter" had been changed to "C’mon barbie light my fire". Oh well. Kev suggested her clever headline might be dated by a few years, but he didn’t realise Dee would insist on something from the sixties instead! Sighing, she summons the page up on screen and whips through the corrections. Later, Dee gives her a new lay-out to sub. Without much cutting to do, she deals with it quickly.

Kevin leans on the top of Lianne’s Mac and waves his hands in front of her screen to get her attention. "I’m going for a sandwich. Want me to bring something back for you?" She gives him an order, then asks if the scanner will be free for a while.

"Yeah, sure. What for? Tarting up some rude pictures?"

"Get your mind out of the gutter, you!" But her laugh is forced, not up for office banter.

The state of art scanner whirs and groans, but the pictures are soon done. On the screen Lianne tries to make Annemarie get older. That always looks so easy on telly. Watch those blobby baby features grow and sharpen. The eyes change from blue to brown like hers, like her mum’s. Watch the nose get longer and bones emerge from behind round cheeks. Lianne has high cheekbones so her sister should too. And the woman in the passport? Yes, definitely.

Damn it. It goes all wobbly and takes too long. The curves keep turning into angles. She’s a sub after all, not a graphics person.

"Good try, but you won’t do that just with Photoshop. You’d need a multi-media programme, I reckon." Kevin stands behind her, peering over her shoulder.

I’ve never been in a real sleeping car before. Always I hitched or took the National Express on bogus student reductions. Here a sleeping car is only a couple quid, cheap like everything else for Westerners. The other day I saw two Germans buy a Polish farm out of their dole money.

The mattress is thick and soft, the sheets crisp and white, the blanket pulled in deep folds around me. But I can't sleep. Strange to be snug in this comfy bed, while hurtling to an unknown destination. Hearing whistles, other trains rushing by; scraps of shouts in foreign languages and the grind of brakes as stations come and go. All names on a map that is part of a past, the source of stories that died with my grandmothers. Can I find them buried under highrise housing blocks and toppled monuments to Lenin?

I ask Annemarie if she knows these stories, though her past isn’t mine. Instead I’m drifting into her world. Into a room where I stare at legs under a table. Something moist and warm under me, turning cool. A baby girl, small and round like me, gazes down from someone’s lap.

Lianne dumps her failed attempts, then leans back and starts on her sandwich.

"You continue to amaze me, Lianne. Melted mozarella with pesto!" Kevin teases her again. "Didn’t know you eat that stuff up here! And what was it yesterday, sun-dried tomatoes?"

Lianne chews slowly, then pronounces: "Eee by gum, I do like me sun-dried tomatoes, with mushy peas, chips and black pudding. Tomorrow I’ll be bringing flat cap and ferret t’work too!"

"I thought you already brought the ferret. Isn’t it called Dee?"

While Lianne chokes on her mozarella, Kev turns to the subjects of boyfriend, clubs and drugs. "Ah, but you’re such a law-abiding citizen. What do you do for kicks?" He giggles.

"Hmmm, I’ll tell you what my mum does for kicks. Kicks policemen and hits ‘em over the head with her handbag. Almost got sent down for it. 84-85." It’s her turn to laugh watching the shock pass over his face, then his attempts to cover it. And he obviously doesn’t know what happened in "84-85" and won’t admit it either. Then she stops laughing when she realises that she hasn’t answered his question. Not at all.

"Do these when you can, please Lianne?" She swivels her chair round to see Dee putting new pages into her tray. Lianne nods, but every internal organ deflates when she sees they’re cookery pages. Titchy, fiddly little things, details of dishes she wouldn’t feed her mum’s goldfish.

"Ugh, look at this." Lianne says to Kevin as she types the first one into the computer. "Fruit cocktail again. I never figured out how they turn real fruit into those squishy cubes"

"Who said it’s real fruit? But I like fruit cocktail recipes. It’s fun making the little bits go different colours on the lay-out."

What kind of colours could she ever see writing stuff like "Give summer garden parties gusto with a refreshing fruity fungus?" Fungus? Oh no, she didn’t mean to put that. She highlighted "fungus" and typed in "freeze".

And then I was in bed, in a white room with the blurry faces – my family though I didn't know who they all were – and the priest. I knew what people were saying though I’d never spoken. I was dying.

