Sunday, January 16, 2011

PS, I Love You [Part 4 & 5]

PS, I Love You

Part 4

HOLLY STARTED HER FRIDAY MORNING well by getting up early. However, although
she had gone to bed full of optimism and excited about the prospects that lay ahead of her, she was struck afresh by the harsh reality of how difficult every moment would be. Once again she awoke to a silent house in an empty bed, but there was one small breakthrough. For the first time in over two months, she had woken up without the aid of a telephone call. She adjusted her mind, as she did every morning, to the fact that the dreams of Gerry and her being together that had lived in her mind for the past ten hours were just that–dreams.

She showered and dressed comfortably in her favorite blue jeans, trainers and a baby pink
T-shirt. Sharon had been right about her weight, her once tight jeans were just about staying up with the aid of a belt. She made a face at her reflection in the mirror. She looked ugly. She had black circles under her eyes, her lips were chapped and chewed on and her hair was a disaster. 

First thing to do was to go down to her local hairdresser's and pray they could squeeze her in.
“Jaysus, Holly!” her hairdresser Leo exclaimed. “Would ya look at the state of ya! People make way! Make way! I have a woman here in a critical condition!” He winked at her and proceeded to push people from his path. He pulled out the chair for her and pushed her into it.

“Thanks, Leo. I feel really attractive now,” Holly muttered, trying to hide her beetroot-colored face.

“Well don't, 'cos you're in bits. Sandra, mix me up the usual; Colin, get the foil; Tania, get me
my little bag of tricks from upstairs, oh and tell Paul not to bother getting his lunch, he's doing
my twelve o'clock.” Leo ordered everyone around, his hands flailing wildly as though he were
about to perform emergency surgery. Perhaps he was.

“Oh sorry, Leo, I didn't mean to mess up your day.”

“Of course you did, love, why else would you come rushing in here at lunchtime on a Friday
without an appointment. To help world peace?” Holly guiltily bit her lip.

“Ah, but I wouldn't do it for anyone else but you, love.” 


“How have you been?” He rested his skinny little behind on the counter facing Holly. Leo must have been fifty years old, yet his skin was so flawless and his hair, of course, so perfect that he didn't look a day over thirty-five. His honey-colored hair matched his honey-colored skin, and he always dressed perfectly. He was enough to make a woman feel like crap.


“Yeah, you look it.”


“Ah well, at least by the time you walk out of here you'll have one thing sorted. I do hair, not
hearts.” Holly smiled gratefully at his odd little way of showing he understood.

“But Jaysus, Holly, when you were coming in the front door did you see the word 'magician' or
'hairdresser' on the front of the salon? You should have seen the state of the woman who came in here today. Mutton dressed as lamb. Not far off sixty, I'd say. Handed me a magazine with Jennifer Aniston on the cover.

“ 'I want to look like that,' she says.”
Holly laughed at his impression. He had the facial expression and the hand movements all going at the same time.

“ 'Jaysus,' I says, 'I'm a hairdresser not a plastic surgeon. The only way you'll look like that is if you cut out the picture and staple it to your head.' ”

“No! Leo, you didn't tell her that!” Holly's mouth dropped in surprise.
“Of course I did! The woman needed to be told, sure wasn't I helping her? Swanning in here
dressed like a teenager. The state of her!”

“But what did she say!” Holly wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes. She hadn't laughed like that for months.

“I flicked the pages of the mag for her and came across a lovely picture of Joan Collins. Told her it was right up her street. She seemed happy enough with that.”

“Leo, she was probably too terrified to tell you she hated it!”

“Ah, who cares, I have enough friends.”

“Don't know why,” Holly laughed.

“Don't move,” Leo ordered. Suddenly Leo had become awfully serious, and his lips were pursed together in concentration as he separated Holly's hair to get it ready for coloring. That was enough to send Holly into stitches again.

“Ah, come on, Holly,” Leo said with exasperation.

“I can't help it, Leo, you got me started and now I can't stop!” Leo stopped what he was doing
and watched her with amusement.

“I always thought you were for the madhouse. No one ever listens to me.”
She laughed even harder.

“Oh, I'm sorry, Leo. I don't know what's wrong with me, I just can't stop laughing.” Holly's
stomach ached from laughing so hard, and she was aware of all the curious glances she was
attracting but she just couldn't help it. It was as if all the missed laughs from the past couple of months were tumbling out at once.

Leo stopped working and made his way back round to the mirror, where he propped himself
back on the counter and watched her. “You don't need to apologize, Holly, laugh all you like,
you know they say laughing is good for the heart.”

“Oh, I haven't laughed like this for ages,” she giggled.

