I’ve lived in the same house for almost 45 years. My neighbours have lived next door to me throughout this time, and I still don’t know their names. My Arnie (God rest his soul), wanted to move to a new house a few years before he passed on, but I like the solidity and familiarity of this house.
This has been my home for most of my life. This was my first and only house as a married woman. My children were born in this house. My husband died here. My daughter was married here, and if she ever gets around to having children, they’ll spend weekends here, playing, running, and laughing. That’s what this house was made for – people, and lots of them.
I was 23 when I got married. When I first came to this house, I was a blushing bride carried over the threshold by a handsome groom. We were a beautiful couple. The faded picture over the mantle proves how good we looked together. It’s rather hard to believe that the pretty, wistful little girl in that white dress is me. Was me. Back then I was slender and fresh-faced, people smiled to see me, always rushing from place to place, helping out and smiling, laughing. Now I have sagging bags under my rheumy eyes, broken veins littering my cheeks and my lips no longer form a smile naturally. If my Arnie knew then what I’d grow into, I doubt he’d have married me.
Oh, I’m my mother now, no two ways about it. My mother had creaky hips, swollen ankles, aching joints and varicose veins. I swore I’d never be like her. Now my life painfully resembles hers. My body is failing. My daughter, Louise her name is, called after my Arnie’s mother, she’s much too busy to come and take care of her mama. My son, George…well, a more useless waste of space I never hope to see. At 39 he’s had at least six different jobs ranging from a salesman to a radio disc-jockey, and he’s good at none of them. He still hasn’t settled down with a girl. He’s had many girlfriends, but he can’t seem to keep them. Useless. I’ve tried to help him, even introduced him to a few lucky girls, but he paid me no heed. He doesn’t even call his poor mama to see how she is. He’s the head of the family now that his darling daddy passed on, and he can’t even come over to change a light-bulb for me. Well, that’s young people for you. Too full of their own importance. I was never like that.
Thank goodness for Kathleen. She’s the nice girl with comes to look after me. George and Louise said that I need someone to come and check on me. They said I couldn’t be on my own all the time, so out of the newspaper they hired someone they didn’t know from Adam! Luckily, she’s turned out to be a wonderful girl. She’s just a little snippet of a thing, no more than 24. She bustles around, chatting and humming. Her red hair flows behind her as she flits from place to place. She comes every day for a few hours. She helps me get washed and makes sure I get something to eat. She asks me about my Arnie and she always has the time to sit and hear about him. She thinks I should get to know the neighbours, that I should get out and meet some people my age. Well, perhaps she’s right. After all, 45 years without introducing ourselves does seem a little ridiculous, doesn’t it.
I started to sit in my front room so I could find out what time my neighbours got home and what time they left, so that I could try and figure out a good time to go over and introduce myself. I found out that they get home at about six in the evening, and then on Tuesdays and Thursdays they leave again at about eight at night and don’t get back until nearly eleven! I have no idea where they go, but they always seem to be having a good time.
I have already planned out our first meeting. I’ll be outside in the garden and they will have just arrived home. I’ll pop my head over the hedge and smile and say hello and they’ll smile back. I’ll tell them my name, they’ll tell me theirs and then they’ll invite me in for tea and biscuits and we’ll become great friends. We’ll constantly be popping in and out, sharing gossip and laughter, the way it should be. Maybe I could go over and borrow a cup of flour. Or sugar. I don’t suppose it really matters which. It would all soon been forgotten as we become the best of friends. I don’t seem to recall that they ever had children. It’s a sad thing when a couple don’t conceive. Just look at my own daughter, she’s 37 and still no children. And I’m sorry to say that I’ve never met a more complaining woman than my very own daughter. Every woman needs a child.
Today, as usual, I am sitting at the window, watching for my neighbours. It’s about 5 o’clock and I see the car pulling in. Only the wife is in there, which is a strange occurrence because never before have I seen them separated. She just sits in the car, not moving at all as far as I can see. It is very unusual and I think of going over now to introduce myself. I watch as she folds her hands on the steering wheel and lays her head atop her hands. She stays like that for a long time, fifteen minutes pass and I sit watching her. Finally, she straightens up, pushes back her hair, and glances over to my house. I, forever grateful to blinds, am hidden from her sight, but I take her glance as an invitation for introduction. I pull myself out of the chair and make my was out the door. I walk down the path, up her driveway and arrive at her car. She has been watching my progress, slow as it is nowadays, and gets out of the car to greet me. Her eyes are red, her hair dishevelled and she has obviously been crying. She attempts a half-hearted, watery kind of smile and says “They said it was a heart attack. Over exertion. They said he never felt a thing. They said it was quick and he wouldn’t have known what was happening.”
I don’t know quite what to say. I stretch out my arms and gather her into them and she shudders softly with contained sobs.
“I know my dear, they said the same thing about my Arnie, and I had never seem him more peaceful. Now, why don’t you come in for a cup of tea and we’ll get to know each other. It’s silly living next door for all these years and not knowing one another. Absolutely ridiculous. I’m Aggie. Agnes Mary Jones Cuthbert.”
We start walking back into my house and she says quietly,
“I’m Eleanor Weyfield. It’s very nice to meet you.”