Wednesday 21 February 2024

The Letter by Peter Lingard, a very dry and dirty Martini

Angie continued her duet with the radio but her voice faded to those in the house as she walked up the driveway to the mail-box.  Her singing stopped mid-syllable as the flap on the box slapped shut and her youngest son lifted his head to see what had happened.  His mother stood motionless with envelopes and fliers in one hand and a solitary airmail envelope in the other.  As he sensed the change in atmosphere, the boy returned to the safety of homework.


After propping the envelope against the mirror of her vanity table, Angie sat on the bed and stared at it.  There had been a moment in the driveway when she thought she was going to faint, but she had now regained most of her composure, even if the flimsy airmail envelope still chased many thoughts around her head.  She looked at the date on the postmark again.  Was it the letter the friend, what was his name?  Billy?  The letter Billy had told her John promised to send all those years ago?  She had wondered at the time if the alleged friend had actually seen John, and, if so, why hadn’t he delivered it.  Was this really it?  It was certainly from John.  Her hands had gone cold, her stomach queasy, at her recognition of the scrawl.  Why had the post office delivered the thing after such a long time?  Couldn’t they have destroyed it and averted such turmoil?


She had never dated anyone but Brad, once she had accepted John had moved on without the guts to tell her goodbye.  She remembered wondering on her wedding eve if perhaps Billy had told the truth, that John really had been incarcerated in Singapore.  She recalled their last time together and felt a heat rise.  Her eyes welled with tears.  It had been a long time since such thoughts had surfaced.   


Two years after Billy had told her of John being in Changi (the name made her think of wartime Singapore and she wondered if Billy had made up the story – but why would he bother?) she had contacted the Australian government for help. They reported that John had been in Changi but had been released fourteen months earlier and his current whereabouts were unknown.


She and John had purchased the house in which she and Brad now lived.  It had been her dream house and she had begged Brad to agree to make it their marital home.  Brad had acquiesced and put money equivalent to John’s investment into an escrow account, waiting for the day he made contact.  Had John kissed his money goodbye rather than face her?  He obviously hadn’t known her well – she would have forgiven anything up to the moment she said ’I do’ to Brad.


The envelope seemed to have grown larger.


There had been a barbeque some time ago when she had seen a friend flirt with Brad.  He had seemed not to respond, but Angie recalled the torrid night when she had done her best to convince her husband not to stray.  What a trivial matter that had been compared to the thoughts in her head now.


The creased and dirty envelope almost glowed and she would swear on a bible she had seen it lengthen.


Could anyone at the post office have opened it?  She and Brad knew two people who worked for Australia Post and she felt mortified by the thought that either of them might have read the letter.  She leaned to her left and tried to see in the mirror if the flap was securely stuck in place.  Her angle of sight was poor, so she leaned to the right to get a better view.  It made no difference.  She got off the bed and stretched out her hand to pick up the correspondence.  When her extended fingers were just centimetres from the object, she quickly withdrew them and smothered them in an armpit.

Angie again sat on the bed and put her head in her hands.  As long as she looked at the floor, she could not see her crookedly written name.  John had never possessed an artistic hand.  The advent of computers would have gladdened him.  Funny thing was, he used to write to her to tell her how much he loved her and recall their bedroom adventures with what was sometimes, days after the event and when read over muesli and blueberries, uncomfortable clarity.  He never mailed the letters, he just handed them to her occasionally as he was going out the door.

Her eyes followed the fall of a tear to the carpet and then she looked away from the point where it landed.  Her gaze returned to see if she could find the wet spot, but it had been lost in the pattern.  She sat up and dabbed at her eyes to wipe away the salty liquid, and then dried the heels of her hands on the bedcover.  I would have told the kids off, if they’d done that, she thought.  How stupid!  If anyone knew what’s going through my head, they would tell me off. 


John had been the love of her life. 


Two years after the date John had gone missing ‘whereabouts unknown’, she accepted the offer of a date from Brad.


The front door slammed shut and broke her reverie. Her son apologised. ‘Sorry it was the wind.’


 Oh, sweet Jesus, what am I going to do? Get up and do something. Angie shook her body to chase her mood and stood up.  She smoothed down her dress, wiped her eyes once more and picked up the envelope.  Then her resolve disappeared as quickly as it had surfaced.  Oh, this is ridiculous; she chided herself, and threw the unopened letter into the wastebasket beneath her dressing table.  She started to repair her make-up but couldn’t concentrate, knowing John’s letter was so close.  Tears blurred her image in the mirror.  She grabbed the edges of the wastebasket liner, jerked them tight and then knotted two extremes. 

When her make-up was satisfactory, Angie took the liner to the kitchen and stuffed it in the rubbish bin.

About the author

Peter Lingard,, born a Brit, served in the Royal Marines, was an accountant, a barman and a farm worker. He once lived in the US where he owned a freight forwarding business. An Aussie now because the sun frequently shines and the natives communicate in English. 

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