The envelope reads: Not to be opened until your eighteenth birthday (but knowing you, you won’t have the patience!) Love Mum xx.
It’s my lack of impatience and not Edie’s that has made me open it tonight. I try steaming the thing so I can reseal without her ever noticing. My hands shake and I go with a knife instead, warming it in a mug of boiling water and carefully prising the folds from their gluey, three-year-old bonds.
The contents, a folded piece of glossy paper, a folded A4 sheet and another folded-up envelope, sit next to the letter in front of me on the kitchen table. The kettle’s still hot. I make a brew.
She’s out – and god knows that when she’s out she’s always late home – so I know I’m safe to sit with it for a while. I'll have a biscuit. A digestive.
I unfold the A4 sheet and read:
(Darren, if you’re reading this first, you are a bloody Plonka. I love you and miss you.)
My darling Edie,
I hope you’re not too bored of these by now. It’s probably not cool for me to force you to spend your birthday weekend doing my bidding – but I will always be your interfering mother. ALWAYS.
I’ve made you a map of my favourite places in the hope you and your father and your boyfriend or girlfriend (if you have one!) can have a day out with me. Force fun...here we come!
Number one – The Botanical Gardens
Me and your father used to go on dates (honest!). He’d make a picnic. Obviously, the picnics were rubbish: supermarket scotch eggs and sausage rolls; bottle of beer each (classy, eh?); cheese, onion and cheese and onion crisp sandwich for him (what a weirdo); cheese and pickle for me – plenty of butter. When you came along, he’d pack baby food and blended carrots. As we approached the millennium, the three of us together, he started packing a basketful of new age treats. Hummus. Pitta. Celery sticks. He's a modern man your father.
Number two – The Porter Cottage
This was one of my favourite pubs in my student days. If you walk down from the Botanics you’ll probably pass my student house on Cemetery Road. Forgive your Dad if he doesn't want to, I did have other boyfriends back then, although none as wonderful (or wonderfully bald) as him.
We used to do the quiz night on a Tuesday religiously. I worked behind the bar in my second year and used to copy down the answer sheet and pass it to my friends so we’d win the free round by the time I’d clocked off.
Number three – Bramall Lane
If Dad – or the players for that matter - hasn’t bored, you to tears over the years then I’d like to go and watch the Blades if they're at home. Do you remember me taking you when Jagielka scored that winning goal against Leeds? You probably won’t do, you were only little.
Number four – The Boardwalk
Even as I write this, I know the place is shut down. But seriously love, The Boardwalk was the bomb. I hope someone’s re-opened it.
They say the smartest people learn from other’s mistakes, so here’s a lesson for you: I once drank four cans of lager whilst walking from my house to the Boardwalk to see me mates band. I showed my ticket, walked through the doors, went straight back outside, felt a bit rough, took a drag of a mates cigarette and projectile vomited from the pavement to the little arch where they put the band posters. As long as it’s still standing you’ll be able to measure the distance.
If it’s shut down then you have to force Dad to see whatever band you want! He’ll hate it, I know, but it’s his treat (got you tight-arse!).
Number five – Chippy tea
Now, Two Steps was ‘the’ chippy back in my day. I knew somebody who fancied themselves as a DJ and called themselves Kas. Kas used to go and order a meal that I am quite sure was never on the menu for anyone else other than him. “Ball and Chips.” I still don't know what it is. You have to order it – they’ll probably have no idea what you’re on about, but you have to do it!
Have a good ‘un my sweet!
Love mum xxxxxxx
I carefully re-fold the sheet of paper, which by now has one translucent spot that distorts an apostrophe. It'll dry, I tell myself.
I pick up the glossy sheet that was stuffed inside with the letter; the journey mapped out in neat strokes of a permanent marker on a square cut out from an ordnance survey map. Then I pick up the second envelope. Why a second? There's a small slip of paper inside.
Plonka. Here’s a spare envelope. I’ve taken the time to copy the same handwriting onto both. Christ, aren’t I organised? Monica from Friends, eh?
Listen, if she’s got a boyfriend or girlfriend, make sure you are the picture-perfect embarrassing dad that I’ve always known you will be.
You are, without doubt, the strongest person I know. (You better be sodding crying, ‘cos I am!).
Love you. Jx
P.S: just to haunt you from the grave, as by now you know I am want to do, I have a question? Do you remember ‘the big day’? Not the first big day, the last one. The one when my Dad gave you a tenner and he told you that I had given him careful instructions to hand it over to you? I bet you refused it. Anyway, that tenner was for the chippy – Ball and Chips on you Kas?
I stuff the letter and the map into the spare envelope, sealing it and tossing it onto the table in front.
I look at my letter all on its own.
…the door clicks. Drunken, listing footsteps.
“Edie, is that you?”