The Solitary Letter

I live in a remote part of the country and have worked for the last twenty years as a postman driving a mail truck from the depot in my town to every far-flung corner of the county, in almost any weather and without regard to cost, it seems to me.

Something has stirred in a government department far above my circle of influence and it has been decided, in remote areas at least, to do away with individual daily deliveries and deposit post for collection at the local post offices on a weekly basis. This may sound harsh or even cruel to you, given how important these fragile missives can be, but a casual disinterest in the feelings of the underprivileged is a characteristic of those in power.

My job gone and my final  round complete, I  travelled back to my town for the last time imagining, as I drove, that a man looking down on me might say, “The mail truck goes down the coast carrying a single letter” because that was the truth.

And it wasn’t just any letter but one addressed to me and from my father from whom I had not heard in thirty years. I have children of my own now, teenagers, and he has never met them. He left our childhood home to chase some new sweetheart across the country and my mother, a decent pious woman if a bit severe, closed the door on him and, as far as possible, erased him from our history.

When I saw the letter I recognised the handwriting because it had been a childhood hobby of mine to sift through family papers and there were many notes from him on his family history and about the adventure of emigrating from England with his parents when he was a boy,

Back at the depot, I picked up the letter from the seat beside me and looked once more at the writing on the envelope; more fragile, perhaps, but clearly his, and removed the letter from inside it.

“Dear Son,” It said, I have only weeks to live and I wish, more than I can describe, to say goodbye to my only boy before I go.”

How he got my address I cannot say, but as I read the letter I realised he was now bedridden and incapable of travel. As I put it down I felt the tears flow down my cheeks, realising that you can love someone without even knowing it.

The truck was not mine to use, but without another thought I re-started the engine and drove off towards the place where he now lived and swore to myself that, whatever the cost, he would not die alone.



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Memories Of My Mother

While physically present in my childhood, my mother was always more absorbed by questions of faith than the people around her so, in practical terms, she was seldom involved in my daily life. Every week the same succession of meals would be served or offered: on holiday, spent in a lodge at my grandmother’s house, fourteen meals, identical in every way, would be taken with us in the car so that no time would be wasted on dealing with life’s tedious practicalities.

Her children, of which I was one of the youngest, could do almost anything they liked as long as they did not disturb her, or bring the household into disrepute. She had no sense of developing a child’s character, or offering support in a project apart from her ongoing conversations with Christ.

I do remember, as a child, and in a moment of reckless self-interest, asking her if I might have a slice of the fruit cake she had purchased for the afternoon tea she would host for the local Catholic Women’s Guild. “Why?” she asked.

Being about eleven at the time, I was short on answers so I said, somewhat lamely, “Because I’m hungry!”

“No” she replied, “If you were hungry, you would eat dry bread. You are merely greedy” and her answer disclosed the essence of her connection with her children and the physical world around her.

She was far from being unkind or unaware but merely resided on a different plane to the practical, physical world where most of us live out our lives. In hindsight I feel much of her approach to life was the result of a subconscious withdrawal from everyday routines following the death of my father in an accident when I was eight years old.

After his death she retreated to a life in her bed in an attic apartment at the top of the house which included a bathroom and small kitchen. By knocking at the door you could almost always gain entrance to her world and enjoy her unique and distracted attention but otherwise she was seldom present in our lives.

To engage her interest, around the age of eight, I mentioned that I might like to become a priest: to her the highest calling available to living man, although, in truth, I was largely unaware of the commitment I was making. Regardless, on the basis of my word, she took me along, on a daily basis, to serve at the mass held at six in the morning every weekday at our church.

To get there I would have to get out of bed at five o’clock and was summoned by her daily, and given a glass of cold water to help “Rinse the sleep from me!” Again, why she did not make me a cup of tea to coax me into awareness in a more gentle way is a question my adult person might ask but to her, any kind of softness spoke of a lax approach to living of which she would have no part.

The curious thing is I have only cried about three times in my life but one was when I visited her on her deathbed. The unutterable sadness of seeing her lying there and recognising the conversations and connection we would never have overwhelmed me. She was the oddest, most disengaged, remarkable, obscure, determined and vulnerable woman I have ever known and I miss her to this day.

Love is a curious emotion is it not, and has touched my life infrequently, but in my thoughts of her, and the unique memories her life bequeathed me, I can say no more than that I loved her and love her still; this lady I hardly knew. Love, a wise man might of said,  “Is beyond our understanding, but central to our lives.”

