Letters [17]

It was a mundane life she chose to lead.

Her brother was off studying to be a doctor. Her younger sister had married a sailor, and was off traversing the oceans. They received a letter from Phyllis every six months, like clockwork, detailing one grand adventure after another. Small notes in the margins to outline the many illnesses she had managed to catch, but mostly tales of escapade after escapade.

Her dearest friend; they were joined at the hip from the tender age of four, had taken herself off to university.

‘What will you become,’ Laura remarked one day, a week before Mary was set to leave.

‘Nothing,’ Mary retorted, ‘I shall become knowledgable and learned, and then marry a rich man and raise some beautiful babies.’ Her eyes danced with laughter and light.

Everything was a possibility for Mary.

Everything was possible.

But for Laura, nothing beckoned to her from the distant, shimmering paths of the years ahead. She had no plans. Her sights were set on nothing.

When they all left, one by one, and she took up her pen at her desk by the window, looking over her rose garden, a deep desolation settled on her shoulders. It shrouded her like a cloak of misery. Her eyes scanned the roses, the trees of the gardens beyond, the acres of forest behind, all with her name on it. And beyond, the hills rolling away pale and blue in the distance.

They all wrote.

John from medical school. Mary from her dorms at university. Phyllis.. yes baby Phyllis still sending bi-annual letters. The days melted into weeks, into months. The letters became scarce.

She was busy enough, of course. She taught at the school on Tuesdays. She wrote for the paper, and soon her published pieces were so numerous that Aunt Martha, her mother and Mrs Norton no longer exclaimed over them with the same gusto.

‘Oh, Laura, another piece! Well done, dear,’

Their eyes did not match their words. They scanned her. Scanned her. Expected her to do things.

They invited young males over – parading her. She said as much in one of her letters to Tom, ink spattering indignantly on her face.

And Tom, TOM, they PARADE me. Can you believe the audacity? Your own mother invited Colonel Williams one evening and then decided she had a headache and could not possibly stay to keep him company, and ‘Laura dear’ would you please be so kind as to take the good colonel out to look at your beautiful roses. YOUR MOTHER, TOM?! Of course, my own mother is no better. She informed me we would be seeing Lady Betsy and to wear my best dress, you know, with the rosebuds. So I got all het up thinking the worst. It was all a wonderful conspiracy. Lady Betsy and Mama walked arm in arm ahead while a tall, gangly fellow whose name I cannot for the life of me recall regaled me with tall tales of life in the Navy. THE NAVY?! I informed him I much preferred the life a doctor leads – the only profession I know most about, since I have a bi-monthly summary from you and my brother.

And then Mary’s engagement. To John. Of all people.

She had a fat juicy letter brimming with the details from Mary. A short concise letter from her brother, the few words he had so clearly carefully selected not concealing the great joy leaping out at her from beneath. Leaping at her and stabbing her right in the heart.

She ought to have been happy. So happy. Leaping over the hills happy.

But she was not.

Evening Interior by Jakub Schikaneder

The Beginning [7]

Dear Laura,

Do you know what a wastrel is?

I didn’t either, until Master Jeffman called me one today. A wastrel of a boy, he said, shaking his meaty fist at me. What is a boy to do, when called a wastrel?

What did I do?

I fed the pigeons with his share of the corn, that’s what I did. I fed the pigeons and thought of new ways to become a worse wastrel than I already am. He missed his corn, at supper, and blamed the cook, who was beside herself. I felt truly a wastrel, then, and owned up to it. Suffice it to say that my revenge was short-lived, and I must be more resourceful in future when I decide to carry out acts of subtle retaliation.

On Saturday John and I stole some bread from the kitchen. It was for the ducks by Het’s Pond – they seem a little on the waify side lately. John reckons it might be because the pond has frozen over, and they have nowhere to fly to. If you’re really quiet of a frosty dawn, you can hear all the manner of bird calls. Jenny wrens, jack daws, tom tits and robin redbreasts. The ducks are quiet, then. You can see them just about waking up, stretching their wings and giving their feathers a sleepy shake. The world is beautiful at dawn; we swing our legs over the side of the bridge and yearn to fish – only we can’t break that stubborn, thick surface of the water.

