Nothing was out of place: her accounts and paperwork were up-to-date, and today, as always, Professor Kirschner’s clothes had been selected meticulously. She wore a burnt ochre wool hat, a cream jacket that she’d found in Age UK (tell no one), with a beige scarf, and mud-brown leather gloves, and then the mushroom trousers that flared a little where most people’s tapered. She sought out her reflection in High Street shop windows, as if to confirm the resolve she was etching into her face. At the Post Office, she took brisk steps. Anyone who had seen her would have thought she was returning to settle an argument, but it was more score than argument that she was settling. She purchased a yellow A5 padded envelope, with bubble wrap lining the inside, which her fingers ached to pop as she strode on to the pharmacist’s. She resisted nevertheless.
At the pharmacist’s she bought a roll of cotton wool. She sat in the park by the third, quieter lake and tore off the wool in thick strips, stuffing them into the envelope to line it more deeply. She took no pleasure in this element of the process – cotton wool raised the hairs on the back of her neck – but she persevered, taking her time and watching all the while the late afternoon sun’s glitter on the surface of the water. She could put her trust in Nature. It felt peaceful, sitting here on the edge of things. Posting the package would feel different. It would put her back at the centre – a wilder place to travel to. His wife would… She paused to imagine, with the envelope almost ready, weighing it on the flat of her palm.
Nevertheless, within twenty minutes she’d returned to the Post Office, confirming the number of stamps for the postage: had she fully anticipated that small extra burden? She purchased one more second class in the end. The stamps were souvenir issue – jazz musicians from the 70s – she insisted on taking only the Jaco Pastorius, a neat touch
Back at her flat, she took the address from his wallet, and selected her fat red marker – it made an exquisite squeak as it gripped the postcode. She wrote slowly, she wrote with her wrong hand, the way she used to do with valentines.
Later, tomorrow if necessary, she would come back to the bottle and the small vial that waited for her on the living room table. No one need know that, in many ways, she had already died and lovesickness was the root of it. But for now, Professor Kirschner felt a relish in the moment, as she put his third finger inside the package. She sealed the envelope with a long lick of her tongue. And then she headed to the post-box in what remained of the autumn light.
Michael Loveday’s novella-in-flash Three Men on the Edge (V. Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the 2019 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. He specialises as an editor for novellas-in-flash: novella-in-flash.com. Other info at: michaelloveday.com.