After Fillip first found out, the angry words were flung back and forth, seasoned by the rancid taste of guilt and the pain of betrayal. Since their reconciliation, it had taken weeks of sleepless nights and deliberation before picking up pen and paper in the first place. For all her misgivings, Francesca did not have the courage to face up to the matter, the charade of their relationship having continued until the point when crystallising her feelings in a letter seemed the only solution.
Francesca’s early inscriptions were followed by three agonisingly slow redrafts, over several days, until the words seemed more or less right on the page. This in itself was a big part of the problem. With typical indecisiveness, Francesca thought she knew exactly what she was trying to say, the reason why it was a mistake, and had thought carefully about each word, every comma and even whether or not an exclamation mark at the end of the second paragraph might appear flippant, given the harshness and finality of its content. Then, on another day, within another hour, her love resurfaced and the frowns of doubt would be swept away. On what was almost the final version, well aware that what one intends to say might be misconstrued by the reader, Francesca did wonder briefly about recruiting her sister Alice and asking her to read through the words and give an opinion. Almost as soon as this thought entered her head, it was dismissed. Alice’s forthright nature would not see it as a problem for anyone else to opine, only one of her own making; her dismissal of any debate could only make it harder to take the final step.
Francesca could almost hear her words: ‘You got yourself into this state, Franki. Why did you let it carry on so long after the engagement was announced? Why didn’t you end it then? You had your chance; you made your choice. Don’t expect me to play any part in unraveling your mess.’
As the hazy evening sunlight pointed its long, accusing finger across the crisp white pages, Francesca repeatedly churned the words over and over in her thoughts. Finally, as the first of the stars peered out to check out the remains of the day, her mind was made up. Francesca sat down in the leather chair, picked up the pen and tested the ink on the blotter; taking her time before finally signing ‘Franki’ with a flourish. Within the room the only sounds were the oppressive ticking of the grandfather clock and the belligerent buzzing of a fly trapped behind the heavy velvet curtain, yet somehow it felt as if life itself was holding its breath, furtively waiting to see her play out the final act.
Gazing out of the open study window to where the children were still playing noisy, boisterous games in the lingering warmth and stillness of a perfect day, Francesca couldn’t help but wonder what they would all say when they heard of her choice – calling it all off when the first of the guests were due to arrive at any moment; Auntie Dawn and her family all the way from Dundee, Grandma picked up from the tiny village in Devon where she was spending her dotage happily pottering in the garden, cousin Joe (the adventurer) flying in from Melbourne; Alice and James already half way down the M1. All that preparation and paraphenalia: the perfect cream roses, pure white lilies and lacy gypsophilia soon to be delivered; designs for decorating the newly erected marquee carefully drawn and pinned to the kitchen noticeboard; the embroidered, buttery silk gown hand sewn with miniscule seed pearls hanging safely in her mother’s wardrobe; the sheer veil gently folded in softly scented tissue paper; fifty order of service sheets printed in silver on handmade embossed card, neatly stacked on the mahogany sideboard …
Concerned in case she weaken, Francesca made a concerted effort to push all such thoughts to the back of her mind. A lifetime was a long time to commit and vows were made for a purpose, surely he would see that and know why this had to end? Everyone else would understand, wouldn’t they? With the blue fountain pen shaking slightly in her grip, Francesca neatly added a small cross close to her name, then carefully folded both sheets of bond and slid them into the crisp envelope. Fillip’s work address was already scribbled on the jotter pad, so the rest of the task took seconds; it would take no longer than an hour to drive into London, push the envelope through the door, ready to greet him the morning of his last day in the office as a single man.
Her auburn head remained bowed deep in thought for almost half an hour. Whilst the evening quietened and the youngsters were called in for supper, Francesca stared intently at the letter, gently turning it over and over in her hands as if trying to make the contents transparent. Not that they need be – every painstakingly chosen word and carefully constructed sentence ran through her mind like a never ending commentary. How had it come to this, so late in the day? Why had the break not been made months ago? What on earth had possessed her to carry on? In the end, as the shadows lengthened and stretched away from the shrinking golden horizon, Francesca couldn’t decide whether or not to actually deliver the letter.
Deeply pained by the thought of his heartbreak as he read her words, it became clear that there was only one thing to do. Swiftly ripping the letter into tiny shreds, Francesca added the pale confetti to her already overflowing ash tray. The match was struck hastily and the pyre set alight before her tears should dowse the flame. Her resolve was not strong enough; Francesca knew the words could not be said, though there was some relief in having said them anyway.
A 500 word version of this story won the 2015 Burnham Arts Festival, Short Story Competition. This was then expanded to 1000 words for the OU FutureLearn course ‘Start Writing Fiction’. This is the final version (for now!) following feedback from Jason, Daniela and Lorna.