Agatha was sitting on a bench near the large and beautiful house which her deceased husband had built with his very own hands. It was a true villa, the family pile. Agatha was remembering what titanic efforts it took for her husband to build such a house, how much happiness it brought him, how many joyful and sad moments they had within those walls. However, the greatest pain was the death of Robert, who left the world silently in his sleep. He had gone to bed late at night and did not wake up the next morning.
Agatha missed her husband every day, although two years had now passed since his death. She would remember with affection each day they had spent together. Once upon a time, she had been happy, but now she was living a nightmare.
The problems began ever since her son moved with his wife, supposedly so that his mother might not feel lonely and to help her with domestic tasks. But instead, they had begun to torment her. More accurately, it was the wife who was the ringleader of the persecution, while her husband most often kept silent, supporting his wife.
Now and then, Agatha had lived a long life, and she knew perfectly well that her son and his wife only wanted to acquire the house. When it became known that Bethany was pregnant, the harassment became simply intolerable. Agatha tried to spend each day out of the house so as not to hear the shouted demands of Bethany, who always found something to be unhappy about.
Just now, on the first floor, in the kitchen, another scandal had taken place, and Agatha was sitting on the old bench and drying her tears. The idea that her own son might not need her was unbearable for her. The grandmother heard their voices; there was no need to eavesdrop here. Bethany was shrieking so loudly it could damage your ears to hear it.
“We are going to have a baby! Why can’t you understand?” screamed Bethany. Her voice was so harsh and piercing that the grandmother’s ears were already hurting. The sound of a cup or plate smashing was heard, then something heavy striking the table. No row was complete without plate smashing. Bethany didn’t see fit just to shout and curse; every time she needed to put on a show.
“I don’t want her here! I’m going to grumble and wander about day and night, waking up the baby. I want to live as a family without oldies. Is it so difficult to understand? Just you, me, and our baby. My God, why is my husband like this? How much longer is this going to go on? Ultimately, who am I to you? I am your wife. I am the mother of your unborn child, and you keep me on with this idiocy to try and persuade me. I don’t want an old woman living here, Bethany!” She’s my mom!”
“You don’t treat your mom this way,” James objected limply. His wife gave no reaction to his interjection, and he continued. The smashing of plates stopped, probably because he grabbed her hands.
“Stop pulling tantrums! My mom is always cleaning the house, cooks, washes our clothes. If she goes, what’ll happen then? Tell me, are you going to do all that? No, you’ll start complaining and saying you need a housemaid.
And what will I tell you? That I’m not going to spend so much money, especially when we can get these jobs done for free. The baby is coming soon; we have to save money. You don’t work, by the way, in case you forgot,” James added the sarcasm.
“My God, James! I am sick and tired of you. You’re worried about the money? Well done! Thanks to your greed, we have to put up with your manky old mother. My mother is an old, and she isn’t such a country bumpkin. She had a busy life in the city, and yours just sits on that bench all day,” Bethany returned to breaking something, and you could hear James shouting in protest.
The grandmother heard the row and began to feel bad; her heartbeat sped up, and a pain appeared in her chest. She got up and left the terrace. Slowly, she headed to a neighbor’s to pass some time in silence.
Agatha entered the terrace of her neighbor’s house. Donna Mary was watering her beloved roses. She smiled so widely to see her friend that Agatha’s heart melted. They had been friends now for 30 years, and Mary knew everything that was going on with Agatha’s family. She felt huge pity for her friend.
After all, Mary’s sons were behaving completely differently. They looked after their mother, sent money regularly, and when they came, they took over every responsibility in the house. But Agatha’s son was a totally different man, and her daughter Sophie, she immigrated long ago. She only sent money to her mother and called a few times a week.
The friends wandered over to a pergola. Mary brought a tray loaded with a teapot, teacups, and a little jar of handmade fruit pastries. Mary poured the tea into the cups, and they immediately sat down on the spread rugs just to talk and be together.
Mary had bad news for her friend, but she didn’t want to tell them to her until the last minute. Only there wasn’t any other time now to do it. Mary understood that it would have been better to inform her friend earlier, but now she had nowhere to hide.
“Your lot were being very noisy, has that eccentric woman pulled another tantrum?” asked Mary. Agatha just nodded.
“What a rabble they are. How does your son take it? Did you call Sophie? Maybe she could tell him what a terrible wife he has.”
“I don’t want to tell her that they’ve moved in with me. Sophie has been in the hospital with her husband every day. She’s always crying when I speak with her. She says it’s all good, but how can you fool a mother’s heart? It’s obvious that it’s all bad, and probably there isn’t hope.
I remember how sad I was when my beloved went into the cold earth. Oh, how I suffered. I imagine how my Sophie is feeling now. I suppose she can’t be calm even for a minute, and in this difficult time, I’m not going to make things worse with my problems,” Agatha shook her head despondently.
