It’s 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees Fahrenheit) this January afternoon. The sky has an absence of colour all but for a bit of watery blue on the horizon. Any leaves that have managed to hang on to their branches, even after all of the windy snowstorms we have had, are dearth of movement. An uncomplicated and completely boring scene-until Edith.
I was gazing out our picture window as I will do each afternoon; possibly daydreaming, sometimes making important decisions like what I will have for lunch or whether I feel energetic enough to get on my coat and boots for a walk to the mailbox. It all was coming together nicely, as I had decided on reheating leftovers from our previous night’s dinner and picking up the mail for an evening walk, when out of the corner of my eye I spied what anyone else could have mistaken for a capybara!
Crouched low to the ground and wrapped in an oversized, faux beaver coat, she seemed be studying the snow? No, maybe she was looking at tracks? Couldn’t have been too interesting though because she quickly stood up and in true Edith fashion, furtively glanced about, threw her finger up in the air as if to say “Ahaa!”, and waded through a particularly high snowbank until she reached the neighbours’ fence, which is two houses down from ours.
Once again she checked behind her and then side to side, squinting her wild eyes and wearing the most delightfully frightening grin, that I could barely keep my eyes off of her!
I think at this point I should mention that Edith likes to walk through our neighbourhood in her pajamas and slippers. She is by all accounts an eccentric and does not (to anyone’s knowledge) suffer from anything more than being strangely unique in every sense of the word. Now, let me clarify what I mean by unique.
When she and her husband arrived in our community almost a decade ago, (after spying on us for a week or two), one hot, summer afternoon she appeared. I was sitting on our upper deck and enjoying a short break from gardening. As I recall, I lit up a cigarette and surveyed the containers I had just planted with more than a little self admiration…and there she was at my back gate!
Although I do not remember what she was wearing, it was something hippyish, of that I am sure (she had not yet begun her pajama trend); probably a brightly coloured peasant blouse, flowing skirt and bare feet. Before I knew it she had unlatched my gate and in leaps and bounds had made it to our upper deck without the slightest indication from me that she was welcome.
It is fair to point out that I have been known on more than one occasion to be brusque-this happened to be one of those occasions. I was tired and in no mood to make a new friend. I have a handful of people I would label as being my friends and for very good reason-I don’t make a good friend. Friends take time and energy. They can be needy, judgemental and far too untrustworthy for my liking. No, I would say that acquaintances are a better bet for me.
Which is precisely what I was trying to get across to Edith by giving her little to no eye contact, with the idea that if she thought I was busy, (or an introvert) perhaps she would slink away. She did not take my subtle hint however and with a huff, plopped herself down across from me without as much as a hello, and inquired whether she could ‘bum a smoke’!
Wanting her to leave as quickly as she arrived, I shoved the pack of cigarettes towards her. “Can I havva light”? I placed my lighter on top of the cigarette pack and watched as she clumsily lit her cigarette and leaned back. I gave her a tight smile. It was then that she introduced herself. From there she did not stop talking.
I learned (not by any questions I may have asked) that she had just moved from Alaska with her husband who worked for a large pharmaceutical corporation. He did not like her smoking. They had no children. They didn’t want to because her husband was a child enough. She loved kids. They had a niece or nephew whom they hardly ever saw. She had been watching my husband and I (as I said, spying…) and a couple of younger people whom she inquired about (my kids) for weeks now. She believed in spiritual awakenings and crystals. She could feel that I had a kindred aura (?!!). Her neighbours in Alaska were rude and disrespectful and she couldn’t wait to move to Alberta and get out of that shit hole (her words, not mine).
All the while, as she was yabbering away, she was smiling this toothy, crazy ass smile. I must say, even though it may not be the kindest thing to point out, she had the most pronounced eye teeth I think I have ever seen! They hung out of her maw like icicles and her lips were so thin and red that she looked as if she was a player in a colourized version of a Chaplin film…or maybe Dracula!? If I didn’t know better, I would swear they were fake…
Anyway, this was my first encounter with Edith. To say it was disconcerting would not be correct…rather, I was intrigued with her unique character. After she was done vomiting her life story, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a Hawaiian lei. She then whispered something to it, told me she was blessing the next year of my life with happiness and reached across the table to drape it over my head! I stopped her short, took the lei, put it on and said thank you. She abruptly stood up, asked for 4 more cigarettes, said it was nice meeting me and as she started out the gate, yelled to her husband “I met another neighbour”!!
The years have passed since that unusual day and with those years we have been entertained by her strange antics frequently. This one was a little more unusual than we would have liked.
Our youngest son was 5 or 6 years old and learning to ride his new ‘bigger bicycle’ on the pathway just behind our home. The guy I live with and I were having a chat, watching our son go back and forth along the pathway, cheering if he had made it more than a few feet before crashing onto the grass adjacent to the path. Finally having had enough, he dropped his bicycle in front of our gate and went into our house for a snack break.
It was at that moment she appeared, popping out from the giant cedars that surrounded her property. She waved and then put a finger to her lips as if to tell us to be quiet. She crept up to our sons’ bicycle as if she were walking on eggshells-like she thought the whole neighbourhood may all come running out of their houses and yell “Hey Edith! What are you doing?!”! She then attached a small bag onto the handlebars and ducked back into her cedars-but not before yelling “It’s for him”!!
We retrieved the package before our son came back outside. There were candies, a sticker and…a picture. Of him. Riding his bike. On the back of the picture was that day’s date. We looked over into her yard surrounded by cedars and then up to where her home’s second story windows were. There, peeking out from behind white sheer curtains, was Edith. Smiling that smile.
We threw out the candies.
So here was Edith in all of her glory-dressed in her big beaver coat, bright pink pajama pants (with designs of otters and hearts) her sock-like slippers completely submersed in calf-deep snow on a mission of some sort…but what? God only knew what she was doing out there.
Rummaging around in her pockets, she pulled out what appeared to be an egg sized object which she then placed carefully on the fence post. I proceeded to watch her for another 10 minutes or so, trudging from one backyard fence to the next, balancing these parcels gently on top of the posts, looking this way and that to make sure no one was the wiser to her secret spy mission. And then my phone rang. Business call. I turned away for not more than a minute or so and when I glanced out the window again, she was gone.
I watched as a squirrel ran along the length of her neighbours’ fence and stopped just short of the little package she had left. In a moment he deftly picked up the parcel and flew like the wind, mindful to stop every so often to get a better grip on his goods.
I never did find out what she left on top of those fence posts. But I have a guess. She has been feeding birds for years, as have I. Her feeder (along with a lovely wind chime) is hung just outside of her property’s gate. Since she has those towering cedars, she is not able to see the birds and squirrels who come in droves to get their meals. However, she IS able to see the fences which run along the pathway and my feeders as well, if she watches from above…in her second story windows….
Recently I found a 40 pound bag of bird food nestled in the snow just outside my fence, a few feet from one of my feeders. I hauled it onto our deck and dropped it unceremoniously into a squirrel proof container. Then I looked up, across the pathway, over the cedars and waved. I may have seen the curtains move…