Across the road in the maisonettes an old chap wedged open his door. He did this when the Meals on Wheels woman was due and sure enough there she was, driving up Silhill Street with her Thursday fare. A robust woman, never without a hat, with a matronly chest that reached its destination minutes before the rest of her body.
I tweaked the curtain to view the houses, so long obscured by vans and diggers and mountainous heaps of bricks. Old Nelly and her friend Jess were attempting to reverse their car up the narrow drive and making a right meal of it. I couldn’t understand why they found such poor car control amusing but I envied their camaraderie. I had done ever since my Clive passed on.
Screwing the duster into a ball to retain the dust I turned away from the window, but hearing the honk of a horn I twisted back again to see John Carrington getting out of his red Jaguar and making a fist at two scruffy urchins playing ball in his drive. Cheeky beggars pulled faces at him as they ran off. As soon as they were out of sight he retrieved the wheelchair from the back of the car, waving to me before easing Nancy from the passenger seat. She waved as John transported her into the house. They had been on an excursion to Blackpool. When I heard they were going, I appealed to the Almighty to keep them safe. Satisfied that once again he’d done a thorough job, I sent him my appreciation.
I first met the Carringtons one wet, wintry day in the supermarket coffee shop. Several years ago now. We shared a table. John manoeuvred the wheelchair so that his wife faced me. A woman of ample proportions, she was wrapped in a blue wool coat the identical colour of her laughing eyes. She tutted as she pulled a wayward curl, irritated by its bounciness. That was Nancy, my prospective neighbour.
They called me Lizbet instead of Elizabeth, the name I was blessed with. It rolled off Nancy’s tongue like syrup off a spoon. I loved it. It made me feel special. God himself knows how I needed someone like her to latch on to…. her presence in my life went a long way to removing some of the loneliness.
I visited her every day when they moved in. My intention was to help her cope with the disabling arthritis but she was strong enough to handle her disability without my assistance. Nevertheless, she was happy for me to see to her hair. Whenever I brushed those dark locks I would remember the first time I saw her tug that obstinate curl and recall the words John had uttered in the coffee shop as he covered her hand with his: ‘I only promised to love her until she was sixty.’ I remember Nancy’s beaming face when she demanded that when the time came he would grant a ten year extension, and John’s choked reply, ‘You got it, lady.’
Finally withdrawing from the reverie, I noticed that John and Nancy’s door was closed. Normally I gave them the thumbs up before they disappeared into the house but I’d been so taken with reminiscing I missed the opportunity. I silently begged them not to take umbrage.
A cloudburst of loneliness washed my soul as I returned to the kitchen. The fire that had blazed before I began my prying window vigil had reduced to almost nothing. Seizing the poker, I stoked the dying embers until flames reawakened then threw on more cubes of coal. I counselled myself not to be silly but it didn’t work and I rounded on poor Clive when I saw him grinning from his wooden picture frame on the dresser. It’s all your fault,’ I grumbled, ‘leaving me here alone.’
The rain roused me the following morning. Raindrops thumping on the garage roof, water whooshing from the down pipe onto the front slabs, reminded me that the soak-away needed attending to. I was in the process of castigating the All-Powerful for designing such a rotten February when I heard footsteps on the path. Dragging myself from under the warm quilt, I advanced to the window and peered out. ‘Good Lord,’ I muttered. ‘It’s Postman Pat.’
The postman was holding a pink envelope. I was surprised because I had no reason to receive letters. Being childless and without relations to speak of my quota of mail had long since lapsed. Except for the bills! And there was no trash mail thanks to John arranging with the mail preference people to stop it.
Nervously, I descended the stairs to pick up the envelope, examined it front and back for evidence of the sender’s identity. The writing was sort of familiar. Slitting it open I extracted a card depicting a single scarlet rose. Curiously I looked inside. There was a photo of Nancy, John and me, taken one summer’s day in their garden. There was also an inscription.