Betty stared out of her living room window as the loneliness raged deep inside of her. She leant on her walking frame and watched the winter darkness envelop the houses opposite. The streetlamps flickered on and she screwed her old pale blue eyes up at the sudden bright orange light. Opening them again, she found that some of the darkness had departed as it always seemed to do in the presence of lights.
In the distance, she heard a car engine and smiled to herself. The cuckoo clock on the wall brought in the hour and from her window, she watched neighbours she didn’t know, arrive home to their families. Once their front doors had closed, she imagined what was currently happening inside. It’s like watching a play, she chuckled in her head, though I’ve not been to the theatre in years. Drawing comfort from the fake imagines she had conjured, she pulled the curtains together as best she could.
Shuffling away, she left the smallish living room and went into the kitchen via the hallway. The lights were off, but she knew the way well enough. Pushing against the cardboard like door, she walked in and fumbled arthritic fingers up the wall, until she found the light switch and turned it on. The low energy lightbulb took a few seconds to brighten the room, but when it did so, it showed a very modest and tidy kitchen.
Betty walked in and checking the kettle had water inside, turned it on. There was a mug on the sink draining board close by and she picked this up and brought it alongside the kettle. As she made her tea, her mind picked up the scenes she had been weaving before. She wondered if the stressed out business man across the way would spend tonight collapsed in front of the TV with his wife and two children. Or, if the single mum at number eighty-seven, who seemed to be a carer, would sit down with her teenage son to do his homework. Those thoughts made her grin.
Picking up the hot mug in a shaky hand, she hobbled back to the living room, which was far warmer than the kitchen. Sitting in her favourite chair, she placed her mug on a side table and turned the TV on. Whispered voices filled the room, reminding her that she wasn’t so alone. Aiming the controller at the screen once more, she pressed the buttons and spent a few minutes deciding what to watch. The buttons, though smooth, were small and sometimes difficult for her numb fingertips to press down.
Settled, she sipped her tea and after a few more minutes, started asking herself what she would eat tonight. Finishing off her tea, she watched the end of the program before getting up again. Her body was stiff and it took a few moments for everything to obey her commands. Walking back into the kitchen, she went to the fridge-freezer and looked inside both. Luckily, she could afford meals-on-wheels as they were know, so nearly all her meals were ready for her to just re-heat. Sighing as she looked, she remembered the days when she could go shopping and how wonderful it had felt.
Selecting stew and dumplings, she carried the plastic box to the microwave and poked holes into the cover. Mumbling to herself, as she sometimes did, she said, ‘I could make this myself and I bet it would taste and look better.’ She put the meal into the machine and hit some buttons. ‘Maybe, if my hands worked,’ she added, softly.
After eating, she watched more TV and tried to listen to the world beyond her windows. Betty felt the loneliness swelling inside her once more and wondered if she should go to the Elder Elms Day Centre tomorrow. She shook her head, ‘place smells like sickness and death, like hospital does.’ She coughed and rubbed the tightening in her chest. She drank from a glass of water wondered if she should go to bed.
The phone rang, startling her and making her jump. Tutting, she grabbed the receiver and answered it, ‘hello?’
‘Good evening, madam, I’m Evelyn. I’m calling from Better Energy and this call will only take a few minutes of your time. Are you the home owner?’ an Indian female voice spoke, in quick, well-rehearsed words.
Betty nodded into the phone, ‘Yes, I am.’
‘Well, I shall only take a few minutes of your time. I can help you find a cheaper energy supplier,’ the female voice continued.
‘Well, I’m not that interested to be honest, but do go on, Love.’
‘Do you know who your current gas and electric supplier is, Madam?’ Evelyn’s clipped voice asked.
‘British Gas, I believe,’ Betty answered back as she started to enjoy the conversation.
‘And what is your current status? Unemployed or employed?’
‘Retired. Have been for twenty years now. I use to be a head teacher at a secondary school,’ Betty explained.
‘And are you single, married, divorced?’
‘Widowed. Of ten years now. My poor Bert. He had a heart condition.’
‘I’m very sorry to hear that, Madam. Do you live alone?’
‘Yes,’ Betty said softly, feeling a sob in her throat.
‘Is your house a semi or detached?’
‘Detach, it’s a bungalow.’
‘And how much do you pay currently for your gas and electric, right now?’
‘I don’t know,’ Betty sniffed, ‘I’m sorry.’
‘That’s all right, Madam. A rough guess would be fine.’
‘It doesn’t matter. I should go…’
‘Wait, a moment, Madam,’ Evelyn’s voice said quickly, almost urgently.
‘Yes?’ Betty asked, her ears having picked up on that desperation.
‘Was your last bill payment; under one hundred, under two hundred or greater than three hundred? Could you take a guess, Madam?’
‘I’d have to look at the bill and I keep those in my spare room. I can’t get up right now and it would take too long,’ Betty explained, ‘I’m really not interested, Love. I just…I just wanted to hear your voice. You know, a real voice.’
‘I understand, Madam, but if you could just answer the question? I’m positive, I can help you today and you could get a better deal on your bills.’
‘No, thank you,’ Betty said and put the phone down with Evelyn’s voice pleading with her from the small speaker.
Taking a deep breath, she rubbed her forehead, feeling the headache that was growing there and decided that she would go to bed. Getting up and heading for the bedroom on aching legs, Betty decided that tomorrow she would go to the day centre.