An Unanswered Letter – part 1 – The letter – a short story

Hello fellow bloggers I’ve missed you the last few weeks while I’ve been off grid with family and health issues but am now emerging and back to my old haunts – I’m glad to be back!

To follow the hiatus I’ve decided on a departure from my normal modus operandi. The following story is about 8,500 words and so I have severed it into five more digestible installments each 1,500 – 2,000 words. It tells a love story which is common to many who cherish the memory of an early love or infatuation which, for some reason, was never fulfilled. I call to mind several novels which expound on this theme, they include; Kazuo Ishiguru’s ‘Remains of the Day’ and Jamie Ford’s ‘Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.’
I hope that my little story keeps you interested enough to read all five posts – they will span over two to three weeks.

Today I sit in front of my computer starting to write a letter which I tried to write decades ago. It is unanswered, not because it is un-written, but because it is un-mailed. It has been written a thousand times in my mind and now as I stare at a blinking curser on a blank page on the screen I wonder how I should begin. I delay a little longer and glance to my left to look through a tall window onto a serene garden bathed in dappled sunlight. I smile as I get up and push open the window sash to savor the peaceful outside scene more closely. Through the open window I can hear the combined sounds of running water and far off traffic. It eclipses the quiet sounds of my home, the ticking grandfather clock and computer’s hum. The distant moan on the freeway is akin to the roar of the sea, and it jerks me back to my letter because, when I think about the recipient, I think of the ocean.

In front of me I hold an ancient wad of faded yellow paper. It is crisply fragile and carries a faint aroma of age. It is an early version of my letter which I hoard in an old box of mementos. It is undated but I know that it is old because it is written in ink in an exquisite hand only accomplished by using a real fountain pen with flat calligraphy nib. It is clearly a draft because it contains many deletions and inserts. It begins “Dear Michael,” but the “Michael” is crossed out and “Mike,” is inserted above. I like the fact that this handwritten version contains edits so that I can trace my thought-process of forty, or more, years ago. Even now I remember that I changed the address from the formal “Michael” to the less formal “Mike” in an attempt to express my feelings for Mike whom I only address as “Mike” in my head.

Writing in those days took time, first because hand-writing takes longer than typing and second, because frequently the edits necessitated that the final product be completely re-written. Ink on paper means that every word is carefully considered at least twice in the hope that the second draft will be the final version. I like to think that this labor intensive process accounts for the abandonment of the draft before me, but I suspect otherwise.

For today’s letter I consider starting with “Dear Mike;” but then abandon this option in favor of modern e-mail etiquette of “Hi Mike:” I’m not sure that I like this, seemingly casual, address because it feels impersonal and perky and almost trite and so I continue to stare at the blinking curser. As I ponder on the proper salutation I shut my eyes to speculate how Mike and I would greet each-other if we were to meet today. I wonder if he would say, “I’m pleased to meet you.” addressing me as anyone might when meeting someone new. Or would he recognize my full name and say, “Hi Susan, it has been a long time. How are you?’

I muse on how I would respond perhaps saying, “It’s you Mike, isn’t it?” hoping that the brevity of my response conveys the fact that his memory has haunted me ever since we parted

I know that after so long the exchange would have to be casual mostly in deference to what has happened in our lives during the interim. After all, here I am, happy to describe myself as someone who had a wonderful marriage and loving husband. And now as I enter old age I rejoice in my family, hardly the description of someone who is in need of, or pining for, love. I’m equally sure that his life has also developed and that he has obligations of today and loves which he has acquired in the interim since we last saw each other. Yet, I know that this letter is a love letter. I am not sure I know why I write it or what I wish it to accomplish. All I know is that writing it will be therapeutic and finally record the ends which we left loose that summer of 1966. I suspect that it could be a long letter – longer than the biblical epistles, for there is much to say. It is to be a letter in which I explain everything which I didn’t say that day that we parted and I watched him walk away. In it I hope to chronicle those things omitted through a combination of pride and a severe case of British stiff upper lip.

But I still pause and, disregarding the blinking curser, click on the big E icon on the side of my computer monitor. It takes me into an “Internet Explorer”. I type in his name to search for him on line. His name is fairly common and I am astonished by the number of matches but then as I narrow the search by adding his “III” and his birth year of 1943. I draw a blank. I decide to test the system with the name of my husband, also a fairly common name. The response quickly gives me a good match so I know that it works.

