‘From an admirer, Angela?’ the postman would ask with a knowing wink.
She would finger the red envelope fondly, almost with curiosity, then place it behind the clock, she was never in a hurry to open it. She did not fit anyone’s definition of an eccentric: popular in the village, a hospice nurse taking hope to the sick in her little red car. Neither did she fit the lonely woman stereotype, if such there be. Yet she was remote. The stately old house looked out cautiously from small black windows. It was not that she discouraged visitors, yet there never seemed a reason for anyone to visit. She was the last of her line and had just passed the point when she could do anything about it.
Once, twenty-odd years earlier, feeling sorry for herself, she sent the first card. It seemed appropriate to send another the following year and the year after that. She varied the greetings depending on her mood, from funny to despondent. She would savour the message during the holidays, then consign the card wistfully to the fire: if anything happened to her, what would people think when they found it?
One December day, the postman handed her two envelopes, her own and another. It was a shock. She put her own behind the clock and concentrated on the other. She viewed it from every angle, examined the smudged postmark which refused to give up its secret. The address was in an intriguing hand, mystery written all over it. She placed it behind the clock with her own card.
It’s a surprise, she told herself, but it’s not nutty. Stranger things happen to everyone if we only knew.
On Christmas Eve she opened her own envelope. It seemed somehow silly, even pathetic, compared with the mystery card. Her mind raced over those she knew. The women were gradually nudged aside. Those who have never been in Angela’s situation might think there was nothing simpler than to slit open the envelope, but the opposite is true. There was too much at stake. Even some great surprise for which she had not yet prepared herself. Could there be an unknown relative? Or some overlooked admirer? People were an enigma unless they revealed themselves, which few did.
This unexpected puzzle provoked a review of her life. No great revelation was forthcoming. Yet there was a spring in her step, because hope, even when it’s not specific, is bouncy and resolute.
Christmas came and went and Angela did not risk spoiling this glowing feeling. She fell in love with possibility. She threw away the holly, took down the blinking lights. Whenever she felt despondent, imagination came to the rescue. The envelope behind the clock gradually grew stained and battered, but the card remained pristine and promising within.
She lived to a ripe old age.
When a distant relative inherited the house, he couldn’t resist opening the envelope in case there might be money.
Short Story Sunday Festive Special
This story is part of Short Story Sunday’s ‘5 Days of Christmas’ Festive Special which features an original festive tale each day in the four days before Christmas leading up to the grand finale with a very special fifth and final story on Christmas Day.
Don’t Miss Day 4: Tune in tomorrow for Day 4 of our Festive Special which features a light and humorous tale about Christmas Eve viewed through the eyes of the family feline.
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