The box contained an odd miscellany: schoolbooks, comic annuals, football programmes. From between two glossy souvenirs of visits to Wembley Stadium, a grey wallet fell to the floor, a corner of paper projected from it. Stooping to pick it up, he pondered what the wallet might reveal. He hoped for a postal order, or an old pound note, or some document of significance. He was to be disappointed, the wallet held nothing more than a letter, or, more precisely, the beginning of a letter:
10th April 1977
Sorry I’m late in replying to your last letter, but I couldn’t think of much to write.
The rest of the page was blank, after an unpromising start, the letter had stopped. What had happened? An intention had not been fulfilled, lateness had extended into an indefinite future.
Laura! He remembered, though it was a distant past. A regular correspondent, her letters had ceased. He had thought something must have happened, perhaps something hadn’t happened, perhaps it was this letter that hadn’t happened. Returning to the miscellaneous remnants of youthful years, he smiled at his Esso 1970 World Cup Coin Collection – probably worth no more than a few pounds, it had been a source of invaluable pride.
It was evening before thoughts of the letter returned. He wondered about Laura, how had her life unfolded? Typing her name, he was immediately confronted with the power of the Internet. Recent images appeared, together with news of her work life. One web page even offered a telephone number. How surprised she would be if he telephoned her after such a passage of time. He resisted the temptation to call the number. In the following days, though, the letter loomed large in his thoughts. He resolved that on Saturday morning he would try to reach Laura, he smiled to himself as he anticipated her laughter at hearing his voice.
Feeling a precise time was important for such an auspicious call, at eleven o’clock he pressed the digits on the keypad of the phone. There was an almost immediate answer, “Hello, Laura speaking.”
“Laura, you probably don’t remember me,” He explained about the letter, and about how he really should have written, and that he was sure that she had been upset about never receiving a letter, and about how he had waited days to call her, and how lovely it was to hear her voice after so long.
There was silence.
He began to think that the connection had been lost. There was no response.
Finally, Laura spoke. “Aren’t you dead?”
It was not quite the direction he had expected the conversation to take. He forced a laugh. “No, I’m not that old. I have a few years left in me yet.” He was confused. From deep within the recesses of memory, a friend’s comment was recalled. ‘Don’t worry about not being in touch with Laura, I have covered for you.’ The comment had been accompanied by a wink.
Laura continued, “your best friend told me that you were dead, that you had been killed in a tragic accident.
“Ah,” he said, “well, it was a long time ago.”
“It was. Actually, it is quite funny. I didn’t like you very much anyway. You being ‘dead’ saved me the trouble of writing to tell you. It’s very funny, really. ‘I couldn’t think of much to write’, it would be hard to think of anything at all if you were dead.” Laura laughed loudly.
Days of expectation crumbled. He floundered. He stumbled over words. Searching for a positive outcome, he suggested that perhaps they might meet for lunch, sometime, no rush, take their time, when it suited them both. Another burst of laughter ensued.
“No, I don’t want to meet you for lunch, not sometime, not ever. I will tell you one thing that makes me happy.”
“I’m glad you’re not dead – I would be worried by the thought of talking to a ghost!” The laughter resumed and the call ended.
He looked at the letter, at the few lines and the blank whiteness that had seemed so accusing. “Well, I’m glad I didn’t waste my money on a postage stamp for that.”