We Forgot About Muriel

muriel01Muriel Lange was known in our neighborhood for two things: her fancy Mercedes and picking through garbage. Every Friday morning just as the sun was coming up, you’d find her getting a jump on the garbage trucks by motoring her car up and down Edmund Road and all around the neighborhood, digging shoulders-deep into blue recycling bags and even in the green garbage bags in case something worthwhile had been tossed out. Everything had potential, from torn clothes to cracked dishes to, disgustingly, used scrub brushes she figured still had some use left in them. She wore a frayed knitted beret to hide her thinning hair, and though she considered herself well-dressed, her expensive clothes were torn and tattered and she wore them until they were literally falling off of her body.

Born in Germany to the wealthy Peter and Monica Lange, she’d been an ugly duckling from the start. Everyone but her mother took delight in telling her just how ugly and useless she was. I’ve seen pictures of her as a girl and she wasn’t exactly pretty, with enormous glasses and a prominent overbite, but can you imagine being told from the time you’re in diapers that that no one would ever love you? At least Muriel had a mother who loved her. Monica tried to protect her, though knowing how things turned out it might have been better for everyone if Muriel had been taught to be a fighter.

After her father died, her mother married a businessman from here on Prince Edward Island and brought Muriel and her brother, Leon, to live with him in a former parsonage. Hugo Burke was eccentric and far more of a father to Muriel than her late father had ever been. Leon, who had inherited the Lange family’s cruel streak, left home as soon as he could and ultimately settled in London, and the small family of three secluded themselves in that big old house. According to Muriel, they were happier then they’d ever been.

The neighborhood grew up around them and our small village eventually became a suburb. The dirt road they lived on was paved and new houses went up. Generations of children grew up on that road and sometimes returned to take over the homes from their parents, breeding a whole new generation of Edmund Road kids. I was one of them. My grandparents had bought the house on the opposite side of the wooded area behind Muriel’s house. When my mother and father divorced, Mom and I moved in with Gran and Pop and we became Muriel’s neighbors.

Not that I had ever met Muriel in those days. I don’t think any of the neighbors met Muriel, or her mother and step-father. It was that house. You know the one: most older neighborhoods have one. Sitting around at a backyard barbecue no one invited Muriel or her family to, mothers and fathers speculated about whether the people who live in that house are religious nuts or inbred or just plain crazy. Us kids would try to scare one another by making up stories about murderous hermits and child molesters and ghosts. One rumor that stuck was that there was a cemetery in their backyard. Even the adults told that one, even though no one had ever really gotten a good look at the house from the front, let alone the back.

While the neighbors were speculating, Muriel and her family were living their lives. They ran their errands like everyone else, except they did it in a big maroon Mercedes. They gathered around a big console radio and listen to hymns and opera. They kept to themselves, but they liked it that way.

The first time anyone bothered to march up to their front door and knock was Halloween 1988. I was six years old and dressed like Spiderman, carrying around my big pillow case and excited to reach the end of the road because there was a lady who always went all out, dressing as a terrifying witch and giving out the best chocolate bars. I can’t remember who suggested it. It was probably one of us kids, whining about potentially missing some an additional bit of candy by skipping a house. Either way, we ended up trudging past the hedges and through a jungle of unkempt plants to the big front door of the parsonage, looking anxiously back at the parents who lingered at the end of the walkway before knocking timidly.

It was Hugo who answered. There was nothing outwardly strange about him. He was a plump old man with white muttonchops and a tuft of wild hair on top of his head to match. He wore a crisp white shirt with a thin black tie, black suspenders, and black trousers to match, and on his feet he wore quaint tartan slippers. To be honest, he kind of looked like Santa Claus without a beard.

“What’s this? My soul, Monica, we’ve got a mad bunch of creatures here on our doorstep! What do you suppose they want?” he asked cheerfully.

The kid next to me shied away, but I giggled. I liked his accent. I liked everything about him. I thrust my pillowcase out in front of me. “Trick or treat!”

“Ah, do I really have to pick just one? Monica! Come over here and look at this!”

Deeper in the house, someone muttered something I couldn’t make out. Behind him, a woman I assumed was Monica appeared with an elated look on her face. I’d later find out it was actually Muriel, who had never done anything like trick or treating in her youth. I’d also find out later that Muriel was actually a teacher at a French school in town but also never took part in the school’s Halloween activities because Monica forbade it.

