She’d been lying in bed for over an hour since waking. Finally the sound she had been waiting for arrived – the morning mail. She got out of bed and padded along the landing and then down the stairs. And there it was... the distinctive silver envelope lying on the coconut door mat along with the other cards.
This was the slender thread that had kept her love alive for the last five years.
She remembered a time, out on a dinner date with him. He’d wanted to discuss something with her, something very important as he had put it. She’d built her hopes up thinking he was about to pop the question. Everything had been fine up until then. Her life had been full of hope and promise, and then Lloyd’s ‘important’ news had devastated her. It had ended so suddenly, so cruelly.
There had been a ‘U’ turn in his plans – the decision to honour his responsibilities as a husband and a father. He had tried to reassure her that his feelings were still strong for her. She’d wanted to believe him when he said that they were destined to be together one day, but for now, the affair had to end.
Surely, if he intended to leave his family one day, why delay the inevitable? He’d come up with a couple of excuses of course – his wife’s mother was ill and she needed his support, and he’d realised the children were at a crucial stage in their education.
And so the affair had ended.
But every year he remembered her birthday and sent her a card with a lovely, handwritten verse inside proclaiming his love for her. He was clever with words. She liked to believe he meant what he’d written. She sometimes wished that the cards would stop, because it opened the old wound. But then again, like today, the day of her birthday, she hoped he would not forget her. It was all she had.
This was the fine thread she clung to.
At the time her agony and despair had been tempered by a new starter at the office where she worked.
Zoe was zany, had an off-beat humour, and wasn’t judgemental about anybody. Penny liked her immediately and as Zoe needed somewhere to stay until she’d got herself fixed up with her own place, she was invited to move into the spare bedroom.
She was full of life and well intended advice of how Penny should sort her life out, like not dwelling on the past and concentrate on developing new interests.
She allowed herself to be talked into an aerobics class to start with, and then it was salsa classes, and then badminton. All these things she went about half-heartedly to begin with. But soon Zoe’s enthusiasm began to rub off on her and she became fitter and trimmer and wanted to do more.
She joined the local gym and went to evening classes to learn Italian. By meeting new people she was able to put thoughts of Lloyd to the back of her mind. Well, for a time.
When Zoe finally found a permanent residence, Penny slipped back into her old ways and brooded about the past.
Then, when on her birthday a card had arrived from Lloyd, her thoughts and hopes rocketed sky-high. But when there was no follow-up, no attempt to contact her, Penny once again sank back into the dark cloud. She felt duped. What a cruel trick to play.
Surely the words inside the card had meant something. Why would he bother at all if he didn’t intend to follow it up?
Every year after, a card arrived with two kisses added beneath the handwritten verse and each time her heart would bleed for a love denied but nurtured by the promise in the words.
She kept the cards in a drawer and continued to face the world alone.
She considered binning it without opening. But she couldn’t help herself. Her hands were shaking as she tore across the flap of the envelope and slowly took the card out. She nervously fingered the embossed roses on the front of the card, anticipating the promises underlying the words of love inside.
But this time the words were a blur, for beneath the kisses, in his neat handwriting was a telephone number. Suddenly, she found it difficult to breathe.
And then, inexplicably, she was overwhelmed with laughter, only then to break down in tears. The dam that had for so long held back all the pent-up emotion was breached.
For more than an hour she wept for the empty years, the wasted moments. Most of all she cried for the person she was about to let go. For the first time in a long time she felt free.
She rang her office with some lame excuse and that she’d be in later, and then she dressed and went out.
At the corner shop she spent some time choosing a card, then bought a large bunch of carnations from the stall by the station entrance.
Back home she took all the cards from the drawer that were from Lloyd over the past five years and re-read each one before dropping them into the bin. There would be no more.
She placed the bright blooms on the windowsill to welcome her home, and then she sat looking at the card she’d bought for his forthcoming birthday. She had never dared send him one before. She tried picturing his face when he received it.
She could have left him in suspense, or phoned with recriminations; but the part of her that still loved him gave her a third choice.
No need to write a message, nor for him to try to read between the lines of a verse – inside, the card was blank.
Her answer was printed on the front. It read, simply, Goodbye.