Posted in character, childhood, creative writing, Fiction, Peter Wells, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 38 Comments

What’s In A Greeting?

I am one of those people who pretend they know more people than they do or are friends with someone just because they chat with them in cafés: three days a week I work as a forecourt attendant at my local garage, five hours a day, and always tackle my work as if I have a purpose. When I leave work I walk as if I’m in a hurry and have things to do but in my bag is a meal for one to be eaten during an evening of undisturbed solitude. I sleep in a single room apartment, microwave included, with use of a shared shower. I watch films on my television or pass the time by either looking out of the window or answering obscure questions I pose to myself by searching on the internet.

That is what I would have said two months ago but something has come along to change my horizon. Sometimes, to break the monotony I would wander into the local gift shop where curious items would amuse me for a moment and I would remark on them with the shop assistant of the day, and so it continued until it didn’t if you follow me.

A new girl, I say “girl” although she is comfortably in her forties, starting talking back to me. “What do you like about it? Do you always have the same ready meal? Can you cook?

You get the picture: she seemed to be taking an interest in me and I was always tempted to look over my shoulder in case she was addressing someone else but she wasn’t: it was always me. Needless to say, my occasional “popping into the shop” became part of a daily routine. Her name was Sarah, by the way, and I started to think about her more and more when I should have been looking out of the window or answering obscure questions on my laptop. Now there was only one question on my mind and the laptop could not answer it. “Did she really like me?

Finally I plucked up the courage to ask if she’d like a meal at the local pub, which was a major investment for me, I can tell you, as I have no money, but sometimes you have to risk everything don’t you, and this seemed such a time. “Yes” she said.

Come the Saturday and I was at the pub by seven in the evening, drink in hand and waiting for her to arrive at eight. I am never late for anything; that is one of my qualities, but now, just to be in the place she was going to be in seemed to add magic to the hour and I found myself smiling at life for no logical reason.

Come eight-thirty and I was a bit concerned, but we are not all punctual are we, though by nine I was getting really worried. By ten I knew all was not right and, sure enough, she never appeared. On Sunday the shop was closed so I l was left free to fret as only the solitary can and on Monday I could do no more than walk to work consumed by the mystery. I tried to walk around pretending all was normal, and helping others as I always do but I’m not sure I was fully myself.

Half way through the shift an older lady came across the forecourt and spoke to me. “Sorry to bother you but I am Sarah’s mother. Her husband came back unexpectedly last night and that is why she could not meet you” “Quite understand, quite understand” I said as if I did, though I did not. I never ask unsolicited questions: it’s not my thing!

There is a story there but I do not know it myself; but still I like to think of the whole thing as a romance.

Now I’m not looking out of the window or answering any questions on my laptop because her face keeps staring at me from my memory. Was that a love story do you think? Was that the final chapter? Not to me at least. If, at some future time, she comes across the forecourt instead of her mother, I may not have much to offer but she will get my love and understanding at the very least: we can all offer that I hope? Perhaps I’ll ask my laptop.


Posted in creative writing, Fiction, Love, Peter Wells, Romance, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

A Distant Star

Ever since I have been old enough to want more than to go fishing, play football or become a musician of note, I have had a “Star from Afar:” some inexpressibly mysterious beauty whose progress across the silver screen captured my imagination and heart.

Ingrid Bergman was the first, viewed when I was twenty- four and unaware that she was older than me by several decades. On the screen she was only twenty-seven, and still within reach of my imagination, if not my wallet or reality, but then my recognition of practical difficulties has never been a strong point.

Over the years the list of stars I admired has grown to infinite length, each woman loved without any sense of my being unfaithful to the last or the physical lady of the hour, if one applied for that vacancy. My most obscure addition to the list was Samantha Wheatley, somewhere near my age, who enjoyed a career under the radar, filling in small roles in a number of well-received films although that “Breakthrough moment” never graced her career. She vanished from the world of films and even the internet neglected her life story so that what happened to her, or where she was, remained a taunting mystery.

Most fetching were her eyes, full of gentle modesty and a voice which soothed away my fears: with her alone, I dreamt I might discover myself and open up the door to life beyond the commonplace, but that was not to be. I was an attic man, living in unremarkable isolation and freed from social expectation by a lack of means; but in my dreams I still walked the planet, head held high, and talked with souls whose heightened awareness brought beauty to my world.

