The Letter

By marcel van den berg (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tall Thing is dying.

Like the wet November day outside her window, she’s dying slowly and sadly.

Tall Thing isn’t dying of a terminal disease. She’s dying of terminal dishonesty by her husband of almost seventeen years.

On Friday morning, while she busied herself around the house with small tasks that are now her main occupation, a letter arrived in a square white envelope with no return address.

Tall Thing signed for it–it was certified–and then stood in the middle of the hallway for several long minutes, confused by the tiny handwriting on the front of the envelope.

The handwriting didn’t seem familiar. She’d never seen such neat, squarish writing. Each letter was perfect, self-contained, and detached from every other letter on the envelope. Each stood its ground with pride and dignity. None touched or approached another with a careless curve or accidental drop of ink from a cheap pen. No, this envelope was addressed with great care. And with an expensive pen, the kind that writes in skinny elegant lines, without seeping through the paper.

The envelope itself was of a high quality. It felt thick and heavy in Tall Thing’s hand. The paper appeared silky and smooth when she ran her fingers over her own name. The paper inside was invisible even when she held the envelope up to the light. Small blue squares appeared, a safety feature preventing unwanted eyes from reading the enclosed content.

Tall Thing placed the letter on the dining table, made herself a strong cup of coffee, and sat down opposite the envelope. She felt a bit silly treating this unexpected and probably unwanted letter like a human being, but it demanded to be handled with extreme respect.

She thought about putting it in the garbage, but quickly realized someone could find it there. She thought about putting it in the fireplace, but that required lighting a fire. She was lousy at lighting fires, and there was a real possibility the letter wouldn’t completely burn off in a timid fire. She would need a lively fire, the kind her husband lights occasionally, to destroy this quality envelope and thick paper inside it.

In the end, she decided to drop the letter into the bottom drawer of her dresser. The drawer that her husband never opens because it contains “feminine products.” Yes, she decided, that’s what she would do.

The letter stayed in the drawer until exactly 1:17 that afternoon. She kept busy throughout the day, doing laundry, mopping the kitchen floor, washing out the fridge, and removing stubborn ketchup stains from her son’s favorite T-shirt.

But throughout the day’s tasks, she thought of nothing but the letter at the bottom of her dresser.

At 1:17, she removed it out of the drawer, placed it back on the big dining table, and again sat across from it.

At 1:19, she tore the envelope open and removed a single sheet of paper.

The letters on the paper didn’t resemble the ones on the envelope–they were cursive rather than blocky, but equally neat, elegant, and dignified.

She imagined a woman of medium height, with rich brown hair and very small but expressive lips. She imagined an educated woman with a well-paid job, new car, and passport filled with stamps from exotic holiday destinations. She imagined a woman capable of speaking French without seeming like a foreigner in France. She imagined a French woman, a lawyer, a single mother with two perfectly behaving children enrolled in a very expensive boarding school. The kind of woman her husband would’ve met on a business trip abroad.

Tall Thing scanned the writing and noticed the signature–a single letter on the back of the sheet, not quite at the very bottom. Even that single initial, M, seemed neat, elegant, and dignified. Holding its spot on the page with pride, right where it should be, not too close to the bottom or either margin.

What a beautiful letter, Tall Thing thought. Certainly the finest letter in the alphabet. If her name started with P, or S, or even T…but it didn’t, so there was no point thinking about it.

Tall Thing stared at the single initial for a long time, unblinking and unmoving. She filled her eyes with it until it was the only thing she saw even when she looked away. She looked at the rain on the other side of the smudged dining room window, and all she saw was that lonely but self-contained M.

Unread, the letter burned away quietly in Tall Thing’s fireplace at exactly 1:37 that afternoon.


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