Changing times part 4

Edith straightened her back and pulled her hair off her forehead, aware that time was passing so fast. She had come to the garden just minutes ago, and now, look, it was going to be dark soon. Glancing up at the lowering skies, she grimaced, collected her tools and basket and carefully went indoors. Her knees and fingers were stiffening and her feet ached. Good.

She slammed the back door and locked it, twice, checking to see that the window was bolted shut and the light extinguished in the kitchen before retiring to her room. Her supper had been meagre: an end of bread, some mangled meat substitute from a tin and the dregs of tea that she had reheated over the small stove and put into a flask. But she had a few beans, some parsley, a handful or two of blackcurrants and a few dandelion stems for a bit of freshness, and these she ate slowly and with great pleasure. The scent of blackberries evoked the freshness of her youth. The earth still had a scent, which lingered on her clothes and in the sweat on her skin.

Late at night, with the curtains drawn and the small desk light for company, she wrote a reply to the authorities: Dear Sirs, thank you for your communication of 5th instant. I am pleased to accept your kind invitation to move into the Ninth Quarter. Please expect my arrival at the end of this month. Sincerely…Though she had no intention of moving, she felt better having written, addressed and stamped the letter. Now, she just had to work out what to do about the deadline.

She slept over on her arm, which, as it slipped off the desk, jolted her awake. The light was flickering, signalling the end of evening power, so she let it go out and waited, summoning the strength to reach her bed. Pushing herself upright, she stiffly inched sideways until the comforting feel of soft, cool covers brushed her legs and she fell, collapsing sideways. Scarcely able to unbutton her cardigan, she shuffled off her slippers and in a flurry of energy which left her exhausted, folded herself beneath the covers and slept.

The following morning she roused herself late, unusually drowsy and unwilling to move. Had the poison caught her system at last? The dandelion leaves, the beans that might not have boiled for long enough before the gas died? So many things seemed to be finishing, running out. What about me? Edith thought, with unaccustomed self-pity. Could I just run out there? She might be able to run…She sat bolt upright in bed, though her head sang with dizziness and her eyes were unfocussed. A light shone over the corner desk, the curtains had not been drawn and she was fully dressed, warm in her twisted, buttoned clothes.

Moving out into the cooler air of the landing, she felt her way gingerly downstairs and through to the back. The key was not in the door. She had locked it, but where was the key? Had she put it down? She felt for it, walked to the window and found it lying there, on the shelf. Strange, she had never done that before…her mug half-filled with cold water and the small pan were still waiting from the night before. But Edith was not hungry, not this morning. With an effort she opened the door and pulled it ajar, almost falling over herself to get outside. Out, into the breeze, the air which blew damply around her, filled with dripping coolness which she breathed in, hungry for refreshment. To breathe deeply was consoling, no matter what she shut her eyes against.

She considered what she would do.

There are few things that cannot be tackled after a bath” Her mother’s words startled Edith.

“Mum? Are you there?”

“Of course! Go and get yourself tidied up, girl.”

Pleased to be told what to do, Edith retraced her steps, pausing as she reached the half way mark up the stair, gladly removing her clothes which caught round her neck and made her sweat uncomfortably. Hair could do with a wash, too. She left the bathroom ajar as she stripped and helped herself over the sill of the bath by leaning heavily on the sink. The old, faithful taps she gripped and turned had never let her down, never dripped, never wasted a drop.

Grey water was clean enough, un-rationed and plentiful, since Edith took few showers lately, forgetting them, more interested in drinking tea and thinking about the past. She must stop doing that, she reflected, as she washed away dryness, the hardness that clung over her face. Must make the most of what I have. A daughter who loves me – a grandson. What was his name? She flushed with shame to have forgotten that. There was little purpose now in rationing her soaps, so she fished the almost empty plastic bottle out of the cabinet, filled it with water and used that for a body wash and shampoo. The last time she would smell lavender brought tears to her eyes. She wept and washed beneath the water, cleaning away months of thoughts, combing through her hair and watching everything swirl down the drain.

The authorities would take her house, but she wouldn’t have to clear it. They would salvage what they could, recycle the building materials they might need, and leave the rest, or powder it for bricks. All she has to do was pack a couple of suitcases and a bag of food while she waited for permission to move. Their reply would not be long in arriving. They would be happy to have won a victory. She, on the other hand, knew that she was surrendering little. She would see more of her daughter, now that their conflict was ending, and more of her grandson, since she was about to turn respectable. She would have more to eat, and company.

She could choose to listen to Bach and Chopin on her personal radio. Personal programing allowed that, in between the announcements. She would have help with making supper and changing light bulbs. As she wept for her losses, Edith knew that she would manage. She would make her daughter happy again.

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