Hugh chuckled and rubbed his hand through his hair, the friction making it even wilder. “I suppose I have a little something I can give you silly youngsters.”

He winked, then toddled over to a table just beyond the door. I’m sure that at the end of the walkway the parents were straining to get a peek inside, but I was too excited at the thought of maybe getting the elusive can of pop from this nice old man.

What I got was a roll of pennies. I shit you not. We all did. Hugh dropped them into our pillow cases as gleeful as if he was giving us whole candy bars.

“Now, I hope that’ll be good enough to keep you little devils from coming back to play tricks on us!”

We muttered unenthusiastic thanks and shuffled back down the walkway, our bags heavier but without the precious loot we had wanted. As soon as we were back on the road, our parents dug into our pillow cases to inspect what we had been given, then exchanged bewildered looks as they held the brown paper rolls in their palms. No one else went to knock on that door that night, or any other Halloween night.

Add cheapskates to the list of things people actually knew about our neighbors.

 

When Hugh died, no one in the neighborhood knew because no one associated with Muriel and her family. It wasn’t like when my grandfather died and everyone came along with cakes and pies and sandwich platters. I was in my twenties and in university the next time I saw Muriel. A tropical storm had passed over our part of the island and had taken down a tree that was on their property, but it landed on ours. I went with my grandmother to knock on their door and tell them that my cousin was coming by to cut the tree. Monica asked if we were going to sue, and my grandmother just chuckled and said there was no harm done, she just wanted the tree out of her backyard. This endeared Gran to Muriel and her mother, and she found herself the recipient of endless boxes of doughnuts and other treats they picked up during their errands.

Muriel did everything her mother said. That’s how the garbage collecting started. Old Monica got it into her head that she might run out of money, in spite of the fact that they owned and rented out properties in desirable neighborhoods and could afford to drive a Mercedes. The first time I saw Muriel digging out of a garbage can was at a gas station, her mother watching critically from the passenger seat of their luxury car. I used to say that they were a little like that mother and daughter team from Grey Gardens, content in their eccentricities and completely unaware of how different they were.

Muriel was left lost by her mother’s death. She was sixty when it happened. The first thing she did when she came home from the hospital was tell my grandmother, because she had no one else except for a brother in London who hated her. I guess you could say we couldn’t get rid of Muriel after that. My grandmother isn’t the type of person to be cruel or rude, and I think she enjoyed Muriel’s company more than she let on. She was the one who helped Muriel sort through the mess of paperwork that came next.

This is how we learned so much about Muriel. Muriel had never even had a bank account of her own. For years she had given her paycheck to her mother to put in the bank and was given an allowance from that. Monica was the one who decided Muriel should stop working as a teacher, and so Muriel had retired and her mother took over managing the pension funds. They rarely bought food, instead seeking out every church supper that was held in the county and beyond, no matter the driving distance. Now Muriel was a sixty year-old woman who had never lived and didn’t know how to live, and so my grandmother helped her, and Muriel started to talk.

She’d been in love, but she didn’t elaborate. She hadn’t bought any new clothes in over twenty years because that was a waste of money and she could either find new clothes in the garbage or at a yard sale. She didn’t own a microwave or a television, just her radio, and Monica has never let her listen to “new music.” Her brother Leon, now living just above the poverty line after a lifetime of bad financial decisions, called her every day at 9pm London time to make demands she sometimes fulfilled and sometimes ignored – he’d lost the fight in court to be given control over all of his mother’s assets and now picked smaller battles such as pressuring Muriel buy him expensive things to ship to him. He wanted her to sell the house and go to London to take care of his invalid wife, something Muriel had to be talked out of in early days.

She picked her battles, as well. She had a feisty streak, as my grandmother put it. Muriel may not have had the spine to say no to buying him a leather jacket, but she did enjoy getting under his skin by singing the only pop song she knew to him when he got on her nerves: Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock” He was a religious zealot and would call the music devilish while she kept on singing out of tune. She kept her house spotless, getting on her hands and knees to scrub the floor like her mother had instructed her to, and the only room that was kept messy was their junk room.

She called me “young one,” even though I wasn’t so young anymore. “Here comes the young one! How is youth today?”

“I’m just fine today, Muriel. Did Gran tell you I left you some tea?”

