"The Comfort of Neighbours" - by Debbie Young
Maureen nudged Dorothy as they neared the recently widowed Sheila’s house. Her elbow barely dented her friend’s thick tweed coat. (“This’ll see me out” had been Dorothy’s justification for the extravagant purchase seven years before.)
“Of course, she’ll have to take care of that big garden all on her own now, poor soul,” said Maureen in a low voice.
Dorothy nodded thoughtfully.
“Good thing Isaac died in the autumn, when everything’ll stop growing for a bit. She’ll be able to break herself in gently, that’s one blessing at least. Poor Sheila.”
They shook their heads pityingly, then gazed straight ahead up the street until they were safely past Sheila’s house. They were relieved that they’d managed not to bump into her since Isaac had died, as they had no idea what to say.
“Still, it must be hard, having to sweep up all those leaves on her own,” Maureen continued, once they were safely beyond Sheila’s house. “Even if nothing’s growing, there’s always dead leaves to get rid of.”
If Maureen and Dorothy could have seen beyond the high fence around Sheila’s back garden, they’d have realised that Sheila wasn’t bothered by dead leaves. In fact, she was enjoying sweeping them into a big pile at the centre of the lawn.
But it wasn’t just the leaves that were destined for her bonfire. Beside the red petrol canister was a wheelbarrow overflowing with Isaac’s possessions. All his favourite things were there: that filthy pipe; the dreadful stuffed owl; the tatty old slippers she was always falling over. One at a time, she flung these items on top of the mound of leaves and thought of all the beautiful ash that the conflagration would create. Afterwards, the ash would be invaluable in helping her prepare a soft fruit bed on the spot that Isaac had used to grow dahlias for the last thirty two years. Dahlias – now there was something else that Sheila couldn’t abide.
She twisted off the top of the petrol canister, doused the mound with a sprinkle of fuel to get it started, and struck a match. Finally she would be free.