My Palm Reading Says I Will Die Alone

"On Being Alone" from CAT BRUSHING by Jane Campbell, recommended by Darcey Steinke

Introduction by Darcey Steinke

As an aging writer, I have often worried that everything has already happened to me. How will I continue to translate my experience into narratives that do what all stories must: show a person in slow evolution and the soul’s thrilling expanse? 

In our culture old people are not really considered real people; their feelings are of a lower order, ignored and debased. This is society’s loss. Because, as Samuel Beckett has pointed out, less really is more. “I have always thought old age,” Beckett wrote, “was a writer’s best chance.” Diminishing possibilities, diminished concentration, loss of memory, even obscured intelligence—what many might call failing may be our greatest chance to say something closest to what one really is. 

In her collection Cat-Brushing, Jane Campbell, the eighty-year-old debut British author, details the lives of elderly women who are each in their own way in pursuit of what one really is. “On Being Alone,” my favorite story in the collection, is part folk tale, part meditation on the joys and pitfalls of solitude. Like many a tale, it opens with the prophecy of an old woman, Ma Lindsey, who our unnamed narrator meets during her childhood in Africa. Ma Lindsey is so wrinkled she looks like a “smoked kipper.” Her age enhances her talent for understanding animals and reading the stars as well as making her an excellent soothsayer. She tells the young narrator that she will be involved with two men, one dark and the other fair and that, while loved, she will die alone.

This pronouncement follows her through college, where she lusts after a dark-haired man and marries a fair-haired one. After her divorce, she accepts what she sees as inevitable, deciding, “Aloneness was something one carried with oneself and there was no getting away from it.” She remains self-sufficient, even aloof until the Earth, as in many creation myths, floods. Spring storms bring thunder and rain. Willow branches move in a frenzy “as though they were long fronds of seaweed beneath breaking waves.” When the water recedes, she invites her neighbor Miriam, whose house has been wrecked, to stay in her spare bedroom, and then finally to stay for good, their affection growing in the pleasures of co-habitation and bird-watching trips. “When we lay together at night, I found such peace in holding her twitching, restless body in my arms.” 

It takes a second storm to force a final break between the narrator and her ridged idea of her fate, bringing her to a point where she has “abandoned philosophy.” Love has opened her, made her braver, so she can now even risk trying to write  “my own Mrs. Dalloway.” Transformation, even at the very end, is possible. Campbell’s stories make clear the high stakes for her narrators and for all of us so close to oblivion. “I am also other than what I imagined myself to be,” wrote the French philosopher Simone Weil, “to know this is forgiveness.”

Darcey Steinke
Author of Flash Count Diary

My Palm Reading Says I Will Die Alone

“On Being Alone” by Jane Campbell

Her fine white hair stood out around her head like a gauzy halo framing the sunburnt face. A lifetime of African sunshine had left so many creases in her skin that she looked as though her tiny body had been only partially inflated and even the back of her skinny neck was creased. I had looked for that when she limped out onto the veranda where I had been waiting while my father examined her in her bedroom. She smiled at me then and said, ‘She’s getting big, Doctor,’ while she bent over a large wicker chair and then sort of collapsed sideways into it. From deep within the wrinkled eyelids two pale green eyes peered out at me as she bent forward to light her cigarette to the flame my father held out for her. She inhaled deeply, throwing her head back and then puffing the smoke upwards. 

‘Sit down, child. Sit down,’ and she waved her free hand towards me. My father was sitting in the wicker chair opposite hers and that left the swing seat for me. This was as big as a small sofa and full of soft cushions and suspended by two chains from a metal frame. I loved sitting there but felt an irresistible urge to swing on it which I thought I was probably not meant to do. I had tried it out while I had been waiting. I often accompanied my father when he was on call and had to visit his patients in their homes but I knew I had to be on my best behavior. This was not hard for me. I was by inclination an obedient child and I relished the approval I could earn in this way. 

‘We’ll have some coffee. And you’d like a cool drink.’

I nodded. ‘Yes, please.’ 

Ma Lindsey’s ancestors had been born in Ireland. She was the seventh child of a seventh child and she was born in a caul, and that made her a soothsayer, my father had told me.

I had known about the creases in the back of her neck from my mother who had said to my father, ‘You know even the back of her neck is creased, Jim. And she smokes so much. She looks somehow, smoked, like a kipper.’ And then they had laughed together, which I was glad to see, and he said, ‘Like a kipper! Oh Nora, that is brilliant. She is, she is as smoked as a kipper!’ 

