top of page
époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

Dear Mark,


I was thinking about you today. Meg was telling me a story she’d heard at school, and I was trying to concentrate on what she was saying, but couldn’t. I just kept thinking about you, picturing your face in detail, lingering over the different shades of brown in your eyes. Last night I walked past your house on the way home and saw someone sitting on the sofa and assumed it was you, and felt even closer to you, as though you’d be able to sense that I was nearby. Did you? Did you at least feel bathed in warmth for a moment? Sometimes I can’t believe that after all my education it still comes down to this. Walking past your house, hoping you’ll sense me thinking of you.

I know. I’m writing to you at work. But I only promised not to call or email or send you texts in case Lisa sees, and a letter’s OK. It won’t show up on your phone. I have to contact you. I can’t just wait for you to call.

Anyway. It started to snow before I reached the next street. Just a few flakes at first, so small and light I almost thought I was imagining them, but by the time I picked Meg up from Tina’s, they were falling fast. She held her arms out to them as soon as we were outside and span round, with her face lifted up to the sky, laughing. She seemed separate from me, lit up like an actor on a stage. I imagined myself sitting in the darkness of a theatre, watching her, and wondered whether that was how a parent should feel about their child – that awe, that appreciation – or whether I’d given up too soon on my own life and was magnifying hers to compensate. I know you’ll laugh. You’ll say it's ridiculous, that 24 is too young to feel like that. Focusing on her, anyway, I was able to stop thinking about you, at least until the little miseries set in. She got snow in her shoe, her toes clumped together, it hurt her to walk, and I wished you were there. You might have made us laugh.

In the morning, when I switched on the tap to fill the kettle, nothing happened. I stood there, waiting for the flow to start. It was like one of those difficult conversations where you think the other person’s just pausing and they’ll reply at any second, and it takes time to realise that they won’t. Like my last conversation with Rob. Before I left, I mean. I kept waiting, though, thinking the water would lurch into action at any moment. It took me longer than it should have to realise that it wouldn’t. Meg was next to me, pulling at my arm, asking what was happening. I pulled away from her, irritated, and then looked at her face, and wished I’d been kinder.

She wasn’t just upset. She was shaking from the cold, as well. She wanted to make me feel better, so she was trying to smile, but crying despite it all. I took her to my bedroom and wrapped her in my duvet to keep her warm. The heating wasn’t working, and I was so scared of the pipes bursting that I didn’t try for long. It's too expensive to run, anyway. I hardly use it these days.

I know. It’s just winter. It’s just cold. But I bet your house is warmer than this. I bet your kids aren’t as cold as Meg, that you’re more in control of everything.

I wanted to distract Meg, to stop her thinking about how cold she was, so I made up another episode of a story I tell her, and she stopped crying and curled up with me, joining in, suggesting new details. I thought she was completely distracted, but after I’d finished, she looked up at me and said, ‘But what will we do about the tap?’

‘We’ll worry about that later.’

‘But how will we drink?’

‘It’s alright. We’ll melt snow if we have to.’

She cheered up then, and we went out to the garden. None of the other tenants were there, so we made a quick snowman, but we didn’t stay out for long. She gets cold so quickly, even in her coat.

Anyway. I’m just writing to say hello and to let you know that my worries about the flat and Meg are why I was so tearful when you called last week. It was nothing to do with you, although I do often wonder about the wisdom of everything we’ve embarked on. It was hard, beginning the new year alone, not knowing whether I could keep Meg warm and fed and having no one here to talk to, let alone celebrate with. But thank you for calling. It means a lot.

All my love,



*                    *                    *


Dear Mark,

I wasn’t going to write to you again. I was going to wait for you to contact me, but in the end I couldn’t help it. I know I can’t expect you to leave Lisa just because I’ve left Rob, but I wish you were here. Every morning when I wake up, I think this might be the day you visit. I imagine looking down from the window and seeing you on the path. The way I tell it to myself, you’ll come with a bag crammed full of clothes and say you’re never going home again.




*                    *                    *


Dear Mark,

I put that last letter into an envelope and sealed and addressed it, which is why I’m having to begin a new one now. It’s still snowing; it’s already deep. I made myself ring the landlord and left another message with his wife. She said it was nothing to do with her, but I explained about the pipes anyway, and how I was worried they’d burst.

‘Why couldn’t you just keep the heating on?’ she said.

‘It isn’t working. I did tell Mr Laithwaite last week, but –’ Into the silence, I said, ‘I did ask. I’ve got a four-year-old and I can’t keep her warm.’

She hurried off the phone then, doing her best to be non-committal, but I thought I heard some anxiety in her voice, so I’m hoping she’ll sort it out.

