What is it about talking to her? Sometimes I don’t want to do it at all. Friday comes around and I am not resenting it exactly but less than eager to do it. It is just me and phones? Possibly. No, I think it is more the heaviness of another. Or at least, what I perceive as heaviness. In truth, the only person I have to ‘carry’ is myself. Sometimes she isn’t there. I always leave a message on her answering machine so that she knows that I haven’t forgotten. I’ve been calling her for years now. Age Cymru have long since stopped doing telephone befriending but I keep doing it. I tried to explain that the service had ended, giving her the option to drop out, to end her connection with me. But she didn’t respond. So I keep on calling. It has become part of my week. We talk for fifteen minutes or so. Sometimes, like yesterday, I can barely hear her. She has a soft voice at the best of times, and often I think she is translating from Welsh. Her words are laboured, slow (what I mean to say is). And then she is frequently out with the sheepdog, Bonnie, a refugee from the next-door farm. She arived and stayed. They provide the food. While she has moved in permanently. Taken refuge after the loss of her dog-companion. Bonnie herself hasn’t been well, suffering a stroke, was it last year? She cried then. I held her across the phone wires. We’ve shared much. She doesn’t talk of her inner life. It is mostly about her ailments, her daughter and Bonnie. Yesterday she told me of an elderly relative, a farmer, who’d been visited by thieves. He shouted at them and they left, she said. I think they were Irish. He was very shaken and it was only five in the afternoon, she said. It has shaken her too, clearly. I tell her (her daughter) that if we hear anything to just let them take it. Leave them to it, I say. She hasn’t been well, beset with a kidney infection. What with her being unwell over Christmas I’ve had to do more than usual, she said. I got a chill down my back. How old is she? With a daughter in her twenties she can’t be more than sixties, surely? So tender. And the daughter too. She gets uneasy, unsettled when I’m unwell, she says. I can see that. I’m sure she does, watching like he used to do with his mother for every symptom, every sign that they might go. Clinging too tight. I ask if she is warm. It’s an old house, we don’t have central heating, she says. We’ve got electric heaters and a coal fire. The antibiotics are kicking in now, she says. You’ll take it easy, I say. Yes, she says, I’m exhausted. I like to do puzzles, she says. Her voice always a little quavery when she introduces a new topic. Do you? I reply. Yes, crosswords, though not the hard ones, and the ones where you have to put in a missing word. Are they in Welsh? I want to ask. Though I don’t. Does she sound different, seem different when speaking her mother tongue? I didn’t used to know my mother when she spoke Norwegian. It frightened me sometimes. She became a stranger. I think of her with her puzzles, her Take a Break magazines, tending her garden with her carrots and runner beans. I tell her of the snowdrops I saw and she tells me of the daffodils in the next village that have been in bloom since Christmas. Her daughter drove her to see them. Just so that you can see that Spring is coming, Mam, she said.

I do it for myself as much as I do it for her. The first time I called she had to put the phone down after a minute she was so anxious. Now, she chatters away. Thank you, she always says at the end. Perhaps I shouldn’t try to make sense of what I do for her. Perhaps it is nothing. For me it is about engagement with another being’s life. I fall into it like a pillow, a feather bed. I see it. It is an intimacy. A lovingness. And I do. I do love her. I love the rise and fall of her voice, her tenderness, her uncertainty, her shyness. I think of her up there, exposed to the wind (I thought the roof was going to blow in), the snow and rain. A hilltop girl, born and bred. She doesn’t want to go or be anywhere else. A part of me. The inward, homed part of me. Soft. It is enough. There is a world there, in her voice. A world of experience. Of loving. Raising a child on her own, divorcing a husband who wasn’t kind. And then her accident. (I haven’t been right since.) And their various forays into alternative medicine. Her puttering as she calls it. Pottering, puttering. She takes time. She knows the landscape, the animals, her garden. Not small but big. True.

Poems are true, writes Peter Sansom.

She helps me pay attention beyond my self-serving, running-along mind. For that I am truly grateful. Keep safe and well. Till next week. x

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.