Mary Scanlon sighed as she sat back in her chair, pulling her shawl tightly across her shoulders. Autumn was nearly here, she could feel it in her bones.
She hated the New York winters, they were so much colder than the ones back home. The mild, wet weather was the thing she missed most about home. When it rained almost every day you knew where you were, knew what to expect. Here in New York it could change from warm and sunny to cold and windy in the space of a day.
Mary looked around the small living room of the apartment she had lived in since she first came to the USA from Ireland over fifty years ago. Everything looked shabby, a bit like her. She had never had quite enough money to smarten up the place. She had never married and, keen to leave Ireland and see something of the world before it was too late, she had secured herself a job at one of the city’s hospitals. Her salary was reasonable but didn’t run to luxuries like decent furniture or quality clothes.
Much of her furniture and possessions had been bought at charity shops or junk emporiums. Even the painting. Mary stared at it from her chair. Looking at it always made her pulse race, which worried her slightly, as her doctor had recently told her that her heart was failing.
She had had the surprise of her life when she had spotted the painting in a junk shop. She kept asking the shopkeeper where it had come from, who had brought it in. He couldn’t remember, or couldn’t be bothered to. It was just a dusty old picture by some amateur, as far as he was concerned. He wasn’t paid to give his customers a running commentary on the provenance of each item in the shop.
The thing was Mary recognised the scene in the painting. Two cottages in the foreground built very close together, as if they were best friends. A third cottage in the background, slightly aloof. It was definitely the same place.
Mary knew the large cottage in the foreground well – she had worked there as a Mother’s Help in her teens. Her employer, Bridget had been quite incapable of running a house and bringing up a brood of children. Mary had loved working there.
But she was a lonely old lady now with few friends – even these were not real friends like she had back home. Looking at the picture she felt waves of nostalgia wash over her until she could hardly breathe. Had he painted it? she thought, and how on earth did it end up in New York?
Staring at the painting, Mary felt a heavy pain in her chest. She pulled her shawl more tightly across her as the world went dark and she let out one last sigh.