The bush crowded in on Violet’s cabin. She liked it that way. After Harold died, she had graciously allowed the tree ferns and bracken to reclaim the vegetable patch and most of the lawn. Violet had never been fond of the cabbage and broccoli Harold grew, anyway. And she couldn’t manage the lawnmower anymore.
Violet kept the house up as best she could. She patched the window screens, changed light bulbs, and swept the porch. The place needed painting, and probably a new roof, but Violet reckoned those would be jobs for the next owner. Her son-in-law cleaned out the gutters once a year, because Violet didn’t trust her shaking limbs on a ladder. He threatened to cut down the trees that overhung the roof and filled the gutters with twigs and leaves, but Violet said no, just as she said no to her daughter’s threats to move her to ‘assisted living.’
“Why would I want to go live with a bunch of old people?” she replied.
“Mother, you’re eighty-seven!”
“And living just fine without assistance, thank-you-very-much!”
“Couldn’t you at least move to a nice flat in town? It would be so much less work for you than this old cottage. And more comfortable, too.”
“There’s no such thing as a nice flat in town. Yes, I could live in a flat and listen to my neighbours through the walls—hear them on the toilet, smell their dinner every night.” She harrumphed. “I don’t want to be subjected to my neighbour’s curries or their bodily functions.”
“But neighbours would look out for you. Out here, you’ve got no one. What if something happened to you? It could be a week before anyone noticed.”
“Well, then I’d die in a pleasant place. I won’t move to town, to be watched over by the neighbours.”
Violet knew she depended on her daughter’s help—the weekly visit to do her cleaning and bring her groceries—but she was thankful when it was over.
Her daughter always fussed over Violet—she must be too cold, the house was too damp, the lights too dim. When she left, Violet turned the lights off, let the fire go out, and opened the windows. She preferred the natural light, the fresh air. She was rarely cold, and knew her way around the house, even in the dark.
This evening, in the wake of one of her daughter’s visits, Violet sat in a battered wooden chair on the porch. Harold had painted it white years ago, but most of the paint was long gone. The wide arms were black from years of Harold’s garden-soiled hands. Tonight, Violet set her cup of tea on the right arm, her hand wrapped around the mug.
She sat and listened, as she did every evening. Her eyesight was going, but her hearing was still as sharp as ever.
As the light faded, a bellbird called—its clear, repeated call falling into a rhythm Violet knew well. She tapped a foot as though to her favourite tune.
A tui clanked from behind the house.
He’s a little late tonight, she thought. I wonder if he’s got himself a girlfriend.
She sipped her tea and closed her eyes, waiting for her next visitor. In a flurry of wing beats, a kereru landed in the rata tree hanging over the porch.
Welcome home, my friend, thought Violet to the plump bird.
A fine mist began to fall, hissing quietly on the roof.
The kereru ruffled its feathers and tucked its head under a wing.
The tui fell silent.
The bellbird sang its last note.
Violet’s foot stopped tapping and she let out a sigh.
The rain hissed as her tea cooled, sitting on the arm of the chair. The clouds lowered, wrapping the tops of the trees in a grey blanket.
Violet’s hand, resting lightly against her mug, cooled along with the tea.
Somewhere deep in the bush, a kiwi called, its rising trill a question needing no answer.
Violet remained on the porch, eyes closed, a smile lingering on her face.