Julia stopped card reading on her thirty-fifth birthday. It used to be a favourite past time of hers, to leave the hectic stream of the high street and enter the bright, warm, orange infused glow of the greetings card shop, her glasses instantly misting and then clearing as she started to make her way to the ‘with sympathy’ section. She’d always start there; she felt it grounded her, reminded her that she was mortal, made her appreciate the life she was living. She tried to remember those cards when she was frustrated, or angry, or just generally having a bad day. It sometimes even worked.
After her sobering start, she moved to the anniversary cards. She had no one to buy one for, but it didn’t stop her looking. Pastel colours or bright, bright reds and pinks, hearts, flowers, teddy bears… Soppy and silly, but so beautiful in their charming, clichéd way.
Other sections received a brief glance, and special occasions, such as Valentine’s or Christmas, necessitated a much longer rest stop in the shop, since it was often busier inside than out. But no matter what, the birthday cards were never ignored. This was what she came for. This was what she adored, and this is what she wanted. She spent long minutes, if not hours, searching for just the right card. Sometimes she came away with nothing. Usually she came away with nothing. So far, from her hundreds of visits to the shop, she had bought just seventeen cards. She only wanted one more.
She never bought her eighteenth card.
It was twenty years before that she went to the psychic to ask her one, specific question; When will I have a baby?
Before you are thirty-five, was the answer. Certain. Definite.
It never occurred to Julia that finding a man should be her priority if she was to achieve this goal. She didn’t think of that at all; instead she planned everything else, bought everything, painted and decorated a nursery, bought a stock of nappies and clothing in different sizes, opened up a savings account for her child’s education. She had so many toys she had to store most of them in the loft, in cardboard boxes, labelled ‘Baby’.
On her thirty-fifth birthday, Julia stopped card reading. She sat, silent tears of a lost life dripping onto the seventeen birthday cards she had so carefully picked out for her child. The eighteenth would stay in the shop. Someone else could have it.