“Well, you haven't had much to laugh about, I suppose,” he smiled sadly. Leo loved Gerry, too. They had teased each other whenever they met, but they both knew it was all in fun and were very fond of each other. Leo snapped himself out of his thoughts, tousled Holly's hair playfully and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “But you'll be all right, Holly Kennedy,” he assured her.

“Thanks, Leo,” she said, calming herself down, touched by his concern. He went back to work
on her hair, putting on his funny little concentrating face. Holly giggled again.
“Oh, you laugh now, Holly, but wait till I accidentally give you a stripy head of color. We'll see
who's laughing then.”

“How's Jamie?” Holly asked, keen to change the subject before she embarrassed herself again.

“He dumped me,” Leo said, pushing aggressively with his foot on the chair's pump, sending
Holly higher into the air but causing her to jerk wildly in her chair.

“O-oh Le-eo, I-I-I-m soooo sor-reeee. Yo-ooou twooo we-eerree soooo gree-aat
togeeeeth-eeer.” He stopped pumping and paused. “Yeah, well, we're not so gree-aat together now, missy. I think he's seeing someone else. Right. I'm going to put two shades of blond in; a golden color and the blond you had before. Otherwise it'll go that brassy color that's reserved for prostitutes only.”

“Oh Leo, I'm sorry. If he has any sense at all he'll realize what he's missing.”
“He mustn't have any sense; we split up two months ago and he hasn't realized it yet. Or else he has and he's delighted. I'm fed up; I've had enough of men. I'm just going to turn straight.”
“Oh Leo, now that's the most stupid thing I've ever heard . . .”

Holly bounced out of the salon with delight. Without Gerry's presence beside her, a few men
looked her way, something that was alien to her and made her feel uncomfortable, so she ran to the safety of her car and prepared herself for her parents' house. So far today was going well. It had been a good move to visit Leo. Even in his heartbreak he worked hard to make her laugh.

Holly took note of it. She pulled up to the curb outside her parents' house in Portmarnock and took a deep breath. To her mother's surprise Holly had called her first thing in the morning to arrange a time to meet up.

It was three-thirty now, and Holly sat outside in the car with butterflies in her tummy. Apart
from the visits her parents had paid to her over the past two months, Holly had barely spent any proper time with her family. She didn't want all the attention directed at her; she didn't want the intrusive questions about how she was feeling and what she was going to do next being fired at her all day. However, it was time to put that fear aside. They were her family.
Her parents' house was situated directly across the road from Portmarnock beach, the blue flag bearing testament to its cleanliness. She parked the car and stared across the road to the sea. She had lived here from the day she was born till the day she moved out to live with Gerry. She had loved waking up to the sound of the sea lapping against the rocks and the excited call of the seagulls. It was wonderful having the beach as your front garden, especially during the summer.

Sharon had lived around the corner, and on the hottest days of the year the girls would venture across the road in their summer's best and keep an eye out for the best-looking boys. Holly and Sharon were the complete opposite of each other. Sharon with her brown hair, fair skin and huge chest. Holly with her blond hair, sallow skin and small chest. Sharon would be loud, shouting to the boys and calling them over. Holly would just stay quiet and flirt with her eyes, fixing them on her favorite boy and not moving them till he noticed. Holly and Sharon really hadn't changed all that much since.

She didn't intend to stay long, just to have a little chat and collect the envelope that she had
decided could possibly be from Gerry. She was tired of punishing herself about what could be

inside it, so she was determined to end her silent torture of herself. She took a deep breath, rang the doorbell and placed a smile on her face for all to see.

“Hi, love! Come in, come in!” said her mother with the welcoming, loving face that Holly just
wanted to kiss every time she saw her.

“Hi, Mum. How are you?” Holly stepped into the house and was comforted by the familiar smell of home. “You on your own?”

“Yes, your father's out with Declan buying paint for his room.”

“Don't tell me you and Dad are still paying for everything for him?”

“Well, your father might be, but I'm certainly not. He's working nights now so at least he has a
bit of pocket money these days. Although we don't see a penny of it being spent on anything for here.” She chuckled and brought Holly to the kitchen, where she put the kettle on.
Declan was Holly's youngest brother and the baby of the family, so her mum and dad still felt
like they had to spoil him. If you could see their “baby”: Declan was a twenty-two-year-old child studying film production at college and constantly had a video camera in his hand.

“What job has he got now?”

Her mother rolled her eyes to heaven. “He's joined some band. The Orgasmic Fish, I think they call themselves, or something like that. I'm sick to death of hearing about it, Holly. If he goes on one more time about who was there at their gigs promising to sign them up and how famous they're going to be, I'll go mad.”

“Ah, poor Deco, don't worry, he'll eventually find something.”

“I know, and it's funny, because of all you darling children, he's the least I worry about. He'll
find his way.”

