Her house is a fine example of symmetry. It is the type of house you first draw as a child.
The feeling on the untree-lined street of row houses, is one of uncertain suspension and despondency given the overall grey dominating the scene. Still, a few of the homes, in an attempt at bursts of joyful energy, have balconies and windowsills stuffed with terracotta pots overflowing with bright red and pink geraniums.
If you ring her doorbell, an inner door will open and she will tentatively peek out before stepping into the space between the external door and the secondary door which offers an extra barrier of protection against the world outside.
Prior to entering her home you would be instructed to wipe your shoes on a brilliantly white towel, tightly wrapped around the original doormat, which depending on the foot traffic would be changed out regularly throughout the day, so that whoever showed up would always be met with the same pristine white towel.
The interiors consist of solid, well made, no nonsense furniture, high quality craftsmanship and materials without frills or ostentation, organized for function first and then beauty; spotlessly clean, neat and tidy. From the moment you cross the threshold to her inner sanctum you are met with the scent of lemon, wood polish and freshly starched linens.
The rooms are always in shadow. Chores are done every morning and then venetian blinds are lowered to half mast and curtains are tightly shut after lunch, creating a melancholy atmosphere wistful for bygone days.
She too, like her home, is compact and fastidiously clean and ironed. You will never find her in a disheveled state. Death, accidents, life’s unexpected moments are not enough to stop her respectful and careful attention to detail.
She lives alone, but the house used to teem with 6 kids, parents and grandparents back in the day. Now it is de rigueur to follow a robust daily schedule that will, in its familiarity and constancy, produce purposeful and serene days till the end of time. It is a formula for loneliness; a necessary protocol.
Being the youngest and the only girl she had been tenderly ensconced within the love and protective embrace of her large family. She adored all her older brothers and lived vicariously through their adventures; listening to their stories at the dinner table and in later years reading their letters sent from faraway places.
As she proudly and happily starched her brother’s shirts, braided her mom’s hair and empowered herself through taking care of others, her siblings began to disperse out into the world. A world that would forever be an unfathomable question mark to her. Her warm, cozy, snug life wherein she was acutely aware of her space and function suited her to perfection. Out there was for others.
As a young woman she had had a potential suitor but a bout of tuberculosis and months spent in a sanatorium had left her weak and terribly missing her home and large noisy family. All she wanted, once healthy again, was to dive back into the folds of that life she knew and loved so well.
Some might say she sacrificed her life because of fear, shyness or plain disinterest. She didn’t see it or feel that way at all. Instead of fighting or veering off or searching she embraced, followed and accepted the natural course of her life. How could she put into words the joy of waking up to the first stirrings of the household in the morning with the rich smell of espresso filling her nostrils or how marvelously delicious to fall asleep at night to whispered conversations and the scent of her grandfather’s pipe from the parlour downstairs, the anticipation of the front door bursting open in the evening and the explosion of noise and activity as everyone returned home from work.
She would sew (mend and embroider) from her corner of the main room near the old stove. Each little perfect precise stitch gave her immense satisfaction; much like every chore, every thought, every interaction with her family was a stitch within the fabric of her life; neat and disciplined, proudly produced from a deep feeling of love, respect and gratitude.
Even when the house had become silent after everyone had gone (some might say a place of doom and gloom) she could still feel the life surging through its rooms, hear the voices and movements of its former inhabitants, and feel the happiness and pain. She had lived a full life flanking, and participating in, the lives of those nine people that were nearest and dearest to her. Her memories were abundant enough to take her through space and time and back again.
Were a new homeowner in later years, while digging in the garden to create a vegetable plot or bury a pet, come across her memory box, I imagine it would contain black and white photos of the family, the ruby ring that had belonged to her mother and her mother ‘s mother which she had always worn in the place of a wedding band, locks of hair and possibly the embroidered handkerchief she always kept in her pocket, her brothers’ letters, her grandad’s pipe.
Tangible objects as proof of existence. The fond remnants of a simple yet valuable life.