On the curb of a not-so-busy street there’s a washerwoman dying.
Stooped with weariness and age, Tilda Hamilton sits washing the laundry of her children and her children’s children. Their clothes are but rags, haphazardly stitched in the vaguest suggestion of each article. Tilda herself has mended them at least three times over.
Born a Spingold, Tilda has, in her old age, fallen from her family’s graces. To be a peasant of her nature, a washerwoman, is a scab on the Spingold family’s name. They’ve never forgiven Tilda, once their beloved, for marrying for love and not status. Her parents, now long gone, did not look at her once after the wedding announcement had come out. Her siblings, each graying too, shunned her from afar, barely daring to acknowledge what had become of their sister.
Tilda’s husband, an ever-sunburnt man named Colin, died just four years into their young marriage. Then widowed and saddled with three small children, Tilda took to work so she wouldn’t have to take another husband.
Now that her children have children of their own, they’ve been urging her to let her washing go, to let them take care of her the way she’s been so good to them. But Tilda, round and soft at her edges, likes the callouses on her fingers, the scald of the first hot water. She’s come to like sitting in the street against the side of the house Colin built for her, remembering the time they had together.
Her hair, once chestnut brown, is now graying and beginning, just a bit, to fall out into her yellow cap. Her vanity, strong in her youth, makes no rise now. After a lifetime of hard work marked by the sweat on her brow and the pride in her soul, Tilda is long past caring what her outside appearance is. Better to scare away the suitors of her youth and the onlookers of her age. Her heart has always belonged to Colin, from the solid grip of his hand in hers to the easy smile he gave freely. Tilda’s eyes can’t see him anymore, but she can remember the way her heart swelled with affection for him.
On the curb of a not-so-busy street sits a lone woman, hands wrinkled both with time spent on earth and the caress of water.
Washer Woman by Camille Pissarro, 1880