Thursday May 5th, 2011

The exercise:

Your prompt today: the letter.

The Canucks won again tonight - in regulation time, no less - so they're up 3 games to 1 now. Their first shot at sealing the deal comes Saturday night in Vancouver. Hopefully it only takes one try this time.

It was a perfect day to spend working outside, so that's what we did. Life is good.


The letter did not arrive by the normal route. No stamp adorned its envelope, and it was not found in the mailbox attached to the gate but propped against the front door. There was no return address either, but I had grown used to that.

I stooped to pick it up and then eased myself into the rocking chair lurking on the porch. It took a few tries to pry it open - my fingers seemed to have a mind of their own by then. As I unfolded the paper I caught a faint whiff of vanilla and my eyes closed for a moment to allow the memories to flood in.

There was no name at the top, but there didn't need to be one in order for me to know that I was the intended recipient. I read it over quickly, the words squeezing together to make unpronounceable and unknowable words. Then I started over from the beginning and forced myself to slow down.

Three years had crawled by since the last letter but she wrote as though no time had passed at all. She provided no hints as to where she might be, didn't bother asking questions I wouldn't have been able to reply to. But it was enough for me to know that she was still alive.

And that the cops hadn't tracked her down yet.


Greg said...

Hurray! Although now I see the Canucks could take it right to the wire again, just to test your heart strength, and win 4-3 in double overtime ;-)
I don't know how often you read back through old blog posts, but you're posts now you're a farmer are much more cheerful than they were when you were a wage-slave!
I really like the air of reminiscence in today's post. The last line is great, but I think it also works without it as a more sentimental piece. And I completely sympathise with the third paragraph!

The letter
Toddler was playing with the building blocks, constructing something tall and precarious. Miss Snippet was watching closely, wondering if she could press-gang him into her team of five-year-old construction workers.
"Have you noticed," she said slowly, "that he's only using certain blocks?"
"Square ones?" Miss Finch had a headache, knew there were still three hours of the school day to go, and that she had run out of nappies and changes of pants.
"Lettered ones."
"Maybe he likes the shapes of the letters?" It was weak, but she didn't want a conversation.
"Just two letters though, N and T."
Miss Finch sighed and rubbed her head. Did this really matter? Then she looked up, a worrying thought striking her.
"In what order?" she said.
"Well, the N is always in the middle...."
As the two teachers together said "TNT!" Mummy pressed the remote detonator button and vaporised the school car park.

mmshaunakelley said...

Congrats on the Canucks! Now that the caps are out, perhaps I shall have to root for them...

Here's my effort:

The Letter

My sister hands me the folded pages, crumpled and worn, with an intense expression on her face. "I found this," she says, "when I was going through her things." I nod, and she adds "I didn't read it..." too quickly and forcefully for it to be true.

She wrote on standard, wide-ruled notebook paper torn from a spiral binder. These pages look mundane, childish almost, adorned with Mom's signature scrawl, but I don't even have to read before the gravity pulls me in.

On this day, a month after a too-forced funeral, I have finally find sobriety. The pain is still here, still intense, but dull. I woke up this morning thinking that perhaps the dull ache was a sign that I would one day be me again. And then this letter... I contemplate opening a bottle before I read.

But the pull is too intense, and I read her loopy consonents and too-small vowels quickly, devouring the last word's she will ever give me. And then, there it is, the very end... I know you. I am proud of you.

And I go to sleep sober, still aching, but somehow a little more content with it.

Aholiab said...

Marc, I especially liked the vanilla fragrance of the letter - a quick passing reference that adds so much realism. Greg, I was afraid that you and I had followed the same idea. Nice use of the headache to lead to the explosion. Shauna, I loved the description of the handwriting - it intensified the frantic feeling of the note.


Marla leaned back on the counter sipping her first coffee of the morning. The rich aroma filled her senses as she inhaled, letting the warmth of the mug seep into her hands. She always loved this quiet time before the day got started, a time when she could let her mind wander and linger over pleasant memories. The refrigerator was covered with mementoes that reminded her of some of those times. One photograph showed her daughter riding her bicycle and laughing at the camera. She couldn't remember when or where the picture had been taken, but the moment had been captured and would always be fresh and carefree. Jennifer must have been in her early teens at the time, and now she had her own daughter with frozen moments displayed on her own refrigerator.