They brought their mugs into the sitting room and settled down in front of the television. “You look great, love, I love the hair. Do you think Leo would ever do mine for me, or am I too old for his styles?”

“Well, as long as you don't want Jennifer Aniston's hairstyle, you'll have no problems.” Holly
explained the story about the woman in the salon and they both rolled around laughing.
“Well, I don't want the Joan Collins look, so I'll just stay clear of him.”

“That might be wise.”

“Any luck with a job yet?” Her mother's voice was casual but Holly could tell she was just dying to know.

“No, not yet, Mum. To be honest I haven't even started looking; I don't quite know what I want to do.”

“You're right,” her mother nodded. “Take your time and think about what you like, or else you'll end up rushing into a job you hate, like the last time.” Holly was surprised to hear this. Although her family had always been supportive of her over the years, she found herself moved by the abundance of their love.

The last job Holly had had was working as a secretary for an unforgiving little slimeball in a
solicitor's office. She had been forced to leave her job when the little creep failed to understand that she needed time off work to be with her dying husband. Now she had to go looking for a new one. For a new job, that is. At the moment it seemed unimaginable to go to work in the morning.

Holly and her mother relaxed, falling in and out of conversation for a few hours until Holly
finally built up the courage to ask for the envelope.

“Oh, of course, love, I completely forgot about it. I hope it's nothing important, it's been there
for a long time.” 

“I'll find out soon enough.”

They said their good-byes and Holly couldn't get out of the house quickly enough.
Perching herself on the grass overlooking the golden sand and sea, Holly ran her hands over the envelope. Her mother hadn't described it very well, for it was not an envelope at all but a thick brown package. The address had been typed onto a sticker so she couldn't even guess the origin.

And above the address were two words thick and bold–THE LIST.
Her stomach did a little dance. If it wasn't from Gerry, then Holly had to finally accept the fact
that he was gone, gone completely from her life, and she had to start thinking about existing
without him. If it was from him she would be faced with the same future but at least she could
hold on to a fresh memory. A memory that would have to last her a lifetime.
Her trembling fingers gently tore at the seal of the package. She turned it upside down and
shook the contents out. Out fell ten separate tiny little envelopes, the kind you would expect to find on a bouquet of flowers, each with a different month written on them. Her heart missed a few beats as she saw the familiar handwriting on a loose page underneath the pile of envelopes. It was from Gerry.

PS, I Love You

Part 5

HOLLY HELD HER BREATH, AND with tears in her eyes and a pounding heart, she read
the familiar handwriting knowing that the person who had sat down to write to her would never be able to do so again. She ran her fingers over his words knowing that the last person to have touched the page was him.

My darling Holly, I don't know where you are or when exactly you are reading this. I just hope that my letter has found you safe and healthy. You whispered to me not long ago that you couldn't go on alone.

You can, Holly. You are strong and brave and you can get through this. We shared some beautiful times together and you made my life . . . you made my life. I have no regrets. But I am just a chapter in your life, there will be many more. Remember our wonderful memories, but please don't be afraid to make some more.

Thank you for doing me the honor of being my wife. For everything, I am eternally grateful.
Whenever you need me, know that I am with you.
Love Forever,
Your husband and best friend, Gerry
PS, I promised a list, so here it is. The following envelopes must be opened exactly when labeled and must be obeyed. And remember, I'm looking out for you, so I will know . . .
Holly broke down, sadness sweeping over her. Yet she felt relief at the same time; relief that
Gerry would somehow continue to be with her for another little while. She leafed through the
small white envelopes and searched through the months. It was April now. She had missed
March, and so she delicately picked out that envelope. She opened it slowly, wanting to savor
every moment. Inside was a small card with Gerry's handwriting on it. 
It read:

Save yourself the bruises and buy yourself a bedside lamp!
PS, I love you . . .
Her tears turned to laughter as she realized her Gerry was back!

Holly read and reread his letter over and over in an attempt to summon him back to life again.

Eventually, when she could no longer see the words through her tears, she looked out to the sea.

She had always found the sea so calming, and even as a child she would run across the road to
the beach if she was upset and needed to think. Her parents knew that when she went missing from the house they would find her here by the sea.

She closed her eyes and breathed in and out along with the gentle sighing of the waves. It was
as though the sea were taking big deep breaths, pulling the water in while it inhaled and pushing it all back up onto the sand as it exhaled. She continued to breathe along with it and felt her pulse rate slow down as she became calmer. She thought about how she used to lie by Gerry's side during his final days and listen to the sound of his breathing. She had been terrified to leave him to answer the door, to fix him some food or to go to the toilet, just in case that was the time he chose to leave her. When she would return to his bedside she would sit frozen in a terrified silence while she listened for his breathing and watched his chest for any movement.