I had never eaten a kipper and was not sure what a kipper was except that it was a fish and people had them for breakfast back home in England. Of course, I had read about them. All my books were about people ‘back home’. England. Or Scotland or Ireland. The places we came from and to which we would return one day. However, Ma Lindsey’s great-grandparents had emigrated to Africa years and years ago and she would never leave. ‘She will die here,’ I had heard my father say. 

So I looked with added interest at the old woman as her cigarette smoke curled around her like a snake and at her dried-up hands and face and sniffed to see if she smelt like a fish too. Her chickens scratched the dry earth around the veranda where we sat and I watched them through the wire netting. One looked up at me holding its head to the side and eyeing me as though it understood everything I was thinking. Did Ma Lindsey talk to them? My father had told me she was a wise woman and could understand animals, and the stars, and she could tell the future and read people’s palms. I was handed a glass of orange squash with a straw. My mother, I knew, would worry about the water. We only drank boiled water at home. My father, however, seemed to be untroubled so I sipped it warily. It was too strong. In fact, I began to wonder if it was diluted at all. 

It was peaceful sitting there, swinging ever so slightly, sipping through the straw, watching my father and Ma Lindsey smoking and chatting about the weather. This was October, getting towards the end of the dry season, what my father called ‘the suicide month’ as tensions on the mine between the managers and the miners grew and even families began to fight and men drank too much and beat their wives and children. Only when the storms came would the air be cleared as the rain poured down turning the red earth into streams of swirling red mud and lightning cracked overhead and great thunderheads smashed together and the rain beat down on the corrugated iron roofs of our bungalows with a sound like horses’ hooves. A mangy old dog appeared and walked through the cluster of chickens who ignored it. I heard Ma Lindsey say my name.

‘Come here, child.’ 

I climbed down off the swing seat and put my drink down on a small table made out of an elephant’s foot. She took my left hand in hers and turned it over and peered down at the palm. 

‘Aagh, look at this, Doctor. You’ve got a clever girl here.’ She stroked my palm with her other hand which felt like a soft warm paw and ran a nail down one of the lines on my palm. It was almost but not quite painful but I did not draw my hand away for I had learnt not to show when things hurt. She spoke with a thick Afrikaans accent, like the one that would characterize my voice when I and my parents would finally return home. Then these guttural tones and flattened, shortened vowels identified me as a foreigner and I am still sometimes told by very perceptive people that there is a recognizable echo of this in my voice. This pleases me for I like to know that the traces of our past are irreversibly woven into our current lives and are there for those who can, to see. 

‘You’ll go far, my girl, you’ll travel. Travel a lot. A lot of car journeys, but you’ll be safe on the roads. I see two men, one fair, one dark. Both important. You’ll have a long life, and a good one. You’ll be successful. But you’ll die alone. Much loved, you’ll be much loved, plenty of people to love you, but you’ll die alone.’ 

The green eyes twinkled at me through the creases of her lids and her mouth widened in a grin so that I could see her few tobacco-brown teeth. ‘But that won’t trouble you much, will it? You’re a brave girl and we’re all alone in the end, aren’t we, Doctor?’ 

My father, who was a bit of a philosopher, nodded. ‘We’re all alone in the end.’ 

I like to know that the traces of our past are irreversibly woven into our current lives and are there for those who can, to see. 

My father’s car was a bright green Hudson Rambler: one of those enormous American cars like a Cadillac in which I would learn to drive one day when I was sixteen. When that time came I often drove too fast on the long, empty roads between the townships for had Ma Lindsey not told me that I would be safe on the roads?

From her place it was about eight miles back to the township down the single strip of tarmac which represented the Great North Road. On either side were wide stretches of red earth and beyond these lay the African bush, the tangle of low trees and grasses and dambos and anthills and animals and snakes that I had been taught never to venture into alone. 

As we travelled, I reflected that throughout my life I had been warned that being alone could be risky. I was only allowed to ride my pony in the bush with my father and I had to stay close to him and always be aware that at any moment our horses could be spooked by a snake. 

‘Is Ma Lindsey very wise?’ I asked as we munched on one of the chocolate bars he always had stored in the glove compartment. 

‘Yes, but she has some pretty wild ideas too.’ My father always talked to me as though I were an adult. I liked that. It made me feel clever and grown up but when I got home I told my mother that Ma Lindsey had said I would die alone. 

‘Much loved but alone,’ was what she said. 