"Fascists! Fascists!" The alarm rings with the shouts and the dream goes.

"Oh shit, not again!" I grumble as I pull on clothes, lace up boots. I’m 24 years old , a tall woman with short blonde hair instead of long black hair. Living in a squat in East Berlin. I'm called Annemarie though I'm really Anna. I hear the thump of the front door barricade going up, people running to the windows as I climb up the little winding staircase to my position on the roof.

There’s someone at the top, beckoning for me to follow. I’ve never seen her before, though she looks like any other Berlin autonome with her ripped leather jacket, Palestinian scarf, black jeans and DMs. The old iron stairway wobbles as I climb and I’m glad to have company. When I get to the roof no one’s there. Annemarie? Are you there? I call though I don’t know why. I shrug like it doesn’t matter when no one answers. Then stand ready at the stacks of bricks, bags of sand and boxes of bottles, peering over the parapet.

It’s only when Lianne’s eyes start watering and her stomach goes queasy that she remembers to take a break from the screen.

They never tell you staring at a computer too long can make you puke as well as go blind.

"Glad I only have a girl. My kid won’t be going down the pit." Mum always declared, for all her efforts to keep that pit open fourteen years ago. So no black lung for the likes of Lianne. Or hands red and cracked from cleaning jobs, or a bad back and support hose for varicose veins from standing all day. Some undiscovered computer disease will get her instead.

She looks around, wishing she could just flex and stretch her eyes like muscles. When she closes them, she sees Savemart fruit cocktail cubes against her lids. And drifting over them, semi-transparent, the stamps on Annemarie’s passport.


Annemarie’s expression keeps changing. Mornings, the eyebrows are raised, asking a question. When Lianne gets ready for work, she ponders the question. On the train she’ll check the passport again. At work Annemarie’s bored and impatient, a frown between those brows as if she knows exactly what Lianne’s doing.

Looking closer, she sees little whisps surrounding the neat hair in a fuzzy halo. Like it’s been cut and slicked into place, but still it tries to escape. That hair’s not really hers any more than the smile is. I’ll have another go with the scanner, Lianne decides. See what Annemarie looks like with wavy dark hair like mine. You can do that in Photoshop.

"Where’ve you been all this time? Who are you?" Lianne asks. "What would you be doing? What are you doing?" She keeps interrogating the moody blonde girl. It must be bleached, that hair. Look at those dark eyes. "Did you love reading, did you fall in love with words and go to University to study them? Would you be living with your mum at 32, spotting typos and writing about hunky-chunky steaks and festive fruit fungi?"

Of course not. Annemarie has gone beyond all those things, to places Lianne can’t even imagine. Not all nice ones, holiday-in-the-sun places, but places she wants to know.

In the drizzle the piazza in Timisoara isn’t crowded, like it was on telly last winter during the revolution. Only a few groups of teenagers stay put on the benches outside the cathedral.

Someone calls to me. A dark-skinned woman with long black hair stands near a stall draped in black velvet. She wears a brown leather jacket over a bright red, green and magenta dress. It’s the first leather jacket I’ve seen in this country except for mine.

‘Want candle?’ she asks. ‘for revolution. Ceausescu..." She draws a finger across her throat, then makes a rat-a-tat-tat machine gun gesture. ‘But many we dead too." She crosses herself and hands me a candle. "Two deutchmark.’ she concludes. I have only Hungarian forints. I give her a few. I don’t need the candle she offers me, so she lights it herself. But I stay watching its flame sputter on the pavement spotted with drops of rain, surrounded by lumpy pools of melted wax gone solid.

Great-aunt Nina lived here when she was a kid. When I was thirteen she taught me how to say "you’re a dickhead" in Romanian. Y’esta pula. Two of the teenagers come over. I hope I won’t need that phrase now,

The boy‘s hair is bleached platinum and he wears one earing, unusual here. "You from England?" he asks. "You like Sex Pistols? May I kiss you?" His girlfriend hangs on to his arm and smiles shyly. I surprise myself by nodding yes and he kisses me on the cheek. So does his girlfriend.