“If only everything could work out with her and her husband could survive. But there doesn’t seem to be much chance of that. He’s been this way for too long. I can’t believe Sophie is going to be a widow at 30 years old.”
“Oh, Mary, you should see them. They were smitten. They’re as in love as my husband and I were, but these ones are always fighting. What kind of a marriage is that?”
Both women sat quietly. They heard shouts and cursing from Agatha’s house. She closed her eyes and tried to stem her tears. It made her so sad to witness all this.
The cold season was now beginning, and very soon she would have to sit on the bench all day, in spite of the rain, snow, and low temperatures. Of course, only if Bethany didn’t throw her out of the house this minute.
The grandmothers continued drinking tea. Agatha saw that her friend had something to say to her but that she dared not speak it. It seems that Agatha understood perfectly what the conversation was going to be about; after all, they already spoke about it once but in very abstract terms.
“My kids are going to live in Italy,” said Mary. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for a long time, but I always thought I would delay the conversation.”
“You have a daughter who is soon to be a widow and above all, who is very far away. Your son and his wife are driving to kick you out of the house, and now I’m giving you bad news. I’ve waited until the last moment; however, tomorrow I’m going to the city to prepare some documents because I’m joining my kids in Italy.”
Mary lowered her gaze; she didn’t know what to expect from Agatha. The news wasn’t pleasant, after all. She looked at her, smiling a little, trying to disguise her awkwardness, and Agatha hugged her friend and wept. She was happy that Mary would have a better life, but in truth, she didn’t want to part from her. She knew how much she would miss her, and the situation of her life was very much out of the ordinary.
She stayed the night at her friend’s house, and they spent all that evening and through the night together. At dawn, they said their farewells. Agatha and Mary understood that they were saying goodbye forever. Tears ran down their wizened cheeks; thirty years of friendship were coming to an end. Of course, they’d be able to telephone, but it was unlikely they’d see each other again.
Agatha felt how the tears flooded her tired eyes and how heavy her head was. She hugged and hugged her friend and could not let her go. At last, Mary got in her car and began to move off. Agatha stayed in the road, looking at Mary’s son’s car moving off. They would not see each other again; they were selling the house to foreigners. The new neighbors would not be happy with incessant screeching from the couple in the nearby house; this meant inevitably that new conflicts would appear.
Some days later, Agatha was still yearning for her friend; they had seen each other in a video call, but all this was at a distance. Agatha was sad, but she was trying to keep control of herself. The old woman passed all morning in the garden, collecting vegetables.
Agatha heard a brief dispute between her son and daughter-in-law in the morning, but Bethany simply didn’t have time to fight. James left for work, leaving her alone with his mother. It was what Agatha feared more than anything; she couldn’t be alone with this snake who was searching for any excuse to poison the life of her mother-in-law. Agatha sighed deeply; there was no other option.
The grandmother began to prepare breakfast and turned on the television, which hung over the extractor fan’s hood. Bethany never helped her mother-in-law; she would say she had just had her nails done or that she was pregnant.
Agatha didn’t insist and calmly put up with Bethany’s mood swings. Of course, her son said that it was all because of the pregnancy. Agatha herself had seen this horrible behavior long before the pregnancy. Bethany had an awful character, and she wanted everyone to do only what she required. She simply couldn’t bear when things didn’t go according to plan; she would almost tremble in these situations. Bethany would lose her patience right away.
Agatha never understood why her son chose such a snake as she, but with all her might, she tried to accept her. Bethenny, however, did not appreciate this.
Once again, with your cooking, the whole house smells now,” said Bethany when she came down to the kitchen. She was wearing a silk robe, which hid a short lace nightgown. Bethany was very beautiful; it was hard not to look at her. She seemed more like a film star who had been brought accidentally to the village.
If there was a reason that James chose Bethany, the most likely is that it was just for her looks. Bethany was absolutely beautiful; she had blonde hair down to her waistline, which curled like silk, big blue eyes, porcelain skin. She was very thin and graceful, like an antique statue crafted by the hands of a true master. But her appearance belied an utterly unpleasant character.
Bethany twisted a disdainful smile and looked down at the old woman. “You should get the hell out of here. Why the hell do you go on living so long? Your husband died, and you ought to follow him. Look, the cemetery is nearby; all the old women die of pain when their husbands go, while you enjoy life. Have you no shame?”
“My God, how can you not understand? We are a young family; soon we’ll have a baby, and you only take up space. It’s time to give space up to the young. But you just cling on more to this place,” James turned out to be a coward, so in our marriage, at least I am going to have guts. I will make a man of your son so that he earns money and supports his family, but you just clean his snotty nose.” Bethany got more annoyed with each word.
