The letter

The letter

A Story by alanwgraham
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How a letter can make or break your day!

"

The Letter

 

The letter fluttered down as silently as a butterfly’s wing to land on the hall carpet. It lay there, unwitting, until I had finished my breakfast. Singing what had just played on the radio - ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ - I ambled through to pick up the post. I bent to pick the letter up, ready to toss it into the recycling bin with the other drivel that kept the postman in a job. Something made me pause. There was just something indefinable about it, like when you see someone in the street and you just have to look, and then look again. This letter had arrived with a purpose and it was addressed to me. It oozed intent.

 

I scrutinised it carefully; the address, the envelope, the stamp, the postmark. I even sniffed the damn thing! One thing for sure, it wasn’t a personal letter. About to rip it open, some premonition paused my hand. Standing by the door, time seemed to congeal - there was no rational thought going on, I had been stopped by a feeling of preternatural dread.

I laid the letter gently on the side table - for later! Then, somehow I put it out of my mind. Or so I thought! Perhaps like a cat burying its s**t!

 

The day was mine - Jill was at work. She left at 8am for the lawyer’s office, often before I had barely surfaced, although we did always manage a kiss and a ‘have a good day darling’. Early retirement is a great thing! My routine started with breakfast - muesli (with extras!), toast and thick cut marmalade with a flask of Kenyan coffee - while I worked on the crossword. Then most days I had an easy jog through the park. My glory days of sub three hour marathons were a distant memory but at the age of nearly sixty I was still proud of being able to run five miles and still look fresh(ish!). The run always gave me a buzz, set me up for the day! A long shower and then the day was my oyster!

 

But for some indefinable reason today felt different. The crossword felt irrelevant; the run a squander of precious time. I felt at a loose end, not quite ‘with it’.  I moped a bit then found myself at the bookshelf - my hands were drawn to our row of randomly sized and coloured family photograph albums. With no rational plan I selected a few, picked up my phone and ambled out to the back garden. It was our haven from the busy world outside. Jill and I had developed it organically as our three kids had appeared, grown, and then moved on.


 

As I stood on the step above the patio a quite mysterious thing happened - it was as if I had been going around with shades on my eyes and suddenly the shutters were opened. But it wasn’t just brighter - and the sun was shining from a blue sky - it was just like when I tweak my photos and turn up the colour saturation - everything becomes a bit garish. I wandered round in a bit of a daze - our garden was at its best in the late spring but - wow! Those daff's - Wordsworth’s ‘host’ had nothing on these beauties! And the blossom on our apple tree positively shimmered in a kind of impressionistic masterpiece - something that Monet might have painted. Even the damn grass was greener!

 

Slightly giddy I lay down in the lounger and closed my eyes in the hope my head would clear. I tried to empty my mind but then our blackbird got started - a song worthy of a diva, a flow of liquid perfection filled the garden - and as I listened I got the feeling that the bird was singing for me alone. I could hear melancholy, pleasure, nostalgia beyond measure!  I lay mesmerised but pulled myself out of my reverie and shook my head.

 

I picked up one of the photo albums and started to thumb through it. There were a few wedding photos. Jill and I looked ridiculously young - and if I’m honest, optimistic! Still, that was thirty years ago, but we still get on well. A few pics of an early long holiday travelling through India - we were full of adventure then - the obligatory romantic snap in front of the Taj.  Then I found a snap of Jill in hospital holding Robbie - I looked at it, and it caught me in a spell - suddenly I was transported back to that magical moment.  Another of me with Marie at home the day after she was born.

 

I’m not normally sentimental but I became aware of the tears welling up in my eyes. I remember my mother saying that the only time my dad cried was when he sang a particular hymn called ‘By cool Siloam’s shady rill’. I thought at the time - that’s a bit strange! Then later when I saw a photo of him holding me before my own christening I suddenly understood. The song reminded him of that emotional moment, that day. It’s maybe not surprising how things like that can catch you. By the way I told a fib earlier - I am actually embarrassingly sentimental! There - I’ve owned up!

 

I went back to the album and wandered through all the ups and downs of childhood and teenage years.  Not always easy for them - and us! Finally there were some family photos of us all taken in the last year or two -

such fine young people they have turned out! More tears filled my eyes. What the hell was wrong with me today!

 

Then the bell rang. I jumped up and made my way to the front door. Just as I shouted, ‘coming!’ I saw ‘that letter’ still sitting on the side table. I hadn’t even thought about it, had I? Just one more letter - wasn’t it!  I opened the door.

 

‘What a wonderful day it is! It makes you glad to be alive doesn’t it?’

A middle aged couple in smart dark suits stood smiling. Now the woman spoke and held out a pamphlet for me to take.