Lianne watches the X-Files with her mother. Mum is already solving the case, exclaiming over the handsomeness of David Duchovny. She’d do a better job than that Agent Scully. Especially seeing that she appreciates Mr. Muldur a lot better.

Lianne laughs, and thinks she wants to tell about the passport. Maybe she had it all wrong to think her mother would be upset. Instead her eyes would light up and she’d be pleased that she’s got an x-file of her own to solve.

She’s about to reach into her bag and come out with it, but she can’t. Because it’s got to be their secret. Sisters always have secrets from the parents, things about boyfriends or smoking or bunking off school. She and Annemarie never did, so this would be their first.


I cross in the afternoon, down a dusty road from one part of the Tatras to another. Under the straps of my rucksack I’m sweating. I approach the border control station that looks like a toll booth. The guy in there hardly looks at the passport.

The first time I’ve crossed in the day, on foot. On the other side it looks exactly the same. One minute I stood in Poland, now I’m in Czechoslavakia. Perhaps that tree over there stands in both countries at the same time.

Walking along to find the stop for a bus to Prague, I’m talking to her. "Annemarie, people used to get ten years in prison when they tried to cross this border. Now they just pop over because Czech beer is tastier and the bars close later. Maybe things are better now... maybe?"

The passport is lost, and so is Lianne. She searches everywhere. Could it be in back of the sofa, nestling in the easy chairs or hidden in the breadbin? She’s terrified her mother will find it. The secret revealed: dog-ends under the bed, diaphragm lurking among M&S knickers, used condom in the little pink-flowered bin under the desk. Current passport for long-dead sister, found who knows where?

Something’s taken from her again. Like a sudden empty space next to her, a stop to soft breathing in her ear. It’s only a passport. But where the hell is it?

She cares less about Savemart baked beans, or even Savemart lemon cheesecake. She doesn’t give a shit about Savemart anything. There’s nothing left.

I meet people I like and sometimes sleep with them. They come and go, but she’s always there. In my dreams I see through new-born eyes, other times she’s grown up. I speak to her as I move from country to country. She talks my own language while I learn the new ones. She encourages me while I teach others my language wherever I go. It’s a living. The grown-up version of Annemarie has long brown hair that curls a little and she’s quite thin but not skinny. And yes, I’m sure she likes Guinness.

It’s 1998, time to go back. They’ve stopped looking for you. But Annemarie has no answers to the other questions I ask. And no one else does either.

Before I left England I found her town on the map. I will go there, I thought, if I ever return home.

A page comes back with only one correction. Fuck those luscious lambchops. "Fuck" is circled in red. Lianne stares. She doesn’t even remember writing "fuck". She’d surely meant to write "love".

She corrects the "fuck", then writes a letter of resignation. She hopes to slip it into Dee’s tray quietly. But Dee looks up. "Oh Lianne, I wanted to speak to you."

It doesn’t matter, Lianne thinks. I’m leaving anyway.

"The cleaner found this on the floor, near the scanner. It might have something to do with you." Dee takes the passport from out of her drawer. "Is that a relative? She doesn’t look like you much."

As I walk through the village, I wonder how it looked to someone small, bouncing in a pram. I walk past the two pubs, the little shop, the social club. I go past the council houses and private houses on the outskirts. Her parents might still be here, a whole family and I imagine everyone I see to be those people.

Her grave is in back of the cemetery, just as I thought. Wild flowers grow around it, just as I imagined. A young woman in smart clothes is sitting on a bench nearby. I nod at her but realise she’s asleep. I put the lilacs on the grave and leave the passport too. I don’t need it anymore.

I glance at the sleeping woman, wondering if I should wake her before I leave. Someone could bother her, nick her bag or something. But she looks so peaceful. I decide not to disturb her.

On the train Lianne wakes from fuzzy half-sleep, confused by the foreign landscape speeding by. Watery dawn sunlight is strengthening into a band of warmth over her face and the arm closest to the window.


There are two of them in her bag, along with a month’s wages in travellers’ cheques and some addresses from Kev. Lianne is careful to give the right passport to the guard. When he’s gone she opens the other, the real one that brought her on this journey. She draws a finger over each strange stamp. She doesn’t know what she’ll do in those places. But she’ll find out.

I’m travelling further, she thinks, further even than Annemarie. But she’ll be with me when I cross the border.


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