I’d taken to giving Muriel the chamomile tea that came with my variety pack because I loathe the stuff, and Muriel took the gift like I had given her the Hope diamond. Eventually, some of the other neighbors would approach Muriel while she was out and about with her junk hunt, and while no one would argue that Muriel wasn’t still kind of a weirdo, she became our weirdo, a part of our community at last, and she was thrilled.

 

The day it happened was like any other day. I pulled into the driveway at my grandmother’s home and popped the trunk to get the load of groceries I’d brought with me. At that point, I had moved back into my childhood home to help my grandmother, now in her late eighties, and so seeing Muriel sitting with Gran on the veranda was no surprise. Muriel popped by often, and though she was never invited into the house, my grandmother never turned her away. I unloaded the groceries and approached the front door.

“Ah, here comes youth!”

“Good afternoon, Muriel. Hot day, isn’t it?”

It’s funny how you remember otherwise forgettable details. I remember Muriel’s torn skirt and wrinkled blouse. I remember her fanning herself with the newspaper she was holding. Our newspaper, actually. Muriel always came by for the paper when Gran was finished with it. I get my news online, so I wouldn’t miss it.

My grandmother giggled. “Nate, ask what Muriel did today.”

“What did you do today, Muriel?”

“I was in the parade.”

It took everything I had not to laugh out loud and risk her thinking I was going to make fun of her. There was only one parade in town that day.

“You watched the Pride parade. Did you have fun?” I asked.

“No, I was in the parade, with men who dress like movie stars. I walked with Betty Grable and Snow White.”

I burst out laughing. “Muriel, how did you manage that?”

Apparently Muriel learned about a barbecue that was hosted by a group of local drag queens to raise money for homeless LGBT youths. Not one to pass up a free meal, the devoutly Catholic Muriel had gone to the barbecue where she was told by a particularly fabulous drag queen that her torn skirt was very punk and retro, then promptly recruited to walk in Pride with the charity’s group, which she accepted on the promise of another barbecue following the parade. I chatted with her a few more minutes on the veranda and then went inside to put out the groceries, laughing to myself that only Muriel would end up in a Pride parade for a free hamburger and side of potato chips. When I heard her groan as she stood, I went back to the veranda.

“Muriel, when I moved back here I brought in another vacuum cleaner. Do you want to the old one? It still works just fine.”

As usual, she carried on like I had given her a million bucks. She thanked me and went on her way, only to return fifteen minutes later to tell me that the vacuum worked perfectly and also bring me a bagful of individual sugar packets she had been pilfering from the local fast food joints.

“She means well, but she can drive a person crazy at times,” Gran said as she made a pot of tea.

“You should screen her visits, then. If she knocks on the door, don’t answer, and later you can tell her that you were out with your sister.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

“I feel bad for her. She hasn’t got anyone except for that prick of a brother.”

“She’ll be fine. She’s managed on her own for a couple of years now.”

Muriel returned later that evening to bring the newspaper back, even though my grandmother had told her to keep it. I was outside having a cigarette while I waited for the grill to heat up, and I discreetly watched her coming and going and wondering if spending a hundred bucks at Walmart to get her some new threads would be worth not seeing her in hole-ridden pantyhose again.

As far as anyone has been able to figure out, I was the last one to see Muriel.

 

There’s been so much speculation about it since it happened and so many good people who genuinely liked Muriel have been called heartless and held up as an example of what’s wrong with the world today. Here’s what you need to know about how this happened, and why.

In the spring, Muriel was in a car accident. She was at fault, rear-ending another car at a busy intersection. She stopped driving. The first reason was because she was simply afraid to do it: she had never been in an accident before and the whole experience terrified her. The second reason is that she didn’t want to spend money on anything ever; getting a new car costs money and the Mercedes had barely passed its inspection before the accident. Her mother had drilled into her head, even as she had Muriel collect pop bottle and cans on the side of the road, that the only car worth driving is a Mercedes, and Mercedes cost a lot of money. No matter how many times people told her to just get a Honda or a Kia or something, she insisted that when she could buy another car she would buy a Mercedes. She bought a bus pass instead and took her garbage collecting on foot, some days taking the County Line bus for almost an hour and a half so she could cover more ground.

Also in the spring, her brother started calling the police when Muriel started to screen her calls in anticipation of his daily harassment. She didn’t have a cell phone and wouldn’t even pay twenty-dollars for a phone with caller ID, so she rarely answered in case it was Leon. Even when Gran wanted to get in touch with her, she had to walk up to Muriel’s house. The police came around the first few times and she explained about Leon, and after a while the police and Muriel agreed that it was a bother to everyone for them to take his calls seriously.

