Changing times part 3

One calm day in August, a letter from the Relocation Ministry landed in her box stating that she “was requested to move into the modern, safer environment of the Ninth Quarter Dome.” She sighed, dropped the communiqué onto the carpet and went to the back door to look out into her beloved small garden. A few blackcurrant bushes, an elderberry and a hazel bush all clung on around the boundary fence, while dandelions populated a small piece of border. She also grew nasturtiums and poppies, which liked the space and seemed to take neglect in their stride. When the shrinking band of her neighbours shook their heads at her pointless pottering, she could smile and say that, well, blackcurrant bushes  yielded good tea and jam, the nasturtiums brightened her salads, as did the spring dandelion leaves. Dandelion roots were delicious roasted and used for coffee and the hazel and elderberry bushes were useful…a large tub which Edith kept filled with moist earth, always contained something salad-like. Aidan dragged it indoors when necessary, to stand under the glass porch.

“I suppose I should write to them and decline their kind offer…” she muttered crossly, as she picked up the letter and read it over again. It was typical, written by some young zealot straight out of the government training school, peppered with spelling mistakes and errors in syntax…and unambiguous. She was required to relocate within the month and at the latest before 1st October, so that provisions could be allocated for her needs over the Closed Season (which meant November to February). Any failure to comply would result in a scheme of forfeits implemented over a six month period with a view to securing compliance. After this, Town Hall reserved the right to use other methods.

“It can wait.” She spoke aloud into the silence with unusual defiance. “It can all wait for a colder day than today. Now I am going to put on my old clothes and do the garden.”

A cool start, with pains in the bending and an unusual, breathless huff when she turned her shoulder away from the breeze, just so. Maybe, she hoped, the time was coming when she would be finished with all this. But just in case there would be another winter to live through, she pulled, swept and tidied, clearing away what had grown taller, denser or pricklier in the last few weeks. Weeding didn’t much concern her, but bramble stems pulling at her skirt and tripping her up did, so she gladly pulled on her warped gardening gloves, found her sharp knife and set to work, gradually snipping and pruning back their greedily stretching tendrils, but leaving blossoms and greening buds of fruit. There would be more than just and handful this year, which she would eat fresh heedless of all the scaremongering. Why should she not? It made no difference to her now.

She was utterly freed, she realised, to think and do and say what younger, more respectable citizens held back from. If she spoke the truth, people would assume she was rambling, offensive because of an illness of age. Few people now lived as long as she had, despite all the promises of longevity that she had grown used to hearing. Who wanted to live to a hundred, anyway? What would be so wrong about finally reaching heaven and seeing Harold again? Dear Harold, with his balding crown, his crooked spectacles perched on his beaky nose, his wise smile.

Suddenly, an ache leapt up from her heart and blocked her throat. Edith missed her husband and the pain kept her rooted to the spot, her knife held in mid-air. She had been alone for decades, quietly keeping her counsel. Around her as the scenery changed gradually, the colour leached away. People increasingly told her what to do, as she kept her own mind, quietly resisting. She slipped away from them and they had no heart to run after her. But evasiveness was tiresome. What Edith most longed for was friendship from those who understood her, could read the meanings in her face and did not continually try to subvert her decisions. When had disagreeing become an anti-social element?

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