They looked much as they had the day she wrapped them.

Thanks to Crispina Kemp for the writing prompt, taken from Hare and Adder.

A memory nagged at Ellen’s brain. Many memories did, but this one was particularly insistent. Something she had done a long time ago. Something important to the here and now.

old woman in garden

She spent the afternoon in the garden, poking about the overgrown vegetable beds, harvesting the last of the overblown courgettes, the too-long runner beans.

All the while the memory pulled and teased. Damn this growing old business. She should relax, not worry about it. It would come to her in time.

Her dinner eaten – a piece of poached salmon supposedly good for the brain and salad, good for everything else – Ellen took to the sofa and flicked through the Apps her grandson had kindly installed. All evening, lost in Sleepless in Seattle, she didn’t wonder what it was she was supposed to remember. Until, as she was about to turn the television off, a trailer for an even older movie flickered on the screen. Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The nagging hint of memory returned. Ellen shook her head and wandered to the bathroom to get ready for bed.

She stretched out beneath the sheet, closed her eyes. Opened them into the semi-darkness. Nowhere was ever truly dark these days. Not like …
The last evening, they had seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s and then driven out into the countryside in his borrowed father’s car. A warm night, cloudy. And dark. He had turned the car light on briefly, to admire her, he said, and her breathing had quickened further as she savoured his desire.

With an energy hauled from younger days, Ellen hoisted herself up, threw back the sheet and slipped her feet into her slippers. Switching on the bedroom light, she fetched the stool from the bathroom, opened the far door of the wall-length wardrobe which Harold built when they moved to this house, and placed the stool in the opening. She stretched, leaning forward, her old fingers scrabbling for the box tucked into the back corner. She teased it out, her pulse racing.

Of course. This was what she had to do, before it was too late. She should have rid herself of these memories before now … The box tumbled to the bedroom carpet, the contents spilled out from their silk covering. Ellen stepped off the stool, bumping against the wardrobe door, her legs shaking and her head light. She stooped to the floor, fingering the postcards.

They looked much as they had the day she wrapped them: scenes from places Ellen would never visit, postmarks from cities with unpronounceable names, his one sentence protestations of love and longing. She had waited for the post to get to them before her parents did, kept them in the box in her girlhood bedroom, pored over them daily envisaging a glorious future.

Until they stopped coming, after her last letter to him. The letter full of joy, hope – expectation. She had wrapped the cards the day she understood he would never return to her. The day she accepted the young, persistent Harold’s third stuttered proposal of marriage.

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4 thoughts on “They looked much as they had the day she wrapped them.”

  1. How sad she lost her original lover.

    Read mine. She never recovered from the loss.

    They looked much as they had the day she wrapped them. Letters sent to her by her soldier lover from the Western Front – until one day they just stopped coming.
    It is never easy digesting news that the love of your life is gone forever – that you will never see those sparkling blue eyes, so full of life and hope for the future, ever again.
    Theresa looked at the brown paper package lying on the kitchen table. She had never had the heart to dispose of them. After all, they were the one true reminder of a love so strong, so pure that she couldn’t wait to start married life with him and have his children.
    Now wrinkled with age, Theresa’s hands played with the string holding the package together. It had been years since she had opened the package, read the letters, his words of endearment leaping from the page.
    She knew most of the words by heart – even after all this time. Trembling, she carefully undid the bow and picked the top letter from the pile.
    “Conditions here are terrible,” she read. “The mud is so deep we can barely move. But, good news, tomorrow we are going to take the village of Villers Bretonneux and that should give us time to rest and regroup. Remember, I will always love you, no matter what.”
    Those were the last words he ever wrote. Not long after she received the letter, an army officer turned up at her front door to deliver the terrible news.
    Looking to stifle the German advance, his platoon had been part of the overall offensive on the French village when an artillery shell had exploded nearby, instantly killing him.
    Even after all these years, Theresa could not forget.
    Her lover was not the only one to die that day. Of the 3500 men of the 9th Australian Brigade who led the charge at the first battle, 2400 were either killed, wounded or captured.
    The toll for both battles was even higher, with almost 13,000 British and Australian troops lost in the fighting.
    Theresa turned over the fateful letter and sighed. She had never recovered from the deep shock of losing her lover – so had never married. The best she could offer was the doting spinster aunt to her siblings’ children.
    With heavy heart, she looked around the kitchen one last time before the taxi came to transport to the nursing home.
    No longer able to properly look after herself, Theresa had agreed to move into a care facility for the remainder of her days.
    Not able to take much with her, her precious bundle was priority – a reminder of a love so strong it had survived through the years, the image of a young, handsome, gallant soldier still fresh in her mind.

    1. Poor woman. Poor soldiers. Mine was meant to imply he’d abandoned her – maybe I was too subtle.

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