‘You know Sir - the Lord has a plan for each one of us! The good news for each of us is that with the Lord’s forgiveness we can put the past behind us and start a new life today!’ I took the pamphlet.  I almost managed to bite my tongue but let a, ‘bless you!’ slip out as I closed the door.

 

Shaking my head and with a wry smile on my face I repeated her parting promise out loud -‘start a new life today.’ Then I looked down and saw that the letter was still there, the letter! - perhaps an optical illusion but it seemed to be growing, becoming more insistent. Maybe it contained the Lord’s plan for me! I shuddered. ‘I’ll open it later!’ I’ve always been decisive but I went back to the garden lounger and put on my headphones. If I can’t decide what to listen to I always fall back on ‘Kind of Blue’. If you want to spell charisma it’s spelt M I L E S  D A V I S! That lead-in repeated phrase ‘So What’ is so simple. Miles’ solo is spare and brilliant, each phrase full of emotion. And then Coltrane - by this time I was lost, I was half way to heaven!

 

My phone rang!

‘Dad, how are things?’ it was Marie. She always had Friday off her work.

‘Great! Are you ok darling?’

‘I’m fine dad - what are you up to today? How was the run?’

‘Oh I didn’t go out this morning Marie.’

‘Goodness, are you ill dad?’

‘Well, actually I feel great. The garden looks fantastic " you must see these daffs - and I’ve just been chilling out. You should have heard this blackbird singing.

‘Blackbird?’

 

‘I was listening to Miles Davis when you phoned -wonderful stuff! I was looking at some of our old photos. That one when I brought you back from the hospital. I felt so …’  I had to stop with emotion welling up.

‘You ok dad?

‘Sorry about that Marie, I don’t know what came over me!’

 

‘Don’t worry. I have to go dad but I’ll be coming round tomorrow. Bye.’

‘Bye Marie. Love you.’

I went back to Miles Davis but now I found it hard to concentrate. Maybe I should have my run after all " maybe I was missing my daily fix! A dark cloud came over and drove me inside. I picked up the novel I was reading but my mind was elsewhere - where it was I have no idea but I was definitely feeling on edge.

 

The phone rang again.

‘Hi darling!’

‘Hi Jill.’

‘Are you OK darling?’

‘Of course I’m OK - why are you asking?’

‘Well, I’ve just had a call from Marie. She sounds a bit worried about you. She says you got a bit upset over the phone. That’s not like you.’

‘Oh that!’ I forced out a chuckle. ‘I was just looking at some old photos.’

‘Old photos? And she said you were rabbiting on about daffodils and a blackbird.’

‘Don’t worry, I was just feeling a bit nostalgic?’

‘Are you sure you’re OK Jack?’

I’m fine! I see you later. I’ll have dinner ready! Bye Jill.’

‘See you later love. Bye bye.’

 

After I replaced the phone I stood for several minutes deep in thought. There was no doubt I had been acting a bit strangely all day.  Everything suddenly became clear. It was the letter. Of course it was the letter! I had been trying to pretend to myself that it was just a normal letter of the type we get every day but although I had put the damn thing aside it had been like a mine dangling about in my head and waiting to explode.

 

Suddenly my usual resolve returned and I went through to the hall. I lifted the letter. I did pause for a second but then ripped open the envelope and pulled out the letter. I know it’s a cliché but my heart was thudding as I focussed on the text. I read the heading first - it was as I had guessed! My heart somehow stepped up a gear as I started to read the brief letter.

 

Dear Mr Wilson,

We are writing to inform you that ………..

 


© 2016 alanwgraham



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Featured Review

Knowing you are also bipolar, I couldn't help but think maybe this gnawing anxiety following the narrator around might be like the anxiety I always feel when something unexpected enters my realm, before I've had a chance to process it -- even the most minor things get me discombobulated, when they come out of the blue. You've done a great job SHOWING instead of telling how this can feel. I admit, I got a little bored during the section where the guy's alone puttering around the house (a little bit drawn out, even tho all your examples of trying to be busy were original & well described). The story comes alive again when there's the dialogue of phone calls, which gives us a more intense glimpse of his gnawing anxiety, shown from another person's viewpoint. The beginning of the letter suggests something dark & the first thing that comes to mind is death. I wonder about using this beginning instead: "we regret to inform you" . . . just a thought, but maybe it's too suggestive of death & you'd rather keep the possibilities open. All in all, this is a realistic snippet filled with original details.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

1 Year Ago

Thanks for your very helpful comments. I was in a bit of a dilemma for the first section describing.. read more



