At eight years old Ms Mia Kowalski was dying to grow boobs. At sixteen she was dying to leave school. At twenty-four she was dying to get married and by fifty-six she was dying to get divorced. Then at eighty nine she realised she was dying. Just dying.
On the eve of the beginning of her ninetieth year Ms Kowalski pushed back the musty bed covers and sat on the edge of her springy mattress rubbing her wrinkled neck. The grey ends of her white nightie swung around her legs as she made her way over to the bedroom window. The old woman yanked back the frayed curtain and set her beady eyes on to the street below. There wasn’t much to look at. A lone pigeon with half a leg missing hobbled up and down the street chasing an empty crisp packet that was blowing in the breeze. Other than that, the place was a ghost town. Ms Kowalski’s street had long since been boarded up and abandoned. The resident’s paid off and sent to live on nicer streets with nicer people. But the old woman, at the time not so old, had refused the money, refused the men in suits and refused to move herself or her belongings and inch. She hated the council with a passion and wouldn’t do a thing for them. Looking across the desolate landscape she mumbled to herself croakily. “I don’t mind” she said. “I don’t care. Makes no difference to me.” The thin curtain fell back in to place. Today Ms Kowalski was all out of sorts.
An ear piercing beep beep beep of an alarm sounded through the room. On the three legged chair in the corner of the room sat a plastic see through medicine box. The old woman fingered the big red button on the device and the house returned to its uncomfortable silence. Her veiny hands prized open the compartment labelled Tuesday, for today was a Tuesday, and stared down at the assortment of red, white and brown capsules inside. After a short period of deliberation she snapped the box shut again. Fuck it.
In slow and shaky movements Ms Kowalski peeled her socks, night gown and underwear from her body, leaving them in a pile on the floor. She stood in front of the mirror propped against the wall, which like everything else in the house was covered in a thick layer or dust. The old woman inspected the obscured reflection staring back at her. The small but firm breasts that had once been her finest asset hung flat and deflated against her pale chest, as if someone had sucked all the air out of them. A sprinkling of long, grey hairs protruded grotesquely from the pointed brown nipples. Further below things got worse. The sagging fat from her belly hung over the course bush of grey pubic hair. She lifted the roll of skin up but quickly dropped it back in to place wishing she hadn’t. Apart from the bright blue of her varicose veins the skin on her legs was so thin and pale it was almost see through. The yellowish brown nails on her toes curl over her toes like talons. It’s been years since she’s been able to reach down that far.
The downstairs part of the house was the same as the upstairs. Shabby and nondescript. Wallpaper peeling, door handles broken off and carpet stained with who knows what. A classic 70’s council house. This place hasn’t been redecorated since then. Ms Kowalski flicked the switch on the black shiny kettle and it hissed in to life. The kettle was a Christmas present from her only daughter-in-law. The old woman never thanked her. As the water bubbled and erupted suddenly the woman in the kitchen sprang to life. Cupboards flew open and bottles and jars hit the floor. She was looking for something. She looked behind the toaster, under the rug and in the bin. She searched high and low. And then she remembered. Sitting in the back door lock was the shiny, silver head of the key – waiting for her.
The lock squealed and the door shuddered before springing open with a satisfying click. Ms Kowalski hadn’t seen her garden in years. She squinted in to the natural sunlight that invaded the kitchen. Once her eyes adjusted she could see a square patch of grass that was almost as high as her belly button. The back side of the house was splattered with white bird shit and she looked up in to the blue sky as the whizz of a plane above left a long white trail its wake. The old woman’s bare foot hit the gravelly ground outside and naked as the day she was born, Ms Kowalski stepped out in to the sun. Clutching the tall dewy grass between her fingers she said hello to a flock of birds in the dead branches above her. They tweeted and twittered back to her then continued to talk amongst themselves. The birds reminded the woman of a scrawny ginger cat from a time long ago. Ms Kowalski hated cats, dogs too, but this ugly lump of fur had followed her son home from school one day and she couldn’t get rid of it for another ten years. One April night the woman, at the time rather young, puckered her lips and whistled for the cat to come get its scraps. She waited with peeler in one hand and potato in the other but come it did not. She smiled smugly to herself as she had known for a while now, had smelt its death in the air. She crept outside and listened to its soft crying coming from beneath the the wooden patio she had forced her husband to build some years before. Dropping to her hardened knees she stuck her head in to the dark space beneath the beams to face the creature. And there it was. Curled up in to a ball for far from asleep. Eyes wide open and bright as ever staring back at the woman. Ms Kowalksi briefly considered dropping a brick on its head but decided against it. Not that she wanted to end its suffering, particularly, but because she didn’t want to get blood on her dress. She went inside to peel the last of her potatoes and when her 11 year old son came home from school filled with questions, in that irritating inquisitive way that 11 year olds boys are, the boy’s mother told him simply. “It hasn’t ran away” she told him without looking up from the potato skins. “It’s right outside – waiting to die” she said firmly, ending the conversation. She enjoyed the slack jawed look on the boy’s pale face and there were no more questions.