Her eyes wandered over other items on the cluttered surface of the refrigerator, lingering on some, skipping quickly over others. The perfect attendance ribbon for the second semester of fourth grade was starting to fade; the kitten magnet acquired during a trip to visit her parents a dozen years ago had lost one of its ears and the tail was chipped; the scribbled picture of "you and me and Daddy at the carnival" that Jennifer had drawn before she started kindergarten had curled edges and a couple of tears. Each one was precious in its own way.

The most recent addition to her collection was enclosed in a magnetic frame so that it remained crisp and smooth. The artwork was bold and colorful - bright strokes of red crayon, a blob of blue, green zigzags over the entire piece of paper. In the corner her daughter had carefully written, "For Grandma, Love Courtney". Obviously her granddaughter was going to be the next Picasso! Marla brushed a tear from the corner of her eye and thought how silly it was to be so proud of a child's doodling, but it was her grandchild's doodling and she had a right to be proud.

"Hi, Mom. We're here." Marla heard her daughter come through the front door and called out, "I'm in the kitchen." Jennifer and Courtney wandered in to join her after dropping the diaper bag in the living room. Marla handed Jennifer a cup of coffee and returned her attention to the refrigerator.

"Courtney, do you see anything missing?"

The little girl stood looking at the refrigerator covered with its treasures. She swung her arms back and forth making her dress float up as she twisted. Both adults watched silently as she looked at the pictures, the magnets, the plastic alphabet lined up in sequence. She gazed up at her grandmother with a mischievous grin, then turned and ran to the living room. Jennifer gave Marla a quizzical look, but her mother just sipped from her mug. A moment later Courtney dashed back into the kitchen and held her hand out to Marla, giving her the yellow C.

"Ah! You found it! I knew you would know where my favorite letter was!" Marla placed the C in its proper location, then snatched the giggling girl up and snuggled her neck. "You know that I would be lost without my C!"

John said...

I can feel the papery surfaces of all your letters. I love it.

Bitter Glue

Stefany aches on the sweaty wood of her kitchen chair. The past three hours consisted of agonizing words forced onto paper address to her mother. They haven't spoken in fifteen years. Today Stefany breaks the links of bitterness, but there's one bump left on her road to reconciliation. The the sticky and bitter glue on the envelope waits for her shaking tongue. Stefany had always dreaded the taste of those icky letter jackets. She's sure that this one will be the most bitter of them all since it's headed to her mother.

Jane was a good mother. All the right motives were there, and Stefany's friends from Western High loved her. Stefany was always cared for. Laundry was done, food on the table, and a "good luck at school" every morning. But something was missing. The words I love you were like a drifting echo floating further and further away from a cliff. Stafany didn't care if she was well taken care of. She would have rather lived in a broken down van, held together by duck tape, and parked in the forest as long as love was active on her mother's tongue. It eventually led to a cold October argument.

Stefany snapped. Her hair was a wiry mess of branches from all her frantic pacing. She finally let her mother know that she didn't feel loved. Instantly, all of Jane's mind flashed with the hard work she had always done to give Stefany a fun and comfortable life. She felt under appreciated. Stefany didn't feel loved. The door slammed. The distant between them would grow like a lost echo: fifteen years of silence.

Today the the distance will soon recoil. All she has to do is dampen the bitter taste of glue. Her sweat radiates as her tongue draws near to her old enemy. They connect like a fleshy face slide across pavement. Stefany slowly slides over the grainy and white reconciliation. She splashes the letter closed and closes off fifteen years of bitterness.

Marc said...

Greg - I don't need to go through old posts to know that's an accurate statement - I'm much happier now and I'm not surprised it shows :)

Mummy strikes without even making an appearance - she just keeps getting more worrisome. Though on first read I thought Toddler was caught in the explosion.

Shauna - sorry to hear your team got bounced this round - though it's a feeling I can certainly relate to from previous years!

Loved your take. Lots of great lines, especially the last line of the first paragraph and the only line of the final paragraph. Nicely done :)

Aholiab - thank you, though the credit has to go to Greg for that line. He's pointed out to me that I often forget to include scents in my writing, so now I make more of an effort to do so :)

That's a very sweet piece. I think this was my favorite bit: "... and now she had her own daughter with frozen moments displayed on her own refrigerator."

Thanks for sharing your writing with us, and I hope to see more from you here :)

John - so many fantastic descriptions, I'm struggling to pick a favorite. I think I'll have to go with "They connect like a fleshy face slide across pavement."

Great stuff!