The other Woman.
Ruthie was eighty-seven when they came for her. They rang the bell and when she opened up they told her that they would have to take her away. Told her she was to old to live by herself like she had done for the past thirty something years, ever since Walt had passed. She didn’t understand what they meant, so they told her again, with patience still, but she could hear the edge of their voices taking on a sharper tone, like you would with a disobedient child, like she had done with her own, about sixty-five years earlier.
“It’s because of them,’ and her hands moved about to illustrate that them were somewhere out there watching and preying on her. ‘They want to tear down this, my house and build something monstrous on top and it’s just me who’s been holding them up to get started, isn’t it?’
They kept their voices low, when they told her that she was imagining things and that that too was reason why they were here now to take her.
‘Well I ain’t going nowhere,’ she said to them.
That’s when they brought out the paper, held it right in front of her nose and told her what it said. One of them turned it over to read it out loud to her. The paper said, that she would have to go because the law had decided for her to, had decided she was too old and too alone and probably too crazy to be by herself any longer, but they never read her that part.
To get packing they said, just the essentials for where she was about to get going to, there wasn’t as much space as she was used to in her house.
She protested of course, raised her voice to them like anyone in the same position would. Younger ones who were more familiar with the laws might have called in a lawyer to slow them, but it was a thought that never crossed Ruthie’s mind.
She had silver coloured hair, that she spent a great length of time with every morning to make her look decent. The hair looked big on her, because the skull had just a thin layer of skin stretched over it that she managed to contort into warm smiles if she wished. The rest of her body had grown small over the years, when she walked she was bent forward some and made small considered steps as she was afraid of stumbling over herself and breaking a bone in the process.
Now she made hurried steps towards the sitting room to sit down in her most favoured chair by the window, the one she had sat in when she saw them come up the walkway. Those old wrinkled hands held onto the armrests with a stubborn fervour. Told them again that she would not go, but there was an unease in her voice and she felt close to tears as if she knew that she would not have the strength to battle it out.
After maybe an hour they had her packed, carried the whole chair to the van to take her and unloaded her at the other end, a place she could tell to be filled with old people. Ruthie didn’t see herself as old, she still harboured thoughts and memories from a long way back, but they were fresh as if they were lived just yesterday.
They took the chair with the stubborn old woman into a room with two beds, one being occupied by a brittle looking lady who was asleep. The bag they had packed for her containing what they had considered the essentials for living, they placed on the bed, said it was hers to take and this the room for her to live life from this moment on.
And they left.
That was the moment when the tears came running from her watery eyes, they were silent without a word or a sob. Not like tears younger people cry. She knew that her tears didn’t matter to anyone but herself anymore, nobody would listen or try to make her be better. That was the reason they just quietly streamed from her eyes and to anyone looking at her then she would look like an old woman with a lost mind who ran tears for no reason. But there was still a lot of feeling inside the old woman and it would take a long time to make it all die, before she herself could go.
Over time the old lady curled up more inside herself. Had to be taken from her room to be fed morning, noon and evenings. In the afternoon they placed her in her old chair by the window. Afternoons was when a little life merged into her eyes, sometimes a content smile would play around thin lips, like she knew things or remembered things or perhaps even saw things. Rarely anyone noticed though because she was being left alone most of the time and the other woman was often just laid out in bed and asleep and when she wasn’t the two of them hardly spoke to each other. Ruthie grew even smaller and became more fragile.
Her house had been bulldozed and built over just like she had imagined when they had first taken her. She did have the strength of someone wanting something then, even when the strength was weak as it came from an old lady, but now she had almost none left to grip onto the arms of her chair or even hold and lift a cup.
Just over two years after Ruthie had arrived, she went to sleep.
The next morning the woman in the other bed stirred and woke at the same early hour as every morning. She rustled some with the blanket, then turned on her back to look up at the ceiling where in her younger days she had seen stars. Then she went quiet again, listened for the noises she was accustomed to, listened and turned her head, shifted her body to look over at Ruthie. She looked hard with weakened eyes to see some bit of movement and listened harder to hear a breath, but deep inside she knew that Ruthie had passed and she was in a room filled with death.
She got panicked then, pushed the bell to ring for a nurse. They came and checked and whispered, before they left to return in greater numbers to take Ruthie away, and to take Ruthie’s things away. There wasn’t much and it didn’t take long.
The old woman saw how it would be when it was her time.