As I knew would happen my mother was then cross with my father. ‘How could you let that crazy old woman tell the child things like that?’ 

‘Don’t worry,’ said my father soothingly, ‘She’ll forget all about it.’ But my father who was very clever and philosophical and took me out in the garden at night to look at the Southern Cross through his telescope and treated me as an adult understood me less well than my mother who said, ‘No she won’t, Jim. It is the kind of thing she will remember all her life.’ 

And she was right, as she usually was. I believed I had been ascribed a certain fate and I needed to understand what this meant. I had always known it was important to stay alive, if only for the sake of my parents, and being the diligent little philosopher I had been brought up to be, I began to ponder on the meaning of being alone. There was a rich seam to mine here, a fault line running through my character, for I am, by nature, solitary. What that effectively means in practice is that a joy shared is a joy halved and a trouble shared is a trouble doubled. And if I look back now through all the years of the long life that Ma Lindsey had accurately promised me I can see that I was always calibrating the relative merits of being alone or not. As a child I already knew that I needed, craved, bathed myself in solitude. Being alone was my best place. As I grew through my teens I began to understand it better. I narrowed it down to a fear of belonging. Belonging to me meant losing something, not gaining anything. Losing individuality, losing, dare I say, specialness. I was a secretive and isolated child and I feared being identified with any other child as some people might fear the plague. Did I sense some contagion in intimacy with others? Yes, I think so. I reflected long and hard on the implications of my tragic destiny. 

And then, what was being alone? Being the other side of a room? The other side of a wall? The other side of a country? Of a continent? I read Larkin’s ‘Best Society’ and quoted the last lines to myself with a tremor of recognition. 

When I was eighteen my father’s contract came to an end and we returned to England. Once there I found a curious reversal took place. Although I had spent all my conscious life longing to return to the romantic image of foggy, lamplit pavements which for me characterized London, once there I began to feel a kind of nostalgia for my part of Africa.

‘What’s it like?’ I was asked and I stumbled for words to describe it. I tried to imagine Ma Lindsey in Surrey and failed. 

Then I went off to university. This was the first time I had left home and everyone told me I would feel lonely. However, I doubted that would be the case. I had, of course, by this stage trodden the well-worn intellectual paths around the question of aloneness versus loneliness. I was not concerned. I knew that fortune tellers did not really exist. I was looking forward to proving that I was still a clever girl and then there were the boyfriends, of whom there were suddenly quite a lot. I tried to work out whether sharing a drink or indeed a bed made one more or less alone and concluded that both situations were irrelevant. Aloneness was something one carried within oneself and there was no getting away from it. So, my reassessment of Ma Lindsey continued and I decided that she might have been crazy but she had seen something in my palm that was true. 

From time to time I still wondered how to identify the two men she had promised would be part of my fate. As it happened, while I was at university, I met them both and I married the fair one soon after I graduated. My father and mother had by then responded to a call from the Red Cross for medical assessors in a war-torn country and I was suddenly in need of a home. My intellectual competence had not equipped me for managing my own affairs after all and a home was on offer and so I married the fair boy although I was fervently but secretly yearning body and soul for his best friend. Yes, he was the dark one. Fortunately, as in the best fairy tales, the fair one was also kind, honorable and trustworthy. We all know there is a common assumption that marriage brings companionship although we all also quote Chekhov along the lines of, ‘if you fear loneliness, never marry’. I was alone in my marriage and it suited me. Or I thought it did. We had two wonderful children and gave dinner parties and joined clubs and played tennis and had friends around to play Monopoly. We looked like a couple but I was never there. We lived alongside each other for eighteen years at which point we realized there were better ways to live and we split up, with honor and without too much acrimony. I collapsed back into a solitary way of life with gratitude. The former best friend, who had apparently not loved me when it mattered, came calling and we established a distant but passionate sexual conspiracy during which my bodily yearnings were fully satisfied although I believe my soul remained neglected. 

During this time I also downsized, found a new home and put a lot of energy into my career which, surprisingly, flourished. I wrote historical novels. I was not proud of them but the proceeds paid the bills. A reviewer called the first one, ‘staid but pleasing’ and the fourth novel was described as ‘formulaic’. It stung but they were right. I had hit on a formula that worked. I would have preferred, of course, to have written a Mrs Dalloway for our times. But when I was alone with the screen in front of me my courage failed. And yes, I have asked myself since then whether this was the literary version of being afraid to go into the bush alone? Maybe it was. However, I did not explore that question any further and I proved very successful at being self-sufficient during those years. An onlooker would have said I was flourishing. Could I be described as being alone? Definitely. Was I worried? No. Ma Lindsey’s green eyes lurked at the back of my mind although I looked back at the credulous little girl I had been with a degree of fondness and disbelief. But everything was about to change again. 

