Number 59 – The only way I’m leaving my home is feet first in a box.
And even when she says it, the moment the words leave her mouth, she knows that they’re not true.
That this truth belongs to her mother and her mothers life.
Nowadays, almost no one dies in their own home and even if they do, a neat black van will take away the body, probably, although, she has no first hand knowledge of course, probably in a body bag or on a stretcher.
More and more, she finds that her mother is somehow inhabiting her mouth, phrases pop out
“ take your coat off. You wont feel the benefit”
“ a nice cup of tea and scone “
“ I don’t hold with…..”
“ in my day”
They make her feel old, they make her sound old and she isn’t, not really, not truly old.
75, it’s no age at all, not nowadays, not like in her Mother’s Day.
There are women far older than her in the Tuesday Aqua robics class, in fact she is one of the younger ones, well, slightly younger ones.
They all wear sensible one piece swim suits, usually blue or black, with sturdy shoulder straps and modestly cut legs.
She has, once or twice, dared to wear her bright red costume, it makes her feel cheerful, makes her feel a little Baywatch, but her mother’s voice crept up on her last time she wore it
“ mutton dressed as lamb”
“ no better than she should be, that one”
And so, it’s stayed in her underwear drawer and she’s dug out the black one instead.
She does refuse to wear a swim hat, even a frivolous one with pink and green flowers bouncing on top when they run on the spot in the shallow end of the pool.
A swim hat is an admission of old ness and she’s not ready for that, not yet.
Aquarobics is part of the week’s routine.
Monday is community choir
Tuesday aqua robics
Wednesday book group
Thursday is lunch with the girls and Friday, well, Friday is mother day, being a mother day, being a dutiful grandmother day and once a month, she tries to be a dutiful daughter day and visits her own mother, well, her own mother’s grave for a spot of tidying.
And of course, on top of all of this there is the garden, tiny but perfect, her allotment, walking the dog with the 4pm dog walkers and a bit, just a tiny bit of cleaning and grocery shopping.
Other women, the many other widowed women who sing and read and swim and fill their week with busyness, complain about how much they miss cooking and cleaning for husbands, now dead and children, now moved on.
She, on the other hand, cannot get over it the liberation from domestic tyranny, no more standing at the fridge, desperately trying to think of what to cook, no more cleaning and then turning her back and finding the mess creeping back again.
She has discovered ready meals, jacket potatoes, cereal for dinner and toast at any time.
She delights in her Spartan washing up, one bowl, one cup, a plate and one knife and fork and has discovered that a woman who goes out most days makes very little mess and the mess she makes is comforting when she does put her key in the door at the end of a busy day.
The dog, the last dog is very little trouble too.
He is some sort of a terrier, small, brown, fond of toast, they often share a slice in the morning while radio 2 plays something cheerful, sometimes she sings along and he looks quizzical before returning to his crunching on the toast crust.
They walk every day around the park with the 4 o clock dog walkers, the retired teacher, the man who doesn’t say much, the girl with lots of piercing and a boy friend who is on dialysis and needs a new kidney, the other older woman with the four sheep dogs all called after footballers, who wears her team scarf even when it’s not really cold enough.
They talk about the dogs, about other dog walkers, about the youth who sit on the kids swings, saying and doing nothing, but somehow exuding low level menace.
The youth are the reason why they walk together and why the man who doesn’t say much always walks with these women, keeps them safe, keeps an eye on stuff.
75 she thinks, no age at all, even when she occasionally looks in the full length mirror in the bathroom, no age at all.
Still got boobs.
Hair defiantly coloured, currently mystic violet. She knows it annoys her daughter and entertains her granddaughter.
Stomach soft now, a little thickening,but still acceptable, still able to wear a size 14.
No age at all.
Her mother’s voice whispers in her ears as she stands, naked in the bathroom
“ making a fool of yourself “
“ don’t draw attention “
“ act with dignity”
And then she picks up the little brown dog and waltzes into the bedroom stark naked and sings, badly, to whatever tune is playing on the radio.
Her neighbors make her laugh sometimes, especially the young ones, the ones on their first homes, crawling up the property ladder, the ones with plans and lives that start at 6 am and finish after 8 as they collapse onto their sofas.
They ask her questions about the neighbourhood, make statements about the good old days, assume that they know about her life
“ I bet it’s all different here now”
“ I bet you didn’t have to lock your front door when you first moved here”
“ I bet this was a real community back in the day”
Mostly, she just nods and smiles, Even when inside she is raging, on a bad day, or laughing silently, on a good day.
Just how bloody old do they think she is ?
The days they’re talking about are the 1970s.
3 day week
Rubbish piling in the streets
Grave diggers refusing to dig graves.
Of course they locked the front door and the back door and made sure that all the windows were closed tight.
And she likes the new community, she likes chicken tikka masala, she likes the helpful family at the corner shop who open 7 days a week, she likes the polish man two doors down who popped in last week to tell her his wife was expecting their first son, she likes the 2 boys with the very neat beards and the pale pink front door, she likes the way this street looks and feels now.
75, she thinks, no age at all and she hums, loudly, a little tunelessy to drown out her mother’s nagging voice
“ 76, your father, when he went “
Your grandmother didn’t know what day it was by the time she was 70”
“ at 75, my body just fell apart”
“ I thought I’d live forever and look what happened to me”
No, she says out loud
75, no age at all.
And she wonders if she has time for a Pilates class this week.