All of the other kids were always afraid of Mrs. Jenkins and her old house. They all thought she was an evil witch that ate children. But I thought she was just a sweet old witch that wouldn’t hurt a fly.
I used to help Mrs. Jenkins with her yard work. Every Friday I would take the Number 26 bus out of town to the street where her old house slowly crumbled into nothing. She’d always be there by the bus stop waiting, hunched over so much she looked like an old human ball with legs.
I’m convinced Mrs. Jenkins is magical. You can tell just by looking at her. Like it’s some kind of “aura,” or “energy,” emanating out of her. She’s the most stereotypical “witch-like” person you’ll ever meet, and if you don’t know what I mean by “witch-like,” you will upon setting eyes on Mrs. Jenkins. It’s uncanny, and blatantly obvious, how “witch-like” she is.
I don’t know if she’s always looked that way. It might just be because she’s so old. She’s probably the oldest person I’ve ever met. She’s probably the oldest person anyone who’s met her has ever met. She’s so old nobody can remember how old she is, and she can’t remember either. Nobody was around here before she was. For all I know she could have been here since time itself began. I do believe she is magic after all, so why not add immortal. If she was ever given a birth certificate, it’s had to have been lost, or by this point destroyed beyond recognition, deteriorated in some rusty filing cabinet in the basement of some long forgotten collapsed government building.
She’s one of those old women who has been around so long, have seen so much, have endured so much, and having survived it all and seen it all now, they’re just going to live forever. If what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then Mrs. Jenkins must be invincible. She looks like anything that could have killed her already had its chance, tried and failed, and now she’s just unstoppable.
When I first saw her, I thought she was blind, because of how she never seems to look at anything. Now I realize that she just looks through everything. She doesn’t look at you, she looks into you. Her vision shooting right into the bowels of your soul. Then she’ll do this signature smirk of hers that tells you that she knows things about you that you never will figure out. It makes me cross my arms over myself as if I’m all of a sudden naked in a cold room surrounded by video cameras. She always has one of those knowing smirks, and it makes me want to scream, “what do you know!?” But she’ll just keep smirking, and she’ll never tell you.
She has this skin that looks like it came off a thousand-year-old Spanish leather sack. It’s so thin and weathered, and pulled so tightly across her bones I’m always afraid her bones are going to suddenly burst out of her. And she has these insane canyon wrinkles. If you dumped a cup of water over her head, it would meander down her body like melted glacier water flowing through the grand canyon.
Her face looks like one of those faces you might see in the knot of an ancient oak tree. Like if someone ripped one of those knots out and wrapped it in an old Spanish leather handbag.
But the most fantastic thing about her, the thing I’ll never forget should I live even as long as her, are her hands. If anything about Mrs. Jenkins showed just how old and magical she is, it would be her hands. Her hands are a collection of bones stitched and sewed together by these thick veins and wrapped up in this impossibly rough sandpaper skin. The veins are so thick and solid it’s hard to imagine blood still flowing through them. Her hands look like the kind of hands you’d expect to find bursting out of the ground at a graveyard to grab you.
Her hands look mangled and stiff as if they had early onset rigor mortis. But her hands are impossibly alive, incredibly dexterous, and surprisingly strong. I’m convinced she could still crack a walnut with her fingers through sheer intimidation, by just pointing at it and smirking it’ll explode in utter terror. I’m convinced her hands, as well as her eyes, are magical.
Those hands have dragged thousands of clothes across washboards, carried millions of gallons of water back when she had a well and dug up tons of earth in her garden. Her hands have shaken the hands of thousands of people long since dead. Her hands have cradled hundreds of infants, the daughters of daughters of daughters she saw born. Her hands have planted trees in her orchard that have flowered, fruited, and fallen countless times. I feel like when you see her hands, you can see all of what they’ve done. Her hands have got to be magical.
She has lived through world wars, many presidencies, and everything from the depression to the dotcom bubble. She has lived through the dawning of the industrial revolution, to the atomic era, to the rise of the information age. She lived before the space race and the cold war. She was here before computers, the internet, social media, and cell phones.
Where was she during all of this? She was here. Right here through it all. In this tiny town, this small forgotten corner of the world. I can’t imagine being anywhere for that long. She has lived here through countless seasons. Forests have been logged, planted, and grown. Homes have been built, abandoned, dilapidated, and finally collapsed. Whole families have settled in, and passed through generations. And through it all she has been here casually staring through it all with that uncanny smirk of hers. I can’t even imagine really knowing a place as well as she must know this place. This tiny hole in the wall town she calls and has called for such a long time, her home.
Just about everyone- and most things in general, including the inanimate- that were alive back when she was born has long since disappeared. I can’t imagine how different it must have been back then. Mrs. Jenkins lives in a suburban community now, but she tells me this was a farm field years ago, and that she claims it was a forest fifty years before that. And all of this she can remember, as she says, like “It was only yesterday.”
I wonder if she dreams of that world, that world that doesn’t exist anymore. Does she dream of herself as a young girl playing in that forest that has long since been forgotten by everyone but her, because no one but her has been around long enough to remember it? And once she’s dead, no one will ever be able to dream of that newly, indeed, forgotten place ever again.
I often wonder if this makes her lonely. It’s like she’s an alien from another planet that she can never return to. She’s from a world filled with people, places, and things, that just don’t exist anymore in the world she currently is in.
But she never seems lonely, or sad, or depressed. In fact, she never looks like anything other than utterly content.
When I first met her, I thought that it was because she was just so abstracted from the world, because she was just retired from it all. Like she already had one foot in the grave and was just willfully waiting out the remaining years of her life, ready to die. In truth I think she feels more alive than any of us, I guess because her minds so spread out through the ages.
She is abstracted, but not because she’s “given up,” or has “retired” from the world. I think it’s because so little of herself is here, as in, the present moment. I think she’s left bits and pieces of herself behind in memories like she’s been leaving a trail of breadcrumbs through time as it passed her by. So she’s not really fully here anymore, a little bit of her will always be “back when,” and “before” this or that. A little bit of herself is always dreaming of a world that no longer exists, a world forgotten by everyone but herself.
I think that when you see Mrs. Jenkins, it is as if you know the entirety of the passing of time itself, and with all of its fullness. As if you can see a tangible piece of history. She is the past.