This one is on me. When Muriel asked if I would drive her to the bank so she could pay her utility bills, I took her and suggested she set up automatic payments. She took my advice and no longer had to go to the bank to pay her bills. The money was just automatically drawn from her account.

Then there are the community mailboxes. We used to have door to door service until Canada Post replaced these with the community mailboxes that are scattered along the roads. Postmen don’t come to the door unless delivering a bigger package. Since Muriel didn’t know what Amazon was, let along how to order from it, and her shithead of a brother never bothered to return the favor and send her gifts from England, Muriel never got packages.

Finally, and this is the most important, Muriel was now in charge of the rental properties that her mother had left her and she found the whole thing intimidating, which allowed a family of four grifters to live rent free for nearly a year and then make off with most of the appliances. Spooked, Muriel confided in both my grandmother and her lawyer that she was actually considering moving to London to live with Leon. Both tried to talk her out of it, but she only said that she was considering it.

These are the things that allowed what happened to happen. It’s not that nobody cared about Muriel enough to prevent it from happening, it’s just that everything had aligned in such a fucked-up way that there was no preventing in. Just as fate had determined that Muriel would finally become her own independent woman when she was in her sixties, so had fate determined how Muriel would die.

 

We didn’t hear from her the day after I gave her the vacuum cleaner, which was unusual but not unheard of. She sometimes came home late from an excursion and went right to bed. Gran remarked on it, but we figured she was out collection or was busy sorting bottles in her kitchen. Two more days passed and still no Muriel. My grandmother worried a little and walked up to knock on her door. Muriel didn’t answer, and my grandmother worried a little more.

“She probably got the first bus and is eating her way through every free meal and free sample in town,” I told her.

“She usually comes by for the paper. She’s never been away this long.”

A week passed. Still no Muriel. My grandmother knocked a few more times. She stopped and talked to the guy who lived across the street from Muriel, Tom. He mentioned that he hadn’t seen her in a few days, but that Muriel had been going to talk to a travel agent about how much it would cost to fly to London.

That just infuriated my grandmother. “If she went to live with him and be his slave, I’ll give her such a boot in the arse.”

“London is a long way to go to give someone a boot in the ass.”

Two weeks went by and then a month. Still no Muriel. Gran reached her plateau of worry around that time.

“She could have at least called me before she left. Why hasn’t she at least written me a letter?”

I realized how much my grandmother had actually come to care for Muriel and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “She’s a grown woman, and let’s face it, is it so hard to believe that someone as strange as she is would have just left?”

“I know. I just miss her, Nate.”

Three months. No one had seen Muriel anywhere. Our garbage and recycling bags were left tied at the curb and no one was the recipient of her odd gifts.

We forgot about Muriel. Saying it out loud like that, I suppose I’d have to agree with what everyone says about the people in our neighborhood. We are terrible. We are uncaring. We forgot about this unforgettable woman and, frankly, some gave a sigh of relief before they banished her from their memories.

There’s one person who didn’t forget about Muriel, though. Leon. I’d like to think that he was worried about her and that’s why he was so insistent, but it’s more likely he was just tired of being ignored. We couldn’t see the flashing blue and red lights through the trees so my grandmother and I didn’t know that anything was going on just down the road. Then came the wail of a fire engine. We were curious, but not curious enough to investigate in the middle of the night.

If it wasn’t for Tom, the across-the-street neighbor, we probably would have heard about it on the news. Tom was a fireman at our local station and he was one of the first to enter the house after the police. Once he left the house, he called our next door neighbor, Jim, who came over to break the news to Gran.

“I’m sorry, Sophia, but they found Muriel’s body in the house.”

 

Muriel had been dead for a quarter of a year. There was no car to miss, so no one noticed a beat-up Mercedes that never left the driveway. Her pension went into the bank and her bills came out. She didn’t regularly attend any one church, so there were no fellow parishioners who wondered why they hadn’t seen her in a while. Her mailbox filled with fliers until nothing more could fit, and then they stopped delivering.

She’d had an accident in her junk room and couldn’t call for help. She’d broken her leg in a fall off the ladder she had been using to reach something, some old piece of garbage that was worth nothing to anyone but Muriel. Two loaded shelves had come down with her, pinning her with debris. She had died alone in her big dark house that was hidden behind unkempt hedges and an untrimmed lawn, surrounded by the crap she’d picked out of the garbage.

