Lady Madonna

On a leafy suburban street in an undistinguished older development, an elderly couple lived for many years in an anonymous bungalow on a well-kept corner lot. Outside the front door, reached by a four-step stoop typical of this type of dwelling, stood a statue that the neighbourhood children, of whom there were once many, called the Blue Lady. Dressed in a flowing blue and white robe, she was a graceful figure with an enigmatic smile and with slender arms partially raised in a gesture of welcome. Lapsed Protestants one and all, the neighbours appreciated the Blue Lady’s exotic presence among them without understanding who she was or why she was there. She once suffered a minor indignity, but was never the prey of vandals.

Every spring like clockwork, the old man who lived there would emerge from seclusion to repair the imagined ravages of winter by repainting the Blue Lady’s clothing and person, even when she appeared to need no such care. Until his death, this silent old man, who spoke no English, would perform his annual task with the conscientious attention of a Leonardo on his back working on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. His widow, even more retiring than her husband, at first hired a professional painter to carry on his work, but this ceased abruptly when an assistant painted the Blue Lady’s robe a shade of purple that required another contractor to restore it to its original colour. Thereafter, the Blue Lady had to endure the passage of time without her annual upkeep, but she bore this neglect with composure, maintaining the strangely comforting serenity that all who noticed her felt as they passed by.

Year by year, spring yielded to the fall of leaves, succeeded in turn by the interminable winter. Children grew up, married and moved away, and the neighbourhood slowly became a colony of older people increasingly seen shuffling by on canes in good weather, and seen not at all in bad. The development showed very little external change except for the gradual rusting of the unused swings visible in some yards, Even a totem pole erected in the first flush of a neighbour’s passing enthusiasm for aboriginal culture lost its vibrant colours, then its nose and wings, and paled into unrecognizable insignificance. Only the Blue Lady retained her freshness and serenity beside the bungalow’s front door.

The old woman was soon seen no more. She was thought to be bedridden, and was visited from time to time by a sullen succession of housekeepers. At some point in the winter she died as quietly as she had lived. No neighbours were aware of her funeral, if there ever was one, and a son rumoured to live in Colorado did not appear to take possession of the house, which remained unoccupied for the better part of a year. A teenage neighbour’s son was paid by bank draft to take care of the outside of the property. He shovelled snow and mowed the lawn, but left the Blue Lady alone to ponder with apparent equanimity the changed fortunes of her former household.

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Lady Madonna

Peter was born in England, spent his childhood there and in South America, and taught English for 33 years in Ottawa, Canada. Now retired, he reads and writes voraciously, and travels occasionally with his wife Louise.
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