The Fallen Woman

I have to sweep the paving slabs, because they will become slippery and my son says it is dangerous. Peter says I should not feed the birds because they dirty the patio. When he and Katherine come back from their holiday they will be annoyed. So I take the broom from the cupboard and carry it outside. The robin perches in the bushes beside me, watching to see if I have brought any crumbs.

But as I sweep I go hot and cold. My vision becomes speckled, I feel a clammy sweat on my upper lip. The broom handle slips from my hands and clatters on the ground.

I find I am lying on the slabs, and cannot get up. I am freezing. I think of Peter saying that if I fall again I will break my hip. I might die. But I move carefully, first one foot, then the other, bend the ankle, relax, point the toe, relax, then I straighten each knee. Now I lift and turn each leg at the hip. There is no pain. I am not paralysed. I can move my arms a little, just as I could before. But my arms are not strong enough to push myself up. Whatever I try, I really can’t get up. I lie on my back. Maybe for an hour. It feels like an hour. The damp seeps through my cardigan. The stone is hard beneath my head, and above me the clouds fill the darkening sky. My home help will not come until nine in the evening. My phone is inside the house.

I think of all my things inside, all my memories.

Peter swept so much aside in five minutes. If I were in there, sitting in my lonely armchair, I would be looking at my lounge, missing my Afghan rugs, missing everything he threw into the dining room, all my things fallen like me – a fallen woman!

The dining room was such a pretty space, even though it was small. I had brought the white circular table and gilded chairs from Tuscany. Ah, my Tuscan villa – the parties we had! My husband was a brilliant engineer, but he left all the finances, the business of managing the household to me. When I told him we were buying a villa in Italy, what could he do? I always love to tell the story of how I bought it as an empty shell, and immediately took the family to camp there, with our picnic chairs and our folding beds – we did not even have electricity. But it had to be sold – one cannot look back, we have to look forward; then the town house in Augsburg was made over to Elisabet; so two large housefuls of furniture and ornaments were downsized to a granny flat. Now my lounge ceiling is almost filled by a single Murano glass chandelier.

But my sofas, all my comfortable chairs are upside down, piled in the dining room. Peter moved them within five minutes! He rolled up all the rugs and piled them there against the wall.

My friends tell me that Peter is afraid I will fall again.

‘The lounge was too cluttered, you need the space for your walking frame.’

‘But I can move around by holding the furniture.’ Maybe my hands are not so steady now, with the arthritis I can barely raise them to the kitchen cabinets, and some of the Limoges teacups, the white and gold ones I bought in Annecy – well – nothing lasts forever.

Peter says I have too many things.

‘You don’t need all of this – what do you need it for?’

When I explain he scolds me.

‘Your head is too full of stories. Please – pay attention to what you’re doing, take more care…’

He even took my coffee maker.

‘You’ll cause a fire!’

I was so upset. I had only set the smoke alarm off a few times. How many times, over so many years, I enjoyed an espresso from that coffee maker, with my friends, after long Italian evenings of wine and talk! The stories it could tell…

Everything has a story. Even the pictures on the walls. The ivory miniature of Mozart – that once belonged to my mother. She was an opera singer in Bayreuth, and I used to watch her rehearse as a very young child. We all lived in my grandparents’ house – until the war – but I have told so many times the story of the bombs, and the cellar, and my grandmother’s death. I have shown everyone the scar on my leg.

The silk screen prints were made by Bella. They have lovely colours – she was so artistic. It is a sad thing to outlive your own daughter. She had a story, her life spent travelling, she loved India…

Yes. All my little ornaments – Peter put those narrow glass shelves up in the corridor – all given by my friends: from Japan, from Norway, from the Netherlands. My Japanese doll, the geisha girl, with her scarlet bud of a smile, pure kitsch. To him it is clutter. But each thing has a memory of its own.

Drizzle wets my face and I draw my fingers slowly across my eyes. My clothes are soaked, the life freezing out of my hands and feet. The birds flutter anxiously above me. The robin approaches. He used to follow me around the garden looking for worms turned up by my trowel. Now he hops across the slabs, singing out in alarm. At least I am not alone. I will not die alone. I turn my head to his bright eye.

‘I wish you could help me, little robin.’ I feel as if I want to weep. He hops toward the patio door, hops back to me, chirrups. He does it again.

‘You always followed me,’ I say to him. ‘Now you want me to follow you, is that it?’

If only he could speak. But he encourages me with his shining eye, and his song.

So I roll on to my face. I lift my head. He is there, hopping to the door and back. I crawl across the slabs, one by one. My cardigan is getting muddy. Katherine will be annoyed if she sees it, but I will wash it. Maybe it takes another hour. I am shuddering with cold. I know that I have to get across the threshhold. I must not look back, always go forward. Thank God that I left the door partly open.

I am inside. I can lie on the floor until Helen comes at nine. Even the cold draught – I find I can slide the door shut with my foot- so.

I am alive. I cling to life to make more memories, more stories. I will tell my friends about my robin.