Red Coat

It was her coat that first caught my eye. It was bright, a cherry red. I was looking down on the estate from our upstairs window and saw her returning home from town, a small string bag in her hand and her stick in the other. She turned to walk up the steps and was temporarily lost from my view. I stood at the window waiting to see her reappear but she didn’t. Is something wrong? Is she OK? There are only 5 or 6 steps surely she’d be up them by now. And then she appeared, slowly pulling herself up the final two. She’s over a hundred now and still walks into town everyday, even though she is virtually blind and very deaf. Her gait has a slight roll and she is slow but she still does it and with such style. What a coat. I don’t want to live to a hundred, I tell him. And I don’t. But I cannot help but admire her tenacity. She is a believer, one of the faithful, a regular churchgoer. And I suspect her quality of life both outer and inner is still rich. And she has her family who visit frequently and besides her son lives with her so she has company. I hear her radio in the morning and her TV at night, very loud. But that’s OK, it is comforting, regular. I like them living beneath us.

I had an early yesterday morning, a paper review. I wanted to let him enjoy his breakfast out so I suggested I walk home afterwards. It was a real pleasure, the sun was out and the birds in full song. I walk down past the National Library on the hill and see the town spreading out before me. I took my time, relishing the oncoming warmth and the promise of the day not yet spent.

We sat on the cricket field again in the afternoon and he watched a group of primary school children having a sports session. There were races and mini assault courses with blankets they had to crawl under. They all had sun hats on. I lay down and listened to him commenting on their progress. One of the groundsmen watered the wicket with a hose.

It was a crossword clue that sparked the memory. It was from years ago when I was not yet eighteen. I’d gone to Oslo with Mum to see her father who was dying in hospital. It was an image of chemist or Apotek in the city. We’d gone in side to get some medication perhaps for him or for Mum, I can’t remember. But what I do remember, at least I did last night was the shops layout, its counter and the old apothacery jars on a shelf behind. Many were blue, a lapis lazuli blue with the light from the window shining through them. It felt so antiquated and calm. It was a brief source of happiness for me. I’d never thought of it since till yesterday. Isn’t memory, the mind, the brain whatever is responsible for recall amazing?

I woke from a dream in which I was in a kind of town or city hall – a great ornate edifice of civic splendour. However, to get to its main room full of gold and light and magnificent paintings and mural one had to slide through a tiny slit of gap. I hated doing it, though I’d done it many times. It was almost to narrow for my head. I woke instructing a young woman how to reach it.

She wrote saying she’d send some soft fruit from her garden, gooseberries and blackcurrants. How lovely. I look forward to receiving them, still warm from the sun as they were last year, or so I liked to think.

By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.