by Alison Proud
a cup of tea
‘Ah that’s great news and yes we will accept their offer.’ I ended the call and put my phone back in my pocket. ‘Stu, that was the estate agent, that couple who came to see our house yesterday have offered the asking price.’
‘I hope you accepted it?’ Stu replied. ‘Of course, I did!’ I said.
I finished making my cup of tea, picked up my book,
went outside and walked down to my favourite spot at the end of the garden. I
sat on the swinging seat, where I sit every day when the sun shines. With
summer here now it’s the perfect place to read a few chapters. As I look back
up the garden towards our home, I feel a twinge of sadness, it’s great that our
house sold so quickly, but we’ve been here for ten years now, and I’ve really
loved living here. If it wasn’t for Stu’s
job change and relocation we’d never have considered leaving. But the job offer
was too good for him to turn down, so we are off to the south coast in a few
months’ time. The house we’re buying is lovely and so close to the sea, which
will be a novelty for us having lived in the Midlands for such a long time. I’m
sure we’ll love it, but it’ll still be hard to leave here.
I’ve put such a lot of work into our garden, planned the plants carefully, so there are many shapes, sizes, and colours all around the edges. The summer house is painted and decorated tastefully and even our two sheds look pretty with the climbers on their sides. The lawn has been maintained well and the grass looks lush and green. We get many bird visitors too because I’ve always had food out for them. I could watch them for hours and listen to their little tunes as they talk to each other. Yes I will miss this garden.
Having read a couple of chapters, I look up from my book to see Mabel from next door, slowly walking down her garden towards her old shed, her little dog following behind her. She goes there most days and spends hours inside. We have a small three foot fence in between our gardens,. I planted Safflower seeds in front of it, a yellow orange thistle like plant which is part of the sunflower family. They have grown quite tall, but I can still see the side of Mabel’s old shed and I see her through the window most days, but I’ve never quite worked out what she does in there. I shouted ‘Hello,’ and asked her how she is, mentioned the lovely sunshine and smiled. She looked my way but didn’t reply.
She’s a funny old lady, never speaks and no matter how hard I try to start a conversation across the gardens, she just stares blankly at me. Stu says she probably just likes her own company. I’ve actually never seen her leave her house. Her daughter visits occasionally, she always says hello when she’s in the garden. She introduced herself once; that’s how I know she’s her daughter and how I found out her mother’s name is Mabel, but I think she lives a long way away, so she’s not here much.
Mabel’s shopping is delivered to her, and I think she may have a meals on wheels service some days. During COVID, I tried knocking on her door to see if she needed anything, I asked her a few times across the garden too, but I got no response: sometimes a slight smile but no words. I had to resort in putting a note through her door in the end. It’s such a shame and I really don’t understand why she ignores me. I’m not that bad a neighbour. She could have a lot worse. I really hope we have more friendly neighbours when we move to the coast.
Mabel opened the door to her shed
and went inside. The light here was good today because the sun was shining. She
closed the door behind Pepper, her little miniature poodle, took her apron off
the hook on the back of the door and put it on. She gathered what she needed
from the wonky shelves and sat in her chair and carried on from where she left
off yesterday. A few more weeks and she’d be finished. She hoped it would be
done in time.
Her days were much the same: a weekly shopping delivery on a Monday, meals delivered on a Wednesday and Friday, her only real contact with anyone in the outside world. Oh, but not forgetting her visits from Sarah, her daughter, although with her living in London, she couldn’t really come that often. But she had Pepper, he kept her company and he seemed quite happy to potter round the garden and not go out anywhere.
Most days as Mabel walked down to her shed, she saw Louise, her neighbour. She only knew her name because during COVID she had popped a note through her door offering help if she needed it. Louise always sat in her swinging chair at the bottom of her garden opposite Mabel’s shed. Most days she’d be reading her book with a cup of tea by her side or a glass of wine if it was later in the day. Louise always waved and spoke to her. Mabel liked Louise a lot and she had been sad to see the for sale sign go up at the front of their house and even more so when the man had added the word sold to the sign yesterday afternoon. She wondered who would move in next.
Two Months Later…….
The house sale had gone through really quickly and today was crazy inside our house. There were boxes everywhere and men from the removal company were in and out with furniture. Stu could see that I was getting stressed. ‘Go out into the garden,’ he told me, ‘I’ll tell you when all of this is done and we are ready to leave.’
I did as I was told, relieved to escape from the mayhem inside the house. I walked down to my lovely seat on the swinging chair. We had decided not to take it with us as it was old and might not survive the journey. Plus, the Mackenzies, who were moving in here, had said they would love to have it. I looked up towards the house, taking in all the colours of the garden I had cultivated over the years. I smiled, determined not to get emotional before we left here. After all, exciting times were ahead, living by the sea.
I looked across to Mabel’s garden. Through the lovely array of golden colours from my Safflowers, I could see the old lady through the window of her old shed. I watched as she came out of the door and struggled to carry something up the garden back to her house. I wondered whether to go round to her house and say goodbye. ‘Louise, we’re ready, it’s all packed up. It’s time to leave here,’ Stu shouted from the back door.
Soon we were in the car and just as we were about to leave, there was a tap at the back seat window. I looked round and there was Mabel. I got out of the car and Mabel handed me a large framed picture, I turned it round. it was a painting. As I looked more closely at it, I realised it was my garden, the colours of my flowers beautifully painted, and then I recognised myself sitting on the swinging chair, book in hand and cup of tea on the grass below. Mabel had signed the painting in the corner.
‘Oh Mabel,’ I said, ‘it’s beautiful.’ A tear dropped onto the glass. ‘I really don’t know what to say but thank you so much.’
Still the old lady said nothing. I couldn’t help myself, I stepped forward and hugged Mabel. Pepper barked, he wanted me to let go, so I stepped back again.
Mabel smiled and slowly pointed her finger to her chest, then to her chin and then towards me. She pointed to the back of the picture, to where she had written the words ‘I’ll miss you’.