Between the Lines
Kelly Dopp
The letter lay open on his desk. The envelope lost somewhere in the clutter. He didn't need it. There was no mistaking the elegant script, the delicate loop of the “L”s, the curiously sharp point of the “V”s. How long had it
been? Fifteen, sixteen . . . no, twenty-six years. Twenty-six years since he'd last held such a letter with such loving attention to handwriting.
His evening fire was beginning to wane. Though having just arrived by post that afternoon, the letter was wrinkled and creased from his handling. From incessant holding and refolding, unfolding and spreading for study, clutching and raising it in a fist toward the flames of the hearth only to drop it with a quiver back to his desk . . . it looked now like an aged letter.
When it arrived, he thought himself either carried back to the past or the butt of a cruel joke. In his study, fire blazing, it took him an hour simply to open the damned envelope. For you see, besides the mesmerizing familiar script, proclaiming his address, besides the postmark that solidified his long-forgotten hypothesis of the sender's location, there was a single drop of water that had smeared the end of his inked name.
It could have been a rain drop, condensed in his postbox. It could have been from a postman's wet hand. A dog's saliva as it chased the poor postal worker down the street. But no, he knew, far deeper in his body than just his guts and heart, what it was.
It was a tear.
He lifted the letter from the desk (again) and began to read aloud, reading not only what was written in this handwriting lost from his life the past twenty-six years but, in his heart, reading what was surely written by the heart of she who left the tear stain on his name.
“Dear Edward,” his mouth shaped carefully, though in his mind he heard My dearest Edward,
I realize that it has been quite some time before our last correspondence, but you crossed my mind the other day, and I felt I should send a friendly hello. I hope this letter finds you in good health . . .
Edward’s heart, forever tendered by her voice, almost faltered as he heard her in his head saying what he knew she must have wished with all her will to convey in this simple letter:
I apologize for the years I’ve let slip by without any form of communication between us. But do know that I have thought of you every day since our departure. I hope you are well enough to handle the toll this letter will take on both our hearts.
Michel and I are well, as are the children. There are two of them now. They are so big you would have never thought they could have been infants small enough to cradle in one's arms all those years ago. Our pride, Benjamin, has proven quite skillful in the sport of tennis, as I’m sure you can admire. I believe it is his father’s stunning agility that he can thank for that.
I am not writing to you in a state of emergency. Michel has not struck me now for some weeks, nor the children. Yes, there are two of them now, but our pride, Benjamin, has proven to be skilled in tennis, just like his father. Yes, I know you would have noticed the ambiguous “Our pride, Benjamin.” He has your lanky frame, your thin but strong legs.
For now, every morning we are able to walk through the gardens of the estate as a family. Though I wish with all my heart I was walking next to you. Enjoying the sun and the birds’ songs. Like we did the very spring we met. But the cold has been settling here quickly and I fear it will be an early and long-lived winter. I dread being cooped up in the house with Michel all winter. He drinks more in his states of boredom and winter despair. I daresay your residence must be quite as comfortable. If I know you at all, you will still be at your parents’ old town house, which is why I’ve addressed this letter to their address though they’ve been deceased for years. If this letter does indeed find you, you will have proven to be as reliable as ever, never having left our hometown. You always were the more faithful of the two of us. Always waiting for me to return. I can feel you in my heart, daily, begging me to come back. I should have never left with Michel. It’s just like you warned: The money isn’t worth it. I should have stayed with you, raised our child with you.
Despite this effort to reconnect, I pray you’ll accept my request that you not send a reply. Please, do not reply. Instead, come and rescue me at once. Or forget about me forever. I would hate for the old crones working at the post office to go spouting rumors that Lady Gates has been sending and receiving posts from a man not her husband. I have hidden more from my lawful husband that any wife should. You know how tightened lips can loosen tongues. I won’t speak a word of you even though your name dances on my tongue day in, day out. Instead, consider this letter a greeting and farewell. By next return post, this will be yesterday’s mail. Rescue me, please. I must know how you feel. If you do not come within the week, I will know my fate as Lady Gates is sealed.

Sincerely,
Yours, truly and irrefutably,
Kathrine, your beloved.

A second tear stain appeared on the letter and smeared the delicately wrought end of her name. When Edward realized it came from his own leaking eye he quickly wiped it dry. His hands were shaking. The letter further crinkled in his grasp. He stood before the hearth. The embers glowing pitifully at his feet. Refusing to die. He ought to go and get more wood, he thought. Keep it alive.
He took a step towards the door. Stopped. Traced the crumbled edge of the paper in his hands.
He threw it on the dying coals.
Taking his hat from his desk and coat from the back of his chair, he left the study. The letter, atop the splinters of charred wood, sat in the glow of dying heat, before a flame finally lit the tear stained corner.