Cathy froze as the post dropped to the floor. A letter. Without a stamp, but instead a governmental seal. An official letter. Her hands trembled as she carefully put her teacup down onto the saucer and picked up the letter, feeling the thick brown paper envelope under her fingertips.
Jim had been in the reserves when the war had broken out. He had never expected to be called in to fight. Nevertheless he had gone without hesitation, proud to be serving and defending the country. She was left all alone. Waiting. Dreading the day that a letter like this one would fall through the door.
No news was always good news.
She ran her fingers across the flap of the envelope, picking at it gently with her nail. Then she stood the letter up between the salt and pepper shakers on the table and went into the kitchen. She wasn’t prepared to read what was inside without a fresh cup of tea.
She heated the kettle, her eyes staring straight at it, unblinking. Pouring the boiling water over the tea bag she focused on the task at hand, trying to do the impossible, trying to put the letter out of her brain. She watched the clock tick as the tea stewed. To keep herself occupied she counted every second. Tick. Forty. Tick. Forty-one. Tick. Forty-two. She wondered how many other left-behind women had one of these envelopes fall through their letterbox today. She wouldn’t be the only one.
She gently poured in the milk, then stirred in the two sugars. Just how Jim liked it. The steam rose slowly from the cup as she sat back at the table, the letter in front of her once more. Taking Jim’s favourite letter opener from a desk drawer, she carefully picked up the envelope and sliced it open. Pausing for a breath, she pulled the letter out and read.
Fragments jumped out. “Success on the front”, “need for fresh troops”, “period of leave”.
Jim was coming home. Not in a box, but whole and healthy.
Jim was coming back to her.