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The Letter Pt. 1&2

18 Apr

Okay.  This is part of a challenge from my good friends over at Steamy Trails.  Here are parts 1 and 2 of my 3 part short story, The Letter.

          The envelope was small, yellow, and remarkably unremarkable.  Had Greg not been looking in exactly the right spot, he wouldn’t have noticed it at all.  But as he rummaged through his mother’s attic, dirtying up his relatively new black slacks and blue dress shirt while looking for an old jewelry box that he was sure did not exist, he found a letter peeking out of what appeared to be an old hat box.

          Curious, he opened the faded blue lid of the box to examine the letter closer.  The box was filled with letters, but he was more concerned with the one in his hand.  It was obviously old, the yellowing of the paper a clear testament to its age.  Upon closer inspection, he saw that it was postmarked January 5, 1967 and had three stamps affixed to the upper right hand corner.  The letter was written in a loose and loopy cursive scrawl addressed to Emma Harold, his mother by her maiden name, with no return address.  It was unopened.

            “Greg!  Did you get lost up there?” a shrill voice said from down below him.

            “No ma’am,” he answered.  “I’m coming.”  He put the letter in the box with the others and descended down the attic ladder, hatbox tucked securely under his arm.

            Greg walked into his mother’s kitchen and found her standing at the counter icing the cake she had baked for him and his wife, Tasha.  She glanced up at him as he entered the kitchen.

            “That’s not the jewelry box,” she simply said as she spun the cake around to apply more icing.  “For starters, the jewelry box is wooden and is much smaller.  That is a hatbox.”

            “I know,” Greg said.  “But look.”  Greg watched his mother’s face transform from mild boredom to surprise as he lifted the lid of the box.  She sat her spatula down on the counter and walked to the table where Greg had placed the box.

            “Where did you find these?” she breathed, her wrinkled brown hands lightly touching the letters.

            “Uh…in the attic,” Greg laughed.  “What are they?”

            “They’re letters, since you know so much,” his mother said.  She blushed.  “Love letters.”  She picked one up and examined it.  “I haven’t seen these in years.”  Without a word, she sat at the table and began reading them.

            “Some of these are from Vietnam,” Greg said, studying the dates and stamps.  None of them had a return address.  “Are they from Dad?” Greg picked up the unopened letter that he had seen earlier.  His father was a Vietnam Vet and didn’t seem the type to write letters of and kind, let alone love letters.

            His mother looked up at him.  “What?  These?  No.”

            It was Greg’s turn to look surprised.  “No?”

            “No.”

            “Well who are they from?” Greg asked, staring hard at the letter in his hand as if a name would suddenly reveal itself.

            His mother sighed and closed her eyes.  “Gregory Smith.”

            Greg blinked several times.  “Did you name-”

            “Yes.  Don’t tell your father.  He thinks I named you after Gregory Peck.”

            “Okay,” Greg slowly said.  “So this guy…was an old boyfriend?”

            “My first husband,” his mother calmly said.

            “Mama!” Greg, scandalized, hissed.  He sat down beside her, suddenly struck by how very little he knew about his mother’s past.  “You were married?  I didn’t know!”

            He watched as his mother sighed and looked at her hands.  “I daresay nobody outside of your aunt Pam, her husband, and the 1966 Justice of the Peace at Coosa County does.  It doesn’t really matter now, though.  I was young and in love and that is very much the past.  And don’t tell your father!”

            “Tell me everything that happened and I’ll keep my lips shut,” Greg countered.  “I mean…since he’s my namesake and all.”

            His mother peered at him for a long moment before continuing.  “Okay, since you want to know.”  She settled back in her chair and closed her eyes.  “This was all, of course, before I met your father.  Gregory and I had known each other since we were kids.  I’m pretty sure we loved each other that long, too.  He was my first love…my first everything.”

            “Mama!”

            “Don’t tell your father!”

            “I won’t.”

            “Well, we were going to get married after I went to nursing school and Gregory had found a job.  That was the plan, anyway.  What happened was that Gregory got drafted, so we got married before he shipped out.  We were both lovesick.  We wrote to each other just about every day,” she said, gesturing to the box of letters.  “These aren’t nearly a third of the letters that he wrote.  He never put a return address on them; he said that he didn’t want a return-to-sender letter coming back to him if I ever wanted to leave him.  I read those letters to pieces.”

            “Where are the other letters?” Greg asked.

            “I don’t know.  Could be anywhere,” his mother answered, flippantly waving a hand around the air. 

