Veronica has spent most of the past half century in coupledom. Now she was at that stage in life where friends were dropping with morbid regularity. A time or two it was the female side of the couple that collapsed suddenly, never to rise again, or was attacked by the silent killer – Ovarian cancer. However, for the most part it was the husbands who were felled by heart and lung disease, strokes or the big C.
I met Veronica and her husband for lunch a couple of months ago. Our meeting for lunch or coffee was as regular as the seasons, never a rushed affair, in fact at times morning coffee became the appetiser for the day ahead. There were days when we drank the coffee shop dry before heading for a walk in a park or country estate, only returning in time to have a late lunch.
We covered the hatches and matches before moving to the ‘new loves’ and the ‘new jobs’ happening in our circles. We were ready to indulge in dessert before we reached the recently dispatched. Thankfully I had no fallen leaves to report that day.
Somehow the conversation moved round to The Skip.
“The Skip was a little game.” Veronica told me, that she played with her friend Lynne. The girls were next door neighbours since the first fresh coat of paint adorned their front doors and months before tiny blades of grass burst from the seeds in their newly laid lawns. Conversations were across the fence in summer, or indoor by the fire with a coffee, in the bleak dark days of winter. Over the years they shared the ups and downs of raising a family, and were there to lend a helping hand when needed. Local news was shared and the Skip was now becoming a regular subject.
This time it was a neighbour in the avenue with a bright new red disposal skip sitting on the pavement outside the house. Behind the blinds, Susie was having a major clear-out and the hiring of a skip for a week was the easiest way to rid the house of the clutter & useless items accumulated in the attics and other rooms over half a century. “How can one family acquire such an assortment of oddments in the one pile of bricks?” Susie wondered.
Veronica & Lynne saw the filling of a skip, almost as a mark of disrespect. A clearing away of a lifetimes memories. As Lynne had said, “It was eliminating a husband from memory and relegating the marriage to the skip!” In this case, they only met Susie’s husband Matt, a couple of times a year at neighbourhood gatherings and found him to be a warm fun person. “How could Susie rid her life of all the shared past”?
They had no idea.
Both were still settled in that safe comfortable cocoon of having an anam cara or soul mate, to begin and end the day with. Someone to share worries as well as the happy times and the laughter. Their families now married, and moved on to build their own dynasties.
Susie’s five children were on that same course and she was now left to rattle around in the echoing empty house. Echoes, louder now, of happier, brighter & better days, as if to taunt her and exaggerate the emptiness. Being alone was not her choice, marriage to Matt was fun, with the years they had become like a pair of comfortable well worn kid gloves. Every room held reminders of those happy times with her beloved cheerful positive Matt.
A sudden thud silenced his singing, and Susie found him slumped on the floor. He was gone. No doubt about it.
Six months down the line she still shivered as she thought about it. There was no time for good byes, no last hug. She wished….!
“Wishing was a waste of time now, better to get on with the task in hand and keep busy.” she scolded.
Matt was a hoarder, every nut, bolt and screw that he found or removed from a defunct item was in a tin box in the den. Tiny fuses, obsolete fairy-light bulbs, puncture repair kits, washers & Allen keys sat neglected and covered in dust. A bundle of well thumbed and dog eared magazines for a hobby he never pursued. Tea chests of school notes and marked exam papers, from a lifetime as a school teacher and head of department. On and on it went…
Susie was not enjoying the task, but at least by the end of each day, she fell exhausted into the lonely bed and let sleep take over for a few short hours. Waking to the cold empty space beside her was heart breaking, even a pillow stretched down the centre of the bed brought no comfort.
Cooking for one was soul destroying, but she tried to have at least one good meal in the day. Her taste was gone and with it her ability to smell the roses, hear the music or even become engrossed in a book. She had the attention span of an itchy gnat! She had to keep battling on, or she would sink into the great black abyss of despair. Matt would not want that to happen. Neither did she.
One more box and three rooms were ready to begin stripping the wallpaper. They had talked and planned to redecorate when the lads moved out, but somehow something always got in the way. Susie actually found a half dozen rolls of wallpaper in a bag at the back of a cupboard, it must have been there for at least five years. She no longer knew which room it was intended for, but she would use it for this first foray into solo decorating.
Rollo May said “Courage is not the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.” Susie agreed. She would not allow the great black hole win, that would be an insult to Matt’s memory.
Turning up the music and rolling up her sleeves , she began scraping the old and faded wallpaper to the tempo of the sounds in her ears.
Matt would be proud of her!