Aloneness was something one carried within oneself and there was no getting away from it.

I had bought a small house on the outskirts of the city in an area that possessed the convenience of a suburb and the charm of a village. My house stood on the top of a hill and there was a long row of similar houses all down the street to a little bridge across the river with a view of the water-meadows beyond. One day my eldest granddaughter asked if she could come and live with me as she had a place at a local sixth-form college. I have always believed that the signs of successful mothering are that the children can leave home but, my granddaughter wanting to move in with me, well, that was an unexpected gift. We were in the car one day, I was driving her back to the bus station after a visit, when she said, ‘Granny, can I come and live with you?’ And I, without hesitation, heard myself say, ‘Yes.’ It was so simple. Yes. No questions, just yes. From my heart. For two years she lived with me and I with her. There was all the usual teenage stuff. Driving to parties, collecting at midnight, meeting friends, hosting boyfriends, providing money. Worrying. Dropping her off at her insistence in what seemed to me undesirable neighborhoods, asking her if she did not want to take a coat on a cold November evening. Lying awake, listening for the front door. Trying not to intrude. Finding out what she liked to eat. Once I cooked her lamb’s liver. Never again. Once she made me a card for Mother’s Day. I still have it. She wrote inside, ‘Because you look after me like a mother’. I was in my late sixties by then and I look back on those times with such fondness. I believe we were a unit. I cried when she left but she never looked back. This is how it goes. The love I gave her she will hand on. It trickles down, not up. That is how it should be. And I was arrogant enough to think that I had this being alone stuff sorted. Until the strangest thing happened. 

It was October again and that year it stole some of March’s thunder and came in like the proverbial lion. And, like a lion, it terrorized the village and everybody felt scared and overwhelmed and talked about little else. Its winds roared around us, whipping the still leafy strands of the willows along the river into a frenzy as though they were long fronds of seaweed beneath breaking waves; it tore some trees down and leapt upon the storm clouds crushing the rain out of them so that oceans of water fell onto the land, already wet from September’s incessant drizzle. The rivers filled up and some flooded their banks. Our river rose above the level of the bridge and although the arch in the center of the bridge remained just clear of the water level the road either side of it was impassable. The last cottage in the row now had several feet of water surging through it as the swollen river lapped at the foot of the lane. I had seen the woman who lived there when she was working in our local charity shop. I walked down while she was struggling with the help of some of her neighbors to replace the useless sandbags and asked if she would like to move in with me until her home was habitable again. 

She was a skinny, nervous woman, with very dark brown eyes and a thin anxious face, rather bird-like in many ways, like the birds she looked for and fed every day. She fed them and I fed her. I take after my mother’s side of the family. Plump people, thick-necked and double-chinned, shrinking in height into a round ball with age; they were robust in many ways, but needed to be pampered. She was like a small bird, she brought out in me all those feelings that are nurtured within children when they carry around a doll or a teddy bear, for what else is that caretaking attitude but a determination to feel large and powerful as you lend your larger size and greater strength to care for these dependent creatures. It helps that the toys are immobile without us and can be discarded at a whim, unlike our later human dependents, although to my shame I had, in the course of my life, cherished my ability to discard people, lovers, friends, colleagues, when in my eyes they had outlived their usefulness or their desirability. Hence, perhaps, the inevitability of dying alone but Miriam brought out something different in me. By calming her I felt my own calmness. She began to feel like a part of me. 

My house has two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs and a little junk room. She moved in for an indeterminate time, a few weeks or months, I suggested, until her house could be dried out and refurbished. She spent a lot of time down there as the water receded and she got it professionally tanked and painted. She was a passionate gardener and she rescued many of her best plants and brought them up the hill to my garden. 

‘You don’t mind, do you? I’ll take them back when everything is back to normal.’ Naturally, I didn’t mind.

