The September Letters

13 Books Donated 40 min

James wondered why people thought it was more glamorous to work in a bar in an airport than in an ordinary bar. They told him he must meet more interesting people, get a sense of the excitement of foreign travel maybe, huge tips from generous tourists….

 

But it wasn’t so at all.

 

He might have liked it more being in a place where there were regulars, a bar where people dropped in regularly and knew his name and he knew theirs. People who would say “Another bloody day in the hellhole, James.” Or, “I’ve been looking forward to this pint since four o’clock.”

 

Jst added 40 min to #ProjectReadathon w. @PenguinRH_News by reading 2 support @SavetheChildren #ReadWell

 

And James would say, “Come on now, Harry, you love work, you’d have to have a surgical operation to separate you from your mobile telephone.” And everyone would laugh. They didn’t talk like that much at the airport. An airport was a place of high anxiety and great unease. James wondered why some people went on holiday at all. Husbands and wives fighting with each other about who had the tickets, the passports, whether the dog was happy in kennel or the gas had been turned off. Children wanted to go and play video games, husbands wanted to buy motorbike magazines, wives wanted to get waterproof mascara, and no one seemed to want to do the same thing.

 

Oh James could write a book about life just from two years of seeing people under the worst of conditions. He often said as much to Paula, the quiet Scottish girl who worked as his assistant. Paula agreed with him, but she always did. James felt that her mind was a million miles away. She was efficient and pleasant to the customers. She never got the change wrong, and she was able to hold contradictory orders in her head.

 

“Two gins and tonics, one of them slimline, and a half of that lager over there, and a pint of best bitter. No make that a half, and make one of the gins a large one. Come on, it’s a holiday, make them both large ones.”

 

Paula took it as part of the series of blows that each day dealt you in exchange for giving you a wage. Paula wanted to be a fulltime student, she had got neither a place in a university nor a grant. But she knew that she would get both if she could just keep herself and keep studying.

 

James didn’t know what had happened to her after school. She was twenty-two now: Why had she wasted the years when she might have been expected to go for a university place? But he had tried to ask and politely Paula had managed not to answer. So there the matter stood. It was her own business. He would never know.

 

Paula didn’t seem interested in weaving stories about the people whom they served. There was a businessman sweating and stammering and holding his briefcase tightly in front of him.

 

“Bet he’s got hot money in there,” James said.

 

“Could be,” Paula agreed.

 

“Or he’s off on his first naughty weekend, perhaps?” James puzzled.

 

“Left it a bit late,” Paula remarked.

 

The sweating man was in his forties, but the young are very cruel, James thought to himself. James was almost in his forties and had not been on nearly enough naughty weekends. That could be part of his problem. But James never thought his own life was interesting enough to ponder on, he preferred to think about other people’s goings on. That’s why he would have liked to have been a bartender involved in the customers’ lives. That’s why his wife said he would never amount to anything. Too interested in passersby and no attention to what was meant to be important. Like his own home life.

 

It was a quiet September day, not much business, so James noted the middle-aged American couple. Well, if he called them middle-aged, they must be getting old.

 

Quiet people in light raincoats, perfect for the mysteries of European weather. They had flat, sensible shoes and each read a book and sipped slowly at their white wines and sodas. They had a look of utter compatibility, as if they need only raise their eyes and smile and it would say a great deal.

 

And eventually they both raised their eyes because there seemed to be a disturbance at the next table. A much younger couple were having what looked like a serious argument. In fact, James realized with a sick feeling in his throat, it was much more than a serious argument: It was about to turn into violence. The woman, young, dark-haired, and tear-stained, was shouting at the man and was totally out of control.

 

“I’ve told you get away from me…don’t come near me…unless you leave at once I’ll make you leave….”

 

The man was aware of others listening even if the girl was not.

 

“Be reasonable,” he begged. “Listen, I can’t leave you here in this state. Let me stay until you get on the plane.”