What did I care about hardship when her radiance shone in every part she played and I longed for that moment when I might open a door for her or share a glance across the street. I had a dream where she walked across a room, entered by accident, and said with discrete simplicity, “You are my chosen man,” before kissing me softly on the lips.

So it may have remained until one day, by request, I attended the launch of a painter’s career, not known to me but her father was a friend. I walked through the gallery, admiring one work and then the next until a lady asked me if I had the time. I turned to speak to her and saw those eyes again, so full of acceptance and still with a beauty most of us forget, and heard a voice I recognised, but in real life.

Before I could stop myself I said, “Samantha Wheatley” and captured the moment of surprise which moved across her face. “I did not mean to startle you” I said, “But I have been a fan of yours since long before I can remember” and she just smiled. Older than me, but still with that quality of nervous courage, and reaching out to awareness so many creative people have, if only fleetingly: she filled me with awe of her sympathy and bravery. “Beauty of many kinds can light up life at any time, and you are full of it,” I said. She must have been slightly over sixty by that time, and might have thought me strange, but all she did was smile, reach out and touch my arm and thank me for my courtesy.

Most of life is mystery, mine is anyway, wasted on anxieties, or drowned by prosaic demands leaving wonder to another time, but suddenly, when she appeared, wonder seemed to be everywhere and without knowing anything about her I knew I could not let her go. “Come and lunch with me, somewhere safe where you cannot worry about being with a stranger and we can talk.” All she said was “Yes.”

“Yes” is what she said, and I cannot tell you why, but later we talked about our lives and the price of experience. She, like me, was lost and no stranger to catastrophe: we had both sought the ‘Promised Land’ without any sense of geography.

I learnt through her that life is never without the promise of wonder or recognition and somehow, I do not know how, she brought me home: she said the same of me. We are a married now, these six years, and her health is not what it might be, but we share our moment, and, side by side, find peace. I do not want to be safe, life must be more than that surely, but in her arms and by her side I live adventure without anxiety: my star came home.

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A PR Challenge And A Half

Bertram Mildew ran the laundry which bore his name, underlining the fact that he was the proud owner of this seldom-patronised venture. “Mildew Laundry Services” which didn’t seem to “Cut it” in a town bustling with shops selling everything from unnecessary trinkets to those nifty new slippers which, battery charged, add a comforting glow to your feet without placing an undue burden on the central heating system.

At last, as his capital reserves dwindled towards crisis point he took the bold step of contacting a powerful PR company in the next town. ‘Smoothie and Glib Ltd,’ masters of the flowing phrase sited just beyond the world of meaning, who sent one of their sharper wordsters to,” get a sense of the Mildew enterprise,” and see how much they could drain out of his monetary reserves before he cottoned on to the fact that a laundry with the word ‘Mildew’ in its title was unlikely to attract custom from a town noted for a high percentage of neurotics amongst its population.

Across the road the local café, ‘Bland Eating’ which employed the slogan “Every allergy catered for”, seemed to enjoy a thriving existence, if you can ignore the fact that most of those who entered therin were checking the newspaper for nut content, or holding a handkerchief to their noses lest nearby trees tried to pollinate their nostrils. Even its rival, “The Fat Café,” which boasted in black print above the entrance, “All weights welcome: our doors accept any figure” managed to cram a decent number of customers into its outsized chairs on a regular basis. The sound of the waiter leaning over the table and asking in the quiet cultured voice gained while failing a degree at Oxford “Four eggs or six sir” added a surprisingly sophisticated tone to an eatery which boasted slightly stained tablecloths.

Sydney Byline, “A tie to suit every mood,” was the sharpster sent by Smoothie and Glib to get the lie of the land. “The secret is in the name” he told Mr Mildew with a gloating display of perceptive power. “Have you ever thought of changing it to something which would be less distracting to prospective customers of a laundry”

“I cannot change the name without offending the memory of my father. He would spin in his crematorium.” “I see” said the nimble advisor. “Perhaps if we combined his name with that of your mother we might distract from the ‘subtext’ if you follow me” Mildew didn’t follow him, but gallantly offered up the surname of his mother as the route to business rescue, “Widebottom”

Our canny advisor, who had slipped into The Fat Café on his way to the appointment looked stunned for a second and then his face cleared and he said “Mildew and Widebottom, by-line, ‘No shirt too large, no dress too shapeless” and added, “That is the very thing to gain custom in this odd and ill-peopled town, and as an afterthought he continued, “Open at tactful hours” which might save the blushes of those still unfamiliar with the interior of a gym.

