the stairs from my flat to my upstairs neighbours“I’m so glad to have you around,” she says, just as I start to tell her I’m leaving again. “You spend more time away than at home,” she says accusingly, but still brings in my mail, lovingly sorting it into neat piles of ads, circulars and bills. Each time I return she climbs the stairs more slowly, softly, pausing to tell me how adorable my daughter is and how frightened she is to see her climb so high. She can’t eat, weighs just 39 kilos now, she says, the thinness of her voice slipping away. Each morning she asks me “Did I keep you awake last night?” Each morning I smile a no, not at all, I slept like a log. How unfair that her coughs torment her, alone.

10 thoughts on “my upstairs neighbour

  1. jill/txt » lonely

    […] ys with her dad and my sweetheart’s on a plane and won’t be here for weeks. My neighbour died last night, cracking jokes, her sister told me, and minutes after she died her family w […]

  2. Jill

    Can I ask you: how do you imagine my neighbour, reading that? I wonder whether I managed to convey an image of her at all. Perhaps it doesn’t matter.

  3. steve

    I imagine she looks like my great-grandmother did, more wrinkles than skin and as thin as a bird, stern in her generosity like she knows exactly what things are worth in a longview way we don’t. Moving slowly but coiled like a spring with vast reserves of invisible strength.

    I’ve lost track of where my great-grandmother ends and your neighbor begins. Which is perhaps a value of storytelling.

  4. Jill

    Oh yes. Thank you.

  5. Elin

    Perhaps she once had brown hair. Her back is bent, she wears (blue?)skirts and knitted sweathers, and “fotform” shoes with brown nylon stockings. Her hands are wrinkled, and her chin is soft and pink.

  6. Francois Lachance

    Strange, when I first read the entry, I didn’t imagine and elderly person. I had in mind some person in mid-life with some sort of chronic illness. What put me in mind of this was the cough mention which was for me like a sign of the story to be continued almost as if there was another episode coming where the neighbour confides about their health status.

    Well, not so strange we do project different life experiences onto the narrative possibilities that we read hence the question posed by Jill.

  7. Jill

    I was wondering about just that – I didn’t actually write that my neighbour is old, and I was wondering whether you could tell anyway. I wonder what, exactly, made Steve and Elin see her as old and Fran?ßois not?

    She’s in her seventies, and until recently seemed the sort of woman who would have every illness known to mankind without her wiry body giving up.

  8. diane

    From the offhand “weighs just 39 kilos now,” I deduced she was dying, and then assumed (rather blithely) that she was old. The pic supported the assumption, inasmuch as it seems to draw on certain “afterlife” conventions — the stairway (to heaven), the bright light at the end.

  9. Jill

    I missed her today. She wasn’t in the playground watching children play, and she didn’t open her door as I walked up past her flat to the attic to fetch my suitcase. She didn’t answer the doorbell, so I walked over to her sister’s house and she told me that my neighbour’s been in hospital since yesterday. She has an oxygen mask strapped to her face in one of the wards for lung patients.

    I’m leaving tomorrow so sent her internet flowers but a computer-conveyed card, while better than nothing, doesn’t feel like much.

    I hope she’s here when I get home.

  10. Elin

    “I’m so glad to have you around” –> lots of time on her hands, she is tied to a place
    “she says accusingly” –> in this context, it makes sense that an older person will scold you for not being home (it is the attitude of the elderly that you should spend time at home but today society has changed), younger people will be more interested in where you are going
    “lovingly sorting it into” –> time on her hands once again, neat, orderly, elderly people often are, because they DO have the time
    “climbs the stairs more slowly, softly” – ->bodily decline, over time, in this context, “softly” suggest that it is a natural development, not illness
    “tell me how adorable my daughter is” –> Elderly people are often interested in the young, while others are more practical about children and are more likely to comment on the level of noise they make etc etc
    “how frigthened she is to see her climb so high” –> isn’t this the typical thing you hear from your grandparents? Your parents/uncles/aunts etc might command you to get down from the tree, but seldom be very frightened because their bodies are less fragile (her body IS fragile and she can’t run to help)
    “can’t eat – thinnes of her voice slipping away” –> could be that she is sick, but in this context “slipping” makes it seem like it is has happened gradually over time, because of age
    “Did I keep you awake” –> elderly people are often not sleeping well, or very steady, so they are more likely to listen to sounds or be woken up by sounds. They assume you do, too
    “tourment her, alone” –> alone, because she has reached a point in her life where there aren’t many left and those who are are not able to get around much, just like her, perhaps she had a husband, who passed away sometime ago

    —that’s it:-) I hope she will be better. But it sounds like she is very tired and lonely.

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