Mother Gracie shuffled over to her stove. Raq remained where he was. Long gone were the days when he followed at her skirt hems if she moved more than a few footsteps from her craggy watchdog.
On the stove were placed an eclectic mix of pots large and small. The biggest, Mother Gracie’s cauldron, was exuding a stench that even she herself disliked. But there was rhyme and reason behind the cauldron’s rancid contents. Frozen tripe, boiled with barley and vegetable peelings was to be Raq’s evening meal.
‘Chucky egg, then, little chicken?’ said Mother Gracie, and Raq the dog reluctantly rose from his ragged bed. Every morning for the last thirteen years, this old lady would use her precious firewood to fuel the stove and make Raq a poached egg, then rest it for a little, allowing it to harden as it cooled. She’d then present it to him on an ancient, cracked saucer, and Raq would devour it in one mouthful. This morning was different in only one respect. The new location.
As Raq chewed on his egg, the old crone refreshed the water dish he always sought straight after his breakfast. Mother Gracie replaced the lump of rock sulphur in his water and laid the bowl on the floor in front of him. She wet her fingers in the cool water and, encouraging him to lick the drops she led his bearded face to the bowl and the scraggy, grey dog lapped up the cool, grey liquid.
Mother Gracie turned off the heat to the back burner. Even though she had all mod cons in her brand new flat and all the bills were prepaid, she intended to make no real changes to her habits, and to live as if she was in her old house where every stick of wood had to be collected, brought home, dried and stored for fuel.
The front right burner of her new electric stove fired up and heated the contents of the pans above. The brown Pyrex pan burbled and bubbled with its watery contents and the sticks, leaves and dried seeds that would be stewed then infused for another 24 hours. Mother Gracie had made this particular concoction every two days for the last fifty-seven years, and moving to her new sheltered accommodation certainly wasn’t going to stop her from continuing her tradition.
Raq shuddered as he stumbled back to bed and almost collapsed into his ragpile, then let out a long and deep sigh. ‘You’re not sure of it here, are you boy?’ Mother Gracie said. ‘We’ll get used to it.’ Mother Gracie echoed her dog’s sigh and began the laborious process of removing some of the twigs and leaves from the Pyrex pan with a slotted spoon, while ensuring that those ingredients which required a longer steeping time remained in the pan. That way Mother Gracie could get her money, time and effort’s worth from them.
Dried turmeric root, acrid and yellow would heal her pain and reduce her swollen joints as well as keeping both memory and heart strong. There was no sign of the dreaded dementia as yet, but it didn’t do any harm to do a little bit of preventative therapy. Sage, both the leaves and the woody twigs, were included to assist in the expulsion of phlegm and to ease her regular coughing fits.
And cinnamon went in too, along with ginseng, lemon, garlic, gingko biloba. All would be strained and the resultant liquid would be mixed with equal parts of apple cider vinegar. The potent mixture had kept Mother Gracie alive to this wonderful old age, and the fumes from that same potent mixture had seeped into the steam-filled air of the tiny flat.
Mother Gracie sat on her easy chair with a sigh, and prepared for her morning snooze. Had she forgotten to turn off the heat under the hobs? She had not. Had she forgotten to eat her own breakfast? She had not. Had she said her final goodbye to Raq the dog? She had not. She had not realised it would be necessary. But it was. The old dog passed away, happy, content, warm and dry in a small flat with all modern conveniences, and with a tummy full of chucky egg and sulphur-water. His tripe and barley mix would not be eaten.
When she woke, Mother Gracie cried and wished for the thousandth time that she’d been able to get him to drink her own eternal life formula. Just the once.