John reckons they should have called it ‘Het’s Lake’, on account of the pond being 40 acres wide. I told him quite dismissively that the idea had already been put to the Council, but to no avail. John reckons he is a visionary. He has started wearing those glasses he’d squirrelled away last year, and introduces himself now to the new boys, as ‘Dr Smith’. Never to the Masters, of course, they would whip him to a pulp. A prime fellow is your brother, I say, in utmost sarcasm.

In the morning, sometimes, the folk at the House bring their skates down and have a capital time of it. We watch from the bridge, they shout eloquently at each other and have snowball fights on the ice, twirling about and making quite a show of it, their valets and servants bringing them hot cocoa on silver trays, traipsing down the side of the slope as though summoned by magic, floating over the snow like angels of warmth and luxury.

The dawn is our time, though. Our own time, away from the Masters, away from the drudgery, away from the relentless hours of physical and mental exertion. Away from bodies and ailments and the study of anatomy. We fall asleep at night as soon as our heads hit the pillows, but we always wake up just before the first light of dawn, when the stars, bright and twinkling in the winter sky, are just starting to fade. We wake up and drag ourselves down to the side of the lake, we listen to the birdsong and saturate our souls in the still atmosphere of a waking world.

And I think of you, Laura, and how I am not truly a wastrel, unless I have wronged you in some way. I am not a wastrel, if the world welcomes me at dawn, and allows me to live in the miraculous time when the sun kisses our part of the globe, and turns night into day. The air shifts, the songs start, and the day stretches, yawns, and slowly embraces the earth.

Yours, always,


Dear December (in 2020)

Hello December.

You dawned frosty this year.

Coating the cars in a thin icy layer. Spreading over the grass and roads, hardening the mud that loves little hands and somehow gets into little wellies and smears itself on little socks.

Pretty, pretty frost.

Some say Jack Frost has been.

Others watch the morning clouds scud by, the steam rising from people’s pipes, cars, breath visible in the air.

Life, really.

But the sun has not risen yet.

It’s only dawn.

People still lie dreaming in their beds.

I drink your icy air, December, in the pitch blackness of winter dawn. The sunrise is in 1 hour and 24 minutes, and my fingers will freeze and my toes will fall off, but I will welcome this first sun of December… that’s if the cloud allows me to see her.

The first sun of the last month of a strange, strange year.

Did we think we would get here in one piece?

Did we think we would have our lives tipped over and tumbled out?

Resolutions made in 2019 froze 9 months ago, and now you are helping to usher in a new year. A new dawn. A new …. or not?

I won’t rush you December. I refuse to. I know how hard it feels to be rushed.

You must be feeling it this year. Many people are counting on you. People began decorating their homes and trees months ago in anticipation for you. They think you’re going to be some sort of saviour from the evil that has infiltrated the ranks of humanity.

But don’t worry, December.

You take your sweet old time. It’s not your fault you herald the turn of the year. You just keep on being you, frosty, twinkly, candy cane you. We will manage.

Love Letters #39

Have you ever sailed into a horizon of clouds?

A giant mass of faded blue puff, rising in the distance like a manifestation of a nightmare storm. It’s England, though, it isn’t real. It won’t turn into a tornado; it is too benign for that. It is still, like a painting, a wall of such exquisite detail, as though some artist in the sky painted every stroke with tender love and care.

Every shadow, articulated.

The road winds in and out, up and down ahead, and the sky around the faded blue cloud is an ombre of colour, from the palest blue, to a bright and sundry pinky yellow.

The trees begin to silhouette themselves, but it isn’t quite twilight, yet.

And the clouds billow in the sky as though fuelled by some ferocious fire, only not so bitter, not so black, not so violent.

Still, like a photograph.

A still moment in time, as the sky transcends daylight and becomes that sultry, mysterious mixture of day and night. Not quite here, not quite that.

I love those clouds. Those clouds that don’t quite know what to make of themselves, that take on the hues of the ever-changing sky, shrugging on the colours and exploding in every emotion. So ominous, yet so safe. So surreal, yet so familiar. So strange, yet so reminiscent of thousands of autumnal evenings, throughout the centuries.

And always, always, a fresh wonder to the eyes.

