The alley was dark as usual, the only sound the scuffling of rats and the soft breeze. At the end of alley was a lopsided tin shed. It reeked of rat poop and garbage, but I was used to it.
After all, it was my home.
Mother was waiting for me. Her eyes were dull and empty, her lips cracked and grey. She was once beautiful, with lush, blonde locks, sparkling blue eyes, and pink lips always wide, smiling. She would attend galas and proms in dazzling ball gowns, and dance with handsome young men who would propose to her by the end of the night. She turned down every single one, until, finally, she met the man who would soon become my father.
But then, he disappeared, along with the all the happy memories.
A strong gust of wind blew right through our shed, rattling the tin walls but not quite toppling them over. My hair blew across my face, and I spluttered.
"Come here," Mother croaked, barely audible over the autumn wind. I had vague memories of her once melodious voice singing to me as I danced in my father's arms. If only he hadn't disappeared into thin air, maybe we would still be doing that right at this moment.
I sat in my mother's lap, and she combed my hair before braiding it with her quick, nimble fingers. That was the only thing my mother had not lost. That, and me. In fact, her fingers were what kept us living, each and every day. She would mend clothes for the town residents, and they would pay her with the little food we needed. She tied the end of my braid with a plain tie, and kissed the top of my head.
"I'll get us out of here one day," She says. "I promise."
I wake up to find Mother gone. Her bed is neatly made, and I notice that her only dress is missing from where it usually hangs on the back of a chair. I know that she must have gone to town, but I can never be too sure after what happened to Father. I pull on a coat and walk the short distance to town. This early in the morning is a quiet time, but there are occasional passers by that smile at me in acknowledgement.
Suddenly, a familiar squeal pierces the silent, autumn air. Mother. I run through the streets, slow enough that I don't trip over my scuffed and torn shoes, but fast enough that the millions of thoughts racing through my mind don't cloud my thinking. Mother is standing in the middle of the street, clutching something white. Its then that I realise it was a scream of joy.
When I get to her, she is barely recognizable. Colour has returned to her cheeks, and her eyes now have their sparkle back. She doesn't say a word, but instead thrusts the paper into my hand. I slump down onto a nearby park bench, and begin to read the letter:
My beautiful wife and daughter,
I am sorry. For everything. The business trip to London wasn't anything like I expected. My father was dreadfully sick, and it was my duty to be with him in his final days. But it was my duty to be there for you, my girls, and I failed.
While in London, I sent you letters every day. Either they never got to you, or you have already forgotten me and moved on. I cannot bear to return, for if you have moved on, nothing will ever be the same.
I have moved to Paris now, and have a beautiful big house and a thriving company. But what use is a lovely home if I cannot share it with the ones I love most?
If you are reading this, I would love for you to join me here. Do not trouble yourself with plane tickets, I want to come and get you myself. I understand if you would rather stay in your hometown, but I promise you that Paris is beautiful and if you consider coming, my broken heart will be healed.
Your husband/father, forever and always
I gasped and read the letter over and over again, just to make sure my mind was not going wild. When I looked at Mother, her eyes were shining with tears.
"Honey," she said, pulling me close and whispering in my ear. "We're going to Paris."