Me and Poppy watch the sky, she, in Popz’s marvellous chair that electrically lifts a human to standing point, and I in mine, that doesn’t. Mine is an ancient Orkney chair, all oak seat and rush backed, sturdy as a woman in a storm. I am fond of this chair. it wisnae mine, not really. My mother-in-law sat in it, her rightful place, although it dwarfed her, the wee round midget that she was with enough authority to clear a car park of hoodlums in seconds. I am not she, but I did learn from her and, from her, inherited my current seating.
Like her, I am now alone in this 1830 stone built home. Like her, although she never said, I feel the expanse of walls around me. I see the fields of carpet, the stretch of old floorboards. Like her I hear the hum of ancient plumbing in the night, random, unexpected, like burps. Like her, I study my old gnarled fingers and feel the tweaks as I try to sew and, like her, I say damn you old age! I will not give in easily.
We watch, me and Poppy, the cormorants on the rocks, their curved necks so telling. They preen and prink, black silhouettes from where we stand. Further along the track we find long tailed tits. I hear them and stop. When I stop, Poppy does too, alert. But she looks ahead, along the track whereas my eyes scan the trees. They are here, somewhere. And then I find them, picking off the new shoots from the birch and hazel. Of course they are. No tit could tackle a hazel nut. It would have to be this, the young shoots, the ones that bravely come out even knowing the next frost will kill them dead. The birds are on such an error of choice. They flit, dance, and are gone.
Last night we heard the darkling migration of swans. It woke us both, Poppy barking, me shushing her. Although we could not see a thing, we both moved to the window. She jumped up on the sill and my eyes scanned the black dark, knowing it was a fruitless attempt. We stopped. We looked. We heard them pass. Who knows how many but it took some minutes.
Well, I said, shall I make tea? Her huge eyes watched my face. Neither of us was going to settle immediately. In silence we descended the stairs. I know I am alone, but I am not lonely. I also know that this dog, this Poppy, is a helpmeet even if she has no clue what I am looking at, nor why. She just responds because she is tuned to me as I am to her. And, for all the time I have her, I am thankful.
Being lonely and being alone are not the same thing. I have been more lonely in a crowd, in a gathering, in a family, in my marriage than I ever am now. And, yet, it is new ground. This is it. This is for real.
I am glad I have Poppy.