Alaina Malone, Staff Reporter

My 85-year-old neighbor recruited me for yard work. I twisted the rusty knob attached to her house and water shot out of the hose. I drench everything from the side garden, stacked with moss and vines crawling up her tattered gate, to her backyard overflowing with peonies, hydrangeas and tulips. Water flows out of the hose and sticks like beads onto the greenery. After I’ve flooded everything outdoors, she invites me inside.

I sat down on a wooden chair. It smelled like vanilla and Chanel no.5. Her home was humid but the AC is on full blast. She told me it’s okay I wasn’t able to dig up the dead tree she planted and had flourished when she used to be able to water it. After she broke her hip by slipping on a wet stone, she hadn’t gathered the courage to go into her backyard.

“I used to love goin’ outside,” she said softly. “Now I have to watch the birds from my window. That dead tree has been makin’ me sad to look at because I can’t help it.”

There were three bird feeders hanging from her greenhouse.

“I love the finches the most. I’ll tell ya, they eat those seeds so fast!” she chuckled, and her whole body shivered, her wrinkles jiggling with her.

Happiness radiated off her. She wore makeup every time I saw her, anytime she left the house. She laughed at herself after every joke she cracked.

Her hands were filled with purple bruises. Her veins and ligaments showed through her paper skin.

But her fingers, long and dainty. They looked as if they didn’t belong to a body that age weighed down. They were graceful in their movement and reminded me of what her body must’ve looked like before she grew older, a body that was plump and didn’t appear weighed down. But her hands were just as beautiful as they are now.

She held a cup of coffee up to me. It shook between her fingers. Her nails were painted pink. The coffee had the perfect amount of sugar and creme.

“That’s how I used to take it,” she smiles.

She probably had the whitest teeth when she was young. I bet they’ve chewed the best food. I bet her hands had felt enough comfort to last her a lifetime.

My hands were dirty and exhausted. I had sweat beads lining my hairline.

“I bet she’ll even pay you!” my mom had mentioned earlier.

Now I felt sickened by the thought of taking paper from her beautiful hands. I started to understand something important about myself. I was grateful for the opportunity to be near her. She was suddenly my muse, she’d done so much in life and out of the greatest things I doubt she was given money for doing them. I realized my time with her wasn’t work, but self discovery. I shouldn’t need reward for having coffee with a person who had been through so much.

I left her house that day with a buzz, lightheaded with my head held high. I did something that made me feel powerful and felt I’d helped her out both in company and by doing things for her that she couldn’t do anymore. Her beautiful hands had touched me without physically touching me. And I was grateful.