Fran Jane Manor

It was hardly a manor to look at, except if you counted its years and reckoned

its rickety frames burdened by creaking eaves; permanent refuge for termites and despair.

Its proud verandah of white-washed fretwork lied of green and blue beneath its chipping film.

An Areca palm battled with life in one corner, its clay pot dark and swollen with too much water;

and the other corner had a doddering woman hunched-over on a stool.

Her faded linen dress matched the fading tapestry and the amber of her drooping eyes matched the dankness within.

Only a bright floral kerchief stood out, knotted and flapping on her head. Bygone.

A chance trespasser would never have guessed her presence. I, myself, noticed her three weeks late.

So perfectly did she blend in her perch there, well-balanced and thought out like props for a play,

that I subconsciously slowed my steps, swayed my hips and blushed a smile like a belle

every time I passed her house, no doubt, looking comical in my stiff untrained body.

Fran Jane I called her, with the kind of instinct and conviction women named total strangers with.

Her fingers inched over the series of knots and beads in her hand, her lips vacillated in ceaseless prayer.

Did she pray for her children, now grown up and gone to make their luck in the world?

Or for her husband, who had long since died, and for whom she prayed nevertheless out of habit?

She’d call me naïve if she knew my thoughts.

Not for her the courteous smiles of good old neighbours.

I made no more difference to her than the abandoned car across our street.

But like on its windscreen, Fran lay spread over my imagination. I frequently pictured her –

young and radiant, before creases laid siege to her eyes, before arthritis bound her legs,

long before the ends outnumbered the beginnings –

those carefree days of love and health, sun and sounds of children’s laughter.

Some of her smile still remained on the begonias around the wall.

-Roslin Steeple



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