Creative Writing Ink July Competition Winner

Andrew Campbell-Kearsey

‘He’s going up in the world. It’s an orchid this year.’

Philip brought the flower through to his wife. She was sitting, reading the newspaper in the couple’s conservatory. She hardly glanced at the flower in its cellophane wrapped pot.

She shooed it away like a troublesome fly.

‘I’ll pop it on the window sill shall I?’

‘I don’t really care what you do with it. I’d completely forgotten the date.’

‘I can’t say I was ever struck on the chap and I certainly could never see what you saw in him. But he has the memory of a pachyderm. He never forgets.’

‘Go back to your bloody crossword, will you? That’s all you’re good for. You and your fancy long words,’ Jane replied smiling, throwing the paper on her husband’s chair. ‘If you’re lucky I’ll help you with the tough clues.’

‘I’ll leave it on the window-sill, so you can gaze on it while you do the washing-up.’

‘You have such ridiculously romantic notions, Philip. Besides, we’ve had a dishwasher for over thirty years.’

He resisted telling her that the word orchid came from the Greek for testicles.


Six months later, Jane received a letter. It was brief and formal. Fortunately her husband was playing golf that morning. Jane had the opportunity to word her response carefully. She chose to decline the legacy.

She destroyed the letter and envelope, so Philip would never need to know.

Unfortunately a second letter arrived from the solicitor.

‘What’s this old girl? A padded envelope from the Big Smoke. I had to sign for it.’

Philip handed it to Jane. She knew he’d want to learn about its contents.

‘Oh it’s something for your birthday if you must know, Nosey Parker!’

‘Goodness me, I never knew that my wife was such a forward thinker. My birthday’s months away.’

‘I like to be prepared. And it was cheaper this way,’ she said, smiling. ‘I’m just off to get a few groceries.’

Jane hoped her husband hadn’t noticed her putting the envelope into her handbag.


The waiter brought Jane her coffee. She looked around her to check whether there was anybody she knew. It seemed an unnecessary precaution to Jane, but was strangely reassured that she felt some guilt even after all these years.

The letter stated that she was the sole beneficiary of John’s will. He’d left her everything, including his home. The keys were inside the envelope. She didn’t want the money and was sure she could easily donate it to charities she’d worked for over the years. But she had to visit his house one last time.

Although she hadn’t driven there since the month before her wedding, the route was familiar. She parked outside in the street. She rang the doorbell just in case. There was no answer. The key was stiff in the lock but the door eventually opened. Jane walked in. The small terraced house was immaculate inside. It was like a museum. She half-expected labels informing visitors of salient points and dates when items had been acquired as well as a red corded rope forbidding entry to certain parts.

She didn’t know that there had been so many photographs taken of the two of them. They were the only decoration on the plain papered walls. Jane had gleaned from the solicitor’s letter that John had been transferred to a local nursing home just weeks before he’d died. He must have planned for his long term absence. There were no pot plants in need of watering or dirty crockery in the sink. She wondered whether he’d realised he wouldn’t return. Nobody had ever made her laugh as much as John. She could have sworn she could hear echoes of that laughter in each of the small rooms. Could she have ever made this her home?

She stood outside his bedroom door. Jane had not crossed this threshold for forty-three years. The room was sparsely furnished. Her eyes went to the side of the bed where she had once lain. There was an envelope on what was once her pillow.

From several yards away she knew that her name would be written on the envelope in John’s slapdash writing. She sat on the edge of the bed and opened the letter. Jane could have predicted its contents. John had written that he’d always loved her and had spent his life wishing and hoping that she would leave the solid and dependable Philip.

‘I have a dream that one day you’ll knock at my door. Even now, when as I write this in readiness for my move to a nursing home I still think you might turn up. Do you remember when you came to me the last time, just before you married him? As we lay in bed, you turned and said that for all Philip’s lavish gifts of jewellery and minks, you’d trade it all for one more minute with me. You left me that afternoon, saying that you were going to call it off with Philip. I reassured you that your family would understand in time. I promised that I’d take you away until it all died down. I said I could only afford Southend. You laughed and said it didn’t matter as long as we were together. But you never contacted me again. I’ve waited all these years…’

Jane read the rest of the letter. She then stood up and ripped it up, making sure to place all the tiny pieces into its original envelope. She would ensure that she threw it away before she reached home.

Philip was in the hall when she arrived.

‘I heard your car in the drive, Jane. Is it too early to have a gin and tonic?

‘I need to tell you something. Let’s sit down together.’

He followed her through to the lounge as a condemned man follows his executioner.

‘Spit it out, Jane. Why all the cloak and dagger stuff?’

‘It’s to do with the flowers I’ve been getting all these years.’

‘Don’t tell me it’s a bill from the florists. Some of them must have cost a fortune.’

Jane was grateful for her husband’s ready ability to defuse any situation. They were sitting together on the sofa. Jane turned to her husband and held his hand.

‘I need to tell you the truth. You know I have received a single flower every year on the anniversary of the day John and I met. But there have been letters too. There were cards with poetry. I didn’t show them to you and I certainly didn’t keep them. I’d do anything rather than upset you. We were teenagers when we met. It’s a lifetime ago. He died a few weeks ago.’

‘I’m sorry, Jane.’

‘He made me his only beneficiary. I wrote to the solicitor to turn it down but he sent me the keys of John’s home. I visited today and it was like a memorial to me. There were photographs of when we had been together. I think he never found his true love.’

‘You chose me, Jane and for that I am eternally grateful. I don’t care if I met you on the rebound. We’ve had a great life together, and I hope I’ve made you happier than he could.’

Jane looked at her husband. She wanted the feeling of absolution by telling him how confused she had been all those years ago. Jane yearned to explain how she and John had a terrible row one afternoon and he said he intended to ask her sister out on a date. She’d dared him to do so, never for one moment believing that he would. She didn’t know which of them was the more stubborn.

That was the evening she’d met Philip. Jane longed to say it was profound love that had attracted her to him, instead of the lifestyle he’d offered. But she knew the truth. John believed that she’d only started seeing Philip to spite him. She longed to tell him how easily she could have returned to John’s little house. Her life would have been so different. There would have been no charity balls or gardening clubs. She would have had to work. She couldn’t tell Philip how she’d agonised about her decision. There had been months of indecision where Jane had a glimpse into two opposing futures. Jane’s mother had pre-empted any rejection of Philip’s marriage proposal. “Make sure you get him down the aisle before he comes to his senses and changes his mind. Don’t make my mistakes.”

It was simply easier to lie.

‘Yes, Philip, I chose you.’

‘How about that drink now, old girl?’

‘Less of the old, thank you.’ She gave him a brief smile.

‘Well my very young beauty, I picked these up while you were out apparently wandering memory lane.’ He handed her some brochures of exclusive cruises. ‘You chose me, Jane. So choose where we go on our next holiday.’

Jane took the pile of glossy brochures. She knew it was too much to hope that any of the luxury liners would dock at Southend.