I could tell the old woman was going to be trouble from the moment we walked in and asked if she was Judith. Hans is allergic to narcissists, so when she began revving up, he busied himself with the baby alpaca blankets at the front of the store. Until what age can an alpaca be advertised as a baby? I wondered. I’m drawn to old ducks like Judith, somehow. Their kind of life can happen to anyone, and it’s best to be prepared. From her eagerness it seemed as though she was more or less alone, and didn’t want to be. It smelt like divorce.
The shop was full of heavily discounted products. Even though alpaca wool is very special, it’s difficult to convince customers that a nondescript coat should cost $700. No matter how soft. The fluoro - 30% tags, served to bedazzle and encourage.
Judith wore her frizzy hair down around her very clear eyes, framed by glasses. She was also slim. Slimmer than me, I noticed, yanking the belt buckle holders on my jeans to pull them up and hide my belly. “So you’re looking to get into the alpaca business then?” she asked.
“I wouldn’t say we’re interested in getting into the business exactly. We’d like a few animals as pets, fibre animals mainly. I like to knit, so I wouldn’t mind getting some yarn spun from their blankets.” I hadn’t knitted since I was in primary school, and I only have a vague memory of churning out lop-sided scarves from maroon wool - chosen because it matched my school uniform.
The term ‘blanket’ refers to the coat of an alpaca once it has been shorn. I learnt the word half an hour before I used it on Judith.
“They’re wonderful animals. We’re a close knit community, Alpaca-owners. You’ll want to buy your animals from someone you can trust. Who doesn’t mind if you call them at 2am because one of your girls is acting funny.”
“You have to check on them in the middle of the night?” I asked.
“No. It’s certainly not a requirement. They’re self-sustaining, smart animals. But you might have a sense. It wasn’t out of the question that I’d wake up and see how mine were getting on.” Up closer to her I noticed the skin of her cheeks stretched tightly over the bones in her face. The strain of it made her capillaries bloom in neat pink rosettes around her nostrils. Injectables seemed to have frozen her mouth just so, in a perennial frown.
“I had fourteen animals at my property. But I had to sell last year when my husband left me. We’d been there twenty-four years. Of course I couldn’t manage everything on my own. Probably a good thing, to get out. A new lease on life.”
“I’m sorry to hear..”
“Did you see gypsy when you were at the farm, the beautiful cherry coloured number? She just gave birth to this little guy. I’m calling him ‘Royal Rumani’, because, did you know? that Rumani is the language that the Gypsies speak?”
“After I sold the farm, Linda said she’d take my animals in. House them y’know. They don’t charge for it. I just work at the shop for them every now and again. Keeps me busy. I can go and see my brood whenever I want. Sometimes I go to shows with them.” She got her phone out and began flicking through pictures of her alpacas. “They’re my babies,” she said, trembling with loss.
“Actually we really need to go now,” said Hans, placing a hand on each shoulder, after nudging two baby alpaca blankets and a beanie forward on the counter. Judith seemed shocked. She hadn’t noticed anyone else in the store. She was just so absorbed in her…
“Do you want that hat,” he asked, pointing to my head. I was trying on alpaca fur hats while Judith was talking to me. She hadn’t commented on this. I wave of interest piqued in her face until she remembered to be affronted by the interruption.
“Well, my deepest apologies to the two of you. I had no idea you were in such a rush,” she said. “We have guests coming at 2pm. We really must be getting back,” he said, voice neutral. “I think you should get it darling, it’s very elegant. A reminder of our bright, alpaca-filled future.” I put the hat on the table next to the blankets, Judith tried to hide her surprise at the obscure items we’d decided to buy.
“Let me just write down my contact number in case you want to talk it over…” Hans let her linger over each number and then crumpled the sheet she gave him in his hand and placed it in one of his back pockets, it would make snow the next time I bothered to wash his jeans.
She thanked us and said, like an eager dog waited to be petted, “I hope I didn’t give you too much information.”
“You didn’t, it was great,” I answered. Hans rolled his eyes, and it was not out of the question that she would’ve seen him.
We got in the car, and I placed the paper bag at my feet. It was large, and it crumbled against me loudly like an unexpected failure.
“She was one of the most annoying people I’ve ever met. She wasn’t even listening to you. Just yabbering on, looking to have her ego stroked at any opportunity. Complete lack of self awareness,” he said.
“She’s divorced after 24 years of marriage. I can’t even imagine how hard that is. How would she ever meet anyone new? She’s not exactly young,” I said.
“I’m surprised it took him that long to divorce her,” he said.
“She probably wasn’t always like that,” I said.
“You’ll never be like that,” he said.
And I wondered if Judith was ever skeptical when her husband said that to her.