Calls to the police by Leon were treated with the same urgency they always had, meaning little at all. He ultimately resorted to another stab at taking legal action to get her to respond to him, and it was only after his London lawyer contacted Muriel’s lawyer that someone realized something was terribly wrong.

What came next was surreal. The investigation. The media latching onto her death. Local reporters frothing at the mouth for their chance at a major award by telling Muriel’s story. They knocked on doors and contacted us on social media – I even received a phone call at work. They wanted to know everything about Muriel and the life she led, and they wanted to know about us, the people who the public had decided let this happen to Muriel. How could this old woman have died alone in her house like that? Why didn’t anyone check on her? Why didn’t anyone call the police when she hadn’t been seen?

News reports were merely accusatory; online commenters were brutal, going as far as calling us murderers for not doing much else to help Muriel. People who didn’t know Muriel at all declared she was unwell, mentally unfit to take care of herself, and everyone paid her. They didn’t know her. We knew her. She was our friend.

I tried to keep my grandmother from all that talk. She was upset enough. She had tried to check on Muriel, hadn’t she? Learning that her friend might have heard her knocking and weakly called out for help kept Gran up at night. I’d hear her in the kitchen in the wee hours, crying to herself. I let her be for a while, but one night about a week after Muriel’s body was carried out, I got up and sat down with her.

“Stop blaming yourself.”

“I should have called the police myself. I shouldn’t have let it go for so long.”

“Gran –”

My grandmother began to cry. “I can’t stand thinking about how she died alone like that. Poor Muriel, she was my friend …”

 

I ran into Tom at the mailbox about a month later. Tom was one of those guys who never seemed to stop moving. He’d lived across the street from us for about ten years before he moved up the road and across from Muriel. Like me, he had grown up on Edmund Road, albeit about a decade earlier. He was a boy who liked his noisy toys and drove everyone nuts, and he was more than a little arrogant – to be honest, he was kind of an asshole – but he was a nice guy and most everyone liked him. Gran had always hated him, but once he volunteered to drive Muriel over to exchange her bottles he kind of grew on her. He was an outdoorsy guy, but always well-groomed. Standing at the mailbox, he looked like he hadn’t washed his hair in about a week and his clothes were wrinkled.

“Jesus, you look like shit,” I told him.

“I just got up,” he grumbled. “Miranda told me if I didn’t get out the house and check the mail she was going to key my truck.”

“Rough night?”

“I haven’t been sleeping much in the last few weeks.”

He didn’t need to elaborate. I just nodded. “My grandma is the same way. I can only imagine what it was like for you.”

Tom scoffed. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Yeah … Sorry.”

We shuffled through our mail and I cringed through the uncomfortable silence until Tom sighed.

“Sorry, it’s just … you folks don’t know the half of it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nothing. You don’t need to hear it.”

I noticed his hand were shaking as he locked his mail slot and I placed my hand on his arm. “Do you need to talk to someone?”

“I’ve got a counsellor from work for that. I’m off on leave, by the way. I think I’m all talked out but … you know, if you don’t mind coming over to the house for a beer, I wouldn’t mind shooting the shit.”

I dropped the mail at home, then walked up to Tom’s place. Walking by Muriel’s place gave me such a strange and sad feeling. Everything looked exactly the same as it had always been, like the house was still keeping its secrets. Tom greeted me and I said hello to his wife, Miranda, before he led me downstairs into the rec room.

“I just moved the bar fridge down here. I can’t stand sitting in the garage with the door open anymore. I can’t stand looking over at the house.” He got two bottles of beer from the fridge, twisted off the caps, then handed one to me.

“It really hit you hard, didn’t it?”

“Muriel was a fucking fruitcake, but she was a nice lady. She didn’t deserve to go like that.”

He changed the subject to his rec room. Now that his kids were teenagers, he had grand plans to turn this into his man cave. It seemed to me like he rambled a lot through his plans, like he was just talking for the sake of talking, and he remained on the edge of the sofa cushion the entire time. His wife called down to let him know she was off to work, and as soon as her car’s engine growled he got to his feet.

“Thank Christ. Come up on the deck.” I followed, and once we were on the deck he dug into the storage bench alongside the barbecue and pulled out a joint. “I’d be stoned all the time, but Miranda hates it.”

