Refresh: Waiting for Charlotte’s email

It was still dark when he woke up. Nobody was stirring. He told himself to keep his eyes closed and not let sleep escape. But his right hand was stretching across to the table on his left, to grasp the phone that lay there. A moment later, white light from its screen warmed his eyelids. He opened his right eye just a crack and tapped the email icon before shutting it again. He gave the app a count of ten and then opened the eye again. The same old spam: books, shoes, houses and courses he did not want. But no mail from Charlotte, making it five months of silence between them.

He propped himself up on his left elbow and stopped pretending he could sleep any longer. What he was going to do now — what he had decided he would do now — required complete wakefulness.

He had given himself a choice: block Charlotte’s ID to place himself beyond the reach of her emails and out of the daily agony of awaiting them. Or, delete his email ID, so that her mail, if she ever wrote it, would bounce, and she would know it had not reached him. That way she wouldn’t feel hurt on not getting a reply.

The fact that he was still thinking about her feelings made both choices pointless, but he had promised himself that he would do one or the other at the end of the fifth month since Charlotte’s last email.

That deadline was a week overdue because he had been counting since his own last unanswered email to her. In it he had asked her how her dance — for which she had practised hard for months after office hours — had gone. A harmless question that she might have answered as an ordinary friend without straining other ties. Her reply would have been intercepted and read, of course, but the prying eye that had hacked and read every one of their gushing emails and even encrypted messages, would not be so alarmed at this one. But then, it might.

When Charlotte’s birthday came 10 days later, he did not write to her, to avoid muddying her day with a domestic row. He hoped she would scold him about it, and they would pick up their correspondence again — on a lower pitch — but she never wrote back. Christmas passed, and New Year too. Charlotte never wrote a word. Now it was March and summer was near. Husband and wife must have mended the tear in their relationship, he thought.

This morning, he had to close the door on Charlotte forever. He opened the pictures she had sent him over the months. Selfies, mostly, shot inside the car on the way to work. The most beautiful woman ever. Greying hair that she resolutely refused to colour only heightened her natural grace and the sadness in her eyes tugged at his heart. He played a video of her route to work that she had recorded just for him, pointing out trees and trails while the key fob jangled in the background every time the car went over a bump. She cleared her throat often, maybe to mask her self-consciousness.

He kept watching the pictures till morning arrived, but kept his thoughts off the block-or-delete question.

It was getting late. The question would have to wait. Maybe tomorrow, maybe never. It would probably be never. Before leaving the bed, he refreshed his mail again, just in case.



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