Letter to the Season

Dear Season,

I am sitting in a heated house while I write this. I am very much aware that many people don’t have heated houses, and the cold is so biting, that I feel guilty and undeserving of such a blessing.

It crept up on us, you see. We weren’t quite expecting it. Do believe me when I assure you that I am not attacking you in any way, whatsoever. You started off quite warm. I didn’t wear a jacket for two weeks straight, and oh, last weekend you were so deliciously warm.  You daintily shed off your summer garments, when they browned and frayed on the edges. Softly dropping them to the ground as you gracefully welcomed the inevitable change in your very soul.

But today you are cold. You breathe an icy breath on my toes, you whip through lush grass, and suddenly the blades look ominous and cutting. Where did your cold come from? Am I being too ungrateful in questioning it? Is it uncouth of me to expect warmth in the season of blustery winds and rainy days? You welcomed the storm, O’ season. You opened your warm arms, welcomed the ravaging winds, and now the air outside is biting and snappy, and sends us hurrying from one indoor place to another. Does it bother you that we no longer wish to revel under your skies? Or are you glad, Season.

I send you a shrug, O’ season. I see how people are bundling up against you, I see the shelves are groaning under the weight of all the goodies we are expected to hand out to children, I see the glamorous lights twinkling in the early evenings, and I send you a shrug.

Make of that what you will.

Good day to you.




Image Credit: Hazel Thomson Art

Love Letters #27


Do you believe in soulmates?

Because I don’t.

I don’t believe the stars align when two people meet, or that their names were carved in some immortal stone. I don’t believe the universe has anything to do with two people getting along exceptionally well.

I do believe people are destined to be together, because I believe in fate. Our destinies are written, but we have the power to change them. With our actions, with our hopes and aspirations that we turn into events and happenings.

I don’t believe that everybody will find their soulmate. People might meander through life never finding anybody they can truly call home, and living out their days with a comfortable companion, or somebody they settle down for.

I do believe that souls have met before, in the space where all souls are before they alight on this planet. And when they meet on earth, they recognise each other. That is why there is a spark. A gleam of recognition in a pair of hazel eyes. Easy, flowing conversation. Carefree laughter. Calm, relaxed, companionable silences. Like pieces of a jigsaw fitting neatly together.

I believe in soulmates. But not one for every specific person. And not one specified by the cosmos. A soulmate is somebody who speaks to your soul.

If you find yours, hold it, keep it, cherish it, and understand it.


Love Letters #3


Dear Laura,

It has been five months. I haven’t had not a single reply from you. I can’t take this anymore, I feel a fool. I go daily to the post office to see if there is a letter from you. John receives weekly volumes from you detailing the lives of everybody including the cat, and I receive nothing. It disheartens a fellow, I tell you. Mary tells me you write to me. Perhaps she is wrong. The only letters I look out for are yours, Laura. 



Dear Laura,

I love you, I have always loved you, since the day I saw you wearing your blue dress and knocking Adam out with a great punch to his stomach, your golden curls askew. Your Mama was livid, I recall, and John was mighty embarrassed of his rogue little sister, disrupting the choir so. I fell in love with you and your passion, Laura. I couldn’t help myself. I loved you when you pushed me into the lake because I told you your dress was pretty, I loved you when you put a fish in my shoes because I gave Mary such a scolding. You made me laugh, you made me happy. I loved you when we all grew up and you pretended you were such a lady but really you were swinging on the barn swing while everybody was enjoying a demure dance at the party, your dress tied high around your waist. I am positively mad for you I can’t even begin to tell you. You bring laughter into my heart and you are so feisty and passionate and untameable but I want to tame you. I want to marry you, Laura, I want to be yours alone, and do away with the Williams and the Roberts and the Georges who spill all over the pages of your small novellas to John. To hell with them all. I want you.



Please see the books I promised you in this parcel. 



Dear Laura,

I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know why I keep writing to you. You’re so changed when I see you, and promise me you’ll write, and laugh and jest with me just like old times, but when I’m gone its as though I don’t exist, and Johnny gets all his letters while I look on with burning jealousy. He is your brother, I know, but we are friends, are we not? Life here is hectic and busy. We dissected a human yesterday. It was mighty tough stuff, and some fellows of faint heart were quite overcome and had to be hauled out by the rest of us so we could carry on with our bloody work. You would have loved to be here, I know, and I thought of you as we examined the lungs. You will probably not reply to this, but know that John and I both miss you and Mary and the babies and everybody else, and look forward to seeing you all come the glorious long days of summer.




