The weather is overcast and humid, with spells of sunshine. It has, thank the Lord, stopped raining. A powerful, steady wind rushes up from the south, tugging at the hair and separating the first dry leaves from their branches. I woke at 6 this morning and the sky was barely light. Autumn isn't far away.
My cousin, J, drove over yesterday. That's inaccurate, her father and my mother were cousins, so the link is more biologically tenuous. Now that I'm closer geographically - she lives about sixty miles away - we're seeing more of each other. Aside from my sister she is now my only relative.
When she walked up the path I did my usual inward half-gasp. Family genes are strange. J is eleven years older than me and she looks so like my mother in her later years that the effect is downright spooky. The resemblance was nowhere near as marked between me and my mother.
The face, the stance, the grey wavy hair. So similar.
I'm fond of her. For all our differences we share pieces of the past: she is the only one alive now who knew my grandfather and it means something that we can talk about him. And I'm one of the few who remember her father. Custodians of each other's memories, you could say.
After lunch we sit on the patio. She smokes her second and third cigarettes and tells me about her children, her husband. I unload my current employment woes. She gives me hints about cutting back the fuchsia and spreading the compost. We discuss water meters - apparently it will save money if I get one (she used to be a maths teacher and has done the sums).
The realisation dawns that I am being taken in hand, gently but with great competence, and there is an unexpected rush of gratitude. She issues a standing invitation to spend Christmas with them.
"No need to decide now. Just let me know in early December."