 

“Leave me ALONE!” she shouted. “That’s what you are going to do anyway, so do it now.”

 

“Katy, darling, please,” he was beseeching her now.

 

Suddenly Katy picked up a glass on the table and banged it against the side of a metal ashtray. It broke leaving a jagged edge. She leaned over the table, using it as a weapon.

 

“NOW will you leave me alone?” she cried.

 

The man was shocked and drew backwards, but she followed.

 

“Go away, go away from here, and from me, don’t call me ‘Katy’ or ‘darling’ as long as you live….”

 

James felt his whole chest constrict with fear. Here in front of his eyes a woman was going to stab a man, and it was going to be his responsibility….

 

“Is everything all right?” he asked foolishly.

 

The girl didn’t appear to notice him, she was still following the man, her eyes never leaving his…the man was stumbling backwards, he shouted at James.

 

“Can’t you see everything’s not all right? Get the police, quickly.”

 

It would take a time to summon them, time that James thought he might not have. When he played the scene over to himself afterwards as he often did, James wondered where his courage had come from.

 

“I don’t think that’s the right thing to do, sir. Why don’t you leave now as the lady asks and then everything will calm down?”

 

The girl with the dark hair and the tear-stained face looked at him gratefully. The man, white as snow, looked wildly from one to the other. At least the glass wasn’t advancing on him now. He made a decision. He ran. James watched him. He was about thirty, good-looking, blond-haired, like the kind of man you saw in advertisements or in films about rich young chaps.

 

The girl stood there as if she were frozen. She looked at the broken glass in her hand as if she had no idea how it had got there. In that moment the American man stood up and removed the glass from her hand.

 

“Come and sit at this table,” he said in a gentle voice as if it was some kind of social occasion.

 

“You sit here and let the bartender take care of all that broken glass,” he said softly.

 

The girl followed him obediently. James moved into action, he got a brush and swept up the fragments, he carried the girl’s small leather suitcase over to her new table.

 

“I’ll pay for the glass,” the girl said.

 

“Nonsense, these things happen,” James was proud of himself. He was behaving as if there had been no drama, which there hadn’t been thanks to his own quick thinking. How inspired it had been to get the guy to leave. Now it was almost impossible to imagine what the scene had been like. He left and went back to the bar where Paula stood looking at him in admiration.

 

“You were great,” she said. Paula hardly ever offered an opinion, a view, a greeting. James felt that he must have been great.

 

At their table the two Americans talked as they might have talked to any other passenger in a foreign airport. They had a simply wonderful visit to Britain, and this time they had given themselves enough time, well, three weeks, for Americans, that was a great deal of time to spend in one country. They told Katy about the inns they had stayed in, old, old places—some of them had been built even before the United States existed. They had gone to the theater a lot; they came from a small town in the Midwest, where there wasn’t much theater so they wanted to stock up on memories. They had walked a lot and talked to people. It was surprising that people said the British were hard to talk to, they found them just charming.

 

“I’m sorry for the upset just now,” Katy said.

 

They brushed it away. They seemed to think it was a broken glass; it was as if they hadn’t heard her shouts of pain and anger, her threats, her accusations.

 

“I’m Maurice, and this is my wife, Jean,” the man said. “Can we get you another drink since yours got spilled?”

 

He was kind and concerned. He reminded Katy of one of those TV doctors in an American television series. Saintly, listening people. who would do anything to help a patient.

 

“Are you a doctor?” she asked him suddenly.

 

“No, alas, not that kind of doctor, I do have a PhD, but that’s not what you mean.”

 

There was something hypnotic about the way he talked, Katy was beginning to breathe normally again.

 

“I’d like a brandy please. It might steady me a bit.”

 

“Sure,” he got up and walked at a leisurely pace over to James.

 

“The lady will have a brandy,” he said.

 

“Has the lady calmed down?” James whispered.

 

“Oh yes, most definitely,” said the American. “Congratulations on your quick thinking by the way.”

