Elizabeth had not expected to end her life in the toasty embrace of old friends and family. The night leading up to her death was just like any other, and she sat alone, warming her toes by the fireplace with a half-finished patchwork quilt draped over her lap. It formed a multi-textured mountain landscape, dipping into the valley between her legs.
By her feet lay an old cardboard box that provided company like a loyal hound. Scraps of material hung over the sides, soft and floppy like Spaniel ears, and from time to time Elizabeth would reach down and caress the strips of fabric before plucking one from the pile and sewing it into the quilt. Withered fingers, gnawed and gnarled by arthritis, pushed the needle in and out, her life story punctuated by each dash of black thread.
The first piece in the quilt was a neat square of blue silk from her husband’s favourite tie. Bless him. The twenty-year anniversary of his passing was edging nearer, but Elizabeth knew she’d be joining him soon. Dementia was playing grandmother’s footsteps with the widow, and she’d come to accept the fact that she probably wouldn’t be around much longer.
Elizabeth looked up at the old clock that hung above the fireplace. The yellowing face told her that nine o’clock was creeping up on her. Such a pity. She’d hoped to finish the quilt that night. Soon, she’d take her pills and enjoy a mug of camomile tea before bed. She supposed, albeit reluctantly, that she could continue in the morning.
The next square, stitched neatly into the blue silk, was a piece from her dear sister’s winter coat. She’d passed two years ago. Slipped on the ice, poor thing. Elizabeth had been there when it happened. Jane had always been one for taking her vitamins and eating her vegetables. Her death had come as a shock to many. Elizabeth would outlive the lot of them.
The next piece was thinner – a nylon oblong, made from a scrap of Rolo’s collar. Rolo had belonged to Sheila from next door. Before the arthritis had wreaked havoc with her hip, Elizabeth had taken him for his morning walks. It had taken her two months to realise that the dog was evil. And the yap-yap-yapping each night? Well, that was just rude. If you couldn’t control your pets, you shouldn’t keep them. Rolo met his end one windy August morning when Elizabeth was bringing him back from the park. The constant tugging on the lead must have weakened the collar. It snapped and he bounded into the path of an oncoming Vauxhall. Poor dear. Still, Elizabeth was able to sleep soundly after that, at least until the insomnia kicked in.
The plush red lining of her brother-in-law’s motorcycle jacket was next in place. Elizabeth had never liked him. She’d always suspected he was having an affair, the sneaky blighter, yet she’d never been able to prove it. His brakes had failed him one winter, and he’d lost control of the bike and somersaulted into the road. Killed instantly.
Elizabeth’s fingers were beginning to ache, the joints niggling her with each swooping dive of the needle. It was a pity. At the very least, Elizabeth had wanted Lucy’s silk scarf and Adam’s war medals to be sewn on that night.
The chair creaked and Elizabeth stood up, letting the quilt pool on the living room rug. Her bones were aching, and she was finding it hard to focus. She hobbled into the kitchen and set the kettle down on the stove. None of this electric nonsense. She didn’t trust things like that. Electric, or electricians.
Indeed, there was a patch of grey cotton from an electrician’s work uniform in her quilt. She’d called him to fix the wiring in the kitchen. Whatever happened to good manners and respect for your elders? The man had been yapping away on the phone to his wife while for most of the morning, and had lit up a cigarette on her patio. The smoke had drifted in and Elizabeth had still been able to taste it later that evening. No manners, none at all. He got what was coming to him. Carelessness leads to accidents, and the poor sod – Roger, she seemed to recall his name was – was electrocuted on her kitchen floor.
Elizabeth climbed the stairs, one bony hand gripping the banister. She was tired now, at least physically. Very tired. She popped a couple of sleeping pills from the bathroom cabinet, just to calm the buzzing of her mind, and took out her dentures before climbing into bed. The soothing waft of camomile dulled her thoughts. Elizabeth was soon asleep.
The fire downstairs, however, was more awake than ever. Crackling and hissing and spitting embers onto the living room rug. And onto Elizabeth’s quilt.
And as the flames spread from the quilt to the chair, it just so happened that Elizabeth’s trophy blanket, the memoir of her sins, was the perpetrator of her own demise.
Poor old dear.