A DISTANT FRIEND
For Claire to leave what she was doing and go pick up the scattered assortment of post from the grubby hall carpet was a particularly challenging exercise amid this early morning domestic chaos.
First the baby needed to be fed, its bare feet dangling from the height of a non-too sturdy highchair. Then there was Taylor her six-year old son, with a bouquet of attention deficiencies flowering into full bloom as impending school time rapidly approached.
She looked around her surroundings. God this kitchen was a mess. In fact this entire cramped flat was now a back-catalogue of broken council maintenance promises. Perhaps the black mottled patches of mildew that pervaded every aspect of her family's life should have been made to hang on their landlord's conscience like an irremovable family curse.
Having managed to leave the kitchen table for a moment, Claire picked up the letters before beginning the ambidextrous operation of buttering two slices of semi-burnt toast while turning each item of mail between fingers stained raw with the daily abuse of constant housework and a succession of low-paid part-time jobs.
Red bills, circulars, an early birthday card for Taylor, and one letter bearing a Canadian postmark. How strange! She puckered her now overblown, once rather cute face, pushed back a handful of unkempt hair, and turned the envelope over as if examination would reveal clues to its sender before opening it.
It was from Robert of all people. Well who'd have thought it? Robert Jenkins. After all these years. Was it fifteen or sixteen? A lifetime ago anyhow. From a period of her life that now existed only as a mere shadow across her soul. She began reading to herself, mouthing each word as if every intake of breathe reduced the years that separated their last meeting.
I moved to Toronto to pursue a Phd after finishing Uni.
Found the lifestyle to my taste. (Winters are freezing though.)
Summer on the lakes, where I own a small log cabin and a boat of my own. (Can you believe I've actually learnt to swim at last)
Job as a research chemist (well Director of Research actually)
Never married (yeah still love my books too much I guess)
I'm looking at a photo of us both (that Halloween night in Blackpool-remember?)
Just to think Claire, you were top of our class before you dropped out during the second year of your chemistry degree. (No one ever found out why.)
Guess what? I happened to find your engagement ring in my attic last weekend (the one you threw back at me, remember?) Bet you're part of the stockbroker belt now. (one of those 4 x4 school-run mums we read a lot about)
Miss you. (we really have a lot of catching up to do)
Please try and get over sometime.
Love Robert (bob-tail) Jenkins
P.S. Traced you eventually through the 'Distant Friends' web-site.
Taylor moved from the kitchen table and reached out for his mother's hand, an over-abundance of affection children of his nature are often imbued with.
'Why are you crying Mummy?' he asked timidly.
Claire wiped away a tear, a tiny droplet of emotion belying an ocean of significance beneath. Then she crumpled the letter into a tight ball and popped it into the pedal bin by her side.
'She's always crying' Gavin the fifteen year old grunted, one half of his headphones removed for a moment before he imparted another piece of unsolicited teenage advice.
'It's called the menopause.'