Meeting Irene

For the month of November I'm trying to write a small piece of fiction every day (or as close to every day as possible!). These are unedited, made up stories. To learn more about this project, click here.

This is my piece for November 12th:


When I moved into that house I never imagined how dramatically my life would change from one decision. She needed a roommate after her husband died, someone to keep her company in that big airy house. I needed a change. She was older than I thought she would be, but then again I was younger than she had wanted.

When I came for the interview, she opened the door, looked me up and down and said only one word, “No.”

I’m convinced she would have shut the door on me, if I hadn’t stuck my foot in the doorway.

“Please, just give me a chance.” Her word had been firm, but I could see the softness in her eyes and thought there was a chance, “I know you wanted someone older. I’m young, still in school, but I’m not like most people my age. I won’t be loud or out late. I won’t have parties or invite people over all the time.” She looked me over again, not saying a word. I wished I had buttoned the top button on my bright blue blouse, but it was too late now. “Can we at least do the interview?” I asked.

She paused for what felt like a long time, then spoke, “Yes.” She smiled and stepped back so I could enter.

I stepped onto the beautiful geometric patterned rug in the entryway and took in my surroundings. The room was dominated by a mahogany stairwell directly across from the door. To my right were french doors, I wasn’t sure where they led as there was a curtain covering the glass from the other side. On my left the same french doors were swung wide open revealing a spacious sitting room, which is were the woman led me now. I sat down on the modern cream colored couch and she sat in a stark white arm chair across from me.

“Shall we start with names?” she asked.

“That would be great,” I smoothed my black pencil skirt quickly, “I’m Jill.”

“It’s nice to meet you Jill. I’m Irene.”

I leaned in a little closer, “I have to admit I already know your name. I’ve admired your work for years.”

“I appreciate the admiration,” she sat up a little straighter in the chair as she continued, “But I hope you are not confused about what this will be. I am not looking to take on an apprentice. My studio is in the back of the house and is strictly off limits to everyone,” she paused for a moment and then softened a little, “unless specifically invited.”

“Oh, I know.” I leaned forward to the edge of my seat, “I’m not an artist. I’m studying nursing. I just love pottery. My mom painted a little and instilled a love of the arts in me. She used to take me to museums and galleries on weekends. We would wander for hours talking about the things that caught our attention.” I smiled thinking back to those moments.

Irene smiled for the first time since I had arrived, and though I hadn’t seen it before, I could tell from her laugh lines that it was a common occurrence. “My mother did much the same for me.”

We were quiet for a moment as we both thought of our own histories.

“Is that one of yours?” I broke the silence, pointing to a large vase on a small end table near the window.

“Yes,” she stood and walked over to the vase as she spoke. Resting her elbow on it lightly she twirled the broach pinned to her white blouse. She stared off into the corner of the room, as if she could see something that was hidden from me, “I made it as a wedding gift for my son. Never had the chance to give it to him…” She didn’t tell me why then, but I could guess enough from her body language to know I shouldn’t ask. She was quiet a long time.

I looked at her and at the beautiful pottery she leaned against. Her work was simple, clean, timeless, much like her. There were no frills, there was nothing extra, or unneeded. And yet the lines on her face stood in contrast to her stark simplicity. They told a different story, the story of a life that was anything but simple, a life that was full. They told the story of laughter and tears, worries, heartbreak, and victorious accomplishments. Though there was a simplicity about this woman, her surroundings and her art, that I was drawn to, what really drew me in was the complexity that lay just under the surface.

After a long silence, she spoke, “I keep it here to remind me of my son. To remind me that he was here, that he lived and loved.” She looked at me then, “And to remind me that life is short. We all know it, but we don’t really know it, in our bones, until we are too old for it to be true for us. I am as old as you think I am, and in all this long life I have I have only just learned that life is short.” She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and then spoke again, “Would you like some tea, dear?”

“Yes, please. That sounds wonderful.” I watched as she walked slowly across the room towards the door, “Can I help you with it?” I asked.

“If you help with tea and dishes, the room might well be yours.” The woman laughed softly then, and I stood to follow her into the kitchen.

We talked for over an hour that first time. I did the dishes as she sat and asked questions. When I told her I had to leave and get to class, she stood, reached out her hand and said, “It would be a pleasure to live with you, Jill.”

Moving in with Irene would chance the whole course of my life. She would teach me that embracing life didn’t mean embracing everything. It meant embracing fully those things that were important and letting go of all that wasn’t important. She would teach me that so much of what I thought was important wasn’t really. She would teach me to live a full life through boundaries, limits, and simplicity. It was the best move I ever made.

(The picture that inspired this piece)