One Reply to “1.25.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. She lives alone. That’s what is known. There was a time just after her husband passed when neighbours came round with soup they’d made, and slices of ham or beef, and bowls of cooked vegetables, and they said how sorry they were and they did not enter the house. And for a while a boy called Billy did her shopping, if she wrote a list – for almost a year he did that and she gave him a dollar each time that he did. But all of that was years back, so many years that she doesn’t count, so many that almost no one remembers now.

    Now she does everything for herself. That’s what they see. In winter she sweeps the snow from the front of the house and lays down salt or ash against slipping. And you can see her then, back bent with age, and slow as dust settling, and it is an effort that shames men in the street to do the same in front of their own houses. And she keeps her small square of garden neat and tidy through the year and that shames men just the same.

    And in the early spring she hangs bags of nuts and seeds from the cherry tree at the back, and she waits for the birds to come, which they do. And she talks to them just as she talks to each of the neighbourhood cats when they stop lazily by, and she knows the cats and the birds by name, most of them. They are not names that anyone else uses, but they are her names for them and they seem to know that.

    And in summer the doors and the windows of the house are thrown wide so that the air can move through, from the front to the back if the weather follows its normal pattern. And she takes up her carpets on a day in June and she hangs them on a strong line and beats them till the dust turns the grass grey and her arms ache and sweat marks her dress. She stops to catch her breath and she touches beneath her breast, just where heart beats a lunatic rhythm. There are spots like sparks before her eyes and she is a little dizzy for a while. Then she is fine again and she gathers herself and she sets to with the carpet beating stick again.

    It’s been that way for years now and each year she is a little older and a little smaller under the weight of those years. And on the anniversary of her husband’s death she walks up to the churchyard, the only day of the year that she does, and she cleans up around his plot and wipes the moss from his stone and sets down new flowers in a jar of green water. And she tells him how things are since last she kneeled there before him.

    All of that is known and seen and talked about over tea or coffee in the houses on her street, or over wine or beer in the bar and the hotel, as though she is a barometer of the year or a clock to set the seasons by.

    And she buys extra from the bakery on that churchyard-visiting day, pastries and custard tarts and fruit loaf, and they suppose it has something to do with her husband being gone and maybe she lays the table for two on that special day when he passed and she sits and waits to see if he comes back again. And maybe he does, they think, in her head at least, for the lonely and the old must be counted gently mad in their thinking.

    ‘What’s it been now? Twenty years?’

    But the truth is that on that one day of the year she has company, flesh and blood company. On that one day she has a visit from her husband’s sister. She comes under cover of darkness and she comes quiet and on tip-toe slippered feet and that way no one sees, or if they see then, because they do not look so closely as they might, they think it is just the old woman of the house coming and going on this one night of the year that is different.

    And the sister stays for a day and a night and they lie in the one bed, holding each to the other like survivors of a natural disaster, and they whisper the things they remember about a husband and a brother that they miss, and they talk of how he was when he lived. And in that way they are a comfort to one another and sleep can wait till they are done talking, which they never are, all their rehearsed words saved for this day and this night.

    And it’s been so many years now that she does not really remember her husband, not so clear as she pretend, but she cannot tell the sister that, cannot tell her that she makes things up just so she has something to say on this one day and night of the year, makes things up so that they do not sleep, but talk all the long night holding each other like lovers.

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