 

James felt as pleased as anything.

 

“It was nothing,” he said reddening with pride.

 

Back at the table Jean was chatting away cheerfully and Katy appeared to be listening.

 

“That’s nice,” she said eventually, but the voice was flat.

 

Jean glanced at Maurice anxiously. He put the brandy into Katy’s hand. “Drink it slowly; you don’t look like a serious brandy drinker to me,” he said smiling at her.

 

“You’re very kind, both of you,” she said her eyes brimming with tears.

 

“No, no, it’s nice to have somebody to talk to at an airport,” Maurice insisted.

 

Katy hadn’t even sipped the brandy. “My life is over,” she said. She looked from one to the other expecting them to laugh and dismiss it. But they didn’t. They both took her seriously. They said nothing at all, just sat looking at her and waiting for her to say more.

 

“You see he said he loved me, he said he was going to leave her.” Katy shook her head as if she were trying to clear water from her ears. “I mean you don’t know me or anything about me…so you wouldn’t know the kind of person I was before I met him….I was normal then. Before it all happened, before Colin.”

 

They still looked interested, not agog with curiosity but as if they had all the time in the world.

 

“So you changed?” Maurice said.

 

“I changed totally. I gave up everything for him. I loved him so much it’s ridiculous, but you can’t say things are ridiculous if they happened….Can you?” She looked from one to the other.

 

“If they happen they are part of you…and therefore important I guess,” Jean said, sympathetically.

 

“Yes, well war is ridiculous and yet that happened and will happen again, and people starving, that’s ridiculous…when there’s so much food on the earth…but falling for someone like Colin, that’s sort of the same, you know it’s going to end badly for everyone, for every single person but you go on and do it all the same.”

 

“And will everyone get hurt do you think?” Maurice sounded caring rather than curious, it was an odd distinction.

 

“Yes, almost everyone I know. My parents are hurt because I left their home and called them backward and old fashioned and killjoys, and my friends…do I have any friends any more…? I walked out on them. They’re hurt I suppose. And Colin, he’s hurt because I told his wife, I told her I was sorry. And his wife’s hurt because she didn’t know. Imagine that she didn’t know anything about me at all.” Katy’s eyes were wide with disbelief. “Three years and she didn’t know I existed. All this business he kept telling me of her trying to work out what to do, and how we owed it to her to wait until she sorted herself out.”

 

Katy pushed the brandy to one side and laid her head down on the table and sobbed. They waited and soon it was over. Katy had a packet of tissues in her pocket.

 

“At least I provided myself with these,” she said with a watery smile.

 

“That’s good forward planning,” Jean said admiringly.

 

“And where are you off to anyway?” Maurice spoke as one would speak to any traveler rather than to a girl who had brandished a broken glass, declared that her life was over, and then cried like a baby.

 

“To Greece,” she said simply.

 

“Oh really, one of the islands?”

 

“Yes, Crete…we go every year, Colin and I. Well this is the third year. Except that he’s not going now.”

 

“It might be a bad place to go without him,” Maurice said. “You know every place you see reminding you of other days, different days.”

 

“But I tell you I am going,” she said defensively. “I paid for my ticket. I took my two holiday weeks from the office. I’m not going to be denied my holiday.” Her lip started to tremble again.

 

“Why not go somewhere else?” he suggested.

 

“Because the plane leaves in an hour, and I won’t get my money back,” Katy said.

 

“It’s no reason to commit yourself to two weeks of feeling miserable,” he said.

 

“I’ll feel miserable anywhere,” Katy said, stating a fact.

 

“All that Greek music…it will only remind you….” Maurice said.

 

“He’s right, Katy,” Jean agreed.

 

Katy shook her head. “Music anywhere can remind me of…”

 

It was unanswerable.

 

“You’ve been very kind,” Katy said, getting up to go.

 

“Do me a favor, just one?” Maurice asked.

 

“I am going to Crete” she said.