Reviews

Knowing you are also bipolar, I couldn't help but think maybe this gnawing anxiety following the narrator around might be like the anxiety I always feel when something unexpected enters my realm, before I've had a chance to process it -- even the most minor things get me discombobulated, when they come out of the blue. You've done a great job SHOWING instead of telling how this can feel. I admit, I got a little bored during the section where the guy's alone puttering around the house (a little bit drawn out, even tho all your examples of trying to be busy were original & well described). The story comes alive again when there's the dialogue of phone calls, which gives us a more intense glimpse of his gnawing anxiety, shown from another person's viewpoint. The beginning of the letter suggests something dark & the first thing that comes to mind is death. I wonder about using this beginning instead: "we regret to inform you" . . . just a thought, but maybe it's too suggestive of death & you'd rather keep the possibilities open. All in all, this is a realistic snippet filled with original details.

Posted 1 Year Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

1 Year Ago

Thanks for your very helpful comments. I was in a bit of a dilemma for the first section describing.. read more
Stopped in at your request. My 'reviewer' chops are a bit rusty. First review in 3 years. All I can say is I left this write with a lot of angst. Breezed through the piece trying NOT to think about that letter - its contents. Didn't want to know - wanted to know.

Well done! You drew me into that same place the writer was trying so hard to get to. Ignorance is bliss. But - life always invades.

Angst & an inner knowing left here. Thank you for leaving it a mystery. I can still pretend. The writer - not so much. I feel him in his loneliness - until the 'her' gets home. She'll wheedle it out & somehow make it make sense. That is the gift we women have been given. It's innate.

Kudos!

Posted 2 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

I appreciate that you have taken the time to write this. I am very bad at facing up to things myself.. read more
Hardik Lalwani

2 Years Ago

I liked it.
regards,Hardik
alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks Hardik. I look forward to reading your next story.
Alan
I love the way this reads in a very similar way to how I would write my own inner monologue through life. Makes it extremely engaging and builds an anticipation for something that may not even be there, but yet entices me to explore it.

The comical undertones employed from the beginning of this piece, had me indulging in a small grin whilst reading.

There is an intense feeling of eminent oblivion conveyed from the get go that seems to immediately develop some kind of reflective ache in the back of my mind, whilst also seeming to comfort it.
Your description of the blackbird brought thoughts of the song Strange Fruit (Billie Holiday’s rendition specifically).Perhaps a darker song than the one you describe yet you seemed to draw upon similar emotions to the ones I feel when I hear this song.
The line ‘and if I’m honest, optimistic!’ brings something so emotionally broken to the story that hints at a revelation that optimism fades through life, while later descriptions pull that feeling back and forth.
The use of the ‘cliffhanger’ as it has been referred to makes the letter so incredibly important at that moment, buts makes one assume that it presented a kind of hiccup in the moment. That everything changed but continued to stay the same.

It is an excellent piece of work, drawing on powerful imagery and emotion – Love it!


Posted 2 Years Ago


I love the glimpse into your day and your life, your family, and the moments shared in years gone by. You left me hanging at the edge of a cliff at the end. We tend to lean towards immediate gratification, but there's quite the thrill in the unknown. This is just great and held me enraptured from beginning to end.

Posted 2 Years Ago


alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks for you comments - it makes the effort worthwhile! The story is not entirely about my family .. read more
Take this from a writer Alan,
I'm short of words to describe how wonderful that piece truly is!
May God bestow upon you the best of life!



Posted 2 Years Ago


alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

That is very kind of you Asmi. This was a bit different to my usual but I enjoyed writing it and I f.. read more
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A cliff-hanger :) I enjoyed your imagery, and the emotion was warm and engaging. Thank you for sharing :)

Posted 2 Years Ago


alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thats very kind of you Lynn. I enjoyed writing this and there's quite a lot of me in it.
I w.. read more
Oh this is just not fair...what did the letter say?? haha! what a cliff hanger :) You did such a great job throughout describing the day, your feelings, your surroundings...super enjoyable to read but come on! what did the letter say? (It felt like it was going to be some kind of health scare though.) I really enjoyed this :)

Posted 2 Years Ago


This comment has been deleted by the poster.
alanwgraham

2 Years Ago

Thanks Carolynn. Maybe, maybe not! Seriously though, I did have something in my mind but as i was wr.. read more
Carolynn

2 Years Ago

Yes - it's really a great way to end it :)

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Added on April 6, 2016
Last Updated on April 6, 2016

Author

alanwgraham
alanwgraham

Fife, Scotland, United Kingdom



About
Married with three grown up kids, I retired early from teaching physics but have always enjoyed a second life enjoying the outdoors, particularly the mountains. In my mid forties I experienced a manic.. more..

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