by Robin Wrigley
The first time I spoke to Milly was at the check-out counter at Sainsbury’s. I had seen her just about every day as she passed my house on her way to sit on the bench seat outside the village church, but until today the opportunity to speak had never arisen.
The first time I saw her I nicknamed her ‘of iridescent panty hose’ as it was an Australian journalist’s description of Rudolf Nureyev’s appearance when he first performed in Sydney in the seventies.
I learned her name was Milly simply by asking the fellow in the village newsagents who seemed to know everything about everybody including myself and I had only been in the village a matter of days.
She was an elegant lady in her late seventies, always well turned out with much attention paid to her make-up and the different bright coloured stockings carefully colour coordinated
with her outfit.
‘Excuse me young man but I couldn’t help noticing that your shoelace was undone.’ The voice came directly from behind me. I turned to see Milly.
‘That is of course unless you had intended them to be undone as I understand it is a fashion with young people today,’ she continued.
I thanked her and bent to tie my shoelace.
‘You live in Arnmouth don’t you? Just moved into the Ivy House I understand,’ she continued before I had a chance to reply as I returned to standing.
By this time the lady at the till had passed all my purchases through and asked me if I needed help with packing as I had so far not managed to put my few purchases in my bag. I got the impression she was more interested in Milly’s interrogation of me than serving me.
I put my items into my bag, paid and turned to Milly.
‘Would you like a lift back to the village?’ I nearly added her name to the invitation but stopped short realising how improper that would be. ‘My car is in the car park and I am going straight back to the village.’
‘Thank you, that would be very kind and save me both the walk to the bus stop not to mention the exorbitant fare the bus company charges these days.’ This was said more to the cashier than me, who nodded approvingly. They then started a conversation as if between old friends, so I retired to a seat close by and waited for her.
Milly and I walked slowly over to my car. I offered to carry her shopping, but she declined even though she struggled with a walking stick.
‘No that’s kind but I manage this quite well every Thursday by myself and prefer to do so even though my son does offer to do my shopping for me. Heavens only know time passes slowly enough as it is and if I don’t get on and do these things under my own steam I might as well pack up and move into the nursing home. Of course, that is what my son would like me to do but they’ll have to carry me there kicking and screaming before that happens, I can tell you.’ She allowed herself a brief smile.
As I opened the passenger door for her, having been permitted to put her shopping bag into the boot, the first thing she said was, ‘This is rather a grand car, what do you do that allows you to go shopping in the daytime?’
The drive home was short and pleasant during which time Milly managed to extract from me my life history and only stopped short from asking how much I earned and how come I lived on my own. At one point I felt she was going to ask if I was gay. About all I learned from her was that she had been a widow for ten years and had a son, an agricultural estate agent who lived in the next village.
It was quite extraordinary, from that simple conversation in a supermarket counter a friendship developed over the next five years until Milly passed away. She managed to avoid the threat of the nursing home. Her walking stick became her constant companion and I proved useful by offering and been finally accepted to giving her a lift in both directions to town on Thursdays.
When I once inquired as to how she managed when I was away from time to time all she said was, ‘I managed it before you came Roger and I will manage when you leave, which of course you will.’
She was right, of course as I did leave but it was eighteen months after she died. I attended her funeral as did most of the village. She was buried in the churchyard next to the seat where she sat dressed in her iridescent stockings on any day fine enough to do so.
About a month after her death I received an official looking letter from her solicitor informing me Milly had named me in her will and that I should contact his office.
She left me her walking stick and the instruction that I might need it one day if I ever walked further than my garage.
About the author
Robin, a relative newcomer to short story writing, has spent the majority of his adult life as a land surveyor and later a country manager working in over twenty countries world-wide. The variety of the situations he has faced and the people he has met inspired him to create many of the stories he creates. His stories have been featured both on line and in print with CafeLit as well as two other short story collections. He is a member of the Wimborne Writers’ Group.