 

“No, no of course you must if you want to. Just write to us this day next year will you. Here’s my card.” he said.

 

“What will I say?” Katy asked.

 

“Say you survived. Tell us something about the year,” he said.

 

“I don’t think I could….I’ll be embarrassed, I cried all over you….” Katy looked around her. James was coming to clear the tables.

 

“Please Katy, it would mean a lot to us. Just a note. It’s not much to ask.”

 

James joined in. “Go on, they bought you a brandy,” he urged her. “And anyway, I’d like to know you’re OK too.”

 

“How would you know if I was all right?” Katy asked.

 

“They’d tell me,” James said.

 

“Sure we would,” Maurice gave his card to the bartender. Now you’ve all got this? Next year. September th seventeenth It’s a big year for me, I’ll be fifty, call it a birthday card. Give your addresses to me then, we won’t plague you, just once a year. Hey, that’s not much?”

 

His smile was warm.

 

“I’ll write next year,” Katy promised.

 

 

Colin had gone straight home from the airport. He had told Monica that the firm wanted him to go for two weeks to Greece, and that he would be traveling around; he would call her from time to time. He had told her it sounded like a paradise but in fact it wasn’t. It’s all a consultancy job for hotels, hard graft, sweating in rooms with lots of people who didn’t want to spend money. He insisted he’d prefer to be at home. At the same time, he had told Katy that this time he really would sort it out with Monica and that this trip to Crete, their third trip would be a real honeymoon. No more hiding, they would be able to live together openly from now on.

 

When he had arrived at the airport, suitcase packed and looking forward to the trip, all hell had broken loose. Katy had just called Monica to say she was glad it was all in the open and to assure Monica that there would be no trouble about money and alimony and everything. Monica was to have the house, Katy had a job and could finance a flat for both of them. She had actually picked up a phone and said this to Monica, because she thought Monica knew. Now Colin was going home to face the music. Unpleasant music. He would have to say that Katy was mad, quite disturbed in fact. Which, judging from the last glance he had seen of her brandishing a broken glass at him, did not seem too far from the total truth.

 

 

James went home to Miriam and told her all about it.

 

“Real hero,” she said without interest.

 

“Don’t you like me at all Miriam?” he asked her mildly.

 

She paused to think. “I don’t know James, to be honest, I’ve forgotten.”

 

“How could you forget when you live with me?” he asked.

 

There was a silence.

 

“It’s odd all right,” Miriam agreed, “it’s just that we live such separate lives. I have my sisters and all their comings and goings and you have this life through the people that pass through your bar. I suppose we’re just interested in different things. I like you enough.”

 

He was quiet. He knew what was bothering her but they never talked about it.

 

“Why do you ask?” Miriam was curious.

 

“It’s just I was looking at this couple today, the ones I was telling you about, who looked after the girl, I mean they’re only ten years older than I am…but they had something you and I will never have…they’re sort of friends, you know.”

 

“I know,” Miriam agreed sadly. Then to cheer him up she said, “Of course, you and I, we’re not enemies or anything.”

 

“No, no. And then this girl, she had something we’ll never have, a sort of passion.”

 

“We’re too old for that James.” But her voice was softer. She didn’t go out to her sister’s that evening, they watched television. It was companionable. James was glad he hadn’t answered Miriam that it seemed they had always been too old for passion, even when they were young. And he didn’t mention he realized what they had to do.

 

 

Paula couldn’t concentrate on her studies. It was a warm night, but that wasn’t the distraction. She kept seeing the face of that girl in the bar today. The girl who threatened a man who had wronged her. Maybe that’s what Paula should have done when she was seventeen , when the school teacher who told her he loved her, denied that he had ever said it and insisted she have an abortion. Paula had no counseling, no guidance, no friends to talk it over with. Her parents would never have understood.

