I wait for my train as another rushes by causing a draft. The platform is bustling with dozens of people rushing about their business on this dull Monday morning. In over an hour I’ll be back behind my desk for the first time in several weeks, and I’m looking forward to getting buried under a backlog of paperwork to keep me distracted.
Moving on is proving to be harder than I anticipated after burying my late wife, but I simply can’t sit around and allow the weight of her loss to slowly crush me. Being on this platform isn’t helping. This is where we met nine years ago, her pretty face catching the same train every morning, exiting at the same place to go our separate ways to work. Before long we were chatting, then meeting up for lunch breaks. One thing led to another and we were moving in together. If only I could go back and prevent it all from happening, save myself the heartache our relationship would cause. As I saw her walking down the isle on our wedding day I fought hard to hold back the tears; she was as beautiful as an angel, hopelessly in love with me; yet, my heart was taken by another who should have been in her place.
Throughout the years we spent together I tried my darndest to put the other girl out of my mind. I’d found someone to settle down with. We argued much of the time and disagreed on just about everything, but I made my vows and I was going to stick with them. She wanted to start a family and we both went to have a fertility test to see why it wasn’t happening. The diagnosis of ovarian cancer brought us closer than we’d ever been.
I close my eyes and force my mind to think of something unrelated before I lose it and make a fool of myself, turning sobs into coughs to hide my sorrow.
The wind picks up as another train goes by and a small piece of crumpled paper falls into my lap. It’s a phone number with the name, Jenny, and a torrent of painful memories flood my mind of the girl I once knew, the one I let slip away. I screw it up and throw it aside. I didn’t want to remember.
In my office I’m sorting through a pile of work and a mountain of discarded notes, trying to get my mind focused on the momentous task ahead of me, refusing all offers of help by well wishers assuring them I’m able to cope. I didn’t care if it was going to take me days or weeks to catch up with it all, the longer it took the better. I quickly glance over the notes, looking for an address I quickly scribbled and put somewhere safe several weeks ago… and there it was again, the note, sitting on top of the pile in plain view. I must have unknowingly carried it with me. The name, Jenny, cast my mind back once more and I take a moment to console myself. I put it in the bin with the other waste and take it over to the recycle point, returning to my desk more determined than ever to get stuck in to endless phone calls and emails, but I couldn’t help but think of her, wondering where she was all these years later.
I wondered what she looked like now. The last I heard she was getting married, that’s when I walked away… leaving her to enjoy her new life without me haunting in the shadows.
On the journey home, three hours later than my usual finish time, I’m still sorting through schedules and appointments in my head. My nose tingles and I deliver a series of sneezes. I fumble for a tissue from my pocket, about to bring it up to my face… now I hold the note in my hand for a third time. How is this possible? I’ve thrown it away twice! I open the window and slip it out. The passing wind snatches it from my fingers and I watch it fly away. This time it’s gone, but Jenny is again dominating my mind with that crushing sense of regret.
Back at home, pondering the mystery. There must be a simple explanation. A small piece of paper can easily fall into my pocket from a number of situations, but to do so repeatedly in one day and by cruel coincidence happen to have a name deeply rooted in my past?
I put an empty bottle of beer on the kitchen top and grab another. I close the fridge door and reach for the magnet opener… and there it is, tucked behind it. What the hell? I examine the note. It’s the exact same piece of paper that fell into my lap at the station. I wanted to rip it up, the pain it was causing me. I grab a box of matches from the kitchen draw and strike one up over the sink, ready to burn the note this time. Discarding it won’t work; let’s see it come back from the flame!
The edge of the note gently kissed by the fire but not enough to set it alight. The match burned down to my fingertips before a tear extinguished it. This piece of scrappy paper was following me everywhere I went surviving all my attempts to be rid of it. My anger turned to curiosity. What are the odds? I’m ready to strike another match; instead I hold my phone tempted to call the number. It cannot possibly be the same girl, surely? I’m ready to type it in… my phone starts ringing. The number calling me on the screen is the exact same number written on the crumpled scrap of paper in my other hand…
I’m out with the girls to let off steam. It’s the first night out I’ve had in nine long years and I have a lot to get off my chest. I’m finally free to do as I please without him bearing down on my every move. I haven’t felt this happy in almost a decade and I owe it to the girls who gave me the courage to end it.
