The Old Woman Across the Street (a short story) Part 2

The old woman from across the street was much lighter than I thought. Her bulk was added to by layers of clothing. She was actually quite frail, and as I helped her to her feet I realized just how old she was. Lines carved rivets through her cheeks and under her eyes. The powder she had applied to her face was caught in the cracks, and her eyebrows were drawn on.

 

“Let me help you with your groceries” I said, gathering her meager items together and putting them back in her pull-along trolley. The vegetables were limp I noticed, and the apples which had rolled away were puckered, even from before their tumble across the salt packed concrete.

 

The hairs on my exposed arms and shoulders stood on end in the tart coldness, refreshing to my feverish skin, but also shocking. After everything was gathered and put back, I easily lifted the basket to the top of the stairs and left it there, hopping back down to assist the old woman in getting up. She was still shaky on her feet.

 

“Let me help you into your apartment” I said, and before she could argue I scooped up her basket and pushed open the unlocked communal front door. Inside a long dark corridor stretched ahead, a couple of doors to the left and right, and in the far corner, where the shadows were, a tight staircase rose up into the building. I stood back, letting the darkness fade into light, the old woman led the way slowly to the back of the hall and up the flight of stairs. On the first landing she turned right and entered the second door.

 

It was a house of tiny bedsit apartments, as I’d guessed, and the room had all the comforts a little room in an old house could accommodate. A single, simple metal framed bed pushed into the corner, a basin behind the door, a bar fridge, a hot plate and a window that looked onto the brick wall of the building beside. It was a pretty standard dingy little affair. I put the basket down just inside the door. The old woman sat down gently on the bed, sinking into the thin mattress. She seemed weary and bruised, and so, so old.

 

“Can I…would you like something?” I asked. The old woman shook her head and waved her papery thin-skinned hand.

 

“You should go. You are sick” she said accusingly, and I was surprised by her New Zealand accent, so similar to my own brash Australian burr, slightly burnt at the edges.

 

“You’re a Kiwi!” I exclaimed before I could stop myself.

 

She looked at me, shrugged her shoulders.

 

“I was. It’s been a long time since I was down in that part of the world.”

 

She pushed herself off the mattress and knelt down to put away her groceries, but the distance from her upright position was too far and she groaned, clutching her back.

 

“Please let me help you,” I said, calmly steering her back to the bed, and pulling the items from her basket. She sat heavily and watched me.

 

“You’re Australian” she said.

 

“I am.”

 

“You’re a long way from home.”

 

“So are you.”

 

She snorted.

 

“Bah. Home. This is home now.”

 

I looked around at the dark grubby little room and shuddered.

 

“Have you been in Canada long?” I asked, inspecting the semi-rotting fruit.

 

“About a year” she said. She pointed at one of the apples, “Pass me one of those would you.” She took a small bite of the fruit, closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the wall.

 

“Organic” she said, eyes still closed. She sighed.

 

I looked at the apples. If organic was code for rotten then she was right on. I put them in the bowl above her fridge.

 

There wasn’t much personality to the room and I was desperate to know more. It had been a while since I had met any other New Zealanders or Australians and I wanted to swap stories. I also didn’t want to go back to my stuffy apartment and watch more episodes.

 

“Where did you live before you came here?” I asked.

 

The old woman slowly opened her eyes and looked me up and down.

 

“Nosy.” She said.

 

I shrugged. I’d been called worse.

 

Wearily she pushed herself up from her bed and got to her knees beside it. Under the bed an old leather travel case, scuffed with age was wedged between floor and springs. She drew it out and unclicked the clasps.

 

 

I stared at the contents.

 

Utterly impressed…

The Old Lady Across the Street (A short story) Part 1

The old lady that lived across the street was always standing on her porch smoking stinky cigarettes. I suspected they were laced with weed. But they could have just been Turkish. She seemed out of place in our yuppyish neighborhood, until I realized that the house across the road was actually divided into tiny bedsit’s, and that she must be one of the renters.

 

I guess she had a room at the back of the house because there was never any Rear Window shit where I watched her life through our living room. I never saw her lights go on, never saw her playing piano or watched her watching TV. I really didn’t know anything about her except that she was always smoking her stinky cigarettes at 5.30pm everyday that I came straight home from work.

 

I didn’t really think too much about her, she was like any other neighbor I’d come to recognize in the street I’d moved to. The young father with bright red hair and a bright red wagon which always had two bright red-haired children stuffed into it and another hanging off his free hand. The middle-aged man in faded Canada Post Jacket fussing with his lawn every morning, leafs/snow/grass.  The pretty girl who was always bundled up on top, and wore thin stockings below.

 

They were all a part of the landscape and I took them for granted. Maybe sometimes I fantasized that I was like Truman from ‘The Truman Show” and they were all extras that added to the scenery. Other times I was less egotistical and just found it amusing that the number of familiar faces were growing with every passing day.

 

Then one morning, I took the day off.

 

Sinuses clogged with snot, chest heavy with mucus, eyes itchy, bloated, stomach churning. Yep, I had the whole list of fun I-can’t-go-to-work excuses. I sat on the couch miserably in my pajama’s, a freshly opened box of crackers in front of me, and the day stretched out like one feverishly exciting house party-of-one.

 

And then I saw the old lady. Hair covered with a scarf, bundled up in a mustard yellow sweater and heavy navy coat, she eased herself carefully down from the steps of the porch with her drag-along shopping trolley, and set off down the road towards the shops. I’d never seen her walk anywhere, and I’d never seen her off the porch, so I was surprised by how slow she was. I guess “old lady” denotes that she’s old, but there are varying stages of oldness. This was definitely less of the Helen Mirren old, and more of the papery thin-skinned grandmother old. I started watching episodes, filling up tissues with the poisons from my nose, throat and lungs. Occasionally I would look out the window and watch the goings on of my street. Mostly I was half conscious.

 

When I was at the end of my sixth straight episode of a sitcom, the old lady coming back down the street. Her pull-along basket didn’t have much in it. Leafy greens poked over the edge and I could see lumpy bags down in the bottom. I watched her try to navigate the stairs, the basket and the awkward distance between each step. And then she fell, not heavily, but backwards over her basket, and like a turtle, she lay on her back, arms and legs wiggling in the air. I pushed myself up on the coach and strained my head left and right looking out the window. No one was around, it was early afternoon, the street was quiet.

 

I grabbed my keys and ran down the stairs, a resplendent vision in faded saggy singlet top and hole riddled green and pink pajama bottoms. The old lady had used the railing to pull herself up, but she still looked shaken and her food was scattered over the pavement.

 

“Are you okay?!” I asked, out of breath and red-faced from my flu.

 

The old lady seemed to be checking herself all over for breaks, she was massaging her knee. After a moment she nodded, and tried to pull herself up further. I put my hands under her elbow and gently lifted her to her feet…

 

 

Photo Credit http://www.monalia.com/partners-in-rhyme-headquarters/