 

She had been unable to take the school exams that were hers by right. She couldn’t study for them the following year. The teacher was still in the school, smiling at everyone but particularly at another student this year. Paula knew what it was to feel like that, but she had never shown it. She would have died rather than make a scene in a public place, and yet the skies had not fallen on the girl, Katy, everyone had rallied to her.

 

Perhaps Paula should have been less secretive and reached out for help, there might have been a lot more of it available. Suddenly she made a resolution. That is what she was going to do this year, be more open to people. Like those two nice Americans. She wished they had asked her to write to them the following year too. But of course she always hung in the background. Nobody would approach her because she looked like a person who could not be approached.

 

 

Katy went to Crete. She knew the moment she stepped from the plane that it had been the wrong thing to do. The familiar heat, the taxi drivers calling, the little glasses of ouzo at the small tables, the bread and cheese and olives on the colored plates. At night, the lights reflecting in the harbor. The swimming alone on the beach that used to be their beach. She got into the habit of taking a long bus journey to another beach and coming home late and tired. She counted the days until the holiday ended.

 

One night, she looked at the moon and asked herself if it were possible that she had only been here six days, it felt like two years. And for no reason next morning she bought five postcards and sent them to her parents, her sister and three friends. She thought of sending one to the American couple, Maurice and Jean, but no, they said they wouldn’t plague her, she wouldn’t plague them either. Next year they said, next year it would be.

 

Dear Maurice and Jean,

I don’t know whether you will remember me or not. We met a year ago at Heathrow airport. I was a very distraught madwoman who got upset because my boyfriend had lied to me. You were very kind and supportive to me, and I have never forgotten you.

I would love to be able to write and tell you that it all turned out wonderfully and then when I was in Crete I met a new man and we loved so happily that the patter of tiny feet is now a definite sound. But no, life doesn’t work out like that.

I came back from Crete and I made friends with my mother and father and sister again and that was great. And other friends and that was great, too.

But truthfully it wasn’t enough, I yearned for Colin with such a pain you wouldn’t believe it. And when he wrote a letter saying how bad he felt, I took him back. He said he realized how much I loved him when I was prepared to hurt him that day. He had no idea how strongly I felt.

Men are so strange. What else did he expect me to feel?

He hasn’t left Monica, she is being very difficult and could cause trouble for him at work so it’s better not to rock that boat.

I have less foolish dreams than I used to. I know it won’t all be plain sailing. We won’t have that holiday in Greece, but we have had a couple of nice weekends away together, and of course he comes round to me on Wednesday afternoons.

You are both very kind people. I wish you knew how often I think of your kind faces and how helpful and concerned you were for me. I feel sure you didn’t forget me.

Warm wishes and great gratitude.

And happy birthday, Maurice.

 

Katy

 

 

Dear Dr. and Mrs. Hunt,

I am James Green, bartender in one of the departure lounges in Heathrow airport. We agreed that I would write to you and find out whether the young lady, Katy, recovered from all her worries on that day. If you think this is an intrusion and you did not mean for me to write, please forgive me.

It’s hard to write news of things to strangers, hard to know what you would be interested in. I wonder if you have been on any other trips together this year. Do let me know if you are passing through this way again; I told my wife about you and she’d love to meet you.

Yours faithfully,

James Green

 

 

Katy picked up the letter from the Hunts, she knew it would be warm and kind and she wanted to read it properly but it arrived second post on a Wednesday, the only free time that Colin could get these days.

 

She had managed her own schedule around this quite easily. Katy worked in a solicitor’s office. There was a great deal of routine work to be done. She had managed to convince her boss that if she were to have Wednesday afternoons free she would be happy to work on Saturday mornings. They had agreed readily when no overtime pay seemed to be demanded, hence her Wednesday afternoons were her own.

 

She tried to hide the letter but she wasn’t quick enough. Colin reached for it.

 

“Hey, have you a lover in America?” he asked playfully.

 

“No, no, just friends.”

 

“Why don’t you want me to see it then?”

 

“We don’t live each other’s lives, Colin, lots of things I don’t ask you.”