We’re in the same nightclub where I met him, replacing bad memories with new ones worth remembering. It’s my round and I root through my bag for some change and I find a small crumpled piece of paper. A number with a man’s name, Michael. That name, everything went quiet as a vision of a man I used to know haunted me, bombarding me with feelings of lost opportunities. “You alright Jen?”
“Yes, yes I’m fine. Come on we’re celebrating, It’s not everyday a girl is happily divorced.” I discard the note and forget about it. Tonight was all about having fun, not wallowing in self-pity.
Next afternoon, worse for wear, I wake up on the living room floor still dressed up in last nights glad rags with an invisible vice tightening its grip around my skull. My stomach was churning so I crawl to the bathroom. I reach for a tissue and find myself holding a piece of paper. It’s the note I found in my bag last night. Confused, I give it a closer look before flushing it away with everything I drank the night before. Much of the rest of that day was spent in bed dead to the world, feeling like hell but well worth every moment of it.
Thoughts of Michael drifted through my mind as I wandered through phases of consciousness, wondering how different things would have been had I not made such a mess of my life.
The Following day I’m returning a library book on my way to work. I remove a piece of paper used as a bookmark and I’m stood there dumbfounded. It’s impossible; it was the note! Now I’m freaking out. I rip it up and dump it in a nearby bin. All through the day I’m unable to concentrate. I just can’t get Michael out of my mind. We met at University and quickly became close friends. Maybe we were more than that, so many missed opportunities and regrets. I haven’t seen or heard from him in years. I wonder where he is now. Is he married? Does he live abroad? Is he… what’s the point? The likelihood of me finding him again is probably greater than the odds of winning the lottery twice on the same day.
Back at home I clip a letter to the notice board and see if my flat mates have left me any messages. There’s one bit of paper in the top corner. I give it a glance then my eyes are fixed to it with a gasp. It’s that bloody note again! This was a cruel joke. Michael was my first love but it all went wrong, he’s the man I should have married. I rip the note from the board. I tore it up in the library! How can it be here? Some hours later I’m on the couch staring at it on the coffee table. My eyes are red with tears and I’ve gone through a box of tissues already. It’s impossible to think the details on the note could be him. It can’t be. I’m holding my phone in my shaking hand as I dare to enter the number. It couldn’t it be him, surely?
The number calling me was the same as the note. With my heart racing, I answer the call. After a silence I hear a woman’s voice, timid yet familiar. “…Hello?” she said. “Erm…who is this please?” I asked.
“Oh my god!…Michael?”
My heart stopped, my mind was blank; this couldn’t be real. “Jenny?” She sobs. “Michael Baker? Is it really you?”
“Yes… Jenny Lawson?”
“Yes it’s me! Oh my god!”
“But, but how?…”
“Is this really happening?”
“I think so. How did you…get my number?”
“You won’t believe me.”
“Please tell me.”
“…I’ve been, followed by this piece of paper…with your number on it. I’ve thrown it away several times but it keeps coming back… It’s so good to hear your voice again.” I had to sit down. The nearest chair was across the room so I stumble to the floor, Speechless. “Are you there?” she asked.
“Yes, sorry, erm, how’s Luke?”
“We’re divorced…and you?”
“Oh I’m so sorry.”
“No, no its ok, we, we didn’t really get along.”
“…I made a big mistake.”
“So did I.”
“I married Luke… it should have been you.”
“Where are you?”
“I’ve just moved in to a new place?”
“Where? Please tell me, I’ll come right over. Hello? Jenny?” There was a faint knock at my door. I sit there for a long moment, refusing to believe the possibility. The knock came again and I struggle to walk with shaking legs as I slowly approach, my heart thumping in my ears. The call on my phone was still live. I gently unlock the door and turn the handle.