I open “ancestry.com” where I have charted our family tree to track my new relatives resulting from the marriage of my daughter. Here I add his name to see what the system will suggest. It gives me nothing. I begin to suspect that I will never be able to find a recipient for my letter and, grieving inwardly, decide that I shall still write. I reassure myself that when the time comes I may hire a private eye to sleuth out some information, knowing full well that I won’t. However, the comforting thought that I might motivates me to click back to the top of the empty screen, to start typing.

Hi Mike,
I have no idea how I should begin this letter or even if you will remember me. I’m the girl whom you met on the National Union of Students transatlantic passage in the summer of 1966. You were twenty-three returning home after a year in Paris. I’m the English architectural student who sat next to you at meals, the one with whom you spent your time on deck and the one whom you re-met a couple of months later in New York. Do you remember?
My hope is that this letter finds you in good health and that it jogs your memory enough for you to be willing to respond with your news. I write because I do remember. I write because you were the most important person in my entire three month United States tour of 1966 and, as I enter old age, I should like to know how you are doing; know how your life developed; what you did; and whether you are happy.
I also write because when we parted you gave me a riddle. It was what I later unraveled to be a sincere message of love. But you concealed your message in a simple package which I didn’t unlock until several weeks later. By the time that I understood your message the pressures of life at home had taken over and the moment lost. This letter is to tell you that your love was not in vain but reflected back in deep intensity.
So, I seek you out because I still carry your image in my heart, even though my mental picture of your physique is sadly faded. It is so faded that, even if you haven’t aged, as I have, I know that I wouldn’t recognize you. In some respects this saddens me for perhaps, over the course of these long years, we have run across each other without recognition. When we met photographs were a luxury and so I have nothing physical to jog my memory and I expect that you don’t either for I recall that we never posed together in front of a camera. From another perspective I don’t think that this lack of a faded photograph matters as the treasured memory in my heart is a poignant, nagging, memory of your essence. It is why I write.
Etiquette says that I should give you my news. Suffice it to say that I became an architect and in 1974 married an American and became a citizen of your vast land. I have a son, daughter and two granddaughters. So you see my life is full, and yet, I still crave to know how you are and what you are doing.
You know that I never put demands on you, that I made you do the chasing, but now, I am the seeker. This letter is to let you to know that I cherish and cling to my memory of you and simply ask that you reply to this letter with your news.
No obligations!
Cheerio,
Susan.

I am astonished at the letter’s brevity and wonder why I chose to close with ‘Cheerio’. I suspect that it is because ‘cheerio’ seems to go with ‘hi’. I decide to put it aside for a day and then to come back to add some additional memories which I may wish to share with him before I find an address to which it can be mailed. As I look at it on my monitor I day-dream back to that special summer. I remember and relive it with such urgency that I start typing again. But this time it isn’t a letter, it is a story, our story. I tell myself that maybe I’ll mail Mike the whole manuscript. Perhaps he will respond and we will meet. or better still, maybe, I‘ll publish the document as a short story casting it out into the literary world to see if, by chance, he will pick it up, read and remember.

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, January 2014

24 thoughts on “An Unanswered Letter – part 1 – The letter – a short story

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  2. Wonderfully woven, I wonder how many of us have watched that ‘one’ walk away; how many of us have that letter to write. I know I do and this reminds me, though I suspect I will only write it too sit in my files.

    Eric was so right to send all of us to you.

    • Since I wrote this story many have told me that it resonates with them because they also have an ‘unwritten’ letter in their history. Someone speculated that part of the conundrum is that we rue not only for the ‘lost’ opportunity but also for what we were at that time. I suspect that both are irretrievable. Hitting ‘send’ might cause some unwanted repercussions in many otherwise happy related lives.
      Thank you for your visit and comments. Eric is a dear person isn’t he?
      Cheerio,
      Jane

  3. Thanks Eric Alagan, but above all, Jane Stansfield.

    The reason to reconnect with this man may be the unfinished history. You probably like to finish it now. (It’s how it would work with me.) @D

    • Yes indeed, many thanks to Eric Alagan – what a blogger!
      I suspect that the letter is better unsent. The dream of what might have happened is probably better than anything that reality could throw to Susan. I suspect that everyone has a similar tale buried in their past and enhanced by memories which focus on the parts that the individual wishes to hoard.
      Thank you for your visit,
      Cheerio,
      Jane

  4. Jane, I am stopping by on Eric’s recommendation as well, and am so glad I did. Something within this resonates with me, and I believe that a part of us is forever looking for those ‘lost’ ones, but I suspect there is something more. We grieve not only the time, but the person we were then. It is a warm familiarity that haunts the heart, and an ‘almost’ we’ve lived through ten thousand times.

    I absolutely love this. *sigh* ~ Love ever, Bobbie

    • I am forever grateful to Eric – he is the best! I am intrigued by your insight that we grieve for the person that we were back then as well as for what did or didn’t do. Very profound – I thank you,
      Cheeeio,
      Jane

  5. sad and lovely – A good lesson to young men to “tell her that you love her” – it’s a gamble worth the risk.

    I don’t think she should hit send. It’s the little wave that swamps the boats of innocent bystanders.

    • I notice that your blog has a few words of wisdom for someone like Susan, and yes I agree hitting “send” might be the little wave which upsets the bystander’s boats. I am also surprised to find that most people have a similar lost love opportunity, and speculate that the pleasure is in treasuring the memory rather than acting upon it. Cheerio, Jane.

  6. I felt the pull of my own “letter” I have written many times and never mailed
    and one I write today…your words were good to read, and I will be back to follow your journey within of the memories of that summer
    Thank you for sharing …
    Take Care…You Matter…
    )0(
    maryrose

    • I speculate that we all have at least one such memory and am prompted by one of the other bloggers that hitting send might do more damage than good. E-mail is so impulsive in contrast to snail mail which is more considered. Perhaps the dream ought to always remain a dream.
      Cheerio,
      Jane

  7. Pingback: Not a Romantic Sort of a Fellow | Written Words Never Die

  8. Yes there is a crossroad that one needs to pause and consider the destination carefully. Does it lead to the destination you really want to be in? I’ve faced those crossroads many times over the years and there are times I took the wrong road. It’s a long march back in order to correct an unwise decision. Good story! I enjoyed the read and you tell it so beautifully.

    • Hi Ian:
      Your comment adds richness to the story. I’m tempted to go back and edit the next installment to incorporate your thoughts. The crossroads and decision point and the issue of whether memories should be cherished rather than unfolded is something which could make yet another intriguing story.
      Thank you, and cheerio,
      Jane.

  9. Hello Jane—This is great. I think I may have “been there”, but of course will have to wait and see what develops. Suffice it to say that I always marvel at how the emotions do not really age.
    I like that touch about the traffic’ s sounding like the ocean. I once lived by a major thruway across from a building with a huge flagpole, and summer mornings sit by an open window and listen to the traffic’ s ebb and flow, and the clank of the pulley on that mast, and be transported to the seaside.
    One tiny snag for me: I’m not sure what a specifically Italic pen nib is. I say this as one who has trained as a calligrapher and worked professionally with every kind of pen and nib from a Spenserian oblique to a goose quill to a rough-cut reed. The Italic hand is usually written with the same straight-across nib as the Roman, Gothic, and Uncial alphabets. Just sayin’…..as the kids would phrase it.
    I am really looking forward to the next installment!

    • Thank you Cynthia – as always your words add poetry. I am not nearly as knowledgeable about calligraphy as you although I am able to pen a very professional looking wedding invitation or menu. I do it in a form of iliac using, as you so rightly point out, a flat nib – the size selected to tally with the desired size of t he writing. However, I seem to remember that in the old days when I wrote letters with a fountain pen (not a calligraphy pen) that I had one with a slightly slanted “italic nib”. I may be wrong and, since you question it, I think that I’ll change the wording in the narrative.
      Cheerio, and thank you
      Jane.

          • Of course you are absolutely right. Cynthia is one of my most faithful and best critics as she is so knowledgeable and able to assist in correcting my foibles. Accolades warm the soul but constructive criticism is always welcome – as you point out how else are we to improve and push onward in a life of learning?
            Cheerio,
            Jane

  10. Hi Eric, how do you do it? I thought that you were off somewhere, but here you are, as active and incisive as ever! To answer your question, no, she couldn’t hit the send button because she had no address to which to send it. I agree that I might have generated additional tension by having her have an address but then, anxious to preserve a cherished memory, be hesitant about hitting the button, but that is a different story. This one will unfold through Susan’s cherished memories to a conclusion.
    Cheerio, Jane

  11. An interesting chapter that Susan pens and I wonder, all her reasons considered, whether it is wise.

    Some memories remain marvellous because they remain as —memories.

    Will she hit the ‘send’ button – or would this be a series of re-writes until the last chapter – while we wait with bated question – will she hit the ‘send’ button? Will she? Will she now?

    All good wishes, Jane,
    Eric
    P/s Glad to have you back with us 🙂

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