“If at the beginning of the conversation she was speaking with disdain, now she was screaming, and she couldn’t stop. She shouted and shouted until the grandmother began to go up to the second floor, covering her ears. There was a click of a door, and a car came into the terrace; Bethany fell silent. She turned around and suddenly began to listen attentively when she heard steps on the porch; she fell to the floor and shouted.
The grandma stopped still as a statue; my God, Bethany, what happened?” asked James, rushing to his wife. Her show was so obvious; Agatha could not even consider that her son might believe it, but he did believe.
She pushed me; how can you not understand? She waited for me to come down, and she pushed me; I hit my stomach; I need to go to the hospital. My God, what pain!” Bethany moaned in a barely convincing way. The grandmother was so surprised that she didn’t realize what was happening at first; she began to explain, said that Bethany was lying and that none of that had happened. But her son did not believe her and literally took his own mother out of the house by the scruff of her neck.
Agatha could not believe that her son had thrown her out of the house and where should she go now? The man brought the groaning Bethany out in his arms and put her in the car to take her to the hospital. Agatha remained alone in the street; her friend was no longer nearby; she had no one else to whom she was close. Agatha didn’t even have a telephone to call her daughter with. Slowly she went to the cemetery for lack of another option. The old woman went to the tombstone of her husband and sat on the bench.
As soon as she sat down, she began to cry, putting her hands on the stone and her head on her hands; she sobbed until she began to feel a little better. “Bob, what’s happening?” she said through her tears. The grandmother was crying because she couldn’t believe it; her son had thrown her out on the street, preferring to believe her lying daughter-in-law. “What’s happening? How could he believe her and throw me out into the street? Where should I go, Bob?” she was crying in silence, softly, scarcely audible.
Now it began to rain; lightning flashed in the distance. The grandmother turned around; “I have enough sadness already, and now the downpour begins; I have to find somewhere where I can live, Bob.
We’ll be together soon; I won’t last much longer with things as they are. Wait for me, love; we’ll be together soon,” said the old woman with effort. She got up from the bench, supporting herself on the stone, and she limped through the long rows of fence tombstones. But as she was leaving the cemetery, Agatha saw an old cabin behind her. Lightning split the sky again, and loud thunder sounded; the grandmother covered her ears and headed for the cabin.
It was a little building, minuscule even. She opened the door, and a rat jumped out and disappeared. The old woman, sometimes looking behind her at the impending nightmare, grabbed a mop, wetted it in a puddle, and swept all the spider’s webs. She cleaned all the dust and managed even to clean the floor. Besides the pervasive smell of damp, it was now possible to live in this place.
When the downpour began, the old woman was now sitting within an old and sunken sofa, which had been there for who knows how long. There wasn’t space for anything else, just a broken sofa, a narrow window, a seat, and a little bedside table, nothing more. Agatha realized that now she would have to live in this cabin; another enormous roll of thunder sounded. It seemed that the sky itself was breaking.
Days passed, and the grandma continued to live in that cabin. She was very hungry; the crows stole the graveside gifts quicker than she could find them. Suddenly, a black hearse arrived, and workmen got out; it seemed that they were going to dig a grave, and if they were going to dig that day, it meant they were going to bury someone the next.
“They say some rich guy is going to be buried; look how much space the monument is going to take up,” said one of the workers, gesturing to another. “Common people don’t receive as much; it was his wife who asked them to leave a place by his side; I suppose she might be a young girl; these rich guys only have young women,” chuckled the second worker.
Early the next morning, many big cars, all of a certain type, arrived at the cemetery. The sun disappeared behind the clouds, and it began to drizzle; the procession began its journey. The coffin was brought to a grave recently dug. The grandmother went out and looked further ahead; there were many people; clearly, some businessman or leader was to be buried.
In average funerals, there were fewer people; Agatha went down the stairs and walked slowly towards the throng. Perhaps she would have luck; perhaps someone would give her some food, only so that she could commemorate the dead man.
It was terribly shameful to ask for food like a beggar, but she hadn’t eaten in three days; she was desperate to eat; to the old woman, it seemed that things were growing dark before her eyes, that her last strength was abandoning her. She kept thinking that if she didn’t die from a rat’s bite in her cabin, then definitely she would die of hunger. In any case, from such a life, death was a liberation.
The grandmother walked towards the procession; the funeral was arriving at its end, and the people gradually began to disperse. Everyone seemed pretty rich and self-satisfied; the pain and the somber faces were just a mask.
Only a small group of people who were closer to the grave seemed truly sad; a particular young woman seemed especially disconsolate. The grandmother was dumbstruck to recognize this young woman as her own daughter, Sophie.
Sophie, she shouted, and ran towards her. The woman lifted her teary eyes and ran towards her mother and sobbed on her shoulder.
The old women understood better than anyone else how hard all this was for Sophie. Everyone had been prepared that sooner or later her husband would die, but Sophie still could not believe that her husband had truly gone.
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