CHEQUES HE SENDS ME • by Rosalie Kempthorne

His cheque arrived in the mail this morning. Punctual. The way it is every six months. A note folded inside it that just says: I’m sorry.

I stand by the letterbox, staring at it a while, blinking back tears, remembering. It doesn’t seem as if it’s been a long time, it doesn’t feel as if years have flowed under the bridge since that day. A neighbour waves at me, too far away to see my wet eyes, and I wave back before taking the cheque inside.

It goes with the others.

Then I sit down and start writing.

Dear Greg,

It’s a busy time in Angela’s life right now. She’s due to graduate soon, and she’s very excited, although she’s still kind of stressed about the exams. I tell her she’ll do fine – she’s worked hard, and once she sits down at that desk it’ll all just come to her. I tell her not to worry.

She’s amazing – so buoyant – the way you are when you’re that age. She has her whole life mapped out for herself: she tells me she’s going to start with law school, but she’ll study some other things too (she’s read the prospectus, and the calendar, she’s very well informed.) Maybe some literature, and some classical studies – ancient Greek art and so forth – and she surprised me by wanting to do a few maths papers as well.

She’ll travel after law school she tells me, she’ll meet the right man, but she’ll set herself up in her career before she gets married and has any kids. Criminal law: she’s not quite eighteen, so she likes the high profile, glamorous options.

She’s still into horse riding. I thought she’d lose interest as she got older, but she hasn’t. You should see her with the horse – she’s a natural, and they bond – you can see that he loves her and trusts her. And she takes such good care of him – that always makes me proud.

You know I can’t send you a photograph, but I hope this drawing is enough to show you how she looks these days, she’s growing up so beautiful….

The doorbell rings. It startles me.

I can see through the glass that it’s my sister, and I hide the letter under some newspapers before I let her in.

She seems to know anyway. “You’re writing to him again, aren’t you?”

I look down, I shrug. “What of it?”

Sylvia bites down on the tirade she wants to deliver, or the sermon maybe — you can never really tell with her. She comes out with a much milder: “Jasmine, I wish you wouldn’t do that.”

“I know you do.”

“It’s… creepy.”

“Well, you’ve said that already.”

That suppressed sigh again. She looks at me as if I’m demented, as if she can’t understand me. But the pain and anger are hers as well, I guess. It’s torn into our whole family and left us all gutted. She says: “I can’t believe that monster is going to be out in less than a year.”

“What can they do? He’s served his time.”

“There’s things I’d like to serve him.”

That’s worth a smile. “You’re the one who’s supposed to tell me not to do anything stupid.”

Well, that ship sailed a long time ago: I’m pretty sure that’s what she’s thinking, and her expression is pitying today, though not without impatience. And I feel the same, I want her to say what she’s come here for, do whatever that is, and then leave again. Sad, that I’m thinking that way about my only sister.

“Well, I guess you’ll have to stop when he gets out.”

“We’ll see.” I wonder if I can find a forwarding address, I wonder if he’ll give me one, if he reads and receives these letters as a kind of penance, the way he sends the cheques.

Because Angela won’t graduate at the end of this year. She’ll never be that old. She was never old enough for her tenth birthday party, or to learn to ride those horses she loved so much in books. She’ll never look like the pretty young women whose face I’ve sketched to go with this letter. She won’t go to law school, and she won’t travel, or marry, or gift me with a gaggle of noisy grandchildren. She’ll never call me up to complain how the kids keep her up at night, or how hard her job is, and what an ass her boss is. She’ll never complain about her husband, how little help he is, how he doesn’t understand. I’ve never seen her on horseback. I’ll never see her on her first date, or in a graduation gown, or in a long lace white dress.

I know he’s sorry. I know he had a few too many drinks, wasn’t thinking, wasn’t even himself. I know that he cried in the courtroom. I know he wailed and slobbered — over and over and over: how he didn’t do it on purpose — would never — could never — never meant to kill a little girl… “I’m so sorry! So sorry. Please, please forgive me, Mrs Harper… please, please, please..!”

But he did do it. And he can’t take it back. Can’t erase it. Can’t make true my dreams — my wishes — my Angela: beautiful, dark-eyed, all grown-up.

And I write these letters, like clockwork, when his cheques come in, because I think: he should know.

Rosalie Kempthorne has no idea what it takes to write a good Author Bio, and all her previous attempts have so far come to nothing. She has much better luck writing stories. You can read more of her short stories on 365 Tomorrows, ABC Tales, or on her website:

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