Two Women

Grantly was a figure in a novel by Anthony Trollope. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was famously left at the altar unwed, and Dickens’ Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, similarly jilted, kept a decaying wedding cake on a table in her dusty home. Were any of Miss Elderkirk’s reminiscences true?  Had she confused fact with fiction? She continued with a sigh, “Mrs. Arkwright’s cakes are remarkable. So much better than Meals on Wheels…”

We drove home in silence.

The next day I called a number of social service agencies. They all knew her, and had had difficulties with her. She had cancelled service, then re-instated it, or insulted their volunteers, or been out when they tried to make deliveries to her. One contact called her “a very confused octogenarian.” Mental Health Advocacy claimed not to have heard of her. A private firm dealing with hoarders, acting on an anonymous tip, had paid her a visit to offer their services, and had had the door slammed in their faces. She had her pride, she said. There appeared little that could be done to help.

And then, a week later, we heard she had been knocked down and killed crossing a downtown street in defiance of the traffic signal, or so it was reported. But this is to assume a willfulness on her part that might be unwarranted, even ungenerous. Perhaps her death was due to inadvertence. We weren’t there. We didn’t see. Perhaps she had been preoccupied, and had not noticed that the lights had changed. It is all too easy for us to diminish and dismiss those who are hard to like. And then we regret it when it is too late.

As there was only an elderly distant relative in Montreal who wanted no part in his cousin’s affairs, clearing her apartment fell to three volunteers, of whom I was one, and my wife another. Miss Elderkirk had been a very private person, and our entrance into her home felt like an intrusion, which it was, albeit a necessary one.

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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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