I stood by the window and watched the snow. It was falling faster, filling the footprints and tyre marks with white, smoothing the street over. Like a nightly clean. The flakes got thicker while I was there. Slower, until the air was heavy with them. I watched them turn and hover before they fell to the ground. I wanted to call you, but stopped myself. I switched on the tap in the kitchen, to see whether the water was flowing yet, but there was no change. I stood there, indecisive, not sure which way was off, worrying that the sink would overfill when the pipes thawed. I opened the back door, filled a pan with snow, and stood on the fire-escape, looking down at the garden and the trail of our footprints, which were slowly filling again.

I was shaking from the cold when I came back inside. I thought that if you’d been here, you would have hugged me until I was warm again, and I hoped you’d come tomorrow, just turn up on the path unannounced, like you sometimes do. Are you out with friends right now, or in the house with Lisa? Do you still eat with her? Do you still talk much? Do you just carry on as though nothing has happened?

You know what you said, when you called? That you thought about me all the time? That we had far more in common than you do with Lisa, and it was obvious we should be together, but that you couldn’t imagine ever leaving her because of the boys? Well, you might have felt that at that moment, but I don’t believe it’s what you always feel. And I don’t want to live without even the hope that you might come and join me. I don’t want you to live a shadow life you can’t be happy with, either. You should live fully and show your boys that you’re not afraid to love passionately, with real honesty and depth.



*                    *                    *


Dear Mark,

Okay, I’m angry now. It’s Thursday and you still haven’t called. You haven’t written. I haven’t seen you. I’m still here, waiting.

I think what I object to most is you setting this up in your own mind in the way that you have. Me as the homewrecker. Or the hysterical lover who won’t let you go. I’ve been giving that some thought. If you were here, if I could look into your eyes, I’d soften towards you in an instant. But since you’re not, I can see it all clearly. And you approached me, remember? In the first place, I mean. I still think about that long, slow smile and your hand on my arm. We’d been talking a lot since I started the job and I’d sometimes wondered, but in that second, we both knew. And it’s odd, because I’m so far in now, but I can safely say that I’d never have thought of you if you hadn’t done that. After that evening, though, you were always on my mind. I’d go home to Rob, but all the time I was with him, I’d be running through conversations we’d had, analysing them, wondering whether there was something in them that I’d missed but could tease out now.

Remember when you told me I was suffocating you, stealing your identity, trying to merge myself with you? I was angry when you said that. Furious. For a while, I thought you were right. But then I saw how deliberately you created this obsession in me. It’s simple. A formula. You veer between extremes. You focus on me intensely. The sex is amazing. You say everything I hoped you would. And then you disappear abruptly, and I’m left in this wilderness, where even my thoughts aren’t my own and everything brings me squarely back to you.

I freeze when you do that. It’s like standing in front of that kitchen tap again, turning and turning it, thinking I can squeeze out some little drop of water if I try hard enough, but always finding it blocked.

I’ll stop, anyway. I’m too angry to carry on.



*                    *                    *


Dear Mark,

I’m waiting and waiting and you still haven’t called. Meg’s curled against me, watching me write. She looked at me a moment ago and said, ‘I’ve got nothing to do.’ Then she said, ‘You’re always writing those letters, but you never send them, so what’s the point? Why can’t we play?’ I held her tightly, blinking away tears above her head, but we’re going to play now. We’ll paint and read and have another round of that awful pop-dice game and all the time, you’ll be bouncing round my head and then we’ll go to the park. She’s right. It’s best for all of us if I stop writing them. Especially Meg. Especially your sons. And I know if I keep them, I might post them to your house. In another mood, I might send them all at once. And I know Lisa already knows, but these letters might tip it, mightn’t they? If she read them, I mean? If she knew everything you’d done and said?

 So I’ll do one last thing for you. I’ll go down to the garden and burn them. Partly because it’s fairer for the kids, but mainly because I never want you to know that I feel like an insect you collected and forgot to free. I’m trapped in a tiny, stifling jar and I’m waiting for you to look up and notice, but I don’t think you will. Whatever you said, I don’t think you will.


Sarah Turner tile_alt.png

Sarah’s stories have been published/are due to be published by journals including: The London Magazine, Fictive Dream, J Journal, Litro, After Dinner Conversation, Welter, Loft, Shooter Literary Magazine, Leon Literary Review and Toasted Cheese. Sarah has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where she was awarded a Distinction and the annual course prize and in 2023 her stories have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize Short Story Award and longlisted for the London Magazine Short Story Prize.


Of the story featured here, Sarah states:


‘Collected is a story about the obsessive longing that can accompany desire. It’s also an analysis of how systematically desire can be created, and of how it looks from the outside.’

bottom of page