It was hard for George to stir himself from bed on that morning of all mornings. To tell you the truth it had been hard for him over the last 3 months. He had felt nothing but an emptiness in his life. A great big void that refused to be filled.
It reminded him of the time his family moved house all those years ago. He remembered it all so well. Like yesterday. His father got moved with his job. It was difficult enough for him at that age but the long move up north meant he would leave all his friends be- hind. He protested with his parents for weeks beforehand but in the end he had to accept the inevitable. He found it hard to make new friends easily.
It was his first day at the new school. He felt so alone and vulnerable but tried not to show it for fear of upsetting his mother. She had waved him goodbye at the school gates. He stood there alone in the playground. The energy and noise from the other children re- verberated all around him. He wanted to find somewhere at that precise moment to hide and close his eyes until it was time to go home.
As he stood there his gaze met that of a young girl who stood with a group of friends. She had a round face with blonde unruly hair but otherwise was neatly dressed. Her eyes met his and it was if she understood his uncertainty in that instance. Even at that young age she had stood out from the other girls and had a smile which would always melt his heart.
She walked over smiling and gently said, “You must be the new boy. It must be a bit strange for you at a new school and all. Come and meet my friends and I`ll show where our class is when the bell goes.”
He was mesmerised by her right from the start. She stayed by his side and looked after him for the rest of the day making sure that he found his way to all his classes. She showed him where to go at break times. George did not want that day to end. To his de- light the same routine followed the next day and the days that followed. They formed a close friendship and he quickly forgot the friends he had left behind.
He remembered all the fun they had together during those innocent school days and the pranks they used to play on each other. That wicked mischievous smile remained with her throughout her life. They shared many laughs together over the years and into married life.
George knew from that first day at school that they would be with each other for the rest of their lives. He thought Ethel did too but she refused to admit it to him opting to keep George “on his toes” as she liked to call it. Usually followed by that smile of hers.
Now there was just emptiness in his life. She had been a fighter he remembered. In those last days he knew she had been in considerable pain but typical of Ethel she refused to show it. She was protecting him again from the reality of it all and would have called it “keeping a brave face”. Something she had always been good at.
The pain was still with him. Watching someone fight for their last breath was not easy. In the end she had to let go of her tenuous grip on life. He had cried so much during those early days unable to accept the final reality of it all. Why on earth had it happened to Ethel he had thought at the time.
Gradually a numbness settled over his life. He rebuffed any contact with family and friends. He preferred to mourn her loss on his own despite their best efforts to the con- trary. Finally, a reluctant but inevitable acceptance settled over him, and now there was only the void left which Ethel had previously filled.
Today of all days felt especially difficult for George. It was their wedding anniversary. A day they always looked forward to. The routine had always been the same over the years.
They would start by having breakfast in bed whist looking through their old wedding al- bum. George would arrange for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to Ethel sometime during the morning from the local florist. Pink roses. She always liked pink roses he thought. George would then whisk her off to somewhere he had picked out for lunch. Out in the country, followed by a slow drive back home.
It would be different today but he decided he would keep to some of the old routine whilst having breakfast. He carefully took the album from the sideboard drawer. Apart from the formal photographs there were those from wedding guests tucked in the back of the album. No matter how careful he was when taking it from the drawer one or two pho- tographs always fell out. Today was no exception.
Amongst the fallen photographs on the floor his gaze focused on a white envelope which fell with them. His attention was on the handwriting which was unmistakably Ethel’s de- spite being shaky. The envelope was simply addressed to him and sealed.
George froze, knowing that he had not seen this when he had taken the album out last year. His upper lip visibly trembled as he bent down to pick the envelope up. He then sat down but could hardly dared open it. Emotion welled up in his eyes. Carefully he opened it. Inside was a letter in the same handwriting as on the front of the envelope. The letter
was written on two sheets of the pink floral writing paper he had bought Ethel for her birthday. Slowly he read it :
I know you will be reading this letter on our special day.
Forgive my handwriting but it is difficult for me to hold the pen steady. With each day that passes I feel I am slipping further and further away from you and thought it would be better to write this note to you now rather than leave it much longer.
You are probably wondering how I managed to slip this letter into the album. Well, you will recall I asked for one last look of our photographs towards the end. I knew that you would take them out and look at them today. Our day. You always were a creature of habit!
George I hope you are looking after yourself. You always took pride in your appearance even on that first day we met. I still remember the newly pressed school uniform you wore. So unlike the other boys, who looked as though they had rolled around in the mud. Come to think of it they probably had! I never told you George but right from that first day I knew that you were for me. A girl has to have some secrets from her husband!
You always were so different from the other boys. Kind and considerate with a genuine sense of fun. Life throws an awful lot of stuff at you and you have to have a laugh along the way. I felt I did with you George.
But life moves on. I know you will have found it difficult these last few weeks. You will have moped around refusing any help. I know you too well. You are a good man George and really deserve to live out the rest of your life with the same happiness that we enjoyed together.
It is hard for me to write this letter but I really do want you carry on with a full life. You deserve it. The memories and our love together, no one can take away. These memories and that love made us the people we are. You must continue to live on.
My love will be with you forever more as I know your love will be for me. But that love needs to continue in your life. You have friends all around you and I want you to enjoy the rest of your life George. I really mean it and I know this may even mean meeting a lady friend some time in the future. Bring her the same happiness you brought to me.
Only one small proviso – make sure she moves aside when your time comes to join me!
I will always love you.
Your darling wife Ethel
Tears slowly trickled down the creases in George`s face. Ethel had known she was near the end. Even then she had casts thoughts of herself aside and thought only of George. Looking after him again. Just like those early school days.
George spent the rest of the morning looking through the album and reliving the memo- ries caught on camera. He reread Ethel`s letter several times and carefully put it in the back of the album with the loose photographs. He knew he would get them out again next year no matter what happened. His memorial to Ethel he would call it.
Later that day he picked up the telephone and slowly pressed some familiar numbers.
“Hello,” the voice said at the other end.
“Hello Peggy, it`s Dad”
“Hello Dad?” There was a tone of surprise in Peggy`s voice.
“Is it okay if I come for tea next Sunday?”
“We would love you to come Dad … it`s been so long …” There was obvious emotion in Peggy`s voice. He could sense she was crying at the other end. George shed a tear or two also. Tears of joy.
When George had finished on the telephone he knew what he needed to do. He had to live his life. Ethel was right. He would remember her always but he needed to move on.