Dear Tom,

I miss you

I have been keeping busy here. It hasn’t been too cold this winter, and the crops have been kind to us. I’ve been fishing a few times with Mary, but she is really tired out by the twins. They are crawling everywhere now on their chubby hands and knees, gurgling at us like precious little angels with peachy cheeks. I am constantly popping over to Mary’s, I think her and Edmund must be quite sick of me! But oh I only go to drop my kisses on those babies and give them a nice little cuddle, soon they’ll be all grown up and flying off to their own little nests and oh how old I shall feel. Joyce Poole at the post office has had quite a spell, and has had to take some leave. Mr Poole’s sent her off to the seaside, and we waved her off at the train station. She’s been awfully cold with me lately and I couldn’t fathom why, until her Mama came over with a box containing all these letters addressed to me in your hand. Underneath my letters, were the ones (dozens and dozens of them!) that I’d written to you. Mrs Poole was beside herself and told me she didn’t quite know what to say and that Joyce really wasn’t herself. Oh Tom, I know what it’s all about. You took her to Margery’s coming out ball before you left, and left her quite heartbroken. Not a single letter, I’m told, and not even a proper goodbye. She was jealous, thinking, poor soul, that there was something going on between us, and so she thought she would put a stop to it by waylaying our correspondence, being in charge of the post, as she was. And there I would be, asking her for my post, rifling through the envelopes to see if there was anything from you! Anyway. That’s over now. I do blame you, though, you heartbreaker. I haven’t opened any of your letters, and shan’t until you get here. We can read them together and have a right old laugh, I think! Oh do hurry up and come back with Johnny in tow, we haven’t had any fun for a long time and Aunt Meg’s house needs brightening up.




Love Letters #2

26th April, 1927

My Dearest Petra,

I am writing this on a warm day in April. It’s the blossoming month, and I am looking forward to summer when you and I both can enjoy a glass of lemonade on the promenade…

I couldn’t write anymore, my fingers shook and itched uncomfortably, and the words spilled out of my pen in a scraggly, scrawling mess. It was jittery and wrong.

I dropped my pen on the pristine white tablecloth, and glanced around me. The hotel restaurant was slowly filling up with people, the murmur of their voices rising as shining cutlery clinked and domed dishes were brought through by meticulous waiters brandishing cloths.

Would I ever enjoy a glass of lemonade with Petra on the promenade again? Petra with her long curly hair, gleaming ringlets of honey dropping across her rosy face. Petra with her soft, caressing hands and large, innocent eyes. Petra with her almost too-wide mouth, her slightly plump, curved body.

The last thing she did before I left was tuck my collar over my cashmere jumper, so that it sat neatly. Her eyes were focused on her work, as though it were a tremendous task of great importance. Perhaps, to her, it was. Then she touched my face, looking into my eyes.

“Be good, Tom.”

I watched her forget-me-not dress ruffle wildly behind her as she huddled inside a large grey goat, her arms folded against the furious wind that flew in from the ocean behind her. My carriage trundled away, her figure becoming ever smaller and darker in the distance as the waves crashed madly against the sharp, black rocks so close to the looming towers of the fortress she called home.


Oh I do like to be beside the seaside
I do like to be beside the sea
I do like to stroll upon the Prom, Prom, Prom
Where the brass bands play
So just let me be beside the seaside
I’ll be beside myself with glee
And there’s lots of girls besides
I should like to be beside
Beside the seaside, beside the sea.

I crumpled up the piece of paper, and pulled a postcard out of my pocket instead. It depicted a painting of King’s College chapel of Cambridge, the magnificent face of the building illuminated by bright sunlight. The paint strokes depicting the water and the vivid, grassy bank were flawless. I fingered the sharp edges of the card for a few moments, before taking up my pen.


It’s beautiful here. Exams are looming up ahead, and the boys are keeping their noses to the grindstone, believe it or not. As am I, in fact. Terribly sorry I haven’t written in a while, too much going on, last year of Medicine and all that. Looking forward to summer and lemonade on the promenade. Keep well. 


I surveyed it. One of the lines was smudged where the side of my palm had accidentally rested on the wet black ink. I was acutely aware of how cold the note was. I was careful to omit any references to the both of us, together. She would hurt, I know, but it would harden her, this uncertainty, and when I returned she would be icy but hopeful. I slipped the postcard into my pocket, and left the restaurant.


“Be good, Tom.”

Her words echoed in my brain as the beautiful lady walked up to me. She was nothing like Petra. She was glamorous and tall. A simple country dress would not do for her, she wore expensive jewels and silk scarves. Her hair was glossy and glorious, piled at the back of her head. Her curls were neat and carefully arranged, and dotted with tiny, glittering diamonds. I took her hand and placed it in the crook of my arm, and we both walked into the ball together. I murmured a scathing comment about the event, and she bent her head over my arm in silent laughter. I knew how to charm girls like her.


“Be good, Tom.”

Had her voice been hopeful? Was there a tinge of fear to it, as though she knew, long before anything had happened? I lay in bed all night thinking about Petra, until the dim light of predawn filtered through my drawn curtains and threw being to the dark shapes around my dorm. Clothes strewn over the floor, books and papers scattered all over the desk. I didn’t want to get up, but I hauled my tired body out of bed anyway.

I threw all my clothes and books in a jumbled heap together into the open trunk by the door, and by the time I had finished, my curtains were struggling to hold back the bright morning sunlight filtering in. I pulled them to, and allowed my room to flood with the warm, golden rays of June.

I washed and dressed, and dragged my trunk down the stairs and out into the courtyard, where my lift to the train station awaited me.

On the train, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the postcard she had sent me. It was a grainy photograph of the seafront in summer, the beach dotted with folk too far away to see clearly. It was an image of happiness and hope.

On the back her charming, curly handwriting took up every inch of the card, written as neatly and small as possible. She did have quite a lot to say.

2nd June, 1928

Dearest Tom,

Things at Cambridge must be extortionately different from home. I do hope you do well, darling, and I do look forward to your return in the summer. Three years since I last saw you, and you barely write me, you naughty thing. I did know you wouldn’t though, so don’t feel too terrible about it all. Just come home and we shall catch up like the old days. I think Katie and Morgan shall be home too, and we can all get together and it will be like nothing has changed. I do know it has, though, dearest. I am not going to delude myself it hasn’t, and I can tell you it hurt quite a bit at first. But I am a big girl, now. I have some good news to tell you when you get home, and shan’t hint at it at all except to say William has been around quite a lot recently. He’s helped Mama tremendously and she says she doesn’t know what we would have done without him.

Lots of love,


I leant my head against the window as the landscape sailed past. The clouds were scarce, and the morning sky was a deep blue. The window was warm where my forehead rested on it, in direct sunlight. Summer had truly arrived. My stomach growled a little and I realised I hadn’t eaten since, well, the day before yesterday, when the card had come through.

Lemonade on the promenade.

How could I have written that? What was I expecting, that she would await me at home, ready to welcome me with open arms after I had spent three years gadding about Cambridge? I was expecting that. That would be the sort of thing the Petra I knew, or thought I knew, might have done. Perhaps I hadn’t known her at all, and all those years of friendship blossoming into romance had been taken for granted in my mind. I knew she adored me, and that made me brazen.

I hadn’t really taken the time to really know her. Had I?

September 13th, 1925

Dearest Petra, 

Have arrived safe and sound, so don’t you worry. Went in for registration yesterday, and met one of my professors. Mighty eccentric old fellow, but mightily clever to boot. You would thrill over the library here, my dear. Crammed with books, and many gardens for you to read in, although probably not as winter arrives in full force. You’re a seaside gal, though, aren’t you. I’ve made a few friends and they have come round for games a few nights. Mustn’t make too much of a habit of it, though, and remember what I’ve really come for. I want to make an honest man of myself for you, darling, and can’t believe it’s only been eight days since I left you by the wild sea. It feels like half a century. I will write more when more happens, but for now sleep well my dear, and write me lots about everybody and everything you do, for I am dying to know.

Yours truly,