Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Letter

Well, I've finished the short story (1st draft), and as I promised to show it to you, here it is, in its entirety.

Dear M,

I don’t know how to start this letter. The whispers; sombre conspiratorial mouths half hidden behind cupped hands, say you are dying. It can’t be true. You were so full of life - I know, it’s a cliche - that it’s impossible to believe the rumours. They talk of your visits to hospital, but I can’t believe them. M, are they lying? Mistaken? Are they talking of another M? I try to think of you, pinned under waffle blankets on a shifting metal bed; cold, labeled, all fluorescent green. Your faint freckles would stand out in that light, the flush on your cheeks would flare a hot red. But if you are ill, maybe your cheeks are pale, drawn; your eyes dull, your mouth pulling down at the corners with the gravity of your condition.

No! It’s impossible. I can only see you dancing, your face flushed with effort and delight, your eyes and mouth wide open and laughing. Oh, my M. I loved you. That night, all those years ago, I first saw you dancing alone and glowing with cheap ruby wine. In another life I would have thought to myself, “I’m going to marry that girl. Sweep her off her feet and dance her to bed.” It was impossible. That night I could not even speak to you. I was trapped at that stern table, with K and that other couple. Who were they? The Kingstons? The Bartlets? I don’t know. I only saw you. Then you were gone my darling. As you walked out the door, with friends I think, still laughing, it was as though all the colour in the room had wound around you while you danced and when you left, you pulled it all out of the door behind you.

The next day, I asked F about you. He said you were staying up at the convent, which startled me, but no, he said it had been converted into a hotel some years ago. I can't remember how I managed to get up there; what excuse I used. I spent all afternoon in the lobby, drinking coffee after coffee, trying not to look too conspicuous, waiting for a glimpse of you. I thought I saw you a couple of times, but was always caught out by a different face, darker or sharper or more pronounced, and never yours. I finally gave up. It was days before I saw you again. Agonising days. I looked for you in every woman I saw. It was only when the vivid shock of your beauty was fading, and believe me I scrambled to keep you clear in my mind, that I saw you again. I was sitting alone in a tea shop, pretending to focus on my case notes and wishing my English Breakfast was whiskey. You walked past and I jumped half out of my seat. You must have caught the sudden movement out of the corner of your eye, because you turned and looked at me. Right at me. Then you stumbled a little, endearingly, and walked on into the sunshine, your arms and skirt swinging in rhythm. I jumped up, threw too much money on the table and, I’m ashamed to say, followed you. You never knew this, but I stayed behind you all the way up High Street. When you stopped to gaze in a shop window I stopped two shops down and gazed too, at balls of bright fleecy wool, then a confusing array of kitchen gadgets. When you reached the edge of town and kept walking, I had to let you go. Of course, I would find you again. I had to know who you were and what made your dress swing like that. And to do that I would have to get you alone at a small table with nothing but new conversation and a bottle of B’s finest champagne.

It took a week of interrogations, chasing, waiting and lurking in lobbies, but finally I got you. Do you remember? It didn’t happen how I’d planned. You ran into me as I was skulking into the lobby of your hotel for the third time. You let out a little noise and dropped your purse. I was stunned. If I hadn’t gained those few seconds near your ankles, I would have let you by, open mouthed and gawping at the lost opportunity. Instead, I rose with your purse, asked to walk you to town and within two minutes had you blushing and agreeing to dinner that night. It seemed too easy. I raced to the office and rang B’s Hotel. I booked us his best table and, optimistically, a room upstairs. And then the call to K. Another night late at the office, yes, I know, again. Oh, yes a shame. Dreadfully sorry old dear but that’s how it goes. Busy time of year. Don’t wait up. Cheerio. And a dash to G’s to pick up the new suit a day early.

I was at our table twenty minutes before time. As I’d imagined so many times that past fortnight, I looked up as you walked in, perfect, your cheeks flushed from the walk down from your hotel, pink and bright in a way that department store rouge could never fake. I don’t know how I made it to my feet. That buzz from the first drink of the evening had just risen through me and then there you were! Headily, I pulled out a chair for you and blurted out all the right compliments; they must have been, as I saw you blush that little bit more. That thrilled me. And then M, we talked. Do you remember how we talked? There was a moment there darling when I almost forgot all about wanting to slide those pleated straps from your shoulders, almost, and we felt that hot spotlight on us; our little table was the brightest, the concentrated point where we discovered ourselves, formed and moulded that first idea of us.

That conversation swept us up the stairs; it made us innocent. We tripped and laughed and tumbled into the room, and then with a decisive click, the door closed. I expected us to fall on each hungrily, but we just looked at each other, you and I, then you reached out and took my hand. It was a awkward gesture, but warm. That night you rose above me, wreathed in dusty light and told me that I had brought you to life. You felt as though you had wings and your blood coursed through you like it never had before. I had animated you with a reverse Midas touch. It seemed true. Your skin, at first cool and pale as ivory, warmed and softened under my hands. Even your your cries of ecstasy were like a newborn’s; startled and wild.

If we had known how little time we had, we may have clung to each other more feverishly in those first days, but in our desperation we would have missed so much. Instead we explored each other slowly, with a quiet wonder. It was only a matter of weeks before we were torn away from one another, but I know you kept that life we discovered together. And now, an eternity has passed and that life we unfurled is being stolen away. It ebbs from you into the air, soaks into ill-coloured sheets. You’re fighting to keep it. I know you are. You don’t want your life pulled slowly, wretchedly out from under you. There must be many loved ones fussing around you, all wishing there was some way they could help you. They are arranging pillows and flowers, and bringing you hearty soup that you wish you had the strength to eat. They watch you fade; your skin is washing back to a ghostly white, while your blood thins and slows.

They are helpless. They can’t free you, but darling, I can. You said I gave you life, taught you to live it. You loved that new life - you were thrilled and awed by it, but now my M, it must tire you. The pain. The slow relentless fear. If you let me, I can help you. We can have one more night alone, just like the first, and you can fly again. A painless release M, I grew to specialise in them, in all those years since you.

My darling M, say yes. I know you will.