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With love, Mum

by Sarah Milburn 2 months ago in Short Story

A letter of love

Sifting through yet another box, Isabella paused to yawn and stretch her aching back. Her Mum was borderline hoarder. If Isabella found another bank statement from 2001 she would scream. The last lot of statements, invoices and receipts had gone up nicely on her new fire pit, but the neighbours would definitely be suspicious if she had another paper fire this week.

Greif alone is exhausting but being the sole executor of her own mother’s will was proving too much for Isabella. She reached for the last box, a small shoe box tied with string, untied it and lifted the lid. On top of a stack of old photographs, there was a notebook, blue flowers on the cover and sheets of paper secured at the back with an elastic band. The inside page read “For Isabella.”

Intrigued, she repositioned herself on the floor, moved her legs out from under her and leaned back on her Mum’s old suitcase, filled with her clothes ready to be donated. She turned the page to see her Mum’s neat handwriting fill the page.

“My darling girl, Isabella,

I should have told you this so long ago, but the longer I left it the harder it became. I want you to know, firstly, that I love you so much and have always tried to do my best for you. Your happiness was my main concern and I hope you can forgive me. I was stupid and scared because I thought I’d lose you. The fact is, my dearest one, that I didn’t actually give birth to you.”

Isabella gasped. The book lowered, she felt lightheaded suddenly. She jumped up and rushed to the front door, pulled it wide open to feel the cold November air hit her face. She lowered herself to the doorstep and took a deep, ragged breath.

Almost reluctantly, she lifted up the notebook to continue reading.

“I know, I should have told you. You’re a grown woman for goodness sake, but where would

I even begin? When the doctor said the cancer had spread, I knew I had to tell you, but I still couldn’t do it. I couldn’t have my last weeks, days with you ruined and selfishly I’ve chosen to let you find out after it’s too late. You can’t even ask any questions. I didn’t think I could ever be so selfish, but I can promise you it’s because I love you and wanted so badly to be your Mother.

Part of me thought I should never tell you. Innocence is bliss and all that, but that would be the ultimate betrayal and I knew you deserved better. So, I should start at the beginning.

I started a new job in a library and very quickly made friends with a woman called Anna. She was quiet and thoughtful and absolutely loved reading. We used to joke that she’d read every book in the place. She quickly became a close friend and we would talk about everything. I told her about my parents and how difficult it had been. I was a young woman in my late 20’s, still living at home because my Mother had had a stroke and my father had died a few years before. I worked and looked after the house and my Mum and had no time to meet a man myself or even socialise much, so it was a joy to have made such a good friend in Anna. Anna was in love with a sweet man called Ali. However, Ali was from a well to do Muslim family and they didn’t approve of Anna at all. I saw them together a couple of times, we would sometimes meet in the café two doors down from the library after work and they were so in love, it would make me wistful, but happy for my friend. His family announced that he was to have an arranged marriage and it was all going ahead in Bangladesh a couple of months later. Ali tried to reason with his parents, but they said he would be disowned if he went against their wishes. He was forced to break off his relationship with Anna and in turn, broke her heart. I remember her missing two days of work, which was so unusual for her so I went to see her at her little flat. She was crushed. I made us both tea and we talked about what had happened. I knew Anna must be devastated, but she seemed distracted too, as if she wasn’t telling me everything. Eventually, she confided in me that she was pregnant. She didn’t know what to do. She had no family nearby to help and couldn’t contact Ali to even tell him. I didn’t know how to help but said I would do whatever I could.”

Isabella sat motionless for a moment, absorbing this new information for which she was completely unprepared, her mind a whirl of confusion and questions. She stood, slowly and closed the door on the few stray leaves trying to find their way into the cottage. She turned into the kitchen and unconsciously flicked on the kettle, pulled out one of the two chairs and sat at the small kitchen table and continued to read.

“Anna was determined to have the baby, despite everything. She felt this baby was a symbol of the love she had shared with Ali and even if they couldn’t be together, she would keep the baby as a reminder of that love. I helped as much as I could, knitting cute little bonnets and cardigans and painting the bedroom of her flat a lovely soft yellow colour. When you were born Anna named you Isabella, after a character from Measure for Measure, one of her favourite Shakespearian plays. I could never bring myself to read it afterwards.

She thought you were the most perfect child she’d ever seen. I loved you the moment I held you. You were a delight, such a happy little soul. Unfortunately, Anna fell into a depression that made her unreachable. She would look at you and smile, but barely ate or spoke and when you were 6 weeks old she was taken into hospital. I called the ambulance. I was so scared for her. I knew she needed help. I think she saw your Father every time she looked at you. You are so like him. She asked me to look after you and I promised I would. I always have. After a week I went to visit her, but she had discharged herself and had simply vanished. I looked everywhere. She had given up her flat, sent a letter into the library to give up her job. I don’t know where she went. Of course, this was before mobile phones so I scoured the phone book and called several numbers before I finally spoke to her Mother who also hadn’t spoken to her in some time. I never mentioned you because I didn’t want to get Anna into trouble with her family. I still have the number.”

A number was scrawled across the bottom line of the page along with the name Mrs Jessop. Isabella realised that if she was still alive that was her Grandmother. She had never really had a Grandmother; Diana’s Mother had died when Isabella was just 3.

“A few days later I received a letter from Anna. I have put it in here for you to read, but it was short. It was just a way to make sure I could keep you and take care of you. All the other documents I have are tucked in this book.

I knew that to make you feel safe and happy I should just pretend I was your mother. I didn’t know how else to explain what had happened. After my Mother died, I sold her house and we moved here so we could have a fresh start. I left an address in case Anna ever got in touch. I hope you can forgive me. I hope you can forgive Anna. I don’t think she meant to leave you. I think she thought it was for the best.

I love you, my darling girl. I know you’ll be ok. You have your lovely fiancé, Tom and I know you’ll make a wonderful mother yourself one day. Wear the pin I gave you, know that I’m with you every day.

All my love, Mum.”

Isabella took a deep breath. She had a Mother and a Father somewhere. She had questions to ask. She reached for her bag and rummaged inside for her mobile. She would start with Mrs Jessop. A Grandmother. Her heart hammered inside her chest, her fingers shook as she dialed the number and then a voice said “Hello?”

Short Story

Sarah Milburn

Read next: Somebody Died

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