There’s a letter from Clarissa in the mail. The violet envelope stands out from its intimidating white neighbours. My heart beats a little faster. I deposit the others at the back of a drawer. I’ll open them later. Maybe. I sit at my desk and open hers.
‘Dear Stan.’ That seems to be her ‘pet name’ for me, as my name’s actually John. We’d only met once, briefly, colliding into each other in Tesco’s. I hadn’t bothered with a basket, clutching my shopping betwixt hand and chin when she, glued to her mobile, had rammed me with her trolley, sending noodles, bananas, butter, frozen fish and a jar of peanut butter flying. She’d helped me retrieve them, although the peanut butter had met a sticky end.
I continued to read. ‘Thank you for your e-mail, Helena printed it for me again.’ Helena being her sister. Clarissa is by all accounts computer illiterate. She’d talked in a previous letter about ‘downloading’ my e-mail address and being unable to understand Google.
“Oh, I’m terribly sorry!” She’d looked so concerned it was hard to be cross. I’d noticed blond hair, tangled and somehow pinned back, big eyes that blinked furiously, deep green like an ocean swell, and a smudge of lipstick on a neat white tooth.
She’d overseen the retrieval and replacement of my shopping and I also noticed she seemed quite attractive.
“Do you shop here often?” I asked, feeling somewhat foolish at the cliche.
“Oh, no, I’ve just moved here, this is the first time.”
I saw her trolley contained several bottles of wine. “Are you having a party?”
She blushed. “Oh, not really ….”
I hadn’t pressed her.
“Look here’s my card.” She gave me a neat purple business card. It said ‘Clarissa White – musician, composer and music coach’.
“Oh, that’s interesting, I’m a guitar teacher.”
“Wow! Look, I’ve got to dash but let’s keep in touch.” She smiled, and the green ocean swelled once more.
So that’s how it had begun. I would e-mail her and each time a violet envelope would arrive a couple of days later. Ornate purple script flowed, telling me she was recently divorced and staying with her sister locally.
I read Clarissa’s latest news. She’s got a new student, a girl of thirteen who’s tone-deaf. The girl can’t tell if a note is higher or lower than the one next to it. Clarissa’s beautiful cursive script belies its mundanity. Her cat has been sick on a kitchen surface.
Although I enjoy her letters, it’s getting frustrating. I often gaze at the picture on her card, presumably taken a good few years earlier, where a glamorous woman leans over a keyboard, face concentrated and fingers splayed as if wrestling with Rachmaninov. In two of my messages, I’d suggested meeting for coffee – with no response.
I read on, then Eureka! I stand and punch the air, hitting a low-flying lampshade which makes my knuckles smart. No matter! I read, ‘Helena is away this Friday night, doing the Lyke Wake Walk. Why don’t you come round and help me finish that wine off, say eight o’clock?’
I notice my breath is short and my hands shaking. Calm down, she probably just wants to chat.
I don’t know what possesses people to tramp forty-two miles across the North Yorkshire Moors in the middle of the night but I’m thankful Helena is one of them. Below the flowing signature, Clarissa has added, ‘P.S. Bring your guitar. We can make sweet music together!’ Then she’s drawn a little smiley face. Whatever her intentions, I can’t wait!
Featured in the book, To Cut a Short Story Short: 111 Little Stories
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