Somewhere, tucked away in a corner of my life, there always seems to be a little old lady who smokes too much and refuses to wear her dentures .

It's hard to say no to little old ladies.

In Montana, it was Pauline. She was happier if you called her "Granny" - she seemed proud of the fact that she had become a grandmother at the age of 30. She had a decrepit orange cat named Foxy. It took me a while to figure out that she wasn't calling him Poxy. Her house reeked of cat piss and cigarette smoke, and I always got stuck there for at least half an hour. I had to arrange my Meals on Wheels route so that she was my last stop. Otherwise people would start calling the Senior Center and asking where lunch was.

Here in New Hampshire it's Marlene. I don't have a Meals on Wheels route anymore, but she sits in the pew in front of me at church. She had half of her pelvis removed this spring. Bone cancer. She needs help doing things like taking off her socks, so a bunch of us volunteered to take turns helping her get ready for bed. Tuesdays are my turn.

These days, when I leave the house to drive to her apartment it's startlingly dark. The air smells like wood smoke, and my car reports that the road may be icy if there's any precipitation. The wood smoke here smells different than the wood smoke in Montana. Less harsh, usually. More like home.

So I walk in the door of Marlene's apartment, and of course the windows are closed because it's cold. And I'm assaulted by the dense, stale evidence of all the cigarettes she's smoked today. And she's worried that her feet smell bad. "Honey," I tell her, "your feet have got nothing on my ex-roommate's. He had these boots..." And she actually laughs. Marlene never laughs.

I don't know why I call her Honey. I never call anyone Honey.

I don't know why I'm writing, except that I'm filled with a manic energy tonight. It happens to me a lot when I'm heavy with unmade child.

Okay, it's midnight now and I'm hungry and my browser just crashed. It's a sign.