Aunt Maisie

Aunt Maisie made me laugh today. She wishes to be cremated when the time comes, she said. We all have to go; that’s a fact. She had told her younger sister about her intention and had met with disapproval. “If my sister puts me into a box, I shall jump out of it and into her face,” she exclaimed. She seemed to find the idea of the box disconcerting, and I could hardly keep a straight face. She went on “Why can’t I have the same thing as my husband. He was cremated and his ashes scattered on a field where he used to work”. She made a vague movement with her arm, a dramatic expression in her face.

I couldn’t suppress a smile and she looked at me questioningly. She then told me what she thought about “the box”. “Fancy maggots eating their way through the wood and into my body”. She looked horrified and seemed to be curling up as if getting away from something. Certainly this shouldn’t happen to her. I burst into laughter and reassured her: she wouldn’t feel a thing! She produced a little smile and wondered would her soul witness it. After that she resumed her straight face and told me about a sad case. A lady she had known from her whist drives. Seventy-seven. She didn’t come one day and the next thing Aunt Maisie knew from the newspaper was that she was dead. “Seventy-seven!”. Aunt Maisie gave me a meaningful look. I calculated that Aunt Maisie was older than that. Five years older in fact. “Not a bad age,” she said. “They say three score and ten – that’s what we get.” The allotted span, Nessie used to call it. “Anything else is borrowed time”, she went on. Of course, “I’m nearly eighty-three”. She looked pleased with herself. I told her she was doing well. She smiled and said she was living on borrowed time. I encouraged her to enjoy it. She would, she said, and started telling me the story of her bungalow. I had heard it before.

She lives in a little Council bungalow, one in a row of five or six, and several people had wanted it. Of course, my doctor saw that I got it. A very good doctor.” She was most grateful. Mrs Zenc had wanted it, too, she kept telling people at the whist drive she was going to have it. Aunt Maisie’s neighbour and a few others round about had wanted Mrs Zenc to come and live there. Aunt Maisie was sick of hearing this every so often. “Why do they keep telling me that?”. Anyway, Aunt Maisie got the bungalow and not Mrs Zenc. The Council knew who needed it most. Mrs Zenc must have been upset when she was turned down, Aunt Maisie thought. She would have to wait for another chance. Aunt Maisie was safe where she was, she didn’t think anybody could turn her out, she was going to stay here. She didn’t say until when. Mrs Zenc had been offered several other places in the meantime, but hadn’t accepted any. Aunt Maisie couldn’t see at all why not. “You see, she had set her heart on the one at the corner, the one I have. But she couldn’t have that.” Aunt Maisie looked satisfied. She went on: “They’re building more bungalows out in Crossread.” She made a vague movement meaning far away, not nice and central as hers, obviously. Mrs Zenc could go there for all Aunt Maisie knew. But what had the old girl done? Aunt Maisie was trying to rouse my interest. She had accepted an upstairs flat in a building nearby, and of course, who would be surprized to hear as she had done this morning: Mrs Zenc had broken her ankle! Aunt Maisie thought it was probably the stairs. “She should never have accepted this flat.“ She was quite out of sympathy. “What a silly thing to do!” Aunt Maisie would have known better. But then she was lucky – she had been assigned the bungalow on the corner. “Why do people keep talking about Mrs Zenc?” she complained. “I don’t gossip, but they give me all the news about her.” It nearly made her miserable, but only nearly, for she was safe where she was.

When I had to go, I told her it was nice having a laugh together. She smiled and said she was looking forward to seeing me next week.