The envelope was thin and cheap, and the ball-point address spoke of no-nonsense admin. As I picked it up, something cold and heavy slid from one end to the other.
I turned the envelope over: no sender’s name. I held it up to the light and tried to guess what it was. A hand-addressed envelope is a rare treasure, even a rough and grubby-looking one.
Inside was a single Yale key and a piece of lined paper, its top splayed and ragged where it had been torn from a notebook.
The black writing was straggly, and already sloping downhill.
The doctors say I don’t have long, a couple of days.
Please get my box out of my flat. There’s no one else I trust.
By the end, the letters were so weak and slack it was hard to read. The lines fell away to the right as if the writer was winding down like broken clockwork.
It was signed with a scribble that could have been anything. I knew it was an M.
At the bottom, a loose scrawl added Take… Slowly? I stared at it, until understanding stabbed me: Take Shelly.
I put the key in my pocket and the note on the table. With each breath, I tried to concentrate on the solid bulk of my chest rising and falling, but nothing felt real any more. I turned abruptly and walked back to the Tube station.
As the carriage jolted me from side to side, I stared at the window, checking my reflection for expressions. Occasionally I flexed my fingers, watching them clench and unclench, trying to ground myself. Nothing pierced the numbness that had settled the moment I saw that key again.
I took out the little piece of metal, now warm from my pocket. It had no identifying marks, but I was sure it was mine. There were no signs of it having been flung angrily across a room two years ago. In those two years its owner had failed to find someone more trustworthy than the boyfriend who’d ended their acrimonious, dysfunctional relationship by walking out and cutting off all contact.