Write On!

Still Life: Old Woman Alone in Her House

In Responses on January 5, 2012 at 7:21 pm

by Jennifer Strange

The birds insist on themselves outside the window this temperate day in January, until the air conditioner kicks on and hums itself into first place. Will the annual ice storm come? Swinging won’t make us stay as ice storms do. We light the fire, breathe the ash, make another cup of tea, and wait until summer.

Here, it won’t be a long wait. Summer may come again tomorrow. Then, I will take my walker and pace the block again. Wave to the young boys next door and tell their mother I’m 92. Make the dog at Holly’s house bark a small, serious bark. Peer into the pilot’s windows. Thank that young man with the old dog again for every day moving my newspaper to the front porch. And turn around back home.

The teapot has started to whisper at that pitch only I can hear. “Husband, the water is about to boil,” I would say, but instead, I stir my own honey in the hot water and dip my own tea bag.

My husband knew the names and calls of every bird that passed our yard. We would sit on the bench out back still as death and watch them visit the bushes our boys groom so well. He would whisper them: “cedar waxwing, my sweet” and “killdeer, hon,” and “dark-eyed junco, dearest.” I would sip my tea and watch for their movement from one limb to another.

The liturgy of home is the only thing that makes every day move now. I wait for plot but it rarely comes. I don’t mind the wait; plot is dangerous.

Once, a woman told me she’d awakened in her car parked sideways across several slots in a parking lot, no memory of having driven there. On another occasion, a man told me of a phone call he’d received from a former acquaintance who had built his retaining wall but now faced charges as an accidental accomplice to drug trafficking. These stories can have their plots. I’ll take the long and slow haul.

The blue jays have started a quarrel. Black crows descend in one yard, then the next, in loud hundreds. The children next door will soon run their soccer ball over to my tall pine and pick at the bark. When my plot moves me away from here, I will try to remember them without too much crankiness, but I do wish they’d leave that pine alone. Would that my skin had such roughness anymore, thin as a dogwood petal now.

But they’re off again. “Magnole,” the older one says, to my state tree on the corner. Mischievous little brother tries to round the corner before their mother can catch up. They begin to sing a nonsense song about pine cones and grass and everything else in their hands. Every second is new plot to children, bless them.

Evening will make me turn on the lights soon and the liturgy of the night will begin: soup with crackers, decaffeinated tea with some program in front of the fire, make my face, and sleep. Liturgy is not plot: it is time. The foundation will crack itself into morning, the neighborhood cats will wail, the coffee will want its brewing. And I will wake another day in another place forever.

  1. My favorite one because I love the quirky old woman and the poetic tone of the story and its brevity is refreshing. I can’t seem to keep mine short!

  2. […] January 2012: “Still Life: Old Woman Alone in Her House“ […]

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