by Georgia Hilton

A neighbour is clipping their hedges outside, just out of my line of vision. But I can hear the swift, then slow, swift, then slow scissoring of the clippers. A delivery van reverses somewhere on the road, its diesel engine sputtering. I’m trying to write a letter, but my words keep deleting themselves.

Back when I used to write letters frequently, they were always handwritten of course. Now I marvel at how difficult it is to write anything that way. It’s not just that my hand tires of the pen, or that my writing is spiked and untidy, it’s more the endless crossing out of words and phrases until the meaning is in danger of being lost completely. How did I ever perfect a thought and then express it with a pen, without scribbling it out repeatedly? I wonder if the use of word processors has permanently altered the way I formulate ideas—now every sentence written is purely provisional.

Concentrate, damn you.

The words come out painfully, like kidney stones.

Dear Mrs McKenzie

I can see still see her in her kitchen, cutting exotic fruits I had never tasted before. ‘Call me Margaret for goodness sake!’ For an instant, my face is reflected in the blade of the knife she wields so casually that she occasionally forgets it is in her hand.

I was so terribly sorry to hear of your untimely loss.

This is not technically a lie. I am sorry for her loss.

John was a great man.

Delete, delete, delete.

John was a good man.

Delete, delete.

John was a wonderful doctor, husband, and father.

I’m just riffing now. One mustn’t speak ill of the dead, but does that mean you have to speak well of them? I haven’t actually seen John since he qualified. He could have been a terrible doctor for all I know. And as for the husband bit, well, put it this way—I’d rather be at the bottom of a well, with a rock tied around my neck than married to John.

I still think of you and Donald fondly.

It’s true I was fond of you both. But nowadays I look back and wonder who you really are. After all, you made him. The ex-boyfriend who locked me in a room and used his superior upper body strength to overpower me. Before he attacked me, his whole body shook uncontrollably.

I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it to the funeral. But I will be thinking of you all.

It’s a relief to type this sentence. I will be thinking of them all. Their pristine, ordered house and glittering careers. Their dead son who was given everything, and nothing at the same time. The hole in the heart of him, a respected cardiologist.

Finishing the letter, I feel as if all the air has been sucked from the room, and I go to open the window wider. My neighbour, wiping her brow after a last frenzy of hedge trimming, raises her hand to acknowledge me.

Georgia Hilton is a writer of fiction and poetry. Originally from Ireland she now lives in Winchester, Hampshire with her husband and three children. Georgia is the author of two books of poetry, I went up the lane quite cheerful (2018 and Swing (2020), both published by Dempsey and Windle. Her short story Home Improvements was published in the Didcot Writers anthology First Contact (2019).