(Edited and expanded: Mrs. Cunningham)
To all intents and purposes she was the epitome of a genteel lady, good breeding and cultured. There she sat in the fading light of a late winter’s eve. Her cane at her side and her book placed gently on her lap.
Mrs. Cunningham looked up at the others in the room from time to time as they wandered through on their way to god knows where. Sometimes she wondered who they were and what brought them to this place. The bald man who commanded attention by slapping his hand down on his table top annoyed her. She often wanted to just tell him to stop and learn some manners as he ordered people around.
She soon forgot her irritation with him as she watched the nurse pushing in the tiny woman with the crippled body and the lovely brightly coloured quilt. Poor dear. Her heart went out to her and she hoped she didn’t suffer too much pain as they attempted to straighten her in her chair before the large picture window.
As the elevator opened she couldn’t help but hear the nurse’s voice as it admonished her charge, “Mrs. Fox! Now you stop swinging that cane of yours or we will have to take it away and put you into a chair. Safer for me and you.”
“Nothing to see here,” she said as she continued out into the room, the cane now firmly in her possession.
The show over, Mrs. Cunningham patted her white hair and pushed a fallen strand back into place and smoothed out her flowered skirt, fussing a bit at a spot on the seam. Probably left over from lunchtime. She pulled her hand crocheted shawl around her shoulders shivering a bit so close to the frosted windows.
Opening her little white pocket book that lay on the table before her, she withdrew a tube of hand lotion. Jergens almond scent. Never used any other. With care she opened it and squeezed out a tiny amount which she massaged diligently into the age spots on her long, piano playing fingers.
All that was missing from this tableau was her glass of red wine. When her husband had been alive this had been their ritual. One glass before dinner, never more. Just enough in polite society. She never asked for it anymore. Maybe she was resigned to her newer rituals, or maybe, minus her husband, her wine faded into the past like many other things these days.
It wasn’t all that long ago that she would have serenaded the little audience here with selections from Chopin or some popular show tunes from Porgy and Bess. Today, however, her fingers ached with the arthritis that plagued her when the wintery winds blew. Playing was not an option.
The clock on the wall signaled five o’clock. The lights came on and the music began to play softly out of the speaker above her. She sighed, stood up and started to the exit. Her steps were unsure and she seemed to use her cane more than normal. Pausing, she straightened her posture, gathered her resolve, and continued across the room.
Mabel, her nurse for the evening, came up from behind her and took her arm to steady her. “Umm… Mrs. Cunningham dear, did you dress yourself today?” she asked quietly.
“Oh yes,” Mrs. Cunningham replied proudly.
Mable bent down and gently lifted her skirt to reveal pantyhose rolled down her legs to just above her knees, like the stockings of Mrs. Cunningham’s younger days, virtually hog-tying the poor woman.
“Come with me my dear and we’ll fix you up in no time at all. And then you’ll be ready for dinner. It’s pot roast tonight and apple crisp, your favouites.”