SHE had seemed old, sure. Ancient. A relic. But I didn’t think she was gonna die. Oh no. Had I known she was close, I wouldn’t have rented her the granny flat in my backyard when her son – calling from the safety of 500 bloody miles away – begged me for it. I’d wanted someone younger anyway.
“She’s desperate,” he pleaded. “And she’ll be a good, reliable tenant who pays rent on time. She won’t be going anywhere.”
The old duck was nice enough. What else can I say? I didn’t know her. She was just an old woman, I guess. She had a few stories to tell, no doubt, but I didn’t know them and could only piece together select details from the picture frames she’d covered the walls with on the day she arrived, dressed in a lavender cardigan and floral dress, her hair still flowing and long like a school girl’s.
My morning was spent reliving my younger days, and the only way someone like me – who isn’t at all sentimental, and is practically bereft of memory – does that is by listening to the music of my youth. So it was Metallica’s Ride the Lightning on repeat. All morning. Not that I think it was For Whom the Bell Tolls that pushed the old girl over the edge. I’d prefer not to think that I’d contributed, even in a minute way, to the death of an innocent, old woman. Besides, I think she was deaf.
About 1pm I noticed her door was still closed and the curtains drawn. It was kind of weird, as her laboured movements of the two days before suggested she enjoyed getting some sun before it hit the middle of the sky. Not today.
Her body wasn’t even that cold. It was still kind of warm. And I wasn’t even sure if she was dead when I first saw her. It was just that she was in a peculiar position. She looked peaceful, slumped on the floor, but she must have slid down the couch to her final resting place because it wasn’t a position you would go to sleep in.
There was no blood, so it at least looked like she’d died kind of peacefully. For a brief moment, though, my mind, a pathetic victim of too much crime television, began suspecting murder – not due to any evidence, just because I had found her dead. It was absurd that anyone wouldn’t immediately assume that an elderly woman they had found dead had died of natural causes.
I just set about doing the things I had to do. I called the police, told them Mrs. Stone was dead and they promised to send an ambulance round – didn’t say anything about murder, or even that I should be careful not to damage the scene. It wasn’t a “scene” to them – it was just an empty bit of floor space in some guy’s back shed where some old woman had died.
It had been a surreal few days and I was looking forward to offloading the old woman’s stuff and emptying out that granny flat again, perhaps for good this time. Having someone die in my backyard wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. I imagined what would happen next time I tried to fill the vacancy: “So you sure you can afford the weekly rent? And will you be alive to pay it?”
Poor Mrs. Stone. Why wasn’t she in the care of family? Or in a home? Why was she in the backyard of a single, thirty-something bloke who listened to songs like Creeping Death, Escape and Fade to Black?
It didn’t help that Mrs. Stone’s son was a bit weird about it all.
“Is it all right if I come and get her stuff in a few weeks?” he said. “I’ve been really busy with work. And, God, I’ve already driven down there once this week. I’ll have to do it again for the funeral, won’t I?”
“Can you pick it up before you go back then? She really hasn’t got much stuff.”
“Oh no, I won’t have time. I’ll have to come down again in a while and work out what to do with it. Maybe I’ll organise someone to come and take it away.”
He didn’t, though, and the stuff sat in the granny flat for weeks, rent free. Not that I cared about money, but it was kind of irritating that I hadn’t received a single payment from Mrs. Stone before she died or a single cent from her son for the storage service I had provided him since. I didn’t want to bother the guy – he’d just lost his mother, after all – but Mr. Stone could have been decent about it.
One morning I called him with the intention of putting some heat on. It didn’t work. Again, he refused to drive down. He couldn’t get away from work, he said. Annoyed, I threatened to throw all of Mrs. Stone’s stuff out with the next night’s garbage. He responded by threatening to sue me – yes, him sue me – and proceeded to hang up the phone. I decided not to give it any more thought. It wasn’t worth it.
Some hours later, though, Mr. Stone called back.
“I’ve organized someone to come and collect the stuff,” he said, without any emotion in his voice or reference to our previous conversation. He didn’t say much else but did kind of thank me before hanging up.
About 7pm, a tall, lanky blond man in grey overalls arrived on my doorstep.
“Here to pick some stuff up for my friend,” he said.
“No problem,” I replied, and showed him through to the granny flat. I then watched him do what he had to do, packing stuff up into cardboard boxes, while whistling a Police song over and over again.
“You knew her well?” he asked me, stopping halfway through the chorus.
“Only for three days.”
“About as well as Colin did then.”
That seemed sad, not funny. He noticed I wasn’t laughing.
“Yeah, I don’t get it either, mate. When my mum died, I was devastated. Cried for days,” he said. “I reckon he knows what he’s lost. He just won’t say it. We’re all different.”
“I guess we are,” I said.
The man packed up the last box, shook my hand and thanked me on behalf of Mr. Stone. Then he drove his truck down my street and all remnants of Mrs. Stone disappeared from my life.
I decided against putting another ad online for the granny flat. I didn’t really need the money and thought of all the other things I could use the room for.
Maybe I could invite my mother to live in it one day. Right now, she wasn’t ready for that. Neither was I. I forgot about it and got back to listening to Metallica.
Written in: 2010