 

“Like what?” He looked impossibly overconfident.

 

“Like whether you still sleep with Monica or not,” Katy said.

 

There was a silence. He seemed to look at her with more respect.

 

“I’ll never take you for granted,” Colin promised her.

 

“I hope not,” Katy said, kissing him on the nose.

 

 

“I heard from those nice Americans.” James Green was pleased.

 

“Tell me what did they say?” Paula was interested.

 

She had changed a lot, James thought, much more outgoing these days. He showed her the letter, and she read it with interest.

 

“Pity she’s gone back to the fellow.”

 

“Well, she loved him you see, people like you and I don’t know about passion.”

 

“Well pardon me, I shouldn’t have spoken.”

 

“Speak on your own behalf. I know what passion is, or I knew,” she said.

 

“You’re lucky,” James said simply.

 

“No, not really. It ruined my life, but I’m putting it back together again.”

 

James Green felt weak at the knees. They say you get used to everything when you work behind a bar but James thought this was one of the most unexpected things he had ever heard in his life.

 

Twelve months later, Katy wrote to tell the Hunts that her father had been very ill and she had gone to spend her vacation with him. And she had been there when he died. She said it was so good that she had made her peace with him, never again would she cut herself off from family or friends. It wasn’t a real kind of love that made you do that, it was desperation. And Colin and she did have a real kind of love. Katy understood love better now, it could be compartmentalised, one part of Colin was for Monica, one part of him was for her. That was the way to look at it, and not to keep demanding more time, or attention like a child would do. They had never been happier.

 

 

Katy wrote that she sounded so self-centered, and she knew nothing about the Hunts’ life….What did they do with their time, and were they coming back to Britain again?

 

The Hunts wrote about how good it was that Katy was happy, how sad it was that her father had died. They said to be sure to pass along their condolences to all of Katy’s family. Sadly, they had no plans for further vacation at the moment. They said Katy should call in to that nice bartender in the airport who inquired about her.

 

 

James Green wrote and told the Hunts that he and Miriam had gone to South America for a reason that he might tell them about next year. But at the moment it was enough to say that the Argentines were stark staring mad about football, more avid followers than the British.

 

 

Dear Jean and Maurice,

It’s now three years since we met in the airport and so much has happened. Colin and I are fine, just great these days. Most Wednesdays we meet, when he can make it. Monica got involved with someone, had an affair I mean, the man was apparently a total loser, he disappeared of course, took no responsibility for anything, and now she’s pregnant.

Colin says it’s not the child’s fault so he’s going to give the baby his name. Which is very good of him…but then I’d expect that of him.

I went to see James Green, the bartender, he is very nice, you were right. I expect he told you his wonderful news, he has pictures of it stuck all over the bar.

Thank you for your continued interest.

Love,

Katy

 

Dear Dr. and Mrs. Hunt,

Here is a picture of our pride and joy, Marco. Isn’t he wonderful? That’s what Miriam and I were doing in Argentina, but we had to keep very quiet until it was all organized and legal. He’s a wonderful child, and when we think what his life would have been like if we had left him where he was…we both shudder.

We are saving very hard, we want to have a small place in the countryside where Marco can grow up with green fields and fresh air.

We are all very happy.

You remember Paula? She is only part-time now as she has a place in university now, but she sends her regards.

Yours ever,

James Green

 

 

The next four years the letters crossed the Atlantic.

 

 

One year later, Katy wrote to say that Colin was worn out pacing the floor at night with a baby girl that was not his, and weren’t some men wonderful. The Hunts were concerned for Katy but didn’t mention Colin when answered her letter, and told her about a trip they took to Chicago where they visited some relatives.

 

 

James Green wrote to say he had a change of address. Miriam and Marco and he were moving to the West Country, a lovely place in Somerset where his brother in law had helped them to get a start. And the Hunts answered him right away to wish good luck and to tell him they were pleased.

