I have been thinking of her today, here’s how I remember her.
She holds herself upright, a head teacher used to being listened to, though that authority long since diminished by age and circumstance. She is a ‘fat old lady’ now, her words not mine. She doesn’t take ‘fat’ as an insult, more of an accurate description. She is empirically fat. What she objects to is the lecturing and the haranguing,
‘Do they think I don’t know I’m fat?’
And the assumption that she is somehow lacking in moral fortitude because of the size of her waist.
She walks slowly, another thing that annoys her. So much annoys her. She worries sometimes, that she’s a curmudgeon.
‘Only that’s only really used to describe men, isn’t it ? What do they call women?’
I say nothing.
There is, however, much to be annoyed about, she explains using her teacher voice.
‘Look at the state of it all,’ she rails, although it has been some time now since she was out in all of it.
Her world is shrinking and this both terrifies her and in some ways is a comfort. No longer compelled to make polite conversation with idiots who know nothing, she has become prickly and uncensored in her remaining conversation. This is funny, she is very funny – until that acerbity is turned on me, where I sting under its backlash. She is quick to anger but even quicker to apologise and as the saying goes,
‘Always a little patience is required with the great and the good.’
Her occasional lack of social niceties was always made up for by her warmth and wit and friendship.
Her hands ache, her knuckles swelling red and hot and tender. More than tender I suspect, her hips and knees too.
‘But no one likes a moaner.’
I see her wince sometimes when she thinks I’m not looking. Only at night, when she is alone, the darkness seeping into the walls do I suspect she gets lost in the pain. The fear of it, of it taking hold, becoming unbearable, swallowing her up.
The next day she sits in her chair, staring out of the window, dozing a while. Embarrassed if I catch her asleep.
‘It’s this damn cat’ she’ll mutter ‘always making itself comfortable on my lap, always refusing to move its old bones. Old boy stinks now too.’
The cat stands and stretches and then circling her lap, settles itself down again to sleep.
On other days she asks me, embarrassed and frightened,
‘You will tell me won’t you if I smell of wee. I couldn’t bear to be one of those old dears dribbling away, not knowing everyone holds their breath every time they come near.’
She used to read, but her hands hurt holding the book. I offer her a book-chair, something to rest the book on, but she shakes a refusal, instead preferring talking books on the iPad.
She fails, even after repeated, patient showing and her increasing grumbling and swearing, to master much but she can just about work listening to talking books if I download them for her first. It’s sociable, flicking through the selections. She loves science fiction and fantasy. She’d always read. Anything to do with aliens and robots, the bloodier the better. She had a go listening to Fifty shade of grey, ‘to see what all the fuss was about.’
‘I was embarrassed having it playing so loud,’ she’d laughed. ‘Imagine if someone had walked in.’
Back in the day, ‘in the 70s when everyone was knitting their own bloody chickpeas’ she used to knit but can’t be bothered towards the end, even if her hands had allowed it. And she’s no one to knit for.
‘Babies in Africa,’ she’s telling me about some woman in the village. ‘She said they were knitting for babies in Africa. Said it was a lovely group and they had tea and gave you a biscuit. I told her, I had plenty of my own bloody biscuits, thank you. And if they were so worried about babies in Africa, why didn’t they send them the biscuits. Or better still cancel their national debt to the bloody IMF and encourage women into education while they’re at it. ‘ she tuts impatiently ‘I told her,’ her face animated, eyes flashing wickedly, that head-teacher tone, ‘Africa wasn’t an actual country – Where in Africa, dear? Be specific.’
She’s funny, though I daren’t laugh too much. I can see she’s getting tired, so I make more tea and nervously ask her if she wants a biscuit.
I miss her.