Short story: To Whom It May Concern

I hadn’t seen her for over 30 years − until last night that is.  I’m afraid her sudden reappearance after such a long absence feels, well, ominous.   Hence this note.  Just in case.

I didn’t believe she’d left me at first.  I  just carried on with my life, keeping busy, trying to get it back on an even keel, expecting her to turn up sooner or later.  And now she has.  She was always secretive, never one to explain herself.  Easy come, easy go.  No goodbyes, never said where she was going.  Just vanished for 30 years.

It’s difficult to know where to start.  I was just a teenager lacking self confidence and flattered by her attentions. I’ve no idea why she chose me.  You’d think she’d have something better to do but she persisted.  She seemed like an older sister, just a tease, all innocent enough to start with.

It took some time for me to rumble her because the risks she got me to take often worked out OK.  Like being a gambler on a winning streak.  You have to admire the way she did it, lulling me into her confidence and only gradually raising the stakes. 

She’s never told me her name, but once it had dawned on me that she was the one orchestrating my mishaps, I nicknamed her Miss Hap.  Seemed appropriate.  She never commented, just smiled and winked.  She often did that.  I used to find it a real come-on.  

I’m monitoring my oxygen levels at the moment.  I’ve been feeling breathless lately and my doctor told me to get this little gadget.  You just clip it on your middle finger and it gives you a reading.  Between 95 and a 100 is fine but sometimes mine drops below this. I’m a bit breathless and my pulse rate is higher than usual too.  When Miss Hap made her surprise appearance last night she spent ages looking over my shoulder at my readings.  She didn’t comment on them.  Just nodded and gave me one of those tantalising winks as if to say, ‘I know something you don’t know’.    

I was still at school when I first became aware of her.  She was the one who got me smoking fags behind the cricket pavilion on summer evenings after prep and then, when winter came, in the loft above the dorm.  It was quite cosy up there, a small group of us huddled round a solitary flickering candle, puffing away, the tips of our fags glowing in the gloom.  We were all in chapel singing hymns when the fire broke out on a Sunday morning.  The roof collapsed into our dormitory and we all had to sleep in the sanatorium for a year while a new wing was built.

It was her fault that I got glandular fever, mucking up my mock A Levels.  I’d never have plucked up the courage to ask the Latin teacher’s daughter for a kiss without Miss Hap daring me to do it.  And all those passionate necking sessions that followed (as it happens, behind the cricket pavilion) wouldn’t have happened.  I’d have just moped around lusting from afar.

Without her egging me on there’s no way I’d have agreed to visit the red light district on that school trip to Amsterdam.  Getting caught by that teacher (what the hell was he doing there anyway?) and being expelled was her fault really.  Well, I say it was her fault but, to be honest, attributing blame isn’t entirely straightforward.  You see, she only ever suggested things, leaving me free to decide whether or not to take up her suggestion. 

Mind you, she was always very persuasive.  She had a way of making me feel invincible, that I could do anything I put my mind to.  Skiing is a good example.  I remember standing at the top of a black run at the end of a long day’s skiing thinking shall I, shan’t I?  Ice had started to form and the run was steep and narrow.  The friends I was with thought it was too dodgy and were preparing to turn back.  Then she appeared, smiling as usual.

‘Go on Stephen, what are you waiting for?’ she said with her soft, purring voice. ‘You know you can do it. Don’t let your friends talk you out of it.  Go on, you show them.’ 

So, with one push on my poles, I launched myself off.  My fall was dramatic.  I parted company with my skis almost immediately and sped down the slope on my front, arms outstretched, like a demented bobsleigh.  I was rescued hours later after my friends had raised the alarm.  Two broken arms and a dislocated shoulder.

I’m still breathless and my oxygen levels have dropped below 95.  I’ve phoned for an ambulance but they say they’re very busy.  Could take 3 hours.

She loved it when I got my pilot’s licence.  I’d be flying solo on a clear day over Oxfordshire, little dinkey fields far below, when she’d appear and suggest trying something more adventurous:  flying in some tight circles, looping the loop a few times, pulling the throttle back and putting the plane in a spin.  The thing is she was right, it was a bit boring flying along straight and level, and it would be more fun to try some manoeuvres.  How was I to know that the plane would be written off and that I’d be lucky enough to get the canopy open and escape with my parachute?  Of course there was no way I could explain my moment of madness to the satisfaction of the Board of Inquiry so my licence was withdrawn.

That was typical of her.  She’d appear, urge me to do something risky, then scarper leaving me to face the consequences.  She was never around when I came a cropper.  Which is fair enough I suppose since she never actually made me do anything.  Just put the idea into my head and, like Japanese knot weed, once it was there it was hard to get rid of.  

Not everything she suggested was life threatening.  Some were just embarrassing: like the time she hid the notice saying ‘women only’ on that sauna, or the time she got me trapped in the office lift with my boss’s secretary, or the time at that conference when she assured me my microphone was switched off when I went for a pee.

But things gradually escalated.  Getting stuck for the night on that deserted island off the Croatian coast wasn’t funny. Bloody nearly died of hypothermia before they realised  I was missing and came back for me.  My motor bike accident wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been riding pillion urging me to go faster.  And the way she encouraged me to invest all that money in my friend’s dodgy business venture.  Disastrous.  Cost me my marriage and my house.

Then, until last night, she buggered off, leaving me, with a leg full of nuts and bolts, living alone in rented accommodation.

The paramedics are here now, a man and a woman.  They’re very friendly but they look as if they’ve come from outer space, all dressed up in PPE.  They’ve done various tests and say I need to go to hospital.  The woman has just nipped out to get a stretcher.  She gave me a wink as she left.   

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