By the time you read this, I suppose that my cremation will be over. I’m sorry I left you so many belongings to sort through. I don’t suppose you will want any of it.
During my final illness I came to the conclusion that what is important in a legacy is the abstract and spiritual rather than material wealth. I realise that I have failed you somewhat on that count. I want you to know that I always loved you as best as I was able. But I wonder if, at times maybe you detected something missing.
It takes the perspective of ageing to realise what happened to oneself; the things that were not really one’s fault.
Mine was a loveless childhood, I see that now. I received much education but little affection; criticism rather than reward. However hard I worked, however much I succeeded, it could never be enough. So I did not have much love to give. At least you wanted for nothing. Except for the sledge- that became our running joke, didn’t it? And the snowboarding gap year, although I still think it would have been an over-indulgence.
While I was alive I never spoke to you about your father and why we divorced. Probably he never spoke to you about it either. I always wondered if that was why you never married. Did you feel you couldn’t trust a marriage not to give you pain?’
He had read to the bottom of the page. Laurence sat at his mother’s old oak bureau, willing himself to read more.
‘What is it, hun?’ said Nadia, sensing his stillness. She was doing what she could to help, taking papers out of one box and scanning them, stacking them into a second box: old bank statements, pension projections; end-of-year certificates. She would index everything by date to help him make a start on the probate.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I should be doing more. I shouldn’t expect you to do this.’
‘I don’t like to stand around idle.’ She set the scanner off, then turned back to the computer to key in a filename.
‘You’ve been an incredible support. You’ve done so much…’
‘No problem. I’m not having to stop and say goodbye all the time.’
‘But I shouldn’t expect you-‘
‘Because I’m just your girlfriend, right?’
‘Nadia…’ He put the letter down and looked over at her, sitting at the trestle table in the corner, a long fall of hair hiding her profile. He wanted to go to her and do what he always did, stroke her hair back before bunching it gently in his fingers, so that he could touch his lips to the side of her cheek. That slight sensation of her against his mouth would be enough to overwhelm him.
But she lifted the lid of the scanner, swapped papers around, banged the lid back down and pressed the button.
‘We were burned out, your father and I. Within a couple of years of graduating, working as we did had already destroyed us. We hardly saw each other; the ethos where we worked was that you were married to the job. We got so that we weren’t even in the habit of coming home.
Having a child – you – should have brought us together. But it was nearly impossible for us to find the time to be a family. Childcare was a constant juggling act. I reduced my working hours.
I know, spending time with you should have been enough for me. I should have loved you better. But I was lonely. I was low. I had not enough love to give. And when, at the school gates, I met someone who seemed to offer me love, I was lost.
For a long time, I felt ashamed of what I had done. The marriage ended in divorce; the affair ended in tears.
But now I stand at the end of my path, looking back. My life was not perfect, but I travelled and learned and achieved different things than if I had stayed in my marriage. Quite possibly, they might have not been better things, but I am never to know.
In the end, you had a stepfather; whether that was good or bad is for you to judge! We certainly had some adventures together. You had a good education and were happy throughout school and university, which is more than can be said for a lot of youngsters.
As for your father, he met a lovely woman and had two fine daughters, your half-sisters, whom you love, and who would otherwise never have been born.
Don’t be afraid to commit.
Laurence pushed the chair back from his mother’s bureau and stood up.
‘Nadia…’ He went to her, and, bunching her hair softly back, he kissed her cheek.
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