Outside the cabin, the wind howled through the trees, while inside, the old woman’s fire was nearly out. The red glow from the embers illuminated every line and wrinkle on her aged face as she stared blankly at the spot where her blaze had been. The slight tremble in her fingers had nothing to do with the creeping cold that was encroaching on the room as the remnants of the flames slowly died and yet she reached for her cocoa anyway, wrapping her fingers around the warm mug as if it would be enough to stave off the chill.
When the fire had burned brightly earlier in the evening, the cabin had seemed homely and welcoming. Warm colours surrounded the old woman; the reds, oranges, browns and yellows were reminiscent of her favourite season to spend out here in the forest. The blanket that cradled her legs she had knitted herself. The furniture was all made from local wood, hand-carved and varnished by her late husband and carefully polished over the years by the hands she now hardly recognised as her own. The tall, intricate dresser he had gifted her for their silver wedding anniversary had pride of place, dominating the room, and the family photographs which adorned it added to the cosy feeling of the cabin.
The faces which smiled out of them were meaningless to her now. Their time had passed. The handsome young couple laughing on their wedding day were barely recognisable as the stoop-shouldered and wrinkled couple who grimaced in the frame next to it, this most recent photograph taken at the muted celebration they had held for their diamond wedding anniversary. It was difficult to put genuine joy into your expression when you knew it would be the last anniversary you would have together. He had died just three weeks later.
Wincing, she lifted the cup to her lips and took a sip of the rapidly cooling cocoa. It had been a couple of days since she had taken her regular medications and the pain in her joints was acute. The arthritis which had begun in her fingers, signalling the end of her knitting days, had long since spread to other parts of her body. The initial frustration she had felt at the curbing of her hobbies and daily activities had gradually been worn down to resigned acceptance. He had helped her whilst he still could and, once he became too weak, she found ways to muddle through. They were both too proud to accept outside help. She took a larger gulp from the mug, comforted by the knowledge that her suffering would not last much longer.
As the drowsiness began to weigh down her eyelids, she allowed herself the luxury of recalling some of their favourite times together. Their love for each other had burned brighter than any star and they hadn’t needed fancy holidays or a multitude of grandchildren to fill their days; they had each other and that had been all either of them had ever wanted or needed. The cabin had been their safe haven, a place where they had always been happy, and scattering his ashes outside yesterday she had felt a sense of peace, knowing that she could not have picked a more perfect place for him to spend the rest of eternity.
She finished her cocoa, the bitterness of it not registering as the sluggishness spread through her body. She managed to place the mug back on the wooden coaster, which sat on the occasional table beside her, before her hand fell listlessly into her lap. She continued to gaze into the glowing embers as her vision softened and blurred, all the aches and pains fading away.
Outside the cabin, the wind howled through the trees, while inside, the old woman’s fire finally went out.