Mary sat, chin on her chest in her overstuffed armchair. Shafts of light shone through the one small window in the room. Meredith was seated beside her on a wooden kitchen chair, legs crossed with a cup of tea resting on her knee. Their years of friendship had forged a connection that required no words. Meredith knew in her bones that the sun was soon to set in Mary’s life. In some ways it would be a sweet relief from a bitter and sad tale.
‘Sweetie, time for another cuppa?’ Meredith asked hopefully.
The full cup of tea had grown cold as Mary had drifted off into semi consciousness. Mary roused at the sound of her friends voice.
‘Of course, dear. That last cup was delightful.’ Her eyes brightened for a moment. She held Meredith’s gaze for just a few seconds. Before long a panicked expression crossed her eyes as she could feel herself slipping again into the dull, medicated white noise that had been her existence for many years.
Meredith rose to prepare the tea. A firm hand gripped her and stopped her short as Mary mustered all of her strength to pull herself out of the fog.
‘Sit’ Mary said, with a strength she had not been able to muster for such a long time that Meredith was startled. She sat back down and motioned to the kitchen.
‘…but your tea dear, I was going…’
‘Never mind that. I didn’t drink the last dozen you made me. I only have so long during these times that I daren’t waste it drinking tea.’
Mary continued, ‘You know, my life has been one long string of disappointments.’
‘Don’t start with this pot of gold rubbish. It was just a saying. We all have our little sayings…’
‘Yes, but my mother was so adamant. We were being rounded up for processing into the camps. The Nazi soldiers were horrible to us. My mother had found a way for me to leave the country and come to Australia. Her last words to me as I was bundled into the horse and cart were, don’t forget the pot of gold, Mary. When you find it, it will help you get setup and find a husband.’
‘Yes, I’ve heard this story before, Mary… why must you harp on about it?’ A frustrated Meredith asked.
‘Because for the best part of my life I searched for the pot of gold ceaselessly. I couldn’t work out if it was a metaphor or some sage advice. It ruined my life. At the end of every proverbial rainbow I searched. Nothing. No pots of gold, nothing to set me up. By the time I realised that it was a futile quest, I had long since passed the age where any man would find me to be a suitable bride.’
‘Oh dear. But you’ve had good times, memorable experiences…’ Meredith’s voice trailed off. She had been friends with Mary for many years and all that she could remember was Mary being the third wheel at every event, party or gathering. Meredith’s family was kind enough to adopt her as an auntie but she never really bonded with rest of the family.
‘You know they’ve always been sideline experiences. I’ve always been on the sidelines of everyone’s life looking in. I feel as if my fixation on this pot of gold to solve all my problems was the cause of them.’
‘The funny thing is though, we were a fairly wealthy family back in Poland. I don’t remember ever wanting for anything, that is until the war. I have very fond memories of going on holiday to France and Spain, but since they were all killed in the holocaust, we… I mean, I, became penniless and without prospect.’ Mary let out a sigh. The burst of energy was just about spent.
‘This is tiring me out, Meredith would you make me some soup? The pots are under the stove.’
Meredith stood and waited briefly in case she was stopped again. She walked to the small but tidy kitchen and dug around in the cupboards for a suitable pot. She noticed a small saucepan right at the back that would be just big enough for both of them and brought it out.
‘Mary, This saucepan is quite heavy. Is it ok to cook with?’ Meredith called from the kitchen.
‘Don’t use that one dear, it’s a family heirloom but it’s rubbish to cook with’ came the quick reply.
‘Never mind, then. I’ll find another one.’ Meredith placed the pot at the edge of the bench and went digging for another that might be suitable.
She stood upright as she exclaimed ‘Found one!’
As she stood, her shoulder clipped the handle of the small black saucepan and sent it crashing to the floor. She brought the pot into the room.
‘It looks like I may have damaged your pot, some of the paint is peeling off.’
‘Paint?! it’s not paint, that’s a cast iron pot. It’s why it’s so bloody heavy’ stated Mary.
‘Look here’ Meredith pointed to a place where the paint was peeling away.
‘Goodness me, you’re right. I’ve never even noticed. It was part of the cooking equipment that was packed with me when I was sent away. It’s basically useless but since it’s my only connection to my family I couldn’t bear to throw it away’ Meredith peeled a larger section of paint away to reveal a section of the metal underneath.
‘Mary, no wonder this pot was so heavy, it looks like solid gold!’
Meredith continued to peel away section after section of black paint to reveal more and more of the gold underneath. Soon a pile of black leaves was scattered around Meredith’s feet and she stood with a gleaming gold pot in her hands.
‘Mary. I’m sure this is gold.’
Still looking at the pot, Meredith didn’t notice Mary’s chin come to rest on her chest once more.
‘Mary…MARY!’ Meredith stood still. She was frozen with terror as she feared her friend of too many years to count had passed away. It was clear to her that Mary had died. For the second time that day, the pot of gold hit the floor as Meredith went to Mary to say her last goodbye.