A Letter To...
I am leaving tonight on the troopship Arethusa to join up with the boys who are fighting the Turks in Anatolia. I don’t know where it is but I’m told it will take us about two weeks to get there and it will be hot!
I couldn’t go without letting you know my feelings for you since we have been going out for a while now and I hope you will not mind my writing to you like this.
Jemmy has been a good friend to me and I think of him not just as your brother but my best friend. He reminds me of your lively smile and bright shiny hair, so when I am far away I will see you, Alice Jenkins, through your brother.
General Haig tells us that the Turk is a ferocious soldier but we have better equipment and will have every support. I hope he is right because at the moment we have not got tropical kit and our main battery guns are not in the convoy. So when will they arrive?
Jemmy says that you kept that rose I bought you at the summer Fair in Doncaster but I think he is joshing me. If you did –well I’d be as pleased as punch but I expect it is just his joke.
I left my best things with Mother in case we have a hard time out there and she will find some cash in my tin box that you know about. Dad is no good for cash since he got that lung infection or whatever it is that he got down the pit and he just sits around all day wheezing, poor old feller.
Anyhow, the colonel says we will be home by the end of the year so we can be together soon if you would like that.
Must go or I’ll miss the post collection which will be sent to you when we reach Cairo or some place.
Your special Jo xxx
(By order of the War Ministry this letter was found on the body of Private Jonathan Warboys 1st Yorkshire Regt and delivered to the addressee in accordance with general instructions.)
She could hear the rattle of shop shutters, reaching up from the street below and the rumble of the week beginning. The unclear moment of waking had been physical, without thought, knowing only the certain warmth of human contact, her right hand resting on his waist. Early sunlight curved through the missing slats of the blind, the room easing from black and white through to sepia. For a long time she had laid there, one shoulder blade against the worn mattress, that one arm measuring her breathing, not wanting him to wake, knowing that he was a luxury.
In sleep his shoulders were soft. She wanted to see the dawn edge across the room and edged up the bed. Releasing the comfort of his waist her hip leaned lightly against the small of his back. His arm was scarred at the elbow; the skin on the forearm marked by a line of old healed stitches. From the two of them she could smell yesterday’s perfume and sweat.
The bedroom was just a bed and a chair; beyond that a pile of books, some festival posters, the unthinking blink of his laptop charging. It was exactly as she had dreamed. There was no wardrobe and only his shirt, had made it to the chair. It had brought indoors the cold of the outside when he’d finished work last night, the shell buttons loose against the worn fabric.
He’d put his keys next to the one key he’d given her, on the table by the door. She had put the shell back next to them. Whilst she’d waited she’d turned it in her hand, trying to hear the sea but catching only the depth of her fear. She’d paced and looked at a shelf of books and CDs, weary vinyl jammed between. The spines on the shelf had been out of focus, her body too full of blood rush and adrenalin. As other doors opened along the stairwell of the block she had tried to gather her reasons, remember how she came there.
The letter. Her letter, returned, left behind with a late delivery of tomorrow’s strawberries when she’d gone out on her break. Whatever he’d thought he had reduced it to this in writing: “52 Oak House, 10pm” and a key tucked inside the torn envelope. His seeming casual embrace and warmth at New Year returned to her. She wrote a note to cash up, lock up without her. The front of house man at the bar would not be happy.
In her mind there was no exact memory of how drunk she’d been when she’d left the letter in his van. And knowing the impossibility of being in someone else’s dreams she had still dreamed of him, between the nightmares of falling and the dead sleep of exhaustion. But she hadn’t been working that night, just in the bar with friends. It was too quiet to talk to him by accident, too busy to cross the room on purpose. He was with someone or maybe he wasn’t. She drank because she could not think. The letter was in her bag and she couldn’t remember why she put it there. She remembered the smell of cigarettes in the van, her loss of balance, the weight of the van door.
All but the last line she’d written sober. Cold. Written about seeing him for the first time in the café; how she had seen him read stories he’d created to an audience of others. She’d fallen first under one spell and then under another. In trying to put her feelings away she had put pen to paper, buried the letter under a pile of makeup. But more remained to be said. The days of a crush had become something older, stronger; she’d needed to explain it to herself. She’d written it into the letter. He’d got a job on the delivery run that came into her bar, she saw him too often, not often enough. She knew his quiet was unfathomable and unbearable. A casual embrace in a crowd was both the everything to her and nothing at all. The want of needing to hold him. She’d come to realise that even life’s grand loves are not all meant to be. The last line she wrote drunk, in the bar that off duty night. She wrote what needed to happen next.
“The next move is yours.”
I want you to know that I would have kept you if I could, but they won’t let me. I would have loved you and cared for you, but I can’t give you a future, and I can’t keep you safe. That’s why I have to give you up, even though it’s breaking my heart.
I hope your new parents will tell you early on that you are adopted: I don’t want this letter to be a shock on your eighteenth birthday. I hope they will give you a safe home and a bright future, all the things I can’t give you, and all the love you deserve. I can’t imagine anyone loving you as much as I do right now, I didn’t know it was possible to love anyone this much, but from the moment I saw you it washed over me, the love, and carried away all the horrible, horrible stuff that happened before.
I’m putting a photograph of myself as a baby in with this letter. I think you look like I did, and I’m glad about that. I hope your eyes stay blue and your hair stays fair. I like to think that one day I may pass you in the street and look at you and know it’s you, because it’s like looking in the mirror. I don’t know if that’s possible, though. I don’t know who will adopt you, someone from this town, or someone from the other end of the country. Maybe far away would be best for you, as far away from this shit town as you can get. As soon as I can, I’m going to get away, too.
You’ll want to know about your father, I suppose, but I can’t tell you much, and the stuff I can tell you isn’t anything you’ll be proud of. Don’t ever try to find him. Well, you won’t be able to, because his name’s not on your birth certificate. He was one of my Mum’s friends, not mine, so that probably tells you as much as you need to know. The first time it happened I told her, and she was mad at him and kicked him out for a few days, but he talked her round, said I was lying. After it kept happening I told my teachers and they reported him to social services and he talked them round, too. It didn’t stop until I found out I was having you. They found me a foster home then, a really nice couple, whose kids had grown up and left home. I hope your new parents will be kind like them. I wish I could stay with them for longer, but Mum’s friend – your father – is in prison now so social services think it’s ok for me to go home. Mum said she won’t let anyone else into her life ever again but I don’t believe her. There’ll be another boyfriend along soon and I won’t be safe. I can’t take you back to a place like that. That's why I have to let you go. That, and because Mum says I'm too young, and it will be for the best.
I have to go back to school in September. Everyone’s been told I had glandular fever for six months, so no-one knows about you, and that’s sad. I’d like to be able to talk about you with someone. I’ve got to go back a year because I’ve missed so much, but I’m going to work really hard and try and get some qualifications. If you do ever try and find me, I hope I’ll be someone you can be proud of.
Yesterday was my birthday, too. You are the best present I have ever had, on any birthday, ever. On my 32nd birthday you will be 18, and you’ll be opening this letter. Every day from then on I’ll be hoping that you’ll try and find me, and hoping that you’ll forgive me for letting you go.
I don’t know what your new parents will call you, but in my heart I will always call you Hope, because that’s what you’ve given me.
They are coming to take you away at 11 o'clock, so I'll seal up this letter and tuck it into your cot, and then I'll have ten minutes to hold you, to breathe in your baby smell and tell you over and over again that I love you.
Goodbye my lovely girl, my baby, my Hope.
age 14 and 1 day