My room is small. One shelf of books, one painting on the wall. They wouldn’t let me bring more — “no space” they said. Everything was sold or given away.
So here I sit each day, trying to see beyond my possessions that aren’t here, looking across to the window.
From my chair I can see the branches of the tree outside. Today the sky is white, the naked winter branches stark against it like jagged cracks in ice. It’s prettier in autumn when the leaves turn red and gold, and sometimes I’ll see a squirrel, but more often just birds. Autumn was always my favourite time of year. But my days of kicking through leaves in the woods are gone forever. Just like Alfred — long, long gone. We used to have such fun together — he always could make me laugh.
I miss him.
The winter he died was bleak. A bitter, unkind December. Too cruel for old bones. I was afraid to go outside in the snow and ice for fear of slipping and breaking something. How unusually prescient of me. And how sad at your love’s funeral, to be preoccupied by concern for yourself. Alfred would have understood though. He always got me.
And this is not such a bad place, for an old folks’ home.
But who’d have thought I’d end up here?
Alfred would weep to see me sitting alone, hour after hour — hands too arthritic to hold a pen or type, eyes too old and weak to read. At least I have my audio books to listen to — I went almost insane with boredom that day last week when they took my hearing aids to be repaired. And yet sometimes deafness can be a blessing! Like when they take me down into the television lounge to sit with all the half-dead who are half-watching those half-witted game shows. I just turn off my hearing aids and shut my eyes and soon I’m back with Alfred in the house by the lake we rent every summer.
I write, he paints, and every weekend brings fresh visitors, escaping from the city. They come bearing gifts of flowers and wine and treats from the deli that are impossible to get out in the sticks. These are the days of wine and roses that every artist dreams of — and we have them, Alfred and I. We have our art, and we have our friends, and most of all we have each other. We’re young and happy — love and friendship and the warmth of the sun envelop me…and then they wake me with a shake, and I’m back in this ancient body, and it’s time for tea.
No visitors here. Not for me.
No children, we decided. Our work and each other consumed us.
But now I’m reaping what we failed to sow. Most of our crowd are dead and buried — surviving to ninety eight has given me ghosts for friends. I always thought I’d live fast and die young, “go out in a blaze of glory”. Our friends were mostly tortured artists — they killed themselves, drank themselves into oblivion, or wrapped their cars round trees in drugged up accidents. “Tragic” the papers said and wrote some nonsense about the 27 Club. Some lived on, of course, like us — then got cancer, suffered strokes, had heart attacks. My heart broke when I lost Alfred, dead in his sleep at seventy five. I thought it was a terrible way to go — no chance to evaluate his life, no chance to say goodbye. Now I think he was the lucky one. I’ve been too long without him.
How much longer will I sit here, in this chair, looking out of this window? I struggle to remember how long I’ve been here…I broke my hip at ninety two…or was it ninety three?…it must be five years if it’s a day. And inside me there’s still the girl who never could sit still — I always ran and danced and loved and laughed. No more.
But still — this is not such a bad place, for an old folks’ home.
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