Email to Hannah – Catherine Madden

Photo by Cary Bates on Unsplash

Email to Hannah

Today I woke up slightly ill and with a sense of nostalgia that was only just bearable. Maybe it was because of the Olbas Oil on my pillow, but I felt filled with all the calm, light afternoons of my past. I thought about my mum pottering around a quiet house and I thought about men: my dad who died before I was old enough to ask why he treated us all so badly after willing us into the world; my old boyfriend who lived in that grey bricked house by us in Deptford, which jutted out from a corner where two streets met, and the feeling I got in between ringing his doorbell and him answering it. Do you remember him, Hannah? Sometimes he would be in a dressing gown, smelling earthy with fluffy hair.

In the evening I went to work at a function in the university here. The sun was setting as I walked up the hill in my clean and ironed all black uniform. Oh, Hannah! I have nothing to do here, but keep myself clean.

When I got to work I learned that the function was a reunion of people who all lived in the same halls of residence in the early 70s. The organiser was a confident posh man, who was the first one there in the large-faux medieval hall that we use for these sorts of things. I was on the drinks table (prosecco, orange juice, and mineral water), and my colleagues, more experienced women in the same uniform as me, served the dressed circular tables dotted around the room.

From my position I could observe the guests as they came in and tried to recognise people they hadn’t seen since they were all thirty years younger. Some people remembered former halls-mates who didn’t recognise them. One man announced himself as Alistair with no success until another said:

Oh, Biggles! I didn’t know it was you because we always knew you as Biggles.

They were all men, as well, apart from one woman who looked fantastic compared to them, wearing some brilliant, long, wide and baggy trousers that I think you would have liked.

Just before the end of my shift, after my drinks point was closed, I was clearing a table where only two men were left sitting. One of the men was the organiser and the other had a very sweet boyish face and a crown of grey hair like a monk. it was awkward between them, as if there had already been a long silence.

The organiser guy asked:

So, how do you fill your time?

Well, I have Grandchildren, the sweet man replied.

That’s all I heard really.

I am home now, Hannah, and eating the leftovers from the reunion. I hope you are well. Tonight more than ever I wish I was not here, but with you in your (our?) kitchen, listening to Billie Holliday and drinking bottomless cups of tea.


Catherine Madden is from Birkenhead and lives in London. She writes fiction and poetry. She is a founding co-editor of art and literary zine, The Grapevine. Her work has been published in such places as SPAM zine, 3:AM Magazine, Oh Comely Magazine, Entropy Magazine, Severine Lit, and with The Aleph Press. Her writing is about sex, love, body movements, mental health, grief and the vulnerabilities of childhood.

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