Erna’s home carried the scent of roses and crisp cotton sheets. The kitchen was sunny, with flowery curtains billowing in on the wind. It was as if the worn oak floorboards themselves contained comfort.
These days Erna’s gardens are overgrown with tassel-topped grasses waving in the wind. The shutters and gutters are slightly askew, and moss grows on the white clapboard. Sometimes I come to watch the weeping willow’s arms sweep the pebbly driveway, and to remember.
I knew Erna long before she knew me. From the woods where I lived I watched as she carried a basket on her hip to the clothesline. . . as she tilted her face toward the sun and closed her eyes. . . as she weeded the garden and gathered an armful of flowers for her table.
One afternoon I sauntered over to her as she was pegging out the laundry. “Oh!” she said, “Oh! Wait here.”
She came back with remnants of a pork chop and a small bowl of water. Each afternoon after that I visited her. She sat next to me on the patio as I ate, talking about anything that occurred to her. I think she was lonely.
Cold weather came early that year, and the wind bit through my fur. One day, as I waited for her on the patio, Erna held the door wide open. “Well, come on,” she said. I walked in and made myself at home.
By day I kept her company in the kitchen as she worked, her shoulders soft and rounded, her hands moving in and out of shafts of light. She hummed tunelessly to the soft, repeating clang of the wooden spoon in the mixing bowl.
By evening we sat by the fire in winter, and by the open window in summer. Erna worked with her hands, always, making afghans, quilts, and linen napkins, always in shades of green.
By night I slept on the window seat under the dormer, the stars glimmering overhead.
In time, Erna became ill. People came and went from the house. I slept curled by her feet, keeping an eye on her, caring for her as I could. She passed away anyway. I watched them carry her from the house, but it wasn’t her. I sensed her around me, free.
A neighbor woman took me home with her. I’ve made my life there with her family, and it’s a good life. But sometimes I like to come here to Erna’s garden, to sense her, to feel our life together.
•Images, in order of appearance, courtesy of chaiwat & foto76/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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