Cammy tossed her phone charger and hair straightener into her suitcase and cast her eyes around the room for last-minute additions to her luggage. She scanned through a list in her mind and mentally checked everything off: toiletries, hairbrush, pyjamas, clothes enough for two days, plus a few extra garments thrown in for luck.
It was her mother’s doing, those extra garments. Whenever they packed for a trip away when Cammy was little, her mum instructed her to add at least one more pair of knickers and a couple of extra pairs of socks, just in case. In case of what, she’d never really known. In case she got caught in a rain shower and had to change out of dripping wet clothes in the middle of the day? In case their travel plans were delayed, and fresh undies were called for? In case she got a hole in a sock or had some kind of mortifying accident? Silly, really; she’d never had to use her extras, but they always found their way into her bag with every trip she packed for. And there she was, thinking she’d never allowed her mother to have any influence on her life.
She zipped up the case and carried it down the stairs, suddenly noticing an unwelcome flurry of nerves in her gut. She dumped the case in her hallway and marched into the kitchen in search of her coffee cup, which had been languishing in the chilly kitchen for over an hour. Her mouth and throat always become painfully dry when she was anxious. She took a gulp and winced at its bitterness, which was intensified by its ice-cold temperature. She glugged it down none the less, desperate to relieve her parched tongue and drown the butterflies which fluttered by in her stomach.
Snippets of potential conversation danced around in her head. There were I’m-sorries and No-I’m-sorries and you-hurt-mes and let-me-explains, all likely to be uttered by both parties at one stage or another. Part of her wanted a blazing row – a full blown screaming match just like old times – but another just wanted peace.
Burying her fury felt like the right thing to do – the kind thing to do – given the circumstances, but she knew it would leave her with a sense of incompletion that she’d have to carry forever more. Rolling over and apologising was expected of her, and she didn’t know if she could do what was expected after doing the very opposite for so many years.
Perhaps when she saw her mother she’d figure out what to say. She wondered how she’d look. It had been years – almost a decade. She might be easier to face in her current state.
Cammy’s phone trilled at her and she rived it out of her jeans pocket. Her taxi was waiting. She dumped her coffee in the sink, did one last quick check of her handbag, threw on her coat, grabbed her suitcase and headed out the front door.
“Morning, Cam! Just spied the postie when I put my recycling out, thought I’d get a breath of fresh air while I wait for him. Suitcase, I see. You going away?”
“Hiya, Don. Yep, just a couple of days.” She flashed her neighbour a quick smile then quickly turned away, hoping to prove that she wasn’t in the mood for idle chit-chat. She never was, but particularly so on that particular morning.
“Lucky you, eh? Anywhere nice? Can I come?”
She bit her tongue; he always had to stick his nose in. Always had questions. Always wanted to know more about people’s lives, simply because they lived on the same street. And she hated sharing. “Nowhere special. See you.”
She dashed to the taxi and clambered into the back seat as quickly as she could, breathing a sigh of relief when she pulled the door closed behind her.
Don threw her a cheery wave as the taxi pulled away, then greeted the postman, who was even less inclined for chitchat than Cammy. That never stopped Don, though.
“Now then, young man! Nice day for it, isn’t it? Not bad for January.”
The postman smiled and handed over a stack of envelopes.
“Thank you very much indeed!”
The postman nodded and retreated, rolling his eyes as soon as he had his back turned to the street’s cheeriest resident.
Don shuffled through the envelopes like a hand of cards, and spotted one addressed to Camilla Yarnall, yet the house number was his. It was a hand-written envelope and it seemed to be a card. Could be a late Christmas card, he thought. Could be cash in it.
He considered calling the postman back, but decided he wouldn’t. He then thought about posting it through Cammy’s letterbox himself. But he didn’t. Instead, he disappeared into his house and closed the door on the street’s prying eyes.
He ripped open the envelope and removed the card. A red-breasted robin was on the front, and Don didn’t like the way its beady eye glared at him. He flipped it open. The printed Season’s Greetings had a thick black line through it, and beneath it was a handwritten message.
Mum died on Christmas eve. Don’t bother coming.
I don’t want to see you and you’re not welcome at the funeral.
You missed your chance.
Don read the message over twice more. He thought of Cammy and her suitcase and the look on her face when he asked if she was going somewhere nice.
He ripped the card in two and disposed of it in the bin, wishing he could send his newfound knowledge with it.