When I got home, I opened the book I had found on the street and a homemade map fluttered on the floor.
“Welcome to cohabitation,” it said. ‘Do not be afraid. We can still have fun with the same key.’
I felt a flush of shame. I had clearly come across an intimate love note, a card that said two people were moving in together, with all their hopes and dreams.
And yet I could see that the card writer understood their lover’s slight ambivalence about moving in.
Two conversations ran on the front of the note. One in pink caps was triumphant (“Ooh I’ve got that key too”), the other in light pencil assured that everything would be all right and that their new life of domesticity wouldn’t kill their passion. ‘Welcome to . . . sex on tap if you’re tempting enough!’ it promised.
Liz Hoggard (pictured) admits that the lover’s note she found in a book she took from a box on a south London street left her flushed with shame
I could almost feel the writer wanted this to be true.
For a moment I felt tears. The card had a deep groove in it, probably from a picture bracket. Perhaps it had been pinned to the wall of the new house and heralded the beginning of a happy, connected life together.
The couple had clearly argued endlessly about the pros and cons of living together and decided to risk it anyway. The card was a love token to ward off negative energy.
But at some point, the map had been removed from the wall, placed in the book, and later dumped outside the house, along with the departing lover’s personal belongings.
I’d come across it on the street, in a box of books and DVDs labeled “Please take.”
I had happily picked up an Anne Tyler novel, a cookbook, and a Madonna biography, and was amazed that people would give away such impeccable copies.
But back in my flat I’d opened the biography, found the map, and suddenly a whole story was playing in my head. This was a big love affair that collapsed.
I had no idea of the ages or genders of the couple. Or who left whom. But now I realized it was an act of anger to leave the box in the street.
I put the card back in the book and left it unread on my shelf. For years I tried not to think about the pain I had discovered. Or my fault in reading that note.
That is until late last month, when news broke about a man who found a woman’s poignant letter to her cheating husband in a charity shop novel. In it, Sarah berates partner Chris for leaving her to raise their children while enjoying affairs outside the home.
Dean Cuthbert, 43, found a handwritten message (pictured) in a used copy of John O’Farrell’s The Best A Man Can Get
Dean Cuthbert, 43, who bought the book from an Age UK store in York, posted a photo of the note on social media. He captioned the image: ‘The heart of the story is that of a man who leads a sort of double life. Imagine my surprise when I found this. Someone’s been in Sarah’s bad books.’
The handwritten message was contained in a second-hand copy of John O’Farrell’s The Best A Man Can Get – a novel about a husband’s double life.
Sarah’s note is one long cry of pain. She writes, ‘Chris, is this what you thought you could do to me? Living a double life with your so-called “recreational relationships”, which I am totally oblivious to, raising our kids and thinking you were just a workaholic and that’s why you were away from home so much. What have you been to me.’
The story clearly spoke. Messages were posted online in support of Sarah. One person wrote: ‘This is like the beginning of a movie. I’m all Team Sarah; hope she’s okay now!’ Another said, ‘Go Sarah! I hope she went and stayed away.’
Maybe they are divorced. Or perhaps Chris saw the error of his ways and they reconciled—though I’d rather hope not.
When I read about the story, I felt the same sense of shock and shame – and excitement – as the day I found the discarded card.
Liz said it is human nature to be fascinated by the stories of others, to try to follow the detective trail left by just a few tantalizing clues (stock image)
It’s in human nature to be fascinated by the stories of others, to try to follow the detective trail left by just a few tantalizing clues. Jojo Moyes’s 2008 novel The Last Letter From Your Lover about a journalist who finds in the newspaper archives a letter from 1960 written by a man asking his lover to leave her husband is now a new movie starring Felicity Jones in the main role.
All it takes is for someone to find a handwritten note or a sepia photo in a pile of old papers, and the cogs of the imagination begin to buzz, conjuring up a tale of pain or joy. And I suspect we’ll see more of it in the future.
After the pandemic, everyone is streamlining their assets. With some thrift stores not willing to take our books, and municipalities charging a small fortune to clean up household waste, it may seem easier to use your yard as a storefront.
But do check those books before you leave them for others. A couple I know broke up after a partner left their passports in a novel, which they gave away. It was never seen again. There are only so many ruined vacations that any of us can endure right now.
Chances are I will never discover the fate of my South London couple. But something else has taken the place of my shame. Heap. They had entered an exciting new chapter and felt that their love was invincible. That’s definitely worth celebrating.