10 May 2013

"Dear John"

By Curtis C. Chen

The day Michael's dead wife wrote back to him was the day the world started to end.

Michael had written to Barbara every day since the one after her funeral, when he'd woken up, bleary-eyed, to face a house full of the assorted stationery she loved to collect.

There were notepads of all sizes, and letterheads from fictional organizations like "The Watchers Council," and whimsical cards featuring original, hand-drawn cartoons. Michael couldn't bear to throw any of it out, but he also hated the idea of packing it away. Either one felt too much like he was making an effort to forget her.

Then, while sorting through a pile of note paper made from strips of recycled concert posters, Michael started writing down a grocery list. Maybe the long, narrow format of the paper influenced him. Maybe his subconscious had decided that since he wasn't going to get rid of the paper, he might as well use it.

Partway through the list, after "eggs" and "milk," he didn't know what came next, but his hand continued moving the pen. What emerged was a series of questions that Michael would have asked Barbara: do we need more cereal? what dishwasher soap do we use? does the spinach really need to be organic? why don't you just subscribe to that magazine?

He filled the rest of that page and several more, until his tears made the ink run.

After that, he wrote a new letter every day, using a different type of paper each time. When he finished a letter, he sealed it in an envelope and packed away the rest of that stationery. After sunset, he started a fire in the living room and burned the letter, watching as his words became glowing flakes and spiraled up and away.

One morning, three months after the funeral, Michael brought his mug of coffee into the living room and dropped it on the hardwood floor.

He stared at the envelope which sat on top of the ashes of last night's fire. It was not the stationery he'd used; that had been lavender-colored, with ponies prancing around the border of each page. This was a plain white number ten envelope.

Michael fell to his knees and crawled through a lukewarm puddle of coffee to reach the envelope. He poked one shaky finger under the flap, tore open the seal, and pulled out the letter.

It was a single sheet of paper, eight and a half by eleven inches, folded in three parts to fit inside the envelope. On the paper was written a single word, in Barbara's delicate script, without capitalization or punctuation:


Michael turned the paper over, then held it up to the window, trying to see if anything else might be written or watermarked or scratched there. There was nothing. He went back to the kitchen and placed the letter and envelope on the counter.

As soon as he let go of the papers, they crumpled themselves into balls and disappeared in two flashes of green flame.

Michael ran.


Photo Credit: mondopanno via Compfight cc