By these simple steps, Mildew found his fortunes restored and social profile raised. Even the future Mrs Mildew, current name Sandra Boil, was introduced to him while sneaking a stained party frock through his doors at 2:30 am, which, mysteriously, had become his busiest hour.

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Imprisoned By Reputation

You know that practised smile, the air-hostess smile so beloved in the world of the antiseptic greeting? Miss Laura had it and could look on you and then move away before you could ask if her manner was sincere or meant just for you or a mere reflection of your longing, but luck was not on her side the day I joined her dancing class.

I was lonely and desperate, and for some years I had lived as a recluse, through force of circumstance rather than desire. One evening, an advert in the local newspaper caught my eye and here I was holding Miss Laura in my arms, and seeing her eyes, warm and nurturing, then wary, then alarmed as she looked up at me. I could almost hear her refined and polished instincts whirring into action as she sought a way to extricate herself from the arms of this odd creature without creating a scene.

I hung on to her a bit too long and her eyes, with that gentle seriousness I had seen before in other girls, made the unspoken suggestion that I was threatening to embarrass myself and her until, like some piece of refuse caught briefly by an overhanging branch, I was released from my hypnosis and freed her from my grasp.

As I let her go, her eyes hardened as if to say, “I do not waste my warmth on men like you” and to be honest there was a guarded, careful quality about her which was at odds with her apparently social and generalised manner.

I had been a wealthy man in my time, and used to employ a modesty of character combined with an expensive wardrobe to attract those whose company I might enjoy. Up to my mid-forties I had been considered sensible, balanced and particular, until a certain Maria Gratzia, who boasted among other things, that she was a distant descendant of Lucretia Borgia, caught my eye: which outlandish claim was given some credence by her subsequent conduct.

What she had against men, or mankind in general, or just me, I cannot truly say, but once I lost myself in her, she married me, took half my wealth, my reputation and my peace of mind before leaving me to find consolation in uneasy solitude brought on by shame and balmed by any drink I could acquire.

We all have unsavoury, grubby aspects to our character do we not, and she managed to fillet out mine and make it general knowledge to excuse her own conduct, which it did; leaving me, now a pariah, to steal into the obscure seclusion from which I had failed to free myself for close on a decade. At last, the longing to be absolved, touched and recognised gradually possessed me until I had made this unbalanced attempt to renew my social life.

I was like a man dying of thirst who stumbles into some fine restaurant and gulps and slurps from a carafe of wine without ceremony, revolting the diners with his display of unpolished appetite, as was my brief and awkward dance with Miss Laura until she saw the hunger in my eyes. After a while recognition overlay the hauteur and she said, “Mr Longestine, please do not come back here again,” and I left as quickly as I could. Secrets laid bare, it seems, can sometimes haunt us all our lives.

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I’ve never heard anyone say “When I was young all I wanted to be was a liar” because that would be mad wouldn’t it? I mean, I ask you, what could be more stupid? Why would you wish to be such a thing, but possibly you know the answers don’t you: not sure I do!

My obsession was called Annabelle, and she had a warmth and smile about her which could chase the winter out of any room, and just to bath in her energy for a few minutes, an evening perhaps, or maybe just a lifetime seemed the doorway to “Paradise.”

I’m not one for public disclosures so the fact I was married was not fully known to those I worked with, including Annabelle, who caught my eye as I did hers.

I am an engineer by trade and travelling away from home is part of my routine, so there was no there need to tell anyone about my wife Krystal or my daughter Caroline. I love my wife and had never betrayed her but we all have that space, don’t we, which is unnourished: that suitcase of dreams which remains unpacked in our current circumstance, and suddenly, in her presence, I was granted that smile which allowed me to express a new and beautiful way of being me: that was my belief.

It was only after I slept with her for the second night we were together, lying in bed and drinking tea that I spoke about my marriage. “Get out of my room” she said, which left me no time to explain myself.

For the rest of the week I avoided her as much as possible, riven by waves of panic and a growing sense of what I had risked by this reckless conduct and glad to be escaping, hopefully never to return.

“All’s well that ends well” they say, which is not what happened in my case. Annabelle traced my wife through social media and took it upon herself to pass on all the details of my deceit. As I opened the door my dear wife said, “Do not unpack.”

Truth often becomes apparent only in retrospect and I had disregarded the simple fact that I loved my wife and everything else was mere distraction. As I seek to forgive myself I hope that my wife might do the same!

Posted in Affair, creative writing, Fiction, Peter Wells, Relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments