He can’t find the colour photographs; the ones with the vibrant fields of tulips from their trips to Holland, or the ones with seas of golden sunflowers on the Tuscan hills. They must be somewhere. Perhaps Helen’s moved them. Maybe she’s arranged them inside one of those gilded albums she likes to keep within arms’ reach in the wardrobe of the spare room.
He pushes these scattered monochrome images to the side of the desk and picks up an envelope which has emerged from behind the Eiffel Tower. The folded piece of paper inside is yellowed at the edges; thinned from the times he’s read and re-read it. The words are neat with loopy ‘Y’s and leggy ‘H’s. He imagines the pen dancing over the paper as the writer held back the skein of chestnut hair which always had a habit of falling over one eye and irritating her. He catches the spark of light in her eye as she sits at the desk in front of her window and writes how much she misses him – how could I not! – but of how much happier she is knowing that now he can pursue the dreams he always had for himself; to travel, to roam, to soak up unknown cultures and to do this alongside someone who wants precisely the same things as he. I’m so sad that it can’t be me.
He can almost hear her heart pulse in time with the curl of each ‘c’, of each ‘e’, and the pause she takes at the end of every sentence before deciding how to begin the next; wondering if it might—if it should—be the last. She worried so much about doing the ‘right’ things. Too much. Until one day she didn’t even recognise herself; certainly not as the carefree woman she’d been when they met, nor as the effervescent bride she became a year later. Everything seemed to happen too fast. For him. For her. For them to do anything but try and salvage what love endured following the obstacles that life had thrown their way.
She’d often joke that she had a plan. That because life had tried to frighten her so much, if she hid in the darkest corner then it wouldn’t be able to find her. He imagines that to be the corner where she wrote this letter. Her last letter.
He can see her pen finish with the flourish: always, G. Always. They’d imagined their life together would also last as long but—ah, well, ce’st la vie—she would say. Maybe in the next. She’d make sure she tried harder.
He folds the letter and presses it back inside the envelope. He raises it to his nose to see if there is any hint of her remaining. Of course, there’s none; just the musty smell of decades-old boxes which have been kept in the dark for too long.
Odd, that now he can’t quite bring to mind the sensations he felt watching the swaying heads of tulips and sunflowers; of the dusky sunsets over the Kenyan plains, the stench and splendour of the canals in Venice and the ephemeral cries of birds of paradise. Even the starkness of Loch Ness pales in comparison with time spent away from her. He can’t even recall what he and Helen might have worn on one of their subsequent ‘adventures’.
And, of course these pictures have a beauty; a relevance. They’re a record of having seen and been to magnificent, wonderful places. But—oh, the flame in her eyes, that unquenchable spark she ignited somewhere deep inside with just one look—he has only to blink and he’s there once more.
written in response to the Creative Writing Ink image prompt June 22nd 2017