Tales of Ordinary Magic 2: "The waiting room for the next world."
The life of trees
I used to see her looking up at the tree outside my front window. She would pause beneath it most days and look into the leaves, lifting her face towards them as if basking in some invisible radiance. She couldn’t see very much, of course, being mostly blind, but she could see movement and tell dark from light and I imagine she would sense the shimmer of the sunlight from the surface of the leaves through the interplay of shadows beneath the branches.
Sometimes she would catch a leaf between her fingers. It was as if she was communicating with the tree, talking to it, absorbing its presence in all its seasonal moods.
There are a number of trees in the communal gardens at Somerset Meadows. She would talk to them all in the same way, pausing beneath each one as she went on her way.
She was my next door neighbour. I live at number 23, she lived at number 24. Until about a month ago, that is, when she died. I don’t know how old she was. In her 80s I’d guess.
The last time I saw her she was in a wheel chair, with a pale blue blanket wrapped tightly around her, being lifted into the back of an ambulance, with an oxygen mask pinching her face, looking very pale, very fragile.
I was sitting at my computer in my living room. I put on my shoes to go out, but by the time I got out there the ambulance doors were already slammed shut. Another neighbour was standing outside, arms folded, wrapped up against the cold, waiting with an air of patient expectation.
“What happened to Daphne?” I said, joining her.
“She had a funny turn last night,” she said. “She collapsed. They think it might be a stroke.”
“Did she ring you?”
“Oo yes,” she said. “We always ring each other if we’re in trouble.”
“Let me know how she is,” I said.
The other neighbour is called May. She lives at number 22. Daphne and May would sit on the bench outside my back windows in the summer, watching as the shadows lengthened into evening, drinking tea and putting the world to rights. I never knew quite what they talked about out there on those benches outside my window, except that is always seemed to involve a lot of laughing.
One interesting aspect of living in a flat in a communal garden is that you can’t help but notice what’s going on. Hence my close observation of Daphne when she was communicating with the tree. I wasn’t being nosey. I was just looking out of my window.
Hard not to notice, too, when she was being hauled out by the ambulance men, trussed up like a turkey on a Christmas morning, with an oxygen mask slapped unceremoniously on her face.
I see a lot of ambulances in Somerset Meadows. I see a lot of people being bounced up and down in wheelchairs with oxygen masks on their faces.
It’s like the waiting room for the next world around here.
I’m considered a wild young raver being all of 55 years old.
But I liked Daphne, very much. She was always ready with a cheery smile and a kind word. She couldn’t see me, so I would have to address her to get her attention. I guess this is why she liked trees so much. People move around and you can’t tell one person from another, but trees are always recognisable being always in the same place.
And despite her blindness she was active right up until the end, walking resolutely everywhere with her white stick, talking to all the trees on the way.
At first the prognosis was good. She’d had a minor stroke and would soon recover, May told me. But then, suddenly, she summonsed her entire family to her bedside. After that she had a second massive stroke, and she died.
So she knew before the moment came that it was time for her to leave, and she was able to say her goodbyes to her grieving family.
The tree outside my window has dropped its leaves for the winter. That’s why trees never grieve. They are stoically aware of the cycles of death and rebirth.
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Somerset Meadows is a nice place to live. CJStone sees all sorts of interesting things through his window. Columns from Kindred Spirit magazine.
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