You can hear her before you see her, which is funny because she’s so deaf now she can barely hear a thing. Work-men come, knock on her door, think she’s out, and leave again. Sometimes a helpful neighbour tells them to knock louder, and then, slowly, the door opens, and a little face peers out. If you only heard her, you’d think such a loud voice must belong to a big person, but this elderly lady is tiny. She must be over 90, slow to walk, almost bent double, unsteady. Not that those things stop her. Or they didn’t until recently. Every day, often earlier than most, she would be outside, wispy hair wild from another restless night, house-coat covering her inability to dress tidily any more. She would be making sure that everything on the exterior of her home was just so – polishing the door-handles, pulling out any stray weeds, even teetering on a kitchen chair to clean her windows. Her garden, of course, was immaculate – and used to have a bed of beautifully pruned roses. Now, it is still neat, but the roses have gone. The only flowers left are in a hanging basket. A guilt token brought round by one of her relatives perhaps.
Later in the morning, she would trundle her shopping cart down to the bus-stop, her sea-blue beret pulled neatly over her grey head, an over-long winter coat buttoned whatever the season, and child-sized brown shoes marking her feeble but definite steps down the hill. It was always a surprise to see her coming back unscathed.
That was the way she marked the days. Now, she rarely leaves her house, shut in by age, closed into a bleak world of deafness, and mortality. She was not always alone, but, for twenty years, she has been. She sits in her chintz armchair, and tries to picture her husband’s face. She might not make out the noises around her, but his voice still sounds clear and true in her mind. She doesn’t look out her window much, because it pains her to see all the work she should do, and used to do, but can’t any more. She may be small, but her life, her living, has been remarkable. The roses may be gone, but this lady, the last rose, blooms defiantly on.