Her name is Audrey and I hear the click of her shoes on the sidewalk as she races by my house each morning. She’s in a rush just like everyone else. Audrey wears a uniform: a matching short sleeve top and a pair of pants made of thin cotton. The style of the uniform is always the same, but the colours change. Sometimes it’s pale pink, other times it’s turquoise, robin’s egg blue, or violet. Perhaps she is a nurse? I don’t know because I never speak to her as I watch her clip by. Audrey’s hair is a warm auburn colour, just like mine used to be when I was twenty-something. She has a sense of purpose and determination in her stride, a youthful energy as she swings her purse, and a warm smile that matches the soft pink hue in her cheeks. Despite her hurry she casts a look my way as I peek out my door.
“Hello,” she says warmly.
I live alone and so this predictable contact with a real person is something that I seek each day. I’m very old now, the bloom of my youth having faded long ago. My chestnut hair has changed to a dirty and matted gray with only a tinge of light brown left, as if it’s struggling to reclaim those bygone days. My vision and hearing is failing me, too. In fact, my eyes look shrouded as if a veil has descended over them. I can discern what is directly in front of me, but my peripheral vision has disintegrated. It’s the same with my hearing. Voices are quieter now and I strain to decipher words and sounds that were once detected with absolute clarity. Even the whisper of the wind is gone, reducing the outside world to a muted entity.
I watch as uninspired teenagers idle away their time as they walk past my house. They stop to point and laugh at my home; a home that has also suffered the effects of old age and time. There is no one here to fix the curled shingles on the roof. Those that remain hang on tenaciously to the bit of cracked tar that threatens to release them without notice. The exposed wood on the roof also looks soft and wet to me.
I take comfort in the little white fence that embraces my property. Yes, I know the paint is peeling. It also wobbles when leaned upon initiating the release of veteran slats that fall to the ground like tired soldiers. However, this little white fence offers me a sense of protection from those who stare, from those who fling hurtful words my way, and from those boisterous and brazen teenagers who taunt me. I am alone, lonely, and afraid.
The first cold day has arrived as I hear Audrey’s brisk steps approach. An icy frost has misted the air and covers the sidewalk, like a delicate piece of white lace. Audrey is wearing a navy trench coat over her thin violet uniform. She has on a pair of purple woollen gloves. I feel a penetrating chill seeping through the walls of my house. I fear this frigid air is going to worsen the rattle in my chest.
I am chained by old age and frailty to a shell of a house that offers me little warmth, comfort, and protection. I take a cautious and trembling step just outside my door. I can see my breath and my gaunt body begins to shake. My stomach rumbles and I suspect no one is coming to bring me something to eat today. Audrey continues to notice me, but lately she slows down and briefly hesitates on the other side of the rickety white fence.
“You okay?” she shouts to me with an anxious look on her face, as she hurriedly checks the time with her purple-gloved hand.
My gaze is cemented to Audrey’s. I strain forward, unable to speak, but hopeful that she will interpret the signs of hunger, abandonment, and loneliness in my soft brown eyes. Audrey bites her lip and then scurries to the neglected gate that remains tentatively fastened by a rusty nail. She puts her hand on the top of the decaying portal and then withdraws it. She looks at her watch again, and then bolts in the other direction, casting a concerned look my way. I take a dejected step slowly backwards, just inside the frame of the door. I peer out as I hear the raucous sound of voices approaching.
“There he is, fellas!” shouts the spikey-haired kid, who visits daily to whack a stick along the battered slats of my flimsy fence. “Throw it, now. Throw it before he gets back in!”
I try to step backwards. I am weak though and unable to move quickly. Before I have a chance to take cover a rotten tomato explodes against my chest. I stumble and my fragile legs give out beneath me. I’ve grown so tired of these attacks, as both my house and I are pummeled with rotten food everyday now. Streaks of decomposing vegetables stain my thin exterior walls.
“Great shot!” shouts the spikey-haired kid. “See you tomorrow, loser!”
Laughter erupts from the pack of teenagers as I struggle to my feet. Putrid tomato slides down my hollow chest and onto my bony legs. Maybe they won’t come back tomorrow, I think hopefully.
I awake from a fitful sleep this morning to find a layer of frost covering me like a blanket. The rotten tomato is still on my body and a penetrating hunger gnaws at me. I feel weak and nauseated. The shakes have settled in, too. I hear the scrape of shovels on icy driveways as the bite of cold pricks the inside of my nostrils. A bright whiteness of snow filters through the slits of my eyes that are now crusted over in the corners.
The familiar crunch of footsteps approaches on the sidewalk. I recognize the step and detect the pale violet form on the other side of the wooden pickets. I hear the gate creak open. It’s a sound I have not heard in a very long time. I feel the purple-gloved hand gently smooth the matted hair on the top of my head.
“Hey, are you alright? You don’t look so well,” says Audrey in a voice that sounds far away, despite her nearness.
I sense the weight of her coat upon me; I feel the warmth of her draped body over me; and I notice her tender kisses on the top of my head. The last whispered words I hear her say are, “I’m so sorry. I just didn’t know. Please hold on.”
Audrey remains slumped over the crusted and lifeless body, as the sound of scuffing footsteps approach. Anguished tears stream down her face.
“What happened to him?” scoffs the spikey-haired kid, as he hovers over Audrey.
“He’s . . . dead,” she sobs. “He suffered and died alone. I walked by him every day. I watched him. He watched me. I didn’t know that he was abandoned. I should have done something to help, but now it’s too late.”
“What’s the big deal, lady?” snickers the spikey-haired kid, as he kicks the side of the house. “It’s just a dog! There’s plenty of those everywhere. One less isn’t going to change a thing.”
Audrey begins to shake uncontrollably. She buries her head into the sparse fur and skeletal frame of the Golden Retriever. A layer of frost lines the inside of the doghouse and a heavy chain remains clipped to his collar.
The spikey-haired kid saunters back through the crumbling gate. He stops at the opening and looks directly across the street. A wide smirk grows on his face, as Audrey remains over the dog, kissing the top of his head and gently whispering the words,
“I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”
Audrey’s broken-hearted sobs and shaky gulps echo through the crystal cold air and reverberate into the stillness. People walking nearby abruptly stop and turned towards the direction of the devastated cries.
Across the street a pair of eyes stare sadly and quietly at the crumpled figured draped over the lifeless body of the Golden Retriever. The elderly woman stands silently at her window. She clutches at a beige threadbare sweater that has slipped from her narrow shoulders. She wears a pair of grey track pants beneath a soiled and stained pink nightdress. Faded red slippers, a size too big, and with balding patches of flattened fluff, swallow her feet.
The aged hand trembles as it reaches forward to touch the window. She uses her cracked and thickened fingernails to scratch away the film of frost that lines the interior of the glass. As the scraped and icy shavings fall to the floor, she peers through streaks of freshly thrown rotten vegetables.
She is shivering, hungry, and very alone.