The letter was separating along the folds and the slight pressure of his fingers had thinned the paper in the swirls of his fingerprint. He wondered if a magnifying glass—or microscope—x-ray—would reveal how many times he had unfolded the pale blue paper, held it in one hand, steadied it with the second when it fluttered, flitted, nearly blew away.
Why paper so thin, nearly transparent when he first read it and now, nearly gone. The words in her odd green ink hadn’t faded. They were still sharp and clear. Her round hand with its perfect Os, curving V, long, long L. She was proud of that hand. No artist in my family, she said once, but we all can write.
Modestly. Her hallmark. She could write. Her mother had no time for foolishness and her father, he suspected, couldn’t. He’d seen the old man flip open the newspaper, scan the pictures, snort politics and pass it to her mother.
“You rescued me,” she said once, and he knew it to be true.
Then she unrescued herself. He’d even said, “What about the rescue?” but she didn’t hear him, didn’t seem to hear, pretended not to hear, left. Left. She left.
Left the letter—his letter, not hers.
Dearest, she had written—didn’t use his name—her natural reticence—or was it a form letter? A new thought that shamed him. Of course not.
Dearest, she had written. Yes, okay, yes, I will. Something crossed out. He’d tried to read it over the years, scraped off so much ink that it was now a hole in the paper. I will marry . . . Big space. Marry who? She didn’t say. He saw that now. All these years and just now, today, he sees that she didn’t say who she intended to marry.
What about “dearest?”
She signed it, Respectfully, S.
Modesty, he thought at the time. Made him love her more. Want her more.
Now he saw her cowardice. And crumpled the letter.
© 2013 Kathleen Coskran