Stood in her garden, aged eighty nine years, the old woman remembered that cat. The space beneath the beams looked the same as it had then – dark and dirty. Ms Kowalski felt the creak of her knees and the ache of her back as she bent herself down to look beneath the earth. Her hands vanished in to hole followed by one shoulder and then the other. She stopped for a moment to breathe the earthy air in to her lungs. Steadying herself with her shaky arms she looked down at her wrinkly breasts hanging down in to the soil. With a sudden burst of energy she pulled her legs in to the darkness and collapsed in to the dirt. She was in. All of her in. Like a wave from nowhere the woman suddenly felt tired for the first time in years. She lay her grey, thinning head of hair on the ground and let her eyelids meet in the middle. The blinding sun no longer reached her and the woman’s naked body shivered and shook. She curled herself in to a ball the best her old bones would let her and fell in to a deep dreamless sleep.
Ms Kowalski awoke at what she assumed was around midday. The fiery sun was high in the sky as she poked her head out of the hole to ascertain where exactly she was. The world outside of the hole didn’t impress her much, it never had, and she withdrew like a turtle in to its shell back in to the darkness. Shutting her eyes and clutching her arms around her shins the old woman wanted to sleep some more. Sleep right through until the day she didn’t wake up again. It wouldn’t be long now.
Drifting in and out of lucid dreams and floating sleep Ms Kowalski lifted her head for the first time in hours to the loud, obnoxious sound of banging on the front door. She sighed but didn’t budge. “Mother! Mother!” drifted nasally through the house. She ignored it. It was getting dark outside. The aggressive June sun sinking slowly behind the pink clouds. She hadn’t seen her son in sixteen months and wasn’t planning to now. The noise ceased and she chapped lips smirked. Then the whole house shook with the slam of the front door. Heavy padding footsteps got louder and louder. Ms Kowalski never knew she could find the sound of a person’s feet so annoyingly enraging until she had a child. The cries of “mother!” turned to “Mum! Mum!” This grown man was one step away from whaling “Mummy!” Even though the old woman knew there was no one around to hear she was embarrassed never the less. Embarrassed for him, embarrassed for herself. She felt his suffocating presence hovering around the open back door and then the sound of his feet hitting the gravel with hesitation. First one, then the other. “Mum?” the man whimpered. “I’M IN HERE” the woman snapped back too quickly. The man looked up at the closed bedroom window. “In HERE you idiot!” she repeated. She heard his sharp in take of breath followed by his chubby, balding face appearing through the whole. Lying in the dirt and staring in to the eyes of her only son only only further empathised what she already knew. He was nothing like her Jackie, his father, an idiot since the day he was born. He reached for his phone in his back pocket and shone the artificial screen light in to the dark space. The old woman covered her eyes with her arms. Naked, wrinkly and squirming in the dark, Ms Kowalski looked like an oversized baby fresh from the womb. Her son stammered and even in the dark she could feel him blushing like a school girl. “Mum… how did you…” his voice trailed off in to the silence. “Well it looks like you’ve had a nasty fall.” Ms Kowalski glared at her son, this overweight and underachieving man before her. With her eyes alone she hoped to communicate how much she loathed the boy but he simply crouched there with his mouth hanging open like a goldfish. A look every mother hates. “Let me just…” he reached in and tried to grab the woman’s arm “help you…” he panted, out of breath from this minor exertion. The old woman squirmed and wriggled in the dirt. “I think I can just about…” the man continued to himself, scraping his hands across his mother’s bare skin and ignoring her protests. Her grey pubic hair was matted with soil and she lay with it facing her son. “Mum are you…?” his stupid mouth hung open again, catching flies. “Can’t finish a fucking sentence, no?” Ms Kowalski croaked. She hated his face, hated him. “And close your mouth” she said, hoping that would be the end of it. He mumbled something else but she didn’t hear him. Her eyes were shut and she was at one with the earth beneath her again. She did hear the sound of the front door slamming and the quake of the brick walls tremor. The darkness around her engulfed her. The sky was pitch black and although it was a cloudless day it was also a starless night. The moon was nowhere to be seen from down here. With her eyes screwed shut the blackness continued. Every bone, vein and hair on her body was ready for death.