But he always managed to hang on. He had baffled the doctors with his strength and
determination to live; Gerry wasn't prepared to go without a fight. He kept his good humor right up until the end. He was so weak and his voice so quiet, but Holly had learned to understand his new language as a mother does her babbling child just learning to talk. They would giggle together late into the night, and other nights they would hold each other and cry.

Holly remained strong for him throughout, as her new job was to be there for him whenever he needed her. Looking back on it, she knew that she needed him more than he needed her. She needed to be needed so she could feel she wasn't just idly standing by, utterly helpless.
On the second of February at four o'clock in the morning, Holly held Gerry's hand tightly and
smiled at him encouragingly as he took his last breath and closed his eyes. She didn't want him to be afraid, and she didn't want him to feel that she was afraid, because at that moment she wasn't. She had felt relief, relief that his pain was gone, and relief that she had been there with him to witness the peace of his passing. She felt relieved to have known him, to love him and to be loved by him, and relief that the last thing he saw was her face smiling down on him,
encouraging him and assuring him it was OK to let go.

The days after that were a blur to her now. She had occupied herself by making the funeral
arrangements and by meeting and greeting his relatives and old school friends that she hadn't
seen for years. She had remained so solid and calm through it all because she felt that she could finally think clearly. She was just thankful that after months his suffering was over. It didn't occur to her to feel the anger or bitterness that she felt now for the life that had been taken away from her. That feeling didn't arrive until she went to collect her husband's death certificate.

And that feeling made a grand appearance. As she sat in the crowded waiting room of her local health clinic waiting for her number to be called, she wondered why on earth Gerry's number had been called so early in his life. She sat sandwiched between a young couple and an elderly couple. The picture of what she and Gerry had once been and a glimpse of the future that could have been. And it all just seemed unfair.

She felt squashed between the shoulders of her past and her lost future, and she felt suffocated. She realized she shouldn't have had to be there.

None of her friends had to be there.

None of her family had to be there.

In fact, the majority of the population of the world didn't have to be in the position she was in
right now. It didn't seem fair. Because it just wasn't fair.

After presenting the official proof of her husband's death to bank managers and insurance
companies, as if the look on her face weren't enough proof, Holly returned home to her nest and
locked herself away from the rest of the world, which contained hundreds of memories of the
life she had once had. The life she had been very happy with. So why had she been given
another one, and a far worse one at that?
That was two months ago and she hadn't left the house until today. And what a welcome she
had been given, she thought, smiling down at the envelopes. Gerry was back.
Holly could hardly contain her excitement as she furiously dialed Sharon's number with
trembling hands. After reaching a few wrong numbers she eventually calmed herself and
concentrated on dialing the correct number.
“Sharon!” she squealed as soon as the phone was picked up. “You'll never guess what! Oh my
God, I can't believe it!”
“Eh no . . . it's John, but I'll get her for you now.” A very worried John rushed off to get Sharon.
“What, what, what?” panted a very out-of-breath Sharon. “What's wrong? Are you OK?”
“Yes I'm fine!” Holly giggled hysterically, not knowing whether to laugh or cry and suddenly
forgetting how to structure a sentence.
John watched as Sharon sat down at her kitchen table looking very confused while she tried
with all her strength to make sense of the rambling Holly on the other end. It was something
about Mrs. Kennedy giving Holly a brown envelope with a bedside lamp in it. It was all very
“Stop!” shouted Sharon, much to Holly and John's surprise. “I cannot understand a word you are
saying, so please,” Sharon spoke very slowly, “slow down, take a deep breath and start from the
very beginning, preferably using words from the English language.”
Suddenly she heard quiet sobs from the other end.
“Oh, Sharon,” Holly's words were quiet and broken, “he wrote me a list. Gerry wrote me a list.”
Sharon froze in her chair while she digested this information.
John watched his wife's eyes widen and he quickly pulled out a chair and sat next to her and
shoved his head toward the telephone so he could hear what was going on.
“OK, Holly, I want you to get over here as quickly but as safely as you can.” She paused again
and swatted John's head away as if he were a fly so she could concentrate on what she had just heard. 

“This is . . . great news?” 

John stood up from the table insulted and began to pace the kitchen floor trying to guess what it could be.

“Oh it is, Sharon,” sobbed Holly. “It really is.”

“OK, make your way over here now and we can talk about it.”


Sharon hung up the phone and sat in silence.

“What? What is it?” demanded John, unable to bear being left out of this obviously serious

“Oh sorry, love. Holly's on the way over. She . . . em . . . she said that, eh . . .”

“What? For Christ's sake?”

“She said that Gerry wrote her a list.” John stared at her, studied her face and tried to decide if she was serious. Sharon's worried blue eyes stared back at him and he realized she was. He joined her at the table and they both sat in silence and stared at the wall, lost in thought.

To be cont'd....

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