31st December 2019
My love. Another New Year’s Eve. Another twelve months without you.
I should be accustomed by now, but the void you left behind is hollow as ever. Always this season, it grows into a black hole, a swirling horizon extinguishing all light inside, and every scrap of joy.
Can you believe, I still fantasize you’ll return? I know it’s impossible. Yet on a summer evening, I swear your scent of musk and spice drifts on the breeze. Like you’ve visited, staying out of sight, squeezed behind the backyard honeysuckle. Our flower. Remember we met by the honeysuckle at the hotel? Warmed by sun and gin, I loved you from the first minute. Your grace and kind eyes.
In winter, the harsh wind and naked garden leave no room for make believe. Stark reality bites with the frost, and I know you’re gone.
I’m writing this, as always, on our bench on the hill. The sole place you seem near when the honeysuckle’s over. I’d say it was down to the panoramic view of our city, but today the skyline fades in and out like a ghost. It’s as if droplets of your essence float on the fog. I only come here on New Year’s Eve. Perhaps I’m frightened to exhaust the sensation. Whatever the weather, I climb to the summit, sit, and pour out a letter you’ll never read.
You’re so close I can hear your voice in the creak of the trees, the drips of mist from their branches. Your presence pierces my guts.
Okay, enough purple prose. You never had any patience with my poetic ramblings. So, let’s see... my news headlines.
Back in May, I got a promotion at work. I’m a team leader now, if you please. Maggie went for it too, and I beat her. Her face was a picture. You never met Maggie, but a more sour-faced bitch you’d be hard-pushed to find. Walking around the place like she’s already the boss. And little old me just stole the job from under her snooty nose. I was pumped; wanted to come home and celebrate with you, open a bottle of bubbly, get raging drunk and screw you blind on the living room floor.
Instead, it was just me and a bottle, then me and the cat squinting at each other—remember Herbert? The crosseyed moggy I told you about last year? God, Ben, I missed you that night.
Gemma had a baby, so I’ve become an auntie. On Christmas Eve. It was a girl—7 lb 4 oz. Called Holly, of course. If our baby had been a girl, I would have liked the name Holly, though she was due in spring. So soon after I lost you, I lost her too. Or him, I suppose—we never got to find out. Still, I always had a hunch it was a girl. She would have been nearly ten years old now, and so cute with your brown eyes and my cheek bones. I imagine her hair dark like yours, but thick and unruly like mine. She’d run barefoot everywhere, and talk so fast.
Oh, Ben. I’ve upset myself. I’m afraid that little wrinkle in the paper just now is a tear.
I should go. Herb will be hungry, and it’s getting dark. Being out at night makes me lonelier, and I want to be home before the celebrations start.
Until next year, I will miss you every day.
I fold and kiss the lilac notepaper. Wrapped in the customary purple silk, this summer’s dried honeysuckle petals emit their grassy, sweet aroma as I slip them into the envelope.
All the way to the postbox, I clutch the letter to my chest. The echoing, metallic thud as it drops inside is like losing him all over again. Still, my sense of completion grows as I stride home to see in the New Year, just me and Herbert.
4th January 2020
We haven’t met. I’m Julia, Ben’s wife. I don’t want to hurt you, but I am asking you politely to please stop sending the New Year letters. Ben is too kind to say they freak him out, so it falls to me.
When the two of you had your holiday fling, Ben and I had been going out a couple of months. It was casual. I had no claim on him, or reason to object to his having a lads’ holiday. Your first letter arrived a year and a half later. I was pregnant with our first child, and I was angry. We argued about it, then moved past it. Later, we married. Our daughter Layla was just about walking in time for the wedding. She made such a cute flower girl. I’m biased, but everyone said so.
We have two more beautiful children now. And I would defend them all with my life.
This may seem cruel to you, but perhaps when you read it in black and white it will finally sink in. You didn’t lose Ben. Face facts—you never had him. Neither did you ‘lose’ your baby. In your first letter, you told us you’d had a termination. There’s no way to be sure it was even Ben’s child. Either way, after more than a decade, don’t you feel it’s time to move on? Do you have a family? A life of your own?
Besides the initial fight, we didn’t take the first few that seriously. It was only a letter once every January, we thought. You never stepped up into actual stalking. But each New Year, another purple envelope arrives with a pouch of some dry, flowery stuff, and it’s gotten weirder. I’m asking you to stop. In any case, Ben and I and the children are moving away in a couple of weeks. Far away. It seemed only fair to let you know, so you don’t waste any more time on a teenage fantasy. Please leave us alone.
I wish you luck, and hope you find the help you need.
My fist crumples the soft, white paper. Heart thumping, I fall to the cold laminate floor.
There’s no way to be sure it was even Ben’s child. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Bitch. Smug, condescending, lying bitch.
I’ll show her. Moving away? Even if that’s true, I’ll make her understand. Marriage and children... that’s all very well. Ben and I cannot be apart. She can’t change that.
We will find each other again. Somehow, soon, and forever.