We rapidly developed a new normal. We shared the bathroom. She was extremely orderly and I grew quite fond of the presence of the extra toothbrush and the tidily folded towel on the towel rail. She helped me discover an interest in birdwatching and we went on a nature weekend to the Highlands and we liked it so much we decided to plan another. It was unduly expensive to reserve and pay for two single rooms so eventually we decided, I forget when, to share a room when we traveled. By this time her house was in excellent condition and we decided it would be simpler to let it. Very soon it was providing us with a good income. As the months went by I found a new happiness in the knowledge of her proximity and in the confidence of her presence at night and it became clear to both of us that Miriam and her plants were here to stay. She was a good cook and after finishing the day’s writing I soon got into the habit of looking forward to sitting down with a glass of wine, or sometimes a gin and tonic, to talk over the day. Often we would go out into the garden and she might show me a sick plant, or a new one, and I would let her know how the latest chapter was progressing. Then, perhaps, in winter, a steak and kidney pie or a roast chicken and some vegetables from the garden. In the summer she made lovely salads. I would look at her and wonder what it was that had drawn me to her. She was no beauty. Her dark hair hung untidily across her thin face like a schoolgirl’s but I loved the seriousness of her expressions, the slight indentations between her eyebrows which never went away even when she was smiling. When we lay together at night I found such peace in holding her twitching, restless body in my arms. I smoothed her hair and murmured to her as she fell asleep. And so three years passed. How happy I was. How happy we were. Now and again, I asked myself if I was alone? Company I had long ago disqualified as a measure of aloneness for I had learned in the past that even sexual intimacy did not banish aloneness. And I was proud by now of my capacity to carry my essential aloneness everywhere. Of course I will die alone, I said to myself, after all I have lived alone all my life. And I felt again the soft warm touch of that wrinkled little hand and the sharp pain of Ma Lindsey’s nail as she drew it across my palm. 

And then the weekend came when Miriam told me that she felt she had to go and visit her sister. They were not close, she had hardly seen her for many years, but her sister was very ill. She lived in Inverness. Miriam had heard from a nephew that she was close to death. She had asked to see Miriam. My first impulse was annoyance. What had we to do with them? What had she to do with us? However, reason quickly intervened and I said, with as good grace as possible, ‘Of course you must go, Miriam. I’ll be fine here for a few days.’ 

‘Are you sure?’ she asked. I looked at her. The two indentations deeper than ever. ‘I don’t really want to leave you.’ 

And as I looked at her I wanted to scream, ‘No! No! Please don’t go! Don’t leave me! I’ll die without you!’ But I had never ever, in my whole life, said there was anything I could not manage. I could survive anything, even if it hurt. I had never begged for anything in my life. I simply did not plead. Hesitantly, she looked away and said, softly, ‘You could come too, if you wanted.’ 

But that was the last thing I wanted. I could imagine an unfortunate scenario of family wailings and embarrassing intimacies. 

‘You go,’ I said. ‘For God’s sake, I’ll be fine.’

As I watched her get into the taxi for the station I felt a terrible sense of doom again. 

‘I’ll be back soon. If you need me sooner just ring.’

‘I will.’ 

She had gone for four days and three nights and I would be alone again except for the cat. I have not yet mentioned the cat who has a significant part to play in this last chapter of my life. When she had scrambled up the hill from the flooded house Miriam had brought an armful of cat with her. Susie was an enormous cat. Furry, fluffy, tufted all over, with large, pointed ears and a scornful demeanor. She had been rescued from the river by Miriam. Advertising brought no response. So she stayed. She showed no interest in the birds which Miriam took as a sign of her superior intelligence.

That first evening Miriam rang to say she had arrived safely. It was all pretty grim but her nephew was grateful to her for being there. She was not sure that her sister had recognized her but she was glad to have come. My heart raced. I longed for her to return. I was beginning to recognize that in truth I had never ever, in my whole life, been alone. To be alone you need to need someone who is absent. The need, the belonging was what did it. You had to admit that you depended on another. You needed to need that other like life itself. I am an old woman and evidently a rather foolish one since this was a new thing for me. As I went to bed that first night I thought, when Miriam comes back I must tell her this. And I must never, ever let her go away without me again. Was this why Ma Lindsey had twinkled at me that afternoon so long ago? Had she seen something I had no idea of at all? She had said I would be brave. Well I was trying to be brave but I had never known such unhappiness and I cried like the child I once was and buried my head in the pillow. The second night I managed better. When she called I told her everything was OK but that there was a terrible storm blowing up. There was a warning of ice. I put Susie’s supper out, as per instructions, but she was not there. Normally she would hang about in a rather dog-like way. I listened to the wind outside and checked the cat-flap. I had noticed earlier in the day that the lid of the rain barrel had been blown off. I put it back on again but maybe it had again been blown away and I was seized with a terrible and ridiculous fear that Susie had fallen in and then, suddenly, the cat-flap clicked and there she was. Wet and cross but alive and well. 

