THE LADY NEXT DOOR was a thin figure slightly gaunt in stature and form from the years to which her body had accumulated. Her height was nothing profound through the eyes of a small child—the pinnacle to her highest point no greater than 5’4” tall. This comparison may be slightly off for many years have passed since young eyes stared upward to gaze upon the lady next door. Thus, the only contrast to which my childish eyes can relate lay in my great grandfather, Charlie Marion, a man of Native American descent who stood at 6’7” with legs that stretched for miles and miles as if trying to touch eternity with the tip of his boot.
Mrs. Hartness, for that was her name, was a tiny thing indeed. Soaking wet, her weight may have faintly surpassed one-hundred pounds. A curve in the upper portion of her back was exposed through garments, which rested, swathing her delicate build. Her skin was stretched loose and markings of age covered her entire body from head to toe—from her neck all the way down to her swollen pale ankles.
The hair atop her head was thin and fine, the color of faded strawberries and silver and snowflakes like the cap on the peak of the Alps of Cisalpine with small hints of white flowing in between. From her larynx came a soft voice that shook with each word she spoke. Though, I must say, it would only be accurate in this account to mention that within her soft voice was contained a slight scratchiness and congestion. At any given moment, a cough would erupt and it would seem to those around that her lungs had surely failed her.
When this happened, she would stand up, her body as erect as gravity and arthritis would allow, and grasping for the closest solid object to balance herself, a wall or a doorframe, she expelled from within what the cilia had failed to catch.
Reaching upward to cover her mouth, the veins in Mrs. Hartness’s emaciated hands were quite noticeable and plump. Her fingers were thin and long; and much to the mimicry of her voice, her fingers shook with her every movement as if the last leaf in autumn blowing in the wind—quavering yet resilient.
Everyone she knew and loved from infancy to her adult years had by now passed away into the verve of the afterlife except her own flesh and blood: the precious children she weaned many years ago.
Yet, there was one without a drop of kinship that loved her just the same—not as if she were his grandmother or even a relative—but as his best friend.
The young boy was her neighbor. His stature was less than a foot in height shorter compared to his elderly friend with long, skinny arms that seemed out of proportion with the rest of his body. As the years passed, his body would grow into these long extremities, taking away from the disproportionate specter to which he had known for such a protracted period in his childhood. He had deep blue eyes reaching Caribbean depths, dirty blonde hair, and skin the color of fresh homemade biscuits straight out of the oven, painted as if with a blend of russet and taupe acrylics from an Impressionist’s palette.
Everyday, the young boy would scurry across the green grass, past the pale leaf Yucca plant one house over, to his elderly friend’s door. Her face so gentle and kind was the only face other than his immediate family and friends that he remembers distinctly from that age—a mere four years old.
Sometimes, more often times than not, the lady next door could be seen crouched over, the bumps of her vertebrae poking through her shirt, raking leaves that had fallen from the oak tree that adjoined her and her young friend’s residences. Other times, she was to be found hanging wet laundry from the turning wire clothesline that sat beside a leaning cement birdbath in her backyard…
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