Wednesday, 19 October 2011
Creative writing course
You know when you are waiting for a letter, the contents of which could change your life, and every morning the Postman brings your usual array of bills and circulars so that after a few mornings that little lurch of disappointment in the bottom of your stomach when it hasn’t arrived almost doesn’t happen? Well, that’s pretty much where I was. Two long weeks of waiting and still no sign of the letter that could change my life. You probably think I am being overly dramatic when I say that, but seriously I’m not.
So, Thursday 19th May when I heard the click of the latch on the gate and the slap of the post falling onto the mat I was pretty much resigned to there being no news. I grabbed the post in a big bundle, sipped my coffee and dropped it all onto the dining room table. Don’t be fooled, this was a calculatedly casual response, a completely dramatized “devil may care” sling of the post designed of course to ensure that it splayed across the table’s polished surface without me having to root in desperation through the junk to reach my crock of gold. Or not. Like every morning before I barely glanced at the letters, almost turning my back whilst allowing one eye to very casually glance across the surface, that way, if the letter wasn’t there no-one would know that I was bothered. Not that anyone would have known, there was no-one watching me. Annoyingly the white corner of an envelope was sticking out from beneath a brightly coloured frozen food leaflet and I could now either calmly finish my coffee, brush my teeth and then nonchalantly slide the leaflet off the envelope or I could dash straight in and have a look. I was rather alarmed to note, as I reached out, that my heart began to pound and there was a familiar racing sensation in the very middle of my chest. Almost definitely too much caffeine.
And there it was. The letter I had been waiting for. Not just for the last two weeks but really for eighteen months, since I had first come up with the plan that what my life needed was a complete overhaul. No more living in a quiet village fending off the increasingly frequent suggestion of marriage and babies from my long suffering partner, no more comfortable familiarity but a grand gesture, pack my bags and head off on an adventure. I hadn’t quite envisaged the slew of rejections from cruise ships, airlines and VSO – who knew you needed a degree to dig wells in Africa. With every rejection my partner’s insistence that I should just give up on the whole crazy idea and stay at home with him grew stronger, until when I posted this last application back in February I had made him a deal, this one would be the last. If I didn’t get the job with this cruise line I would accept that it wasn’t my destiny to sail the seven seas and I’d stay home and make him a happy man. Not a bad fallback position in all honesty. I loved him and was more than happy to become his wife, the mother of his children. Just, not quite yet.
That initial application had resulted in an invitation to attend an open day of interviews in London and the inevitable round of sulking from the man. Once I pointed out that this one was almost certainly not going to come to anything he snapped out of it and was almost supportive, but I knew that really he was thinking that the sooner I went to London, the sooner I’d get that letter of rejection and the sooner he’d have himself a wife, bless him.
So, I’m stood there with the envelope in my hand and suddenly for the first time in eighteen months I am wondering if I have made the biggest mistake of my life. What if I leave and he doesn’t wait for me like he promised? What if I come back after six months because I am sea sick every day and he’s taken up with someone new and doesn’t want me anymore? Maybe the grand gesture of just applying to change my life was all I needed, not actually changing it. I could say “oh yes I’ve lived here all my life, I wasn’t going to mind – I applied for lots of overseas jobs and they never came to anything” and everyone would know that I hadn’t stayed at home because I’d had no ambition but only because I hadn’t had the chance to do anything else. My face felt flushed and there was a rushing sound in my ears. Oh my God, what had I done? If I open this envelope and the letter says “welcome, come with us and change your life” I am going to have to go, leave behind everything safe and familiar, pack up my life and head off to God knows where. Could I lie? Could I just say “by the way, that letter came this morning, it was a No. Fancy nipping down the pub for last orders?”. I knew I couldn’t, he’d see right through me and it would always be there, nagging away “what if?”
I look down and I am still holding the envelope. The coffee in my stomach is making me feel a bit sick. Then suddenly, there it is, the little flicker of excitement that I had always thought would be part of this moment - you took your time! My hands are feeling tingly and for just a moment I imagine myself putting my suitcase on the train, tears and hugs goodbye, promises to write from far off exotic lands, lingering kisses and promises to come back and get married but with tales to tell the grandkids and then finally, as the train pulls out of the station a moment to relish “brace yourself World, here I come!”
I sit down, still holding the envelope. OK. Here goes nothing. But it doesn’t seem right just to rip into the envelope, what if I rip the letter and render it unreadable, unlikely I know but it could happen. I put the letter on the chair as if it were a baby, or a pound of Semtex and go to the kitchen for a knife.
Sitting back down I take a deep breath, snatch up the envelope and before I can change my mind slide the blade of the knife under the flap and there, it’s done.
As I unfold the letter I scan the contents and I know. I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until I let it out in a rush. I had my answer, I knew my destiny.
I smile and slide the letter back into its envelope; I was going to need to open the really good bottle of wine with dinner tonight.