>I had a neighbor, a woman over eighty, whom I met occasionally in the elevator. She liked to complain about the sloppiness of the other neighbors in our building, how they left trash and papers and generally were pigs. I’d nod and smile and hope she didn’t start in on the Ausländer (she never did.) One day, I forgot to take my key out of the mailbox (connected by keychain to all my other keys) and came home to a note on my doorbell, “See Frau Zoller.” That was the day we finally introduced ourselves, and out of gratitude, I baked her some cookies later.
It turned out that she had a friend who sent her flowers often, and she would divvy up the still-good blossoms when new ones arrived, and leave them in front of my door, as well as the doors of other neighbors she liked. Soon we had a friendly informal flower/baked goods exchange going, and greeted each other warmly in the elevator. There was always something to chat about.
One Easter I was away for a week, and when I returned I noticed that the bag of glass jars I had placed at her door (she would put the flowers in water in them) was still there. I assumed she had probably gone away somewhere herself, as many people did over the holidays. I did not always pass her door, as she lived on the 4th floor and I live on the 7th, and I often take the elevator.
But then I noticed sometime later that the lock on her door had been removed. I asked another neighbor what had happened. She’d had a stroke, he said, and lay on the floor in her apartment for a week until a friend, stopping by, grew suspicious and called the police. At that point she was still alive, he told me, but died shortly afterward in the hospital. It occurred to me that when I saw the bag of glass jars, she had probably been inside on the floor, still alive.
Her brother, who lives out of town, took ownership of the apartment and has since sold it. I met him (in the elevator, of course!) and asked him where she was buried, so that I could visit her grave. He told me that she’d donated her body to science.
I guess it was the flowers that got me thinking about her on Valentine’s Day, so I walked down to the cemetery this afternoon to pay my respects to the wall on which are written the names of the people who had donated their bodies to scientific research. My old friend’s name isn’t there yet, but I lit a candle and thought of her for a moment.
On the way in, this caught my eye. There’s nothing on the stone itself (there might be, underneath all those candles and snow) but it seems to be a memorial stone for stillbirths. Kind of touching, with all the little toys tucked around it.
This always makes me smile for some reason; the grave candle machine, because — like condoms — you never know when you’re going to need one! Actually the proceeds go to a well-known charitable organization, so you can honor your dead and help the living at the same time.