Fip is a short story of a lifetime love affair between two women scientists and the sadness of the time they lived in.
This short story was published in Halo magazine and was written for the theme of Issue Two, ‘Embers.’ My first published piece of writing since schooldays, was beyond exciting. A bit of affirmation and confidence building. An answer to that question, ‘Have you had anything published?’ Sadly, Halo only had two issues but they were strikingly illustrated and I was proud to be nestled in amongst writers and artists of that standard. So, I’m proud to have it as my first writing post. Thank you to http://www.lorriehartshorn.com
By the time these embers die out, I’ll be gone. I will extinguish before they do. It’s not surprising. I am very old. I was born in the sad peace which descended as WW1 ended. My mothers’ husband was killed in the confusion of the war end and she married his best friend. Not an uncommon heartbreak at the time. They were glued together by grief and guilt. Perhaps a little regret.
John Abbott, the log delivery man, called me three times after I cancelled my regular delivery. I found myself telling a fib to appease him. Apparently, I am shortly to be taken to spend the rest of the winter with my nephew in Surrey. We agreed the climate may be kinder than in Kirriemuir.
I have no family. To be honest, I don’t know if my real father was mother’s first husband or his best friend. Lovely man Angus, if a little distant. I don’t think mother knew either.
Last month, as the snow whitened the fields and gardens, the letter arrived from France. I didn’t need to open it to know what was inside. It was time. I’ve been prepared for this moment for many years. When the embossed ivory envelope dropped on the mat it sang out like a siren, so familiar, so comforting. The olive green tissue paper lining the envelope, still vibrant and glossy. They were purchased in Florence from a favourite stationer, Papiro, on a soft September afternoon in 1993. The writing made my heart sing, the curlicue scrolls of my address and on the reverse side, ‘In the event of my death, please post this’ and ‘Dans le cas de ma mort, s’il vous plaît poster ceci.’
I wonder who had found and posted it, whether curious, they were tempted to steam it open. Perhaps a former student. They had walked to the bureau de poste, had it weighed, stamped and posted.
Gently rubbing the smudged post mark, I remember the desk, the room, the house, the street from where this letter began its journey. The pine-wood edged beach, the rolling breakers and mountainous sand dunes. The fading pink summer sunset and a bottle of rosé wine on ice.
My hands shake with age and stiffness, not from fear of disturbing the contents, as I carefully open the envelope. Sealed so many years before. On our last trip. I reunite it with its near identical twin, only the hand-writing and addresses distinguishing them as they had lain in their drawers, waiting patiently.
When it was obvious we would not be physically able to attend the next FIP conference in Buenos Aires, when we acknowledged we would struggle to attend any conference, when we knew our time was up, we made our pact and formed our plan. It was your plan but as soon as I heard it I knew it was perfect.
Not for us a care home full of deathly grandmothers dressed in flowery nightgowns, waiting for their children and grandchildren to visit. Not for us the indignity of the pity on two old spinsters, sitting in mustard vinyl wing backed chairs, placed in a rectangle of others staring into space and hoping for something easy to chew for supper. Separated by Continents, joined by love.
We two, who to the world were seen as sad only children, who grew up into lonely academic bores, working late into the evening, attending every annual conference, communing with fascinating colleagues, listening, debating or lecturing, receiving awards and academic prizes, pushing our professional boundaries at the expense of our private lives. Women married to their work.
No-one knew, no-one noticed that we were together for every second of those precious two weeks of every year for fifty-two years. Those beautiful hours we spent together enjoying the warmth and passion of each other and of life. We explored all our bodies, our minds and our love could show us. And I grieve your passing with every fibre of my body, every feeble beat my heart has left.
My Fip, Felicie Irma Pascale. I am smiling at my in-joke, when I called you, flippantly on the day we met, after the abbreviation of our professional body, FIP, the International Pharmaceutical Federation and it stuck.
From both envelopes I slip out the two small sachets of white powder and place them on the tea tray. I prop up the two copies of the photograph of us taken together on our last day, our faces old but content and joyously happy. I am transported back to that afternoon in Arcachon, on our final day together. I feel the sun on my face, your lips and warm breath on my neck.
The room feels colder now, the last log on the fire has shrunk to a blackened kernel. I shake every last microgram out of each bag into my teacup and lift the teapot to pour, steeling myself for the bitterness to come. I break a square of chocolate in readiness. I gather the blanket around me and stare into the blinking embers to watch the grey crust of ash disengage as the final glow disappears.