He lit a joint and took a hit, then passed it over to me. “Help yourself.”

I shook my head. “I’m good, thanks.”

“I take pills to sleep,” he said, then held up the smoking joint. “This I have to get through the day.”

Neither of us said anything as he smoked, and my guts churned as I tried to think of what to say.

“Is all this because of what happened with Muriel?” I asked hesitantly.

Tom coughed on the exhale. “I never should have gone in that house. I went in first because she was so skittish I figured seeing a familiar face would calm her down if she was in trouble. I should have stayed in the truck. I should have let the other guys go in there.”

“Was it … really bad?” I didn’t want to know, but I couldn’t stop myself from asking. Tom drew on his joint again, seemingly in a daze, and then he met my stare.

“Do you really want to know the details?”

“No, I don’t, but I want you to tell me.”

Tom stretched his arm out to me, the weed’s pungent stink invading the air around me. “Take it.”

I took it. I hated pot, but Tom looked like he would cry if I didn’t. When I passed it back to him he inhaled deep, and I noticed that he’d started to tear up and his voice started to shake.

“It was bad enough that she died alone like that, trapped like she was with no one around to help her. That’s enough. That’s … that’s not all that happened to her, though.” He finished with a hiccup, and then he began to cry. I sat unmoving as creeping fingers of dread danced along my spine, waiting for him to pull himself together, and Tom asked me a question that chilled me.

“Did you know that Muriel was feeding the rats that live back in the pond?”

I … I didn’t know what to even think about that. Wildlife was always a problem out here, especially now with so much development going on all around us. Foxes, coyotes, lynx, and the bane of everyone’s existence, the mice and the rats.

“She had mentioned they were getting into her car when she had it and chewing up the upholstery. Gran sent her off with some traps and a little bag of poison.”

“She had pie pans full of bird seat all across the floor. They were in every room. I don’t know what the fuck she could have been thinking, feeding rats. I was the first one to see her. She was buried under all her crap. I could tell from the stink that she was dead, but-God, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to see …”

Tom snuffled into his hand to muffle his sob, but it didn’t do any good. He was losing it quickly and I should have made him stop, not just for himself but for me because I did not want to know, but I couldn’t. I needed him to finish talking.

“Tom?”

“She broke her leg and she couldn’t get up, but she bled to death!” he burst out. “The floor was black with her dried blood. Those rats, they – oh fuck! – they killed her! They killed her and then they crawled inside and kept on feeding. I don’t know whether they ran out of food in the pans or if they went for her first because she was meat. Muriel didn’t have a face when we found her! She was hollowed out and they were still picking at what was left when we broke in! I wanted someone to tell me that the fall killed her, but it didn’t. They ate her they ate her they ate her!”

I’d heard enough. I bolted out of my seat and threw myself at the railing, then puked everything in my stomach over the side. I don’t remember much about the next half hour or so. I vaguely remembered Tom crying his eyes out behind me and a loud hum in my head. I comforted him when he told me he was sorry for telling me. I told him he needed to get help, to do whatever he took to live with what he had seen.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was walk through our front door and look my grandmother in the face, knowing how her dear friend had really died. She can’t ever know. Her guilt over not checking on Muriel has already taken part of that indomitable spirit. The truth would destroy her.

 

Tom moved a few months after he told me what happened. He and Miranda split up. She got the house and still lives there, but Tom couldn’t do it. I looked him up on Facebook and he’s moved across the country. He’s not with any fire department any longer, but is on disability for his PTSD. I hope he’ll be OK.

Leon got Muriel’s house in the end, no surprise there. He sold it and the new owner tore it down to build their own McMansion where the old parsonage was.

When my grandmother talks about Muriel, she smiles and I smile along with her, but it’s hard to retain the memory of the strange woman with the knitted beret and tattered clothes driving around her rusting Mercedes, knowing what I know.

It was a long time before I was able to go a full day without that horrible image of Muriel my mind had created flashing up at me. If I think about how horrible her death must have been and how long she had suffered, I make myself think of the woman who greeted me with a “Hello, young one!” every time and sang Elton John to infuriate her brother. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have dismissed her absence like I did. I would have broken a window to get inside to make sure she was all right. I might have gotten to her in time.

As much as I’d like to some days, I won’t ever forget Muriel.

© 2018 Annemarie Hartnett

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