by Louise Groarke
She bought the card from one of the swanky shops on Kensington High Street. Classical music swirled around the stuffy bookshelves instilling good taste into every shopper. It was a bland card with fields of purple lavender and vines curling over manicured hills. Painted tastefully in watercolour. “Blank inside for own words.”
She sat on the tube as it rumbled northwards, peeled off the card's crinkly cellophane and crumpled it in one hand enjoying the crackling sound it made. How easily it sprang back to its original shape. It's a pity people can't do that, she thought.
She tried to compose her message, unsure of the actual sentiment. Not quite a ‘get well soon', not yet ‘in deepest sympathy.' She trawled her mind for her appropriate own words.
The last eight years held memories empty of him, full of longing from her. Broken promises. Truculent sulking. Dysfunctional afternoons. Lonely evenings. Eventually just nothing. Blank inside.
Now wasn't the time. She put the card back into her bag.
When he opened the door to her she was shocked at how gaunt he was, not the tall strong man she remembered. An echo of himself. She shook his hand. He did not proffer a cheek, he did not bundle her into his arms and nuzzle his face in her hair. He shifted on the step.
“Er, you'd better come in.”
She edged forwards. Dust motes swam alongside her down the gloomy corridor. The stale aroma of sun-deprived living and old leather carried her to the lounge.
He sat her on the lumpy brown wing-backed chair, her favourite of old, and left the room. The grandfather clock chimed the half-hour. Its sonorous tick filled the silence.
He returned with a tray.
“If I'd known you were coming I'd have got something special in.”
“Tea's fine... "
He put the packet of digestives back on the tray. “Just in case you change your mind. You always were topsy-turvy.”
The teacup clinked as she placed it on the saucer.
“How are you…?” they both asked.
“You first.” He smiled weakly.
She noted the cluster of lumps in his neck, the yellow tinge of his skin. “I heard, well, that you'd been ill.”
“I've had cancer,” he said, “but I reckon I'm on the mend now.” He glanced at his abdomen, crossed his wasted legs, leaned towards her. “How's work – what are you doing now, solicitors, isn't it?”
“Legal executive, just off Oxford Street.”
“Legal executive, eh? You've done well for yourself. What about your love life, is there a lucky man on the scene?”
“No, no lucky man.”
One broken heart was enough. She couldn't contemplate the choking space in her life, of the inevitable break-up, another man leaving her.
The grandfather clock chimed the hour.
“I'd better go, you know how it is, the tube on Sundays.”
“Well. Yes. Er, thanks for coming, lovely to see you, really was. Shouldn't leave it so long next time.” He smiled ruefully.
She paused. His hand brushed hers and he waved her away. “Come back soon.”
“I will, I promise.”
They both knew she wouldn't.
After the funeral, the dry-eyed service and the vicar's plaintive extolling the virtues of a man he'd never met, after the long-forgotten aunts, uncomfortable cousins and sherried sentiment, she found the card tucked inside her bag. The cellophane crumpled, no bouncing back.
She longed to write, “Dear Daddy, I forgive you, I love you and I miss you. From Lucy.” It wasn't enough. It was too much.
She opened the bottom drawer of her desk where she had put his silver cigarette holder and a crumpled photograph of the two of them building sandcastles on Bournemouth beach. She placed the card in the envelope, sealed it and locked it away. Blank inside.
©2004 Louise Groarke
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