She keeps them hidden under the flowery paper lining her underwear drawer. Letters. Precious letters from long ago. It comforts her to know they are there, but looking at them hurts. And she doesn’t really need to. She knows the contents by heart.
She had been so young. Barely out of school. Just starting teacher training at the university.
He had been in the engineering faculty. It was war time, and future engineers were being fast tracked through their courses to serve as officers in the forces. He wanted to fly Spitfires. But that summer, the one summer they had together was filled with magic. Picnics. Reading poetry together under the trees. Strolling hand in hand through the parks, around the university lake. Senses alive to colour, fragrance, texture – the lightest brush of skin on skin.
When he went away to train as a pilot he had written. Every week. Funny, interesting, loving letters. Filled with detail, filled with tenderness, filled with emotion. Fear before his first solo flight. Elation after his successful return. A mixture of the two as he prepared for battle in the skies over the Channel; the churning in his guts. He bared it all, and she replied in kind. This was the love of her life. She did not doubt it for a moment.
Then the letters stopped. Frantic, she assumed he was dead. But his name was not any of the lists. She’d never met his parents – they’d agreed that was for later, when the war was over – so she couldn’t contact them. She stopped eating; she couldn’t concentrate; her exam results were poor. Her parents and sisters were concerned, but also puzzled. They had met the young man only once, by accident. Surely if it had been a serious relationship they would have known more about him?
It was several months later that she saw the picture in the newspaper. The caption read ‘Hero of the skies marries childhood sweetheart.’
Words. That was all it had been. Words. But she has never been able to burn them. In fifty years she has found no words to equal them. Words to make her heart sing.