Her voice startles me. I had been lost, hypnotised by the wet brush slapping back and forward, backwards and forwards, creosoting Aunt Marjorie’s fence to the symphonic hum of an orchestra of bees.
“Hi,” she says. I see her most days. I see her walking, her head held high, proud shoulders squared, steps light and lively. Even the dog’s trot is carefree by her side. She lives in the house along the road. And she lives there alone. Not that Aunt Marjorie has told me this. I just notice stuff like that. Like I know the man at number ten never locks his shed. I’d lock my shed if I kept in it what he does. It’s the time I’ve served. I notice things.
She says “hi.” She says “hi” every time we meet, every time I pass her house and she’s in the garden: “hi.” It’s only a matter of time before she tries a conversation. Makes me laugh. She wouldn’t speak to me at all if she knew who I was. But nobody recognises me. Even Aunt Marjorie wasn’t sure when I turned up at her door, kitbag in hand.
“Hi,” she says, her bouncy steps pausing. The dog tugs to keep walking. He’s the sensible one here.
“I could do with someone to creosote my fence,” she says, laughing.
I make myself smile, and turn back to my brush, painting back and forward, backwards and forwards to the sound of bees humming.
And then I glance over my shoulder to make sure she's walking away.