The envelope was crinkled after lying in her school bag for so long and the recently familiar name taunted Isabelle as she rummaged for a book. She knew it was time to make the decision, to post it or throw it in the bin.
Uneasy thoughts assailed her, what if he didn’t answer? Or what if he did but it wasn’t what she wanted to hear?
Isabelle often argued that she didn’t need a father, but lately she had found herself wanting one. It had always been Isabelle and her fearless mum, two of them against the world, but over the past months an unease had been creeping within her.
She would be leaving for college soon and had been questioning her identity as a singular person. Her father was a poet, an artist like her. Did that mean she was feckless like him? Or could he expose her to a world of colour that she craved to be part of?
Mum was business minded and logical, Isabelle supposed that she had to be as at age 19 she was left with sole responsibility for another human.
Maybe, knowing her father would help her see where her parents ended and she began.
Isabelle trembled as she slid the letter into the wide mouth of the post box, but once the paper detached from her fingers, she felt a gust of relief. It was his move now.
After weeks of eager mail checking, her mum, with a wrinkled brow of concern asked,
“What is it you are waiting for? It must be important for you to rush for the mail, like that?”
Afraid to hurt her mother’s feelings, Isabelle stammered something about a letter from school and dashed from the room.
Later, over a bowl of warming stew, Isabelle bowed her head and confessed,
“I sent Dad a letter, I’m so sorry.”
She explained how she had found his name and address online and felt the need to reach out to him.
“You have been everything to me and I love you so much, but I just want to know who I am”
Her mother jumped up from the table and pulled Isabelle into the tightest cuddle they’d shared since she was in the throes of night terrors as a toddler.
“Of course you need to know about him, I’ve been expecting you to ask about him for years.”
She lifted her palm in a signal for Isabelle to wait and strode to her bedroom, returning moments later with a shoebox, the lid kept in place by a thick rubber band.
A hot sting of tears threatened to burst from Isabelle’s eyes as she fingered the contents. Photographs, letters, handwritten poems from a time before he’d left their family. They painted a picture of a loving man, a deep thinker, an artist.
They also painted a picture of an erratic man. Mercurial emotions littered the letters and poems in jagged scrawls. Angry words and desolation littered the pages between wild declarations of love.
Sadness was etched on the fine wrinkles of her mother’s face as she too was confronted with a past Isabelle assumed she had grieved and buried beneath toil and responsibility, all those years ago.
Isabelle placed her hand on her mother’s tense cheek and looked deep into the green eyes that were her safety. “This is all I need to know, you are everything to me.”
As the months drew into years, Isabelle’s heart no longer jumped in hope at the sight of a handwritten envelope. Although it stung to be rejected twice, she understood her identity was not shaped by him, and although she admired his artistic talents, it was her mother who gifted her the strong foundations that spurred her to go out into the world with her head held high. He gave her some genes but she was Isabelle, her mother’s brave daughter.
The Last Poem
Magazines, newspapers, books, and notebooks covered every surface in the living room; a mess of stained, rumpled, rotting paper covered with asymmetrical sketches of coffee, wine, beer, whisky, ashes. Charles put his newspaper down, grunting as his hand fumbled for the source of the persistent buzzing. He moved his foot and created a cascade of clinking, a wind chime of empty bottles. Finding his phone gave him no joy; a bitter taste of angst covered his dry tongue as a tight knot took hold of his swollen stomach.
“Hello, there. This is Pat from the doctor’s office. It seems you missed your appointment—”
“Fuck off, Pat!” Charles switched off his phone and threw it at the armchair opposite.
With shaky hands, he lit a cigarette and rummaged through the pile on the floor. There was a bottle with a little wine left. Without hesitation, he gulped it down, then wanted more. His knees loudly rebelled when he stood up to trudge to the kitchen, zigzagging around the cadavers of bottles, cans, glasses and unsteady stacks of books. He kicked a side table, toppling a large ashtray. He cursed and sneezed as ghostly dust tickled his nostrils.
A shooting pain radiated through his belly and travelled to his back. Black spots blurred his vision.
He fell in slow motion.
“Here he is. Hello there, Mr Jones. I’m nurse Gail. Welcome back.” The cheerful grin made him growl.
A splitting headache forced his hands to his face, a useless attempt to shield his eyes. “What happened?”
“The doctor will be with you shortly to talk to you. Can I get you anything?”
“Something to drink.”
The nurse dashed to the side table and held the back of his head as he swallowed. “Now, is there anyone I can call for you? A family member?”
“I see. Any friends or neighbours?”
Her smile dropped. “I’m sorry.”
“Fuck off with your pity, you b—”
“Oh, I see, you’re that type. I’ll fetch the doctor for you, then.”
“Wait. I need a pen and some paper or a notebook. Something to write on.”
“I’ll see what I can find.”
The youthful doctor gazed at his charts before tilting his head. “You have a few weeks at most.”
“I knew that already. I asked for something to write on.”
“I’m sure the nurse will—”
“I need to write my last poem.”
“So, you’re a writer?”
“Just find me something to write on. How hard can it be?”
“I’ll let the nurse know.”
Charles spent the next few days scribbling and throwing pages across the room in a rage.
I can’t do it.
When no one came, he pressed the button by his bed. Again and again and again.
Nurse Gail appeared at the door, a scowl across her pretty face.
“Ah, nurse, finally. I need a drink. I can’t write.”
“The water is right next to you.”
“Not water! I need something stronger.”
“You’re in a hospital, not a hotel.”
“I can’t write! I need to write this piece for my daughter—”
“I thought you didn’t have any family.”
Charles glared at her.
“Would you like me to contact your daughter for you?”
“No. I would not. I need a drink to write her a poem.”
Nurse Gail sighed. “I can’t help you. I’d lose my job. But I can call your daughter. What’s her name?”
“That’s a beautiful name. What’s her surname?”
“I’m not sure. Her maiden name was Evans.”
“Ah. Where does she live?”
“I don’t know.”
“I take it you’re not close.”
“I left… I couldn’t write with an infant wailing in the next room. It was too much. I was too young.”
“Please, get me a drink. I need to write her a poem.”
“Sorry, I can’t do that.”
Nurse Gail found him cold and blue during her morning rounds. Crumpled papers littered the room. One page was placed against the glass on the table next to the bed.
Jack of Spades – a young person, a message, problems, solutions logic
Queen of Spades – a woman, honesty
10 of Hearts – cycles, endings, relationships, friendships, emotions
The Last Poem
Eight of cups/hearts – relationships, friendships, emotions, health, the body.
Eight of wands/clubs – work, study, aspirations, change, creativity.
Eight of wands/clubs – work, study, aspirations, sharing, communication.
Marie-Louise McGuinness (She/her) comes from a wonderfully neurodiverse household in rural Northern Ireland. She has work published in Splonk, Bending Genres, Intrepidus Ink, The Metaworker, JAKE, Roi Faineant Press, The Airgonaut and Flash Fiction Magazine amongst others. She enjoys writing from a sensory perspective.
She tweets @mlmcguinness
Delphine Gauthier-Georgakopoulos (She/her) is a Breton writer, teacher, mother, nature and music lover, foodie, dreamer. She loves butter, needs coffee, hates easy opening packaging, and likes to create stories in her head. She lives in Athens, Greece.