 

 

The next year, Katy wrote to say that she had very nearly fought with her mother and sister again because they said Colin’s wife, Monica, was pregnant once more, and once might have been somebody this unreliable whom she had turned to because of Katy, but twice could not be.

 

 

James and Miriam sent another picture of Marco, this time playing outside their pub. They have a bed and breakfast too, if ever the Hunts were coming this way again.

 

 

The following year, Katy wrote to say she was sure they must have been laughing at her all this time, they were adult people, mature and secure in their love, they must have realized that Colin had never loved her. Not one little bit. This time she was not suicidal, she was just waiting to stop needing him and aching, she was sure it wouldn’t be long now. She said that the nice man James Green owned a pub that had been written up in all the magazines, and that his assistant, Paula, back in the airport pub days, had got a first class honors degree and was going on to do a masters and a PhD.

 

 

Twelve months later to the day on September 17, Katy’s letter said that on the tenth anniversary of the day she had met Colin she had stopped loving him. It was as simple as that, and as lengthy. Imagine a decade of her life, more than a third of the time she had lived, spent in a dream. It had ended very simply. She had said not to come and see her one Wednesday, and then the next. And the third time she said it, he said it was just as well because he had to look after the children while Monica when to a women’s group meeting.

 

She felt old now, Katy wrote. Old and wise. Twenty-eight.

 

She would now regard Colin as if he had been some illness and now she was cured. Oh, yes, happy birthday to Maurice

 

 

James and Miriam sent some press clippings about the pub to show it was a really good place to stay if they wanted to visit, and they must, believe it or not, book in good time, they even had reservations six months in advance. The Hunts wrote back and promised to visit, but they said they suggested that Katy visit with them, and to make sure to write them all about it.

 

 

Katy couldn’t wait for September. Six months later, she wrote to say she had spent a wonderful weekend at James’ and Miriam’s pub and met a marvelous man. And if they hadn’t all met at the airport that day, it might never have happened. “So, it’s all due to you dear, dear Jean and Maurice,” she wrote. “And when are you two going to come back this way? Otherwise I’m going to have to come and find you in America. Turn up at your door even. And she signed her letter with a big smiley face.

 

My dear Katy,

I’m so happy you have found happiness. So very, very happy. I have told you lies for many years for a reason that I will never fathom.

That day when we met you in the airport was a big day in my life. An hour earlier, Maurice had told me that he was going to leave me for another woman. A much younger woman, I need hardly say. He said that he was approaching fifty and he felt that he had never lived life properly. The affair had been going on for some years, I was the only person in our circle who didn’t know about it. I thought that I would die. I couldn’t even speak to him about it. He begged me to talk, to rail against him even, but I said no, I wanted to read my book. I didn’t see a word on the page, all the time I was thinking…what do I do with the rest of my life….Then I saw you…with all the fire and the love and despair in your face. Perhaps this girl felt about Maurice like that. I certainly did not.

It was helpful to us as well as to you to talk you out of doing anything foolish; we spoke on about our holiday and the theaters we had seen, and it dulled the pain of the news I had heard in the last hour.

And there was something in your face that gave me a resolve. I knew that not only could I live without him, but I should. I saw his hypocrisy, pretending to be the wise, all-knowing psychologist, asking you to get in touch, knowing that he would be long gone from that address by the time you wrote.

When we got home the night after we saw you. I asked him to take his things away as soon as possible, and I remained in the house.

The letters came from you and from James. I kept up the correspondence and the fiction.

It has been deeply satisfying watching your lives go from strength to strength. Don’t stop the September letters, please, Katy, and always remember I needed them as much as you ever did, and I learned more from your face that day than you ever learned from mine. Yours was honest; mine was an act.

And now that we know so much, maybe your letters could come more often than once a year.

You might think of inviting your young man to come and see me, and I will surely think of making a long distance booking for James’ and Miriam’s splendid pub.

Love and happiness,

From your fond and accidental friend,

Jean Hunt

 

 

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