I was beginning to recognize that in truth I had never ever, in my whole life, been alone. To be alone you need to need someone who is absent.

The storm continued all the next day. I couldn’t write. I sat at my desk and stared at the screen and there was a miasma of grief where there should have been images and ideas. The hours passed. I thought of ringing Miriam but she had no reception where she was and so it had to be the landline. I found her absence unbearable and did try ringing her once but there was just the infuriating BT answerphone and I didn’t leave a message. Once again, Susie was not there for her supper. I had checked the rain barrel during the day and had tried to secure the lid, which was definitely loose, but I knew it would not hold. I am not practical. I listened to the monstrous gusts of wind and once again became gripped by the conviction that Susie had fallen in. Furious with Susie and furious with myself for my absurd fantasies I stormed out of the house, leaving the kitchen door open so that the light shone down the narrow paved path that led around the corner of the house to the barrel. The wind screeched through the tangled branches of the trees above me and I had to struggle to keep upright. The onset of the night’s freeze was already apparent. Sure enough, when I got there the lid was gone but at that moment the wind blew the kitchen door shut and I could see very little. Pointlessly, I patted on the surface of the inky black water, my fingers freezing, squinting at it to make sure Susie was not there. And then suddenly she appeared from down the path and shot past me as a massive blast lifted the tops of the trees up and then bore down upon me and knocked me over. Falling, I grabbed at the rim of the barrel which fell on top of me, the weight of it pinning me to the ground as the ice-cold water flooded everywhere. My head hit the path hard. I lay there in the darkness, trying to breathe, water curling over and around me, frozen with shock and fear. The barrel was now lodged against the wall beside the path and the full weight of it was on me. I moved my head and a dreadful shaft of agony flew down my spine and into my pelvis. I began to cry. No-one would see me here. No-one would hear me and I was not even sure I had enough breath to call. I tried not to move to avoid that agonizing spear of pain. My mind drifted. I shall die, I thought. Could I last the night? No. I couldn’t. What would Miriam do when she rang and found no answer? Would she call a neighbor? Would anything be in time? My feet were numb and I realized that in falling I had trapped one arm behind my neck. It was suddenly agonizing and yet I couldn’t move it. I wondered if I was paralyzed. I felt my chest trying and failing to cough out some of the water that had covered my face. I wished that I had lost consciousness and then I wondered whether I had. I had no way of knowing how long I had been there. There was no light and my watch was on my trapped arm. All I can remember was the soaring wind, the icy water and the creeping terror. 

And then, a shaft of light. I looked up at the frantic movement of the branches overhead, their leaves glistening in the sudden glow from the kitchen door. A voice, Miriam’s voice, shouting, calling, crying, and someone was rolling the barrel away, pulling at me, dragging me up the path. I may have blanked out for a bit for I next remember lying helplessly on our kitchen floor. Towels, warm towels, my dripping clothes tenderly removed, terrible pain. Blankets, duvets, pillows. I was sipping warm milk with, was it whisky? Miriam kneeling beside me, whimpering with fear and anxiety. Oh God. Oh God. 

I have abandoned philosophy. And I have stopped trying to make sense of things. I didn’t die that night but I had fractured my pelvis and dislocated my shoulder. And I was suffering from hypothermia. They kept me in hospital for almost a week. I had probably been unconscious for over an hour when Miriam found me and dragged me inside and called an ambulance. She had come back early because, she said, she had heard signs of distress in my voice the previous night. For months I was horribly disabled. We had to install a stairlift and I consider I aged ten years overnight. Sitting at a keyboard was impossible but that did not matter for I now found I had nothing to write. Certainly none of the usual stuff.

I had recognized that, on my way to death on that garden path, frozen and in agony, I was alone in a way I had never known before. I wanted time to think about that. 

I am sitting today in the shade watching Miriam as she bustles about the garden in the early summer sunshine and I marvel at her energy and skill. The birds are busy about the feeders. I love her more than she knows; maybe more than even I know yet. I am new at this game but thanks to her I have a second chance. I might still die alone one day and she might die first and I know that and she knows that, and maybe that is the way it goes, but today we have this. We have talked about Ma Lindsey and her predictions and, since I am still without my keyboard skills, I am writing this longhand as Miriam has asked me to. She thinks it is a story that should be told. And then, maybe after some others, I plan to try my own Mrs Dalloway. I probably lack the talent but maybe I will find I am brave enough to attempt it after all.

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