– “Write me a letter…” – She had asked him in a whisper as he was about to leave.
As they had broken from their umpteenth hug – oh, why had leaving each other been ever so hard, time after time after time, when they had known the other weekend to be just five days away? -, he had looked into her eyes. She had known, even back then. She never ceased to surprise him, but that was not because she had always been such a mysterious and amazing person. It was just that, for all their amazing alikeness, in so many things they were always so different. She had smiled even before his question had come.
– “Won’t an email do?” – He had been smiling too. It was not the first time they had had such conversation. Could it have come every Sunday night, by the opened car door, as they were still kissing and wouldn’t let go?
– “Write me a letter…” – She had whispered again, mischief in her lips and her eyes. Her arms had folded and entwined around him, just like ivy around a tree, his fingers drowning in her hair as she had leaned her head against his shoulder. – “I like letters. Letters are better.”
– “And when shall I write you this letter?”
It had become almost a ritual, after that week. She could still remember, after all the years. Only three weekends before she had told him it was because letters were longer.
– “I like long letters, and letters are longer. And I love words.”
She knew she had sounded quite odd. That it wouldn’t have made all that much sense, if anyone else had been listening. But it had been the two of them, not anybody else, and nobody had been listening – and even if they had.
– “But I write you long emails!” – He had complained. – “Several times a week! Why does it have to be a letter, and emails won’t do?”
The week before that, she had told him it was because of the paper. That she loved the feel of paper, the sound of the words on the paper. He’d looked puzzled. She had wondered if he ever worried about her sanity, with the things she said. And the way she said them. But he had just smiled.
She’d told him that she’d love him to write her a letter, a real letter, emails aside. That she loved his emails, and couldn’t wait to get to her office every morning knowing one would hit her box right around 10am. That often she’d throw the students out earlier, so that she could just sit there, staring at the screen, waiting for the moment it would go ‘ping’. That she simply would not do without his emails. Ever. At all. “But letters…” Letters were more like books, she had told him, and he knew how much she loved books.
– “Write me a long letter so it may sound like words on the pages of a book. I love books. And I love words.” – She had asked him. And he, ever the practical geek, had asked if she could not print his emails instead.
There had been other reasons she had offered him. His handwriting. The thrill of getting mail:
– “I never get any letters anymore!” – She had offered one day. – “Not any real post, you know. Just junk. Junk and bills…”
He had laughed: she used all the junk mail and the bills to line the cats’ litter tray. She had laughed back. If he had ever wondered whether his letters would serve the same purpose, he had never asked. But she had answered anyway, just in case: “No, they won’t. Ever.” He’d gone very serious suddenly, and that had been when she’d known he wondered how come she always knew what he was thinking.
And then after that there had been all the other reasons she had come up with. Just to have him write that letter. They would return to the conversation and the reasons every Sunday, as it got closer to leaving time. The feel of having that special unopened envelope in your hand, she had claimed one time. Of hiding it for the whole day inside that book on your desk, classes coming and going, and nobody having a clue. Of carrying it in your pocket, or under the belt of your jeans and close to your skin.
– “Can’t do that with a computer, you know.” – And she had smiled at him, that little smile of hers he already knew meant trouble. The image of a computer tucked inside her jeans had then crossed both their minds. There had been laughter, jokes, more laughter.
And then that one day she had told him: “The excitement of opening a letter from someone you love, wondering what words it contains: have you forgotten all about it?”
The word love had escaped her lips as a caged bird through the forgotten door, and when she had heard it there had been no retrieval. He had looked into her eyes, and the silence had been as lightly strung as a rainbow or the fluttering of butterflies’ wings. That had been two weekends before that particular one.
– “I wouldn’t know.” – His tone had been flat, detached. So serene it was almost nostalgic. – “I have never had a love letter from anybody.”
Just like that. Matter-of-factly. Can anyone ever feel nostalgic for something they have never had? She had stopped what she had been doing, and looked long and intently at him. And he had just stayed there, unchanged, unhurried. Not having ever received a love letter! She had thought to herself. And if she hadn’t known him and seen his eyes as the words had left him, she would never have believed it. Or, what would have been even worse, she would have believed that it was nothing, meant nothing. That it had been of no importance, no consequence. As if being thirty-five and never ever having had a love letter is nothing, of no importance or consequence.
– “Not even when you were a kid?”
– “No, not even then. Especially not then, I don’t think.”
– “Not ever?”
– “No, never.”
Imagine that. She had written her first love letter in second grade; or rather, she’d copied it from a Júlio Dinis novel. Sneaked it into the pocket of a blond, blue-eyed boy, the first and only she had ever seen in her whole seven years of life. And the trouble it had got her into. But that she had never told him. Not that day. It would keep, she had thought. Like other things just wouldn’t keep.
Only the weekend before that one, when he had asked her once again why an email would definitely not do, she had simply told him that it was because she would also write him a letter. She wanted to. And she had. When she had finished, she had written on the back of the sealed envelope, by way of a sender’s address: p.s. I love words. She had posted it on the Tuesday morning, so that he’d get it first post on the Wednesday. Two days later, his letter had arrived. Pages and pages and pages – he had poured himself into them, a sea of words words words, his words and all for her, and into his sea she had readily drowned.
Funny, how things had been, and how they had got to that one weekend. The one she remembers so clearly. That had been a weekend of many firsts. The first time the word love had been spoken. The first time she had realised that she would forever be lonely without him – of a loneliness that words and letters could only ever soften but not cure.
Twenty years. Twenty years of letters written on the Tuesday to get to the other on Wednesday, replied on the Wednesday to arrive on the Thursday. Week after week. Twenty years of cream paper that still carried the scent of the perfume she’d given him for his birthday, that year and every year since; and leaves and flowers and scribbles and doodles, little locks of hair, photographs, news clippings and cut-outs of all sorts, postcards, everything.
She fingers each envelop, as if knowing its contents by heart. The first blooms of the lilac tree he had sent on that first letter of his in exchange for her ivy leaves, the pressed poppy she had retrieved from her David Held theory book, the locks of her hair from when she had given herself that bob haircut, the ginger curl of his own hair, the blade of grass from that picnic behind the palace that Summer they got married, the little acorns and oak leaves from the tree down the road that he had brought in for her one Autumn, the pressed nettles from when she had foraged for soup. He had never had nettle soup before. It was all there. All the odds and bits, words words words, they had been sending each other each week, ever since that very first letter. They still did, even though they no longer had to live on weekends alone.
She picks one of the velvety cream envelopes up, before she replaces it in the wooden coffer again. That had been his first love letter to her. The one written on that week of firsts. Just like every single one after that, when you turned it around the return address read, quite simply, p.p.s. I love words too.
– “Write it on Tuesday.” – She could almost hear herself reply back then, way way back then, as she had pecked him on the cheek. – “So that I can get it first thing on Wednesday.”
She had swiftly turned around, and had run back into the house. Like a tumbleweed. Or yet like ivy, blown from its anchoring lilac tree.
© Nina Light 2015 CC-BY-NC-ND