Her name is Dina but we call her ‘Miss Honeysuckle Cottage’ between ourselves as that’s the name of her house- crumbling, golden stone and a gate that needs oiling. There’s no honeysuckle in the garden, but bedding plants so neatly spaced they could have been measure by a ruler.
I see her coming along the street before she sees me. Her back’s bowed, her neck fixed at an angle as if she’s constantly fascinated by something just in front of her feet. Her gait is determined, her stick whacks the ground with each step as if to show she’s not ready to slip beneath it yet.
Her basket- the weave baggy, stitching coming loose on the handle- hangs from knotted knuckles and when she enters the shop, she bangs it on the counter. The bottom of the basket’s lined with newspaper, ready to receive the day’s plants.
‘Hello, Lynn, dear. I wonder if you have any more of the polyanthus? I have a gap.’
Her voice is pure Celia Johnson- clipped, rather formal. The skin on her forearms is lightly tanned and papery, but her muscles are still taut with not an ounce of spare flesh. I imagine her as a girl, playing in the hockey team, whispered conversations in the dorm after lights out. Her speech is peppered with ‘awfully kind’, ‘terribly good’. She never lets you call her ‘Miss’, only ever Dina.
I try to ask how she’s been, if she recovered from her fall, but she doesn’t hear a word. She tells me she’s deaf, but I know that- I’ve been shouting at her since he walked through the door.
She shuffles out to look over the plants, hand curling around the doorframe for support, each step carefully placed as she crosses the threshold.
‘No, no, yellow won’t do. And I can’t have white- never have white.’ She chooses three pink polys and I put them carefully in the basket for her.
‘Don’t get old, dear, never get old,’ she says.
I know her eyes water constantly and she has a paper hanky tucked up her sleeve so she can wipe them. Her opalescent cataracts reflect light like grey mirrors.
‘It’s hard work being old.’
She was a singer. An alto. She toured the region, filling concert halls. I imagine her taller, back straight, wrinkle-free, chin tilted high.
‘No microphones back then, dear.’
I imagine her wearing a satin gown, sheer fabric falling slick over her boyish frame, hair in pin curls or coiled into a bun at the nape of her neck. What did she sing- arias or something more current? But my question falls away unheard, unanswered.
She holds out her open purse and I take a neatly folded fiver. I make a point of holding up the note for her to see, counting the change back in. She gets anxious if she loses track of her money.
‘I must go. I need to mow the lawn before the girl comes to do my hair.’
I smile and nod and she waves her stick in farewell.
Day Six of Writing 101- write a character study of the most interesting person you’ve met this year.
Here she is. Possibly one of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life. Still determined, still winning the war, though the daily battles grind her down sometimes.