Beside the jigsaw table stands a mug of hot water, tepid now and mostly undrunk. All the edges of the jigsaw are complete, bar one missing piece, and a picture emerges, moth-eaten and frayed in the centre. Outside owls hoot as they have always done; a sound so redolent of this little room enclosed in the night time, atop this house where so much life has been lived.
She sits hunched over the board, her long bent fingers brushing the chaos of pieces as if drawing music out of the colours. On the chair next to her is a little, rather threadbare, toy fox. I pick it up. Its stuffing is firm and unyielding, like stuffed toys used to be. "It is over 70 years old." she says, "I had it when I was ten."
There is a story; a story I have known since I was very small. It was always told with the ring of laughter, but its repetition spoke of darker fears. There was a spinster aunt, whom she loved dearly, and with whom as a special treat she would visit to stay for a night or two. This aunt was full of character, and drove a car when it was almost unheard of for a woman to drive; and she drove it with a reckless zeal. She was artistic and bohemian, had a female lover (although we did not talk about it in those days) and she was ferociously clever and independent. On one visit to her aunt, when she was about 10 years old, the aunt jokingly said to her, "My dear, you have been SOO good I think I might want to keep you here to live with me." But she didn't know if she was joking or serious. Every time after that, when she went to visit the aunt, she was terrified that she would never return to her home or see her mother again. She then got this fox and it became her talisman. It was always by her side. She took it everywhere to watch over her and to ensure that she would always get safely back home. She walked together with that fox through the night time valleys of those ten year old's deepest fears.
She tells me the story again and as she tells it she absent-mindedly brushes its muzzle with the back of her fingers and I don't know what to say, no longer knowing quite how to relate to this very elderly woman, bent like the hawthorns on Windmill Hill, but who is also the mother who chased away my childhood nightmares, and who, even now, is this little ten year old girl, with her fox who is watching over her, facing into the dark night from which she fears she will never return.
We turn off the light. An owl shrieks in the tree next to the house and through the dormer window there are stars and the black silhouettes of geese in flight. All I can do is smile a smile of understanding that says 'I understand and that its ok that I understand.'