The doorbell rang, startling Eleonor, who was asleep on the couch, feet tucked under her bottom, magazine across her chest. The magazine slid to the floor as Eleonor swung her feet down to the Persian rug. She anchored herself before standing up; she’d been having dizzy spells again and wondered whether her blood pressure was dipping. Not having had time to get to the doctor recently, Eleonor was self-diagnosing – something she was becoming quite good at these past few years.
Peering through the peephole, Eleonor recognised Jules, her neighbour. Eleonor was relieved; she hadn’t been expecting visitors and knew her hair looked dreadful, not to mention she was still in her pyjamas and it was well past lunchtime. She unlocked the door and pulled it open, remembering to focus on Jules’ face and give her a smile of welcome. Eleonor didn’t like having visitors, even if it was Jules, who, in addition to living next door, was her best friend. Actually her only real friend; the others, from before the change, had faded away, becoming more acquaintance than bosom buddy.
‘Hey Eleonor! How’re you going?’
‘Oh, pretty good thanks Jules. Um, do you want to come in?’ Eleonor was focused on the doorstep by now.
‘Well, I think we’ll both be more comfortable inside,’ Jules said.
Eleonor ushered Jules into the front room and bade her sit on one of two highbacked sofas she had in there. The light inside the room was dim, although it was a bright sunny day outside, but that was the way Eleonor liked it. She knew Jules was becoming used to her foibles, so didn’t force herself to open the blinds the smidgin she conceded to on rare occasions when she had other guests.
‘Can I get you a cuppa?’
‘No thanks Ellie, I can’t stay long.’ Jules was the only one who had a pet name for her. Not even her parents had called her by any name other than Eleonor.
‘I’ve got some news. Fred and I are going to Japan!’
Eleonor’s face told the story. She looked devastated. Jules, knowing each one of Eleonor’s looks, picked her up on it immediately.
‘On a holiday, you silly! Fred’s work is sending him over to attend a conference and partners have been invited. We’re staying on an extra week to see Tokyo and Kyoto and a few other places we’ve wanted to see for ages.’
‘Oh...that’s great,’ Eleonor managed.
‘I’ve come to ask if you’ll be right to get the mail while I’m away.’
Eleonor looked at her friend to see if this was some kind of prank; Jules’s sense of humour was pretty well developed. She was looking pretty serious though and her body language wasn’t giving anything away. Jules jiggled a little when she was up to something.
‘I’m not sure Jules. Can’t you ask someone else?’
Looking at her friend, the blonde girl tried very hard not to show her frustration.
‘Eleonor, it’s your mail. I’m not asking you to collect mine – Ethel from across the road will do it. But I can’t ask her to get yours too. Come on, you’ve made a lot of progress over the past three months. You only have to take a few more steps down the path to the letterbox. I have confidence in you Ellie. You can do it.’
Looking doubtful, Eleonor acceded. Jules had been so supportive after Max had died. She’d visited Eleonor in hospital every couple of days, looked after her house during the coroner’s investigation and taken charge of repainting and recarpeting the room where Max died. None of Eleonor’s family had come until Max’s funeral and they refused to stay with Eleonor, not wanting to ‘intrude’. Eleonor retreated mentally and physically from her old life and refused to leave the house; she was connected to Max and couldn’t bear to leave the last place she had seen him. The months ticked by. She had her groceries home delivered and paid her bills online. In the Internet age she had no need to leave the house. Work had given her indefinite leave and Max’s life insurance payout was keeping the roof over her head.
‘Listen, I’ve got to go. We haven’t packed yet and the cab is booked for five tomorrow morning – we’ve got an early flight.’
Jules stood up and gave her friend a kiss on the cheek.
‘We’ll be back in ten days. I’ll look in on you as soon as we get back. Your letterbox had better be empty!’ Jules’s admonishment was half in jest, but Eleonor didn’t want to let her down. She owed a great debt to Jules.
* * *
Eleonor stood on her doorstep, meditating on the tilework that led to her front door. She did her breathing exercises and, on the fifth breath out, lifted and fixed her eyes on the edge of the veranda. She took the four steps she knew would take her to the top step leading down to the concrete path. She paused and breathed. So far, so good. She had made it to the bottom step the day before Jules had visited and she was confident she could make it as far again. She took them one at a time, trying to keep her eyes focused on each new step, not daring to look further in front of her. The shimmering haze that threatened to overwhelm her was building in her peripheral vision. Eleonor took a deep breath and looked for her next milestone. The letterbox. She remembered the counsellor’s advice. Channel your energy into a touchstone. Set your inner mind on reaching that touchstone. Focus and move. Don’t think about anything else till you reach it. Then, when you’re there, breathe, take stock and find your next touchstone. It’ll be slow going, but you will succeed if you persist.
Eleonor looked to where she knew the letterbox to be. Touchstone.