“It was home—old and decrepit—but ours. Every nut and bolt. We stayed on when Frankie had to quit the mine ten years earlier. It was rheumatoid arthritis in his hands and feet. He had trouble holding a coffee mug—I stopped pouring him a full cup. No need for him spilling it and burning himself, right? He wanted n0 help—had to do it himself. You can’t blame a man for that, can you? Then we found out he had chronic silicosis from the mine. The house went downhill after that.
“I was raised in this little house and barely finished high school when my parents decided to visit Niagara Falls—they’d never had a honeymoon, you see. Well, they never made it home. Some crack-up on the highway, a huge pile up of cars and them in the middle of the wreckage. No. I won’t talk about it even after all these years. I have outlived them by more than double their lives, but it still hurts. You know. Lucky for me, Frankie kept showing up to help in the garden and looked after things needing to be repaired. We knew each other since first grade but were never friends or anything. Till…
“We married not long after—him my best friend from day one. Of course, he moved to my house afterwards. Where else would we live? The smell of that lake is in every pore of my being. I have to see it every day and wonder if I’d know how to breathe without it. Frankie had already hired on at the mine after high school. With experience under his belt, he soon enjoyed the position of drift foreman. Then the arthritis began in his forties, and wore him down. The damp underground didn’t help either. A few years later, he couldn’t trust his hands and walking hurt—even standing took work.
“The kids were grown and gone to the city by then. No opportunities in this little village. Anyway, young people want to leave home, don’t they? My son became a school principal with two kids already in the workforce, and my daughter, a textile designer, had twins finishing university. The young people came to visit every summer and loved the clean air and quiet, the only noise the echoing croak of ravens especially when the city kids wanted to sleep in.”
“Excuse me. The snack cart is here. Do you want anything?” Needles stopped clacking. The rattle of glasses and wobbling rubber wheels clanked outside the doorway. The talking woman waved the question away.
“We were satisfied with a simple life, food on the table and a dry place to sleep. A warm and safe place to raise our kids, you know? Small comforts, not greed.
“The vultures in polished shoes descended from whatever high tower in a big city. Their offer, distasteful and arrogant, broke Frankie’s heart. It was hurtful and insulting. What did these suited— so young— know about real life? Those duplicitous, land-hungry, double-dealing shysters wanted to raze our homes to build what on our lakefront property? A huge retirement home on the water, they said. Ha. I believed not a word. My money’s on a casino so they can steal more cash from unfortunates and a hotel to keep them here until they’re sucked dry.
Where were we supposed to go, Frankie and me? Him with his disability check and me who’d waitressed only that one summer before we got pregnant. I had another three months to wait before the old age pension kicked in, not enough money between us to move to the city where everything cost a mortgage.
“Some days worse than others, my Frankie in constant pain, didn’t need their harassment. Where on God’s green acre were we to live our remaining years? The neighbours called a meeting in the Legion Hall. We swore to stick together and not give in. Every day someone showed up knocking on our doors. Talking-talking. Got so bad we shut our windows and doors. Can you believe they stood outside and jabbered on and on because they knew we still heard them from inside? Then they called a meeting at the Legion where we hollered no-no just-go.
Mrs. Stirling died from the constant pressure, I’m sure, her a widow since her husband died in the mine years before. Her kids sold the house faster than you can snap your fingers. Guess they’d rather erase their memories of home. Why had they not considered preserving the house for their own retirement like a few of their generation? Everything they needed for a good life was here—boating, fishing, swimming, friends. The perfect retirement community without huge costs and low property taxes. True you had to drive 20 minutes to the next town for most necessities, farther if you needed bigger items. In the beginning, we’d had two wonderful grocers, but no more. Diminishing returns, you know as the population moved away.
We didn’t need much after Frankie had to retire early. The mine closed a couple years later —the gold mined out, you see. Small businesses moved out as did inhabitants.
“One by one, the neighbours gave in to the fast-talking robots in dark, gleaming suits. None of them young anymore, sick with age or injuries from the mine, living on disability, needing money to make ends meet.
It was the pain that killed Frankie and the silicosis robbed him of breath. I knew he wanted to die and I came this close to helping. As always, he saved me from the decision though we’d agreed upon a plan. Always thoughtful to the end. Lost without him, I thought I’d perish, wishing I would. It was as if someone had ripped out my heart.
“My kids and grandchildren left for the drum and hum of Toronto and Montreal after the funeral and I was alone. Yes, they had begged I come live with them, half the time with my daughter and half with my son. Not for me I told them. I have my house and a few friends. Though Frankie and I visited both our children years before, we hated the noise, too many cars, and the awful pollution. Everything rush-rush, honk-honk. No way—forget it.
“Didn’t those city boys come calling again knowing I’d just lost my Frankie. This time, they sent a woman to wear me down. I’d talked to my son, but he held no faith with my holding out forever. There were only three of us left and I wasn’t about to be next to throw in the towel. I told the shellacked, skinny-butt female no way was I leaving the only home I had ever known. Is this what I’d lived my whole life for? To be forced—forced—out of the home I’d made, to land in some strange somewhere for my retirement. Not right, I said. She didn’t budge. A tough cookie, this one. Is this a good job for a woman, wearing down old men and women? Widows? Widowers? Sick people? Me?
“Two weeks after Frankie’s funeral there were only two of us standing fast. That’s when it happened. I saw the shiny new Bentley or was it a Mercedes—doesn’t matter—cruise up the road. In my haste, I fell and broke my hip inside the door. Maryjane, the long-time widow across the road, heard me scream. I must have passed and remember nothing. She called the doctor and we had to wait 30 minutes for the ambulance she said. We don’t have an ambulance service in our village, you see.
“I haven’t been home since the accident. Nobody will tell me anything about my house or if the last neighbour gave in. Pneumonia is killing me and I am still in a plaster. My children don’t visit. It’s like I’m dead already, except for the pain. I have no idea where I am or what place this is.”
“Not true, Mom. I visit every day and Paul flies in as often as his work allows.”
The silver-streaked head stirred towards the voice. “Who are you talking to? There’s nobody here but me.”
The younger, blonde woman sprang up, dropping knitting to the floor. “Mom, I’ve told you many times, we never abandoned you. I had you transferred to Toronto as soon as medical staff allowed, to have you close, to visit you daily.”
“Who are you? Nurse. I want to call my daughter.” The woman’s voice lowered to a whisper, her stare painful, and eyes damp.
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