Eventually, the old woman’s eyes flickered open. Her shoulder ached from lying on her side and she felt the familiar sting in her full bladder that tells her she needs to go. Without thinking Ms Kowalski goes. A thin stream of yellow piss trickles between the old woman legs and in to the thirsty soil. She lies face down in the damp earth wriggling her toes and fingers. The nails on her hands and feet now black with dirt. She listens to another plane whizzing and whirring softly over head and pictures the long white tail that will follow it. A younger more hopeful woman might imagine the people flying up above. Who they are, where they are going. But Ms Kowalski simply does not care. Then she hears it. In the back of her mind at first, a soft knock, a two knock followed by a pause. This is a polite knocker, she can tell. The Mormans, a salesman, the postman. The knocker repeats themselves. Another soft set of knuckles against the front door. At least it’s not her son. A distant yet loud piercing sound offends the old woman’s ears. “Mrs Kowski! Mrs Mia Kowski!” It’s a woman’s voice from the front of the house. “It’s your support worker Mrs Chowskey! We met last month. My name is Janet Halson, Mrs Chowskey.” The old woman in the hole shivers even though she’s not cold “Ah, this bitch” she mutters to herself. She wishes this woman would stop shouting – and pronounce her fucking name right. “Your son has alerted me to an incident, Mrs Klowski” the woman stresses the word “incident”, “Is everything alright, Mrs Klowski?” Now the old woman is really in a pickle. She clears her throat and puts on her best sweet-old-woman sounding voice. “Hello Miss Haldron” she shouts back, purposefully getting the name wrong. “Yes, everything is fine. Just enjoying a bit of gardening is all!” Silence. She swears she can hear the sound of ballpoint pen scribbling on paper. “May I come in then, Mia? It’s just that your son informs me that you are…” she pauses as if reading from a form “…living in a hole. Is this correct?” Mrs Kowalski rolled over with her face turned away from the hole and tucked her knobbly, wrinkled knees under her chin. With her eyes closed again she drifts off. Off to another world. She’s aboard a boat on a calm, glistening sea chatting to Princess Diana. They both wear black, not dresses, but suits. “Mrs Kowalski?” Diana says too loudly. They’re standing face to face. “Mrs Kowalski?” she repeats. The old woman can’t answer. Her lips won’t move. She looks down at her fingers and they’re wrinkled and jaundiced. When she looks back up the Princess has gone. The sky is black and she’s alone again. Alone in the hole. The old woman hears the familiar crash of the front door. Her stomach rumbles in time with the shake of the house but she doesn’t feel hungry. Not one bit. A murmur of grating voices make their way through the house. Then the crunch of shoes on gravel. One, two, three pairs of feet. “She’s in there” a man’s voice whispers. The man is her son. A blinding light illuminates the dark hole. Mrs Kowalski’s eyes tingle and sting before she can get her arm up to shield them. “It’s worse than I thought” another man’s voice confirms solemnly. She stares in to the light and can make out a large bald head, narrow piercing eyes and a thick brown moustache pasted across the top lip. “Mrs Kowalski” the strange man says. At least he gets her name right. The man sticks a gloved hand through the hole and prods the old woman’s arm with the tip of his finger. He withdraws the hand quickly, afraid she might bite. “He’s breathing” he relays to the people behind him. She hears her son’s pathetic drivelling playing like white noise in the background “I’m sorry… so sorry… so sorry about this.” She reaches between her legs to scratch her frizzy grey pubes. “Mrs Kowski, dear?” a woman chimes in. It’s that bitch Halson. Mrs Kowalski rolled over to give the girl a front row view of her soily, flabby ass. She hears the girl let out a whimper as she recoils.
The conversation continues behind the old woman – about her – but not to her. Snippets of chatter invade the dark hole. “Well she is your mother, Charles” a woman says. “This is ridiculous” huffs a man. “I’m sorry… so sorry.” Her son’s voice. Mrs Kowalski wants to think of something to say. Something to end this mess, but she can’t get her lips to move. She closes her eyes and the darkness swallows her once more. Mrs Kowalski is dying.
The old woman could see the sun rise. In peace and quiet – she watched from the hole. She was still Mrs Mia Kowalski from down the road, whose husband died of heart failure, whose son never visited and who everyone avoided in the street. Brash sirens blared in the distance. Off to collect the dead or injured. Mrs Kowalski was neither. Sirens in the distance getting closer and closer. And voices, lots of voices. The rapid footsteps like thunder. Sirens in the street, voices in her ear. But not here. Never here.