            “What about this one?” he said, holding up the unopened envelope.  He handed it to his mother and watched her.

            “This is the last letter he sent me.  I got it two weeks after we buried him.  Never could bring myself to open it.” 

            “Wanna open it now?”

            “What?”

            “It’s been forty-four years,” Greg reasoned.  “Don’t you want to know what it says?”

            “No, not really.”

            “But Mama-”

            “Okay.  But you open it and read it,” she finally said.

            Greg turned the letter over and slid a finger down the edge of the flap that closed it.  It was a single page of unlined paper, as yellow as the envelope and with the same loopy handwriting as the front, only bunched together to make more room. 

            Greg took a breath and began to read aloud.

December 21, 1966

Emma-

           I know we don’t get much snow in Alabama, but this is gonna be the first winter where it’s been hot.  It rains near constantly.  The only good thing about the rain is that the bugs go away.  The bad thing is that you can’t see where you’re shooting.
         
I won’t bother you none with talk about shooting and all.  I’m surrounded by so much death and darkness…no need in sending any of it your way.  How are you?  I wish I could ask you that, see you in person.  At night, when I’m on watch, I sit and look at the stars and pretend that they’re diamonds I’m gonna give you.  I would tell you to look at the stars too, but seeing how they got different stars here and nighttime comes different that at home, it wouldn’t make no difference.  There I go again, being dreary.
         
There’s a chap here named Perkins – white guy, actually left school and volunteered for this mess – who has this poetry book.  He reads it at us every now and again and mostly it’s all boring stuff, but there’s this one poem that I really like.  It reminds me of us.  I won’t write all of it, but the end is what’s good –

…meanwhile my

self etcetera lay quietly
in the deep mud et 

cetera
(dreaming
et
cetera, of
Your smile
eyes knees and of your Etcetera. 

          Isn’t that nice?  Perkins says that this was written by a man who fought in world war one.  He also says that that Etcetera about the end is about a woman’s you-know-what.  I don’t know if I believe that.  Perkins is a mighty strange cat.  I do know that I do dream of you and your smile. 
         
Emma, I love you so much and if I could leave here and walk on water to get to you, I would.  I close my eyes at night and see your face.  I see new flowers here (I know how you love flowers) and I think about you.  Every time I have to eat, I think about your cooking.  Every part of me wants to be away from here and back with you.  I reckon I’ll have to be okay with us being apart for now.  It won’t be for long.  It’s been seven months, almost halfway through.  We’re strong people.  We’ll make it.
         
I know you have things to do and it’s my turn for the watch.  Just know that I love you and all of your etceteras!  I’ll see you tonight in my dreams.

-Greg

          Greg looked at his mother, who was still sitting with her eyes closed.  He didn’t want to say anything until she spoke.  He was still in shock that his mother had a whole other life, even if it didn’t last.  He had never thought about his mother having a life outside of her life with her family.  He knew she was the youngest of five children and where she grew up and went to school.  He knew a few stories from her childhood, but aside from that…nothing.  He realized that he knew absolutely nothing about his own mother. 

          There was a man, laying in a trench somewhere in Vietnam, who wrote, loved, and married her. 

          Still, his mother didn’t speak.  Greg was anxious to break the silence.  “Okay, so what else happened?”

            His mother exhaled hard and stood up.  “Like I said, he was killed in combat.  We were married for seven months.  I didn’t even get my name changed or anything. ”  She walked back over to the cake and began icing it again as Gregory took in everything she said.

            “That’s it?”

            “That’s it.”

            “So this was in ’67.  You married Dad a year later and had me and Denise-”

            “Greg, listen,” his mother said, turning around and pointing her spatula at him.  “I love you, your sister, and your father.  You all aren’t a consolation prize and I don’t regret anything.  This is the life the good Lord wanted me to have and I have no complaints.  Aside from naming you after him, I haven’t thought about this stuff for forty years.”

            “So what do you want me to do with these?” Greg asked, gesturing to the hatbox and the letters.

            “It doesn’t matter,” his mother said.  “But them back in the attic.  And bring me that jewelry box!  I want my grandbaby to have it.”

            Greg took the hatbox back to the attic and began renewed the search for his mother’s jewelry box.  And hour later, he found it.  By then, his mother had finished icing his cake.  He took the jewelry box, intended for his ten-year-old daughter, the cake, and two letters and left.

TO BE CONTINUTED….on Thursday!  I think…I don’t remember my own schedule…

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