Short Story – Changing Times – Part Five
Edith straightened 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. 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 relish. The fresh scent of blackcurrants evoked the freshness of her youth. Tinted earth 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 by the end of this month. Sincerely…Though she had no intention of moving, she felt better having written, addressed and stamped the letter.
She slept over 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. 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.
The following morning, unusually drowsy and unwilling to move, she roused herself late. 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 sat bolt upright in bed, though her head sang with dizziness. A light shone over the corner desk, the curtains had not been drawn, and she was fully dressed, warm in her twisted, buttoned clothes.
Out in 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 ledge. Strange, she had never done that before…her cup, half-filled with cold water and the small pan, were waiting from the night before. But Edith was not hungry. With an effort she opened the door and pulled it ajar, almost falling over herself to get outside. The air blew damply around her, filled with dripping coolness which she breathed, hungry for refreshment.