It was a brown envelope among other brown envelopes, delivered by her mother that morning.
“I don’t know who all these people are that think you still live at home. You should organise a redirect service.”
Another bill, Lucy thought and then looked again. She seemed to recognise the handwriting, but wasn’t certain. She studied the postmark, which told her very little as it was a smudgy black blob.
“Why don’t you just open it, instead of trying to second-guess the contents?” Her mother had never understand why it took Lucy so long to get inside an envelope.
Her eyes strayed to the stamp, which was brown and bore the profile of a very young Queen Elizabeth. 18p was clearly marked in the corner.
Eighteen pence? It had been years since it was possible to send a letter for eighteen pence. Lucy left it on the table and made coffee.
Later, when her mother had gone, she picked up the envelope and stared at the handwriting again. Her husband emerged from the bathroom to find her frowning at it.
“Haven’t you opened that yet?” Evan said. “What’s wrong?”
“Look at it,” she said. “Look at the stamp.”
“I see what you mean. Wonderful example of the efficiency of the Post Office.”
“I know the handwriting,” she said. “I think it might be from – Auntie Pearl.”
“She’s been dead for years.”
“And this thing’s been in the post for years.”
“Best to bin it then,”Evan said and tore it in half.
It took all day before she acted on it, but the letter refused to leave her thoughts. When she fished it out of the bin and put the pieces together and read it, it wasn’t from Auntie Pearl.
She rang the only number she had, the one in the letter. The one she had once known by heart.
“Hello. Is there… Could I speak to Edward?”
“Yes, this is Edward Braithwaite speaking. Who’s this?”
Lucy held the telephone tight to her chest. It was several moments before she could continue.
“It’s Lucy.” She hesitated, about to use her maiden name. “Lucy – Brown.” There was a long pause.
“Hello, Lucy. What can I do for you, after all this time?”
“I’ve just got your letter.”
“Yes. The one – The one where you explain why you weren’t at the church. It just arrived this morning. At my mum’s house.” The pause was even longer than before.
“You mean you never got it?”
“I’ve got it now.”
“But you didn’t get it then?”
Lucy closed her eyes and wondered what to say next, but her fingers sought and pushed the button to hang up as she stared at the words, stuck together with sellotape. Words written from a hospital bed three months after their non-existent wedding. Telling of a car accident on a toll road in America. Of terrible injuries.
“Hey. Are you OK?” Evan said. “What’s wrong?”
A tear squeezed out from under her closed lids as she passed him the letter and Lucy raised the phone to dial the number again.