Letters to Iris by Elizabeth Noble

Could a secret from another time change your life? Read an extract from Elizabeth Noble's uplifting story about love in all its forms

Letters to Iris

'I have so needed her, all my life, and now, when I think I may need her more than ever before, I don’t want to face the truth that I can’t have her.'



London was suddenly Christmassy. The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness gave way almost overnight to the season of spending on credit and hot chocolate with whipped cream. Bonfire Night was over, and the city apparently couldn’t wait to wrap itself in fairy lights, knowing how much prettier it looked when it twinkled. It lent the damp, chilly weather–nights drawing in fast – and the grey buildings the magical veneer of cheer and the promise of festivities to come. The windows of the West End were dressed for the season in jewel‑bright colours and sparkle. Tourists were meandering through Carnaby Street, taking it all in through a selfie lens. Nobody seemed to be in a hurry.

Except for Tess, who was in a crashing hurry. She’d been in back‑to‑back meetings staring at a flipchart since lunchtime – which had been, for her, a rather hurried warm lettuce and dried‑out falafel affair at her desk – and now, released at last, she was weaving her way impatiently through the lackadaisical crowds. It had felt like a day without end – more problems than solutions, and hardly a moment to sit at her desk and actually think. It wasn’t that she hated her job – part of a Human Resources team in a City firm – she was good at it, and most of the time she enjoyed what she did. Right now, though, the company was restructuring after a large merger, and it seemed like major, and often painful, decisions were being taken on a daily basis. It was hard to keep up with the schedule being imposed from above. And at the moment it was simply interfering just a bit too much with her actual life. Taking up space in her brain she very badly needed for thinking about other things. Those being, in no particular order: the precise whereabouts of her difficult mother, her very poorly grandmother, her boyfriend and, oh yes, who’d leave it until last on the list? Her new, very, very new pregnancy. Confirmed as of just a few hours ago, between the falafel at lunch and a Kit Kat at tea break. The pregnancy test she’d bought had been burning a hole in her desk drawer, until she’d peed on it in the bathroom, telling her‑self it would almost certainly be a negative and she could get back to worrying about all the other stuff she was worrying about. A plan that had not gone terribly well when it came out positive, and she’d had to punch both her knees in the stall to stop her legs from shaking. And go back to the meeting. And talk about cost per square foot, and bodies per floor. At that point taking the test at home had seemed like a much better idea, hindsight as beneficial as ever. Bloody hell. She realized as she walked that she was muttering her list. And swearing gently.

It almost made her laugh out loud, that listing of preoccupations. She’d read somewhere that creative people did it more than other types, because processing out loud made things clearer or something. Not true. Not true at all. None of it was clear. She was too old to let a difficult relationship with her mother distract her from her everyday adult life: that was the stuff of teenage years, when shared domesticity made it impossible to ignore. She hadn’t lived with Donna for – God – fifteen years or something. She was too old to be so invested in, and vulnerable about, the health of her beloved, but undeniably elderly, grandmother. It wasn’t like it hadn’t been coming. She was ninety‑five, for Christ’s sake. Tess was afraid she was too sad. Was it right that it hurt her this much? Right that she should be so very terrified of the only ending that was possible now? Even in this new age of living longer, that was a hell of an innings, as the crass saying went. The boyfriend thing was odd too. She should feel wonderful about him, not anx‑ ious. He was a great guy (didn’t everyone say so? Okay, nearly everyone . . .), they were happy enough, it was all how it was meant to be . . . The pregnancy – okay – so that was a curveball of elephantine proportions. But she was thirty‑five. She was sexually active. Not exactly an immaculate conception. But still, bloody hell.

Tess realized that she was breathless, and sweating, despite the damp chill in the air. Neither was a good look. Or a classy way to arrive. And she wasn’t quite as late as she thought she might be. Bugger it. There was an empty park bench with her name on it (actually, it had someone else’s name on it, but they weren’t using it, so for now it was hers), and she sat down gratefully. Just for a minute. She closed her eyes, and willed the swirling thoughts in her brain to settle and still. She concentrated on breathing in and out. She’d read about it in some article on Mindfulness in the hairdresser’s a couple of months ago. Be present, Tess. And other aphorisms for ‘calm the hell down’. It worked, though. She felt her heart rate slow, and the breathing steadied. She felt marginally, and no doubt temporarily, less crushed by the weight of everything.

One thing at a time. Get tonight over with. The rest would have to wait a while longer.

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