She started finding pomegranate seeds at the doorstep, and knew it was time.
Last week it was watercress; the week before, red bell peppers. Frances picked up today’s new bottle of wine red seeds, then closed the apartment door. She padded stiffly into the dining nook of her studio apartment and set the shiny jar in line with the other three.
The bottles of pomegranate seeds shone as a glossy red wall against the pallid white oak formica of the dinette set. Offerings of previous weeks still sat there. The basket of peppers, the huge jar of roasted almonds, avocados that hadn’t yet ripened in their red net.
Frances could still smell the unopened package of ginger tea, combined with the scent of the desiccating bouquet of lavender towering over the jars and foodstuffs on the dinette.
She sat down at the head of the tiny table, opening the laptop and brushing stray green tea bags and dark chocolate bars aside. She carefully pecked her password in at the login screen, struggled to find the internet browser, then opened it.
The home page was still aol.com. It looked different.
Frances searched for search field on the too-clean screen, found it thanks to the hot pink “Search” button, then stopped.
She didn’t know what she was looking for.
As Frances sat there, worrying her wrinkled hands, occasionally shaking the mouse and waiting for inspiration to strike, the evening’s distant cacophony began. Next door the front door slammed, the day’s baggage thundered to the floor. A switch loudly clicked, bringing a flood of noise. “House,” Frances learned it was called in an earlier AOL search of “loud electronic drum music.”
Frances timidly knocked. Janey, her late-teens neighbor with mysteriously absent parents, answered the door. She picked nervously at the large silver, skull-shaped piercing set at the top of her ear.
“Yes?” she murmured, lowering the thumping volume with her black wand. Frances swallowed hard.
“I need your help.”
With her bony, burgundy-tipped fingers, Janey battered Frances’s keyboard, then peered at the screen for results.
“Pomegranates– One of the top 10 Bible foods that restore body and mind,” Janey intoned.
“I don’t even own a Bible,” Frances moaned.
“That’s OK.” Janey continued to tap the keys. “Red peppers protect from sun damage? And nuts do the same, plus give you a sunny glow. At least according to this blog. Avocados also provide nutrients that promote skin health.”
Frances rushed to the mirror in her small, dark foyer. She peered into the small reflection and poked her paper-thin skin. “So I’m old? Ugly?”
“Of course not!” Janey stood up, walking to the pretty, frail old woman with the long white hair, coiled in a heliotrope ribbon. Her slender figure glowed within her plain janitor’s coveralls, modest curves an echo of bygone days Janey would never recognize. “You’re beautiful.”
Janey’s jaded eyes wandered over the janitor’s delicate features– Her patrician nose, rose-stained lips, hollow cheeks and pointed chin, framed by silken swirls of white.
“You’re worth saving,” Janey said.
Frances looked at the stream of information over the thin girl’s shoulder. Anti-aging. Health. Edible thwarts against arthritis, wrinkles, sunspots.
Frances sometimes paused in her mopping of the high school floors. When the young ones were trapped in their classrooms, Frances would set the mop aside. She descended, willing her body into a younger, more bendable form, her fingers brushing the olive green linoleum, her mind fervently hoping no one would come to mock, stare and point their phones at her.
Safe that day from children’s taunts, Frances toddled home, soaked her old feet in a salty bath, and wondered. Had she wasted her youth? Could she offer anything other than a clean floor or empty wastebasket?
She looked at the herbs, tea and rich creams on arrayed on the formica. What would these gifts improve?
Frances knelt, scrubbing a black rubbery stain from the hallway floor. The anxious beat of footsteps came closer. She looked up to find Janey in the quiet hall, raising her smartphone as a beacon.
“I found him,” Janey said.
“I just wanted to help,” Rufus said, stepping into Frances’s dark foyer, gesturing at the withering lavender and rotting peppers, saddened at the fading scents of green and ginger tea.
He left a last gift on the doorstep, an electronic heating pad. For arthritis, Frances remembered.
She smiled, secretly thanking him for the luxuries, savoring the questions only he could answer.
“Come in,” she said, offering a cup of tea.