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The Lost Letter - By Richard Nicholls

It had been 6 weeks since the funeral.
Long enough to get used to the idea that he was an orphan now. Dan had laughed a little when he first used that word, orphan.
How old do we have to be before we no longer describe ourselves as that? He thought to himself. But to him, Dan was an orphan. After all both his parents had died, first his Dad, although that was many years ago and now his Mum.

But, at 57 years old to describe yourself as an orphan seemed odd, hence why Dan had smiled when he said to his wife, Joanna, that he was now little orphan Danny and she’d squeezed his hand.
He was joking, of course, but she knew that there was some truth in it and she’d been dreading the day that Dan’s Mum would pass away as much as he had. She knew what she’d meant to him.
Annabelle had been the perfect Mother In Law, she was determined, strong and fiercely loyal to Dan but had never stood in the way of him having a new woman in his life, even though Joanna could see it must have hurt her.
Dan was an only child, his father had died when Dan was only 3 and Annabelle had brought him up single handedly, and as a parent herself Joanna knew how difficult it must have been to watch him grow and fly the nest but she’d never held him back, not in any way shape or form. In fact she was probably more of an encouraging parent than anyone could ever be.
Dan had told her stories about growing up and always spoke fondly of his Mum.

“When I look back” he’d said one day “She must have been so patient. I was not the easiest of kids to bring up.”
If he’d been born today, little Danny would have probably have been labelled as Autistic, certainly as Dyslexic and more than likely diagnosed with ADHD and filled with drugs to try and calm him down. He couldn’t remember when his problems first began, his Mum had told him that he’d struggled a little at Nursery School to fit in with the other Children and no matter how many times the teachers went over it the strange shapes that made up the Alphabet they seemed to make no sense at all.

So Annabelle would work with him after school, encouraging him and teaching him many things that school didn’t. But his confidence was still quite low, by 6 years old Danny had started to call himself ‘weird’. To him, school was slow, boring and frustrating. He wanted to learn, he wanted to be clever like the other Children but, at first, he just didn’t get it.
Annabelle had said it was because he was too clever for the teachers and Danny knew there was truth in that, he’d had to correct his teachers quite a few times. Once on the differences between the tallest mountain in the world and the highest and one particularly unsettling episode one cold November day when Mr. Clegg refused to believe that it was wrong to think that you lose your body heat fastest through your head. Danny interrupted him to claim that we would be just as cold if we went without a hat as if we went without trousers. Mr. Clegg didn’t like that and Danny had argued. Mr. Clegg didn’t like that either and when Danny took off his trousers and tried to climb out of the window Mr. Clegg liked that even less and Danny wasn’t allowed in School for a week, and missed the School’s annual bonfire event.
It was then that things started to change though, it was then that the famous letter had arrived. Long since lost but Annabelle had read it to Danny so many times that they had both learned it off by heart anyway.

Dear Mrs. Clayton, it had said,
Following our meeting last week it has been decided by all involved that your request should be granted.
Daniel can be removed from mainstream education and homeschooled.
He will not be returning after Christmas. He is quite clearly intellectually gifted and there is nothing that we can teach him.
Yours Sincerely
G. Watson, Headmaster.

The day that letter arrived was a real turning point in his life and he remembered it very well. His Mum had been to the School for a few meetings following the incident with the trousers but she never talked about what was discussed, she would just come home and hug him and tell him that he was too good for that school.
So when the letter arrived with the school motif on the envelope Danny knew it must be important and gave it straight to his mum.
“This could be good news Danny” she’d said, as she opened it. As she read her eyes filled with tears “It is good news Danny” she said and she began to cry as she hugged him tightly “The best news ever.”
And she was right, from then on Annabelle became more than just a Mother to little Danny, she was his Teacher, his Mentor and his best friend. Although she had to give up working at the bakery and money was very tight they had each other and that was all they really needed.
Besides, the old bakery staff would often visit with gingerbread men and chelsea buns. And even if their bread was a little old and stale sometimes, it still made great toast.

Life had been good. Dan learned how to deal with the frustrations of being ‘wired up a little differently’ as he called it and excelled at everything he put his mind to.
He grew up knowing that the School had been right, there was nothing that they could teach him, he’d needed to learn things his own way.
Even now, all these years later he still remembered his Mum’s teaching style, the patience she had, the creativity, the immediate and genuine praise when he’d achieved something. He missed his Mum of course, and it hurt a little to remember her with fondness but he would never forget all she did for him, however much it hurt when he thought about the loss.
So as he stood in the living room of the house he’d grown up in, listening to the gentle tick-tock of the wall clock, he felt it was a good time to begin dealing with his Mums possessions. 80 years worth of ornaments, old letters and photographs didn’t sort themselves.

Being here always put Dan in a good mood, he loved Christmas time it always took him back to his childhood and the freedom that the famous letter had given him. He’d held that feeling in his heart and in his mind ever since and every Christmas the feeling came back. When he had a son of his own to share that feeling with it seemed to grow even stronger still and later with his Granddaughter. Again the joy, the pleasure and the gratitude that Christmas brought grew even more.
As he started picking through things it would have been easy to become lost in it all, to spend hours simply reminiscing and not actually achieving anything. Dan chuckled to himself as that thought crossed his mind, maybe if that letter all those years ago had been different he would never have learned how to discipline and motivate himself. Maybe if he had been forced to stay in School he wouldn’t have learned how to read, how to write. Maybe he wouldn’t have received the scholarship to University and eventually be the Teacher he became.

It was an hour in when he found the letter, sandwiched between newspaper clippings about charity work Dan had been involved with in his 20’s. He saw the motif on the envelope first and his heart skipped a little just as it had done all those years ago when his Mum read it to him at Christmas.
He moved everything else aside and looked at it for a moment before he picked it up. The white envelope now a faded brown.
He thought it was lost, thrown out when he was still young. But here it was the famous letter that led him to grow into the man he became. Dan pulled out the letter and was able to read it for the first time after all these years.

Dear Mrs. Clayton, he read,
Following our meeting last week it has been decided by all involved that your request should be denied.
Daniel must be removed from mainstream education and homeschooled.
He will not be returning after Christmas. He is quite clearly intellectually disabled and there is nothing that we can teach him.
Yours Sincerely
G. Watson, Headmaster.

Dan was stunned, his Mum was so honest, so fair and good and yet she’d hidden the truth.
The truth that the school didn’t believe in him at all, that he had been written off by everyone.
Everyone except her that is. She’d been the only one who believed in him, the only one who could see his potential.
Annabelle had given him so many gifts that he didn’t even know he’d been given. She’d given him self-esteem, she’d given him confidence, she’d given him pride and self-discipline. She had given him the most important ingredients to being happy and successful in life.
The day that the letter had arrived she had given him the ability to believe in himself, and he would love her forever because of it.

© Richard Nicholls