‘Today, I shall dig up some potatoes, cut vegetables and make soup. I shall use the stock I made yesterday from the remains of my chicken, and there; a truly homemade soup, made by me; Elsie.’
Elsie enjoyed the little conversations she had with herself. Once she had said what she was going to do, she would feel bound to do it. It was as if she had received an order, but carrying out the order gave her so much pleasure.
She rubbed her swollen knees with her sore twisted hands; hands that once were so beautiful. Long tapered brown fingers; enhancing the sparkle of her wedding ring. She heaved herself off the chair. Yesterday she had told herself to bring in enough logs to keep the fires going for some days and she looked with satisfaction at the filled log baskets.
‘Today, I shall walk as far as the big oak.’
She enjoyed her walks and looked forward to them, she went out every day unless the weather was too ferocious or too slippery to be safe, then she would sit enjoying the rain flung against the windows, or the soft snow creeping over the glass and think, ‘so much to live for.’
When Andrew died, Elsie hadn’t been sure there was any point to her life. She sat numbed, bewildered and bemused for weeks. There had been a merging, a constricting and a closing in on her life. What had she been doing? She didn’t know and she didn’t care. Andrew had been with her since her early twenties. He had cared, laughed, scolded and argued with her, but always been so solid; so, there. Then he died. Suddenly, she had no-one to steer her through the days and she could not come to terms with the complete immediacy of his failing to be. A trip to the shops, the library, the garden, wash day, all the things that neatly fitted into their world. He had always decided,
‘Let’s wash the windows today.’
‘Shall we take a walk to the bridge?’
All these things had died with Andrew, and she hadn’t made any decisions before. It just hadn’t been required. Before Andrew, there had been mother. She was helpless.
And then she found her voice.
She had been sitting in front of the television, not watching, just sitting, letting the colours and noise wash over her like an unresisting rock on the beach. She was surrounded by debris and clutter; unwashed cups, biscuit wrappers and the fireplace brimmed over with ash. Everything smelt stale and unwashed. Suddenly a voice; her voice said, ‘You need to water the plants or they will die.’ And she got up and gave the parched plants the water they needed and pinched off the dead flower heads.
‘I think you should clean out the fireplace, or the fire will never go.’ And she did.
The things she told herself to do, she chuckled as she thought of it. Andrew had been a big reader, but she had merely skimmed through magazines, but one day she had said.
‘When you have finished dusting, read Tam O’ Shanter.’
Andrew could repeat it by heart and so, when she took up the book, she could hear his voice in her head, and when she read:
‘But pleasures are like poppies spread,
You seize the flow’r the bloom is shed;
Or like the snow falls in the river,
A moment white-then melts for ever;
Or like the borealis race,
That flit ere you can point their place;
Or like the rainbow’s lovely form
Evanishing amid the storm.
Nae man can tether time or tide
The hour approaches Tam maun ride:’
She said, ‘well things might not last, but you can still enjoy them while you have them.’ And then in shocked silence she realised she had voluntarily given an opinion and not shared one of Andrew’s.
It surprised her even more when she told herself to catch the bus to the library. She was at a bit of a loss as to what to choose, but then she remembered The Pickwick Papers and in reading it had found the ever optimistic Sam Weller saying,
‘I worn’t always a boots, sir,’ said Mr Weller, with a shake of his head...‘I was a carrier’s boy at startin’: then a Vagginer’s, then a helper, then a boots. Now I’m a gen’l’m’n’s servant. I shall be a gen’l’m’n myself one of these days, perhaps, with a pipe in my mouth, and a summerhouse in the back garden. Who knows? I shouldn’t be surprised for one.’
No and she wouldn’t be surprised at what the future would hold for her. She told herself to go to the museum. She had never been one for museums, had preferred wandering around shops, but she had told herself to do it and she did. And the things she had found out! The folk lore enchanted her. That huge stone had been thrown in anger by a giant called Colly Comb, who had lived in a cave on the hill. She wondered where the cave was, but hoped, with a smile, that she wouldn’t be told to go and find it.
She had always gone to the Women’s Rural Institute, but Andrew had always taken her and brought her home. Now, a chance meeting with one of the member’s at the library, and she had arranged a lift. The next fortnight there was a competition to make scones, and her voice had said,
‘Scones, you can make scones. You make great scones.’ And she did.
And so it went on. Every day she pushed herself further and further; every day, a new adventure. The future stretched out before her, a living growing thing. Not a big unattainable goal, but a future of all the little things that make a life a pleasure. A future filled with all the little things.