The smell of burnt sugar is wafting through the air. Someone is burning leaves in the backyard or maybe old letters or maybe poetry. Probably poetry even though it is probably the best poetry ever written, it gets burnt usually. I will no intervene, hopefully the fire will not get out of hand, how stupid it is to die because of poetry. I am sitting in my backyard indirectly spying at my neighbours, what am I to do these days? I have no poetry to burn, no old books to burn, no old bridges. Once in a while I catch a glimpse of my neighbour between the boards of the fence. He is wearing some strange plastic clothes or maybe they are fireproof.
I go back inside, sitting on my coach paging through some old gardening encyclopedias as if I am in the mood for planting anything. My yard is bear, there is grass and I usually like the way all the leaves cover the ground and create a colourful carpet until I get a reproachful look from my neighbours. I usually get it three times a year, in winter to clean the snow, in summer to cut the grass and in autumn to rake the leaves, no one usually cares about me in spring. The pages of the encyclopedia feel rough like weeds with their strong stems and massive roots which are hard to pull out. I look at the Latin names and page on.
On the other side of my house the gardener is hair-drying the grass and sweeping the leaves in a fruitless attempt to hide the evidence of the crimes committed by the wind the previous night. In the streets the bodies of broken umbrellas were lying on the ground,metal bones protruding from red, yellow and black tissue.
“What is that old bag doing in the garden again?”. Do not lecture me that it is not polite to call old ladies old bags, who cares? I am a new bag who will become an old one, I am ready to admit it. I wonder if I will be walking around in the same way pocking at the broken umbrellas in the same way as she is doing now. No! I am sure I will have my own thing, all old people have their thing, they suddenly start liking dogs or cats, hating their neighbours as a hobby and a past time simply not necessarily because they actually hate them, knit or make jams or whatever it is old ladies do or go on a cruise around the wold to die on some island smiling at the Sun. Everyone picks their own way to live eventually, there will be consequences either way, no matter what you choose.
I wave hello to her from my window, I wonder what’s her hobby? Neighbour hating or she will ask me for tea saying dearie after every sentence. Just like I said either way there will be consequences.
I go back inside, it looks like it is going to rain and we old ladies are supposed to be afraid of the rain, because we are made of sugar and sweets and are going to melt, like witches in the Wizard of Oz. So I go inside or the wind might blow me away. I do not have many neighbours here, people are scattered today all around the place like pieces of a torn letter, they do not come together anymore, not like in the old days, I am supposed to add, to complete the image of an old lady. I do back inside.
I bump into people sometimes but usually not the ones I like, I would really prefer to meet them but I do not know. Maybe I do not really want to, so I prefer a bump and a bruise, nurse my injury for a week or two and then move on. Maybe I should meet the old lady, it seems she is the only neighbour, her name is Eleanor and she is my lost grandmother with a fortune and pure luck brought us together or her name is Virginia and she was married 7 times and all her husband died of mysterious diseases unknown to science and they were all doctors themselves or she is a foreigner and speaks with a tick Dutch accent or she is deaf and half blind a nurse comes to see her twice a day that’s why she was looking at those umbrellas so closely yesterday maybe she can Von in her name. When it comes to neighbours even though you bump into them, you still have to meet them eventually. I should say hello but it looks like she went inside now.
I moved here only recently, contrary to popular belief I am not a runaway daughter, or a woman who killed a millionaire and changed her appearance and now resides in a small village, nor am I a single mother with a son in a boarding school. Assumptions are evil, never assume anything, simply by looking at the person even if you can say a lot. The same with that old lady, I am sure all my scenarios are absolutely wrong, they are too conventional, too predictable and extravagant, something to make your life more interesting.
I never dwell on anything for too long, I do not like to look at the old photographs too much, they do not make me sad or nostalgic, past is past and I am happy to keep it between the pages, old books, dried flowers, it is nice to know you have if you want to hold on to something, to clutch the thread while walking through the labyrinth but I am not in hurry to leave the place even with some monstrous creature on the loose, fairy tales tell us that old ladies are bony and indigestible. I am quiet safe.
Milkman, postman, gardener, tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor… I mutter to myself, enough visits for today.
I knocked on the door, carefully? I do not know why, afraid to wake her up maybe. I saw her picking up her milk and newspaper, should be a good time to visit.
She did not say dearie, so all my assumptions down the drain, like I said, never assume.
-I stopped by to say hello since I live next door, actually not exactly next door, more like in the house opposite.
– Do come in, very nice of you to stop by. I am Katherine.
-That’s a lovely name,beautiful green colour.A bit old fashioned in a romantic way. I mean no offence, people seem to take offence when you say old -fashioned, I can say contemporary for me, taking my age into account.
-Funny, no problem. I like my name actually.
I look around the kitchen, for this is where we are now, I have not noticed the small corridor but the kitchen was light and spacious. We were quiet while she was making tea. She had cookies in a tin, scones and I did not bring anything so I apologised for that and she said that this is what old ladies should have, cookies in a tin for the visitors.
-And they are not stale, if this is what you expect.
She laughed softly, I smiled.
We had out tea and nothing exceptional happened, no stories about relatives, grandchild photos and stories about their achievements, just a conversation, exchange of stories about the weather and the neighbourhood and more tea. I went home, she stayed at home.
I am sure as she closed the door behind me, a thousand nostalgic memories washed over her, she probably cried and took her old photograph album out. I wish had that, is it so strange for an old person to ask to be young, why does it seem impossible that a young person cannot ask for being old, when everything is past, it does not mean you have no future, why is it so terrible to be old? Why cannot I wish for it and simply want to be old same as old people wish to be young.
As I closed the door, I went upstairs to take a nap.
I do make it my habit to observe my neighbours, I just see them, I am not snooping around, I am walking around, even though this is exactly what my neighbours do not understand. We do not have many, a family or two, Jade, and a woman in her forties who sometimes comes back from abroad where she lives and stays for a couple of months, fixes up the house and leaves again. So I do not even have much material to snoop over. Contrary to popular belief as they say, as if that’s what old women do. I do spend some time looking what the gardener is doing and then what the dog is undoing and then they growl at each other and the dog runs away and the gardener goes to lunch and then they are back. Without each other they would have nothing to do. I once read a story how a man kept hitting another man with an umbrella, at first it was insulting, then bothering, then he got used to it. The gardener and the dog. I spend some 15 minutes thinking about that, one must plan one’s time carefully. The leaves in my backyard have almost covered everything twice over.