The tale of Milicent Graves
“The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night.” ― Isabel Allende
There was something about her that gave me goosebumps. Something.
I met her while working at the hospital, on the late shift. It was my first week at work and I was playing Florence Nightingale looking out for lonely souls to reach out to. I was drawn to her, somehow.
She was alone always, old and frail, almost fading, and I noticed she never had visitors. I began walking into her room during shifts and striking up conversations. Initially she was cordial, and she would politely respond and then her cordial manner broke and she began responding more animately, with witticisms and we would laugh, and when the ice broke completely she was one chatty old lady. Funny, and wholesome.
“My granddaughter is a lot like you, a sweet pretty little thing” she’d say. And I would laugh wondering why the sweet pretty little thing never visited.
While she seemed fragile, her eyes had a sort of strength. She was what I would describe as floral. She had a deep graciousness about her and would look at me with a firm yet warm smile whenever I greeted her. The sweet old lady she was, after she had warmed to me, would indulge me with hearty stories with a sort of soft passion. Deep.
“But we got into a horrid accident just last week, horrid, I mean the bus, it just went too fast, and I was too slow, she tried pulling me across quickly when she saw it, but we were too late across, too late,” she said wistfully. And so began the rather intimate relationship between me and aunty Milly.
I would visit aunty Milly every morning before my shifts. I often stop by the market on the way to the hospital and got her some fresh cut flowers. I would often pick them light purple roses, only because they reminded me of her. And then we would chat as I had my morning coffee and croissant.
She would fill my morning with stories of Uncle Alfred, how he proposed, just in the nick of time, on the day before her grandmother promised her hand in marriage to the eldest son of the Greengage family. The Greengage family was a family any Mrs.Bennet-like creature would love to marry her daughters into, and Patrick Greengage was definitely pedigree.
Of course when they first put forward their interest to aunty Milly she was flattered, she said. “He was suave, and had hair that was always so slick and he would wear suits, all the time, with matching leather shoes,” she dreamily described, “but he was always out and about, he had no job, and when I asked him one day what did he do, he told me, nothing, nothing! I could not stand a man who did nothing, no matter how suave.”
The shenanigans that he got up to! She was friends with Lola, the daughter of Mrs. Stetson, the head housekeeper for the Greengage household who told her stories of the fine parties Patrick the dandy would throw. The raucous they would get up to, and how she would walk into his room the morning after to find three or four ladies on his bed.
His father was so grieved by his young son’s behavior that he sent him off one summer to Madamme Chantalle’s in Paris hoping she would get it all our of his system, and that he would return decent, ready to take his place as the eldest son of the Greengage estate. Of course Madamme Chantelle could not knock any sense into him, however she tried.
Aunty Milly thought Uncle Alfred’s proposal was fortunate, saving her from a life of grief. She would tell me about Uncle Alfred’s fascination with rocking chairs.
“He loved rocking chairs, and he would spend his time, whenever he was not working building rocking chairs, he had a large collection one for each of us, and in every size and colour possible.”
Uncle Alfred was also a barrister, and quite a good one too, she boasted. When she bragged about Uncle Alfred, I often smiled. It just made me believe they had an affection for each other that sustained throughout their marriage. It was nice.
She told me about Farah, her eldest daughter, and Sarah, the one who died of a sort of fever at a young age.
“They would gather around my rocking chair to listen to my grand tales every night.”
I smiled to myself as I thought then of how much aunty Milly must love telling stories, and how everyone would love listening to her stories. Even now, in her ripe old age, me, a complete stranger to her, was huddled up listening.
One morning, between a coffee and a croissant Aunty Milly told me she was fading, and she asked a favour from me. She took out a red notebook and pushed it into my hands.
“Will you write down the stories I have told you?” Write, she told me, write. “Write all the stories I have told you, and write them well, will you?”
I looked into her intense gray eyes and shuddered.
“Meghan started this,” aunt Milly began. “One day when she was about twelve she asked me if I was going to be alive when she got married. I told her I did not know, but I would love to be there at her wedding.”
“She cried when she heard I might be dead by the time she got married so she came up with a brilliant idea and told me she would write about me, and she would write all my stories down, so she could remember me, I laughed and nodded and gave her this red notebook.”
So I took the book and nodded, and I promised aunty Milly with all my heart I will finish what Meghan started.
And then something strange happened. I was in the changing room that day, and someone asked me why I always chose to have my breakfast in room 515 every morning.
“I visit aunty Milly every morning,” I told her.
“Aunty Milly? Millicent Graves?”
“But aunty Milly died a month ago. Her granddaughter and her were hit by a bus, and she died about a week after.”
I gasped, and she nodded slowly.
We dressed and she took me to room 515.
It was empty, and I turned to walk out, a little dazed, a little confused and very knowing of what it was about her that gave me goosebumps.
I got home that night and retrieved the red notebook form my bag. I fingered the corners of the notebook and flipped through it reading Meghan’s writing. I started to write. Partly out of fear, partly because I promised and partly out of the affection I had grown to have for aunty Milly.
Over the next few months I would write for her every night, I wrote all she told me, the stories of Uncle Alfred, and of Meghan, and I wrote and wrote until I got to the end of aunty Milly’s life.
When I was convinced that all she told me, and all she was, was written I stopped.
I flipped through it reading the stories once again, and fingering through the pages I told aunty Milly in my heart that she was written. I flipped to the back of the book and there in between the last page, and the leather cover was a picture of Aunty Milly in a rocking chair. On the back of the photo were inscribed the words:
Dear Meghan, as Isabelle Allende wrote to her dear Eva, “There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” So I too will be with you always.
Of course we remember her, she is now written. I smiled at dear dear aunty Milly and my love for her grew, even though I never really met her, or have I?
For Inspiration Monday. Prompt: Empty Frames, Now Entering Reality