Sally usually deleted messages from unknown numbers. Her friends had warned her about scams and she knew better than to click on links or believe urgent requests for payment from the tax office. They’d taken enough money from her whilst she was working, thank you very much.
But there was something about this message that had grabbed her attention. It wasn’t addressed to Sally, but to Sally-Anne. She hadn’t been called that for years. Decades even. And it was only family who had used both names, not her friends. Her finger hovered over the delete option but curiosity got the better of her. She opened the message instead.
Hi Sally-Anne, thought you’d like to know that it’s over. Melanie died yesterday. You’re finally safe. D.
Sally blinked rapidly, surprised at the tears which filled her eyes. She glanced around the cafe, but there was no-one there that she knew, nobody who would come over and ask if she was all right. Sally dropped her head and let the tears fall, sliding down her cheeks. Once the moment passed, she reached into her handbag, fumbling for a hankie. Then she read the message again.
D was Denise, one of the cousins that she’d grown up with. It was a lifetime ago now, and Sally wondered how Denise had got her number. Denise was resourceful, but Sally had been careful to sever all ties with her past and had gone under a different surname as soon as she’d left. There were still moments, those quiet spaces between the noise of a busy life, where she thought of those that she’d left behind, feeling a twinge of regret for connections lost. But she knew that if any ties had been maintained, it would put her in danger as well as them. It was better if they could genuinely say that they didn’t know where she was, even though at the time she’d not known that her exile would last so very long.
It had taken her interstate and then overseas, before she moved back to a coastal town, as geographically far as possible away from her past. Sally had been careful to avoid being photographed, turning away or obscuring her profile if she could. In recent years, she had resisted joining social networks online, but finally had to succumb. She’d gone to the local library for lessons and ensured that her profile was minimal and as inaccessible as possible.
The thought that Melanie would find her had been the impetus behind a life that suddenly seemed to be half-lived. Only Melanie, Denise and Sally-Anne knew what happened that night when everything went wrong, and Melanie had promised that she would make Sally-Anne pay.
But was she really safe now? Who else had Melanie told? Should she call Denise and find out?
Sally picked up her phone and read the message again. Then she swiped and deleted it. The past could stay right where it was.
This piece was written to a prompt on the Writer’s Digest website. Unknown Number: a message from an unknown number has surprising consequences.
Photo: mug of hot chocolate at the old Paragon Cafe, Katoomba