While we were eating breakfast the letter was delivered. Rachel retrieved the buff envelope and placed it by my plate. Most of the remaining post was for her.
I put my knife and fork down. “I’m not really that hungry this morning.”
Rachel raised her eyebrows but said nothing.
Fred looked up hopefully from his basket by the door, but sensing my mood he resumed investigating his front paws, as though he’d only just discovered he had some. The clock ticked, the refrigerator hummed and then shivered violently into silence. The letter taunted me, propped unopened against the sugar bowl.
“I don’t need to go into the office until later,” I said, pushing my chair back. “If you like, I’ll take Fred for his walk.”
Fred leapt from his basket and I clipped on his lead and shrugged into my coat, aware that all the time Rachel was watching me speculatively from the table.
“Won’t be long,” I said with false cheeriness.
Out on the heath Fred darted around investigating the pee mails that marked out the bushes either side of the path. Oh the simplicity of a dog’s life, I thought watching his tail gyrate wildly above the undergrowth.
The buff envelope I’d left on the table contained the details of my severance payments. I’d been ‘let go’ five weeks earlier and still I hadn’t told Rachel. I’d locked the facts away, in some distant part of my mind, because telling Rachel would make it real. Just like not leaving the house at 8.30 every morning would make it real.
But I couldn’t let go of the past until I did tell her.
I leaned forward, head in my hands, and Fred rested his chin on my knee, drooling grassy saliva on my trousers. When his tail began to thump on my shoes, I looked up to see Rachel approaching, her cheeks flushed like those of a young girl.
She sat beside me and slipped her arm through mine.
“I was wondering,” she said, “whether you should apply for early retirement.”
I looked up sharply. Not for the first time I wondered whether she was psychic.
“We could sell this house and get something smaller out in the country closer to Louise. Then we could mind the kids so she can go back to work. She’d love that. And so would I,” she continued.
I remained silent, gazing across the valley towards the factory that had been my prison for the last thirty years; where my colleagues would now have their heads down over their drawing boards or else be congregating around the water cooler when the boss wasn’t looking.
“Well, if you’re sure, I’ll look into it,” I said, taking her hand. “As a matter of fact I do feel I’m ready to give up work now.”
With Fred bounding on ahead of us we walked back to the house, where I ignored the slightly damp and wrinkled buff envelope drying out on the radiator.
At this week’s Yeahwrite speakeasy the phrase to be incorporated was ‘while we were eating breakfast